Just off the corner of Upper Cross Street and South Bridge Road there’s a shop called Chew Kee Eating House. For as long as I can remember, it’s been serving Soya Sauce Chicken Noodles.
The ‘Eating House’ is uncomfortably warm at lunch time, dimly lit, and really noisy. And it struck me then, that that’s why I like it:
There are better iterations of Soya Sauce Chicken Noodles around Singapore, but this place reminds me of Chinatown before Chinatownification, of when the Hokkien-speaking called the area Gu Chia Zhui. There’s another shop on South Bridge Road that’s been around since I was child, but that one’s been air-conditioned and iPadded (i.e. some POS vendor sold them an menu and ordering system using PIC grants).
Chew Kee Eating House has stayed the same in terms of the food they serve, the place it’s served in, and the staff who serve. The only thing different is the price. (I paid $6 for lunch on Monday – a Soya Sauce Chicken Drumstick Noodle with a Cold Barley Water).
It is noisy, with staff – family members who own the business – shouting orders in Cantonese, scolding younger wait staff in Hokkien, and taking orders in Mandarin. There are an equal number of people waiting for a seat as there are waiting to take out.
I was ushered into the premises to share a table with an Aunty who was equally as unperturbed by the brusqueness of service and the messiness of the food slopped onto our plates a few minutes after we made our order, the efficiency of which an iPad ordering system can never replicate:
Waiter: Sek Mutt? (May I take your order please?)
Me: Gai Bei Meen (Can I have a plate of Chicken Drumstick Noodles, please?)
Waiter: Sui Gao? (Would you like a bowl of piping hot dumpling soup to accompany your meal?)
Me: Yee Mai Sui. (No thank you, but I would like to have a tall glass of your best home made Barley Water.)
Waiter: Dong? (Would you like it cold or warm?)
Me: Hai. (A cold one would be lovely, thank you).
My late mother used to ask her driver to stop on the way home from the office (illegally on the double-yellow lined Upper Cross Street), while she yelled her order to a staff member who’d be on the lookout for ‘drive-through’ orders. The order was always filled within five minutes, and Mom was only ever fined once. She did offer the traffic cop the most elaborate excuse of needing to eat urgently because she had gastric.
I was quite sure no-one ‘drove through’ any more, but I spotted one motorised customer as I was leaving after my sweaty, noisy meal.