Review: Noods & Meats Smokehouse by Firdauz Nasir
The DIY Chef
414 Yishun Ring Road (Broadway Coffeeshop)
Monday: 1.00pm to 9.30pm,
Tuesday to Sunday: 12.00pm to 9.30pm
Closed on Public Holidays
If you're a seasoned foodie, travelling places the world over for your fix of the best in gourmet, or if you're a meat lover who turns your nose at places with vegetarian options, then you would know that to serve up slabs of meat lovingly smoked over Almond wood in the quaint neighbourhood of Yishun Ring Road is a move deliberately meant to raise eyebrows and pique interest.
I want to call Muslim chef/owner Firdauz Nasir, 36, of Noods and Meats a maverick. Or an Independent. Or a Creative Culinary Wizard. But that would mean that I have to know who he is. And unlike his legion of adoring fans and harsh critics (in equal measure), I was not in the know of the reputation that precedes him which unraveled slowly throughout the course of this conversation. It must have been thoroughly amusing to him when I went up to his stall and said, "Hi, I'm Zat and I'm looking for Chef Firdauz.”
Truly there's no place more unique or authentic than a Kopitiam (local parlance for a hawker centre), with its laminate table and bright lights. It doesn't get more Singaporean than beer aunties lingering around our tabl, filled to the brim with 6 dishes, gawking at this spectacle of food being photographed and notes being typed on a laptop. "Here? In lil ole Yishun Ring Road?" Yes, auntie.
"So, what do you guys want to try today?” Chef Firdauz asks with a glint in his eyes. Wani and I came to this tasting knowing we'll be well fed. So, we are game. Before he left to prepare the feast that was to come, I asked him, rather cautiously, "Sorry. But are you a famous person?" He laughs heartily, "I don't want to say I'm famous. I'm just still a cook.” He then makes his way to the kitchen to prepare for the tasting, leaving us furiously Googling his name to see what fame this man is known for.
Chef Firdauz was formally educated in Engineering in a local Polytechnic. At 25, he travelled the world in pursuit of culinary knowledge, a thirst insatiable and rivalled only by his love for food. "I grew up in a single parent family. My mum had to hold down three jobs to support us. She had a food stall and my grandma loves to cook. It runs in my family. At home, I had to cook myself. I guess, my love for cooking came from a place of necessity."
His culinary background is in Italian and Japanese cuisine; he readily admits that Asian cooking is something he grapples with. “Asian food is so complex. It has so many layers.” It is no wonder then that his choice of dish if he had only one food he could eat for the rest of his life, is Mee Rebus. “It is so hard to make good Mee Rebus. Most people take a shortcut and use cornstarch to thicken the sauce. The secret to a good gravy is simply sweet potatoes and a lot of patience.”
I asked what was his fondest food memory to date. "It happened during National Service. After the confinement period, I went home and my grandmother cooked sambal belacan. It was heaven. That was all I had. Rice and sambal belacan. Even though the food in tekong was good, I missed the most basic of food. And for me, that was sambal belacan.”
"This must be red skin potatoes. It's so delightfully starchy and well cooked."
"What is in this butter rice? The balance of butter and salt is amazing."
Turns out, there's nothing special about the potatoes. "It's normal potatoes that you find at the market," Chef Firdauz quips. And the secret to the well-balanced rice? Planta. And normal rice. "The type you can find at NTUC."
He makes everything at Noods & Meats by hand. Even the coleslaw. That mix of cabbage and carrot one can easily source out of a tub? Even that is handmade. I can vouch for it after interrupting him mid mix, his hand deep in a bowl of sliced vegetables and dressing.
"People who know me, know me as the DIY chef. My cook was perplexed when I said to make the coleslaw. But I said, why not? If I can make it, I will. Making everything by hand ensures that I know how to break down the dish. With that knowledge, I can then tweak parts of the combination and that's where I put my Engineering background to use".
Indeed. His pasta noodles are lovingly handmade (so that's how fresh pasta tastes like) and one of them is infused with truffle oil. Do you know what happens when you infuse truffle oil into pasta? Magic. That's what happens. The light aroma so persistently present with each bite, elevating the taste to the 6th sense; the umami.
"You want food to be honest. This is what we do. It doesn't look nice on the shelf, but the food is honest based on what we do. When people ask why I don't sell spring chicken, I say, why should I? You should eat what we like to make. Food should be honest."
But lest we forget, we are here for the smoked meat. Ah yes. The smoked meat. The misconception of smoking meat is that the smoke from the wood cooks the meat. This is utterly inaccurate. The heat cooks the food. The smoke gives the meat its distinct flavour, depending on the type of wood (Chef Firdauz uses Almond wood). Smoking is a long process of overcooking tough meats to get a tender and flavorful meat. Here, Chef smokes his meats a whole day in advance, getting in about twelve hours of smoking time to ensure only the best in the flavour profile.
During the kitchen tour, he showed us the Meat Smoker he uses. Bought directly from America, this meat smoker is the prime example of how size does not matter. It is dwarfed by the huge pizza oven beside it, but we know it is the secret that Chef holds to the flavour of his meat. The meats are sourced from Australia and stocked mid-week. (The shop goes through 20 to 30 kg of meat per week).
At the end of the interview, it is apparent that Chef Firdauz chose this Yishun outfit due to its extremely friendly and local neighbourhood location, where stall owners regard each other with equal reverence and respect. This Kopitiam is a move away from the glamorous restaurant scene Chef Firdauz is all too familiar with; it is by no means an accident. Having once lived here before, Noods and Meats is his homage to food, honesty and most importantly home.
If there’s a starter’s guide to smoked meat for the uninitiated, Burnt Ends should be at the top of the list. The aroma of the beef has a subtle smokiness that is at once earthy and sweet, a testament to the long meat-smoking process. The buns are sourced from a local neighbourhood bakery nearby; No fancy artisanal bread here. Those green stems are Thai Asparagus. Not Chives. As I was so horribly mistaken.
This is duck noodles unlike any you’ve eaten before. To be more accurate, this is a hybrid dish of Ramen origins. I have never eaten pasta like this. It serves as the perfect base for the tons of quality ingredients that rests on top; its truffle aroma never overpowering. The broth here (cooked slowly over 16 hours) is so rich in flavour, it is in fact used as a side dish to some of the items on the menu.
This is Ribs you eat when you’re famished and craving for meat. You may follow the recommended serving size for 2-3 people if you’re polite. Otherwise, have at it solo. Drizzled with Truffle sauce (of course) the meat is a perfect combination of juiciness and tenderness. I wish it was much juicier and softer but that’s only because when it comes to meats, I tend to be too lazy to chew. The lamb is not well done, or medium done or rare. It is simply done with finesse.
Inspired by the home of Briskets, this Texas Brisket is served (similarly to the previous Lamb Ribs) on a serving tray lined with brown paper. Why? Because that’s how they do it in Texas (in reference to style). Slow smoked beef brisket (breast section of a cow, under the first five ribes), drenched in Truffle sauce and sprinkled with Krak Krook, a tempura based crunch reminiscent of the crunch you get at Long John Silver’s. The star of this dish is the beef. But it’s equally beautiful co-star has to be that butter rice. This is truly the standard for all butter rice, a taste I’m certain many will try to imitate but no one can master.