Both Kok Kee Wanton Mee and Koung’s Wan Tan Mee have been called Singapore’s Best Wanton Mee, but we all know there can only be one crown. Or in this case, one absolutely slurp-worthy plate.
Wanton mee is a Singaporean staple. Drop by any hawker centre and I’m sure you can find at least one wanton mee stall there. Maybe even more than one, perhaps, depending on how big the hawker centre is.
There’s just something about the springy egg noodles, sliced char siew, wantons, crispy lard cubes, and addictively piquant gravy that make wanton mee such an unforgettable dish.
I actually visited both shops independently to review them, knowing that both stalls have been around for decades and they still stick to the same ‘ol traditional recipe. (Plus, it also didn’t hurt that I absolutely love wanton mee).
They’re strikingly similar—both use the same orange plate and utensils, and the components of each dish are practically identical. Egg noodles, check. Char siew, check. Wantons, check. Chilli sauce, check.
So what exactly is the difference between the two traditional wanton mee stalls, and more importantly, which is better?
We’re all familiar with Kok Kee Wanton Mee. It started out in 1992 as a humble roadside stall at Lavender Food Square before moving to Jalan Besar. Now, it’s situated at 30 Foch Road, near Lavender.
When I heard that many Singaporeans grew up eating Kok Kee, I had to put that rumour to the test. I asked if my parents had grown up eating Kok Kee, and to my surprise, they both nodded their heads and went, “Yes, that famous wanton mee stall at Lavender, right? So good!”
Sorry, Koung’s. Looks like you’re already off to a rough start. How do you fight against a legend like Kok Kee?
Located at Geylang, Koung’s Wan Tan Mee was founded in 1964—that’s a stunning 55 years, and that makes it older than Kok Kee.
Uncle Koung first started working for other wanton mee shops when he was young, before selling his own wanton mee for just S$0.20 using a pushcart. Then, he earned enough money to buy his own shop.
Looking at both of my pictures, I could immediately see that Koung’s noodles were lighter in colour because more flour had been added rather than egg. To some extent, it even reminded me of kolo mee because they were whiter, firmer, and thicker.
Despite being left alone for about 10 minutes while I snapped some pictures, the noodles still retained its form and didn’t become soggy at all. It was delightfully buttery, silky, and springy, exactly the kind of wanton mee you’d just slurp up non-stop with your chopsticks.
Kok Kee’s noodles, on the other hand, were thinner and its colour was distinctively more yellow. Thinking back, it almost reminds me of Japanese ramen noodles, which are pulled thinner than udon or soba noodles.
Each strand of noodle absorbed the lard-based gravy really well, but as a result, when I slurped up Kok Kee’s noodles, it was noticeably wetter and heavier.
Despite that, the noodles still had a really nice bite to them—just the right hardness so I bit through them with ease, but not too soft that it’d break when I lifted them with my chopsticks.
Koung’s sauce was heavier in terms of texture and taste. I’d go so far as to call it gravy rather than sauce.
The gravy clung to the noodles better because it was thicker (think: more sauce and less water or oil) and flavour-wise, it was fragrant, full-bodied, and spicy. I really loved how the freshness of the chilli complemented the dish to bring out the smoky sweetness from the gravy.
My only gripe would be that it might get too jelak for some people, especially if they have lighter palates. But for the record, I absolutely loved it.
Kok Kee’s sauce was noticeably more watery because they used lard and soy sauce, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be that watery to the extent that I didn’t even have to add any soup to my noodles to loosen it prior to mixing.
While I thought the lard-based sauce would have made the noodles oily, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it added a hearty saltiness to each bite, while still allowing that natural sweetness from the egg noodles to come through.
The Char Siew
Koung’s char siew was one of the best I’ve ever had. Some nights, I still dream about it—I’m not kidding.
Huge ropes of char siew had been roasted using a charcoal fire for six hours, ensuring that the char siew would be cooked slowly and the meat wouldn’t be dried out. At the same time, the marinade would have taken its own sweet time (pun intended) to seep into the meat, so it would be wonderfully flavourful.
It was just as I expected—sweet, honeyed, and aromatic and smoky from the charcoal. While it wasn’t melt-in-your-mouth worthy, it was still soft and tender, and definitely not dry at all.
I was a little disappointed with Kok Kee’s char siew, which was visibly thinner and had less fats on it.
While the meat was mildly sweet, it had soaked up the savoury saltiness from the lard-based sauce (just look at the colour!), so I couldn’t taste the characteristic roasted flavours of the char siew at all.
I might get flamed for this verdict, but so be it. Let me put this out there: Koung’s Wan Tan Mee is better than Kok Kee Wanton Mee.
But no, wait, seriously—hear me out. Koung’s char siew was far better than Kok Kee’s. It was sweet, springy, and smoky, and that by itself was already the winning factor for me.
I do understand why Kok Kee Wanton Mee is so popular—it’s such a classic dish of wanton mee, and it’s something you’d go back to every single time just because of how addictively simple it is. However, as a whole, Koung’s wanton mee was more full-bodied, and it definitely helped that the gravy hugged each strand of noodle, rather than the noodle simply soaking up the sauce, like it did with Kok Kee.
I guess what’s left is for you to try both stalls for yourself and see which you prefer.
Koung’s Wan Tan Mee: 205 Sims Ave, Singapore 387506 | Opening Hours: 8am – 7.30pm (Tue – Sun), Closed on Mon
Kok Kee Wanton Mee: 30 Foch Road, #01-02, Singapore 209276 | Opening Hours: 12pm till sold out (Daily)