Review: Deanna's Kitchen Prawn Noodle - 'Sincere adoration of the common'
Singaporeans care very little for Michelin stars. Nor do they care for celebrity chefs, Bib Gourmand, and any and all of these accolades that mean absolutely nothing to the populace. To them, and even to me to a certain extent, it’s like saying you’re the best dentist. The only people who care that you’re the best dentist are other dentists. It’s a pointless and futile exercise that seems a peculiar oddity to the everyday HDB-dwelling folks who partake more frequently in Nasi Lemak and Char Kway Teow than venison and flan.
Eating out and finding our favourite comfort food seems a worthy game in this island that is beginning to see its hawker culture being eroded by the very people whose job it is to defend it: the Government. We make it a national pastime to travel far and wide, crossing islands and expressways because we heard that the popiah at this hawker centre is ‘damn fantastic’ or that the stall at Haig Road Market ‘only makes putu piring!’. The humble hawker centre has been the subject of much interest and curiosity from tourists who make it a point to eat at a hawker centre on their trips to this humid island (usually overpriced Newton Circle, those poor saps) so that they can go home and proudly declare that they’ve assimilated with the hoi polloi as if it’s a novelty to be proud of.
It is in these hawker centres that one can find the common prawn noodle. I’ve had the pleasure of trying many iterations of this dish, each tasting sharpening my palate and standards for what I personally feel makes the best prawn noodle in Singapore. Prawn noodle as its namesake suggests, is merely prawn and noodles. It’s a very pedestrian dish that when executed with finesse is the very definition of what I would like to call umami: that fifth taste that lies elusively between the notes of the other common flavours. The broth is crucial here. An amalgamation of prawn shells, prawn heads, bones, a sprinkling of this and a sprinkling of that (in precise proportions), the broth makes or breaks the prowess of the prawn noodle. Having tried many, many bowls of the same thing, I can now tell what is missing from a broth that could elevate it to greatness. Such is the burden I carry with me in my quest for the best prawn noodle, ever.
So when I heard of Deanna’s Kitchen prawn noodles along with all its adoring fans, I was reticent. Firstly, it’s halal, meaning there’s absolutely no pork bones in the broth. And there will be no lard sprinkled anywhere in the noodles. Secondly, the reviews I’ve had and heard were from Muslim customers. “What would they know about good prawn noodles?” my arrogant self asked in, well, arrogance. Thirdly, it’s in Jurong. And I live in Sengkang. So, having to taste this would mean an actual day out across the island and goddamnit it better be worth the trouble I’m taking in this sweltering heat at one in the afternoon.
And goddamnit it was.
I arrived at one pm and proceeded to order the clams and big prawns combo ($9) while my friend order the very big prawn one ($13). The friendly makcik serving us was a picture of makcik perfection and efficiency. “Which noodles you want? Kangkong and taugeh okay? Okay. I call you in 5 minutes when it’s ready”. Deanna’s Kitchen itself is one of the many stalls located within the halal hawker centre of Padi Emas at Blk 214, Jurong East Street 21. Decked out in a red and cream colour palette, the stall takes up two units and looks as normal and common as it comes, completely betraying the magic that is happening within its extremely clean interior. It is so clean that I thought for a moment, “Where is all the cooking done?” A quick peep inside revealed a huge vat quietly boiling away and I knew that was the broth. Had it not been for my slightly shy nature, I would have asked to see what’s inside that cauldron of deliciousness.
The noodles arrived and the first thing my friend said was “This prawn is so besar (huge).” And he was not exaggerating. For the first time, it felt like the very big prawns in his bowl was the exaggeration. Five prawns lay in the bowl on top of the heap of kuay teow, red, succulent, plump and in all honesty, fresh as if it was captured to order. It floated proudly in a broth that has turned a dark shade of brilliant brown, murky as it is rich in all manners of goodness.
My clams and big prawns combo looked like a seafood extravaganza with thirty Japanese clams (I counted) filling up the bowl to the point where I was pleasantly surprised that there were indeed big prawns beneath, hiding away in shy comfort. I took a picture quickly as these hands trembled in trepidation as to what lies ahead.
And may I say, what a beautifully prepared prawn noodle. Such finesse and such utter reverence for ingredients, food preparation, value for money and oh, that umami in the soup. The sip begins at the top, like a musical in three parts. Skim the top gently and take a big mouthful of that soup and let the mix of flavours coat your tasting palette. It is light, as if beckoning you to please have the noodles and prawn first. Judge this not through your first sip, but through the memory of what that tasted like.
In the second act, perhaps five minutes in, the soup would have aged and taken in all the flavours of the seafood in your bowl, giving depth and body that is reminiscent of the first bite, but this time with a plot that thickens and grows in curiosity. You might think that it is a completely different broth, but it’s not. It’s age. Age makes things better, more robust, more fervent in its character, more sure of itself.
The broth hits home run when everything is finished. When the last shell has been peeled, when the last noodle has been slurped and all you’re left with is a shallow remnant of brown liquid gold floating at the bottom. This is the finale of the dish. It’s the meat of the musical, the time when everything gets resolved. Now, the broth is done. Now, it has transformed into a potent potion, its flavour so rich and so incredibly enhanced, it would be a waste not to slurp every single drop to its last.
Now, the prawn noodle is done. I am satiated, I am full and truly I am in sincere adoration of the common. I wish all Halal establishments take their food as seriously as Deanna does instead of clamoring for the Instagramable, the novelty, the new, and the weak. My only regret is that it took me this long to experience an orgasm of gastronomical mastery. And for that I truly, am humbled.