Farewell favourite noodles!

Tan Keng Ngiap serving his signature
Mee Pok Tah

If you enjoy Teochew noodles, then you must have tasted noodles like kway teow th’ng, flat rice noodles in clear soup and mee pok tah – dry-tossed, thin flat noodles, prepared by Tan Keng Ngiap in Johor Baru.  Trading as Choy Ngiap, Tan has been serving delicious Teochew noodles in a corner shoplot at No. 39-J Jalan Ah Siang, close to the Jalan Ibrahim Sultan end of the Inner Ring Road since 1998. 

Parking space along Jalan Ah Siang is limited but fans of Choy Ngiap noodles fearlessly compete with trucks and building construction obstacles while the nearby Sultan Iskandar Building [that houses the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex] was being built, just to enjoy a taste of their favourite noodles.  In the last 53 years, generations of loyal customers have been enjoying his Teochew noodles that are prepared in recipes that remain virtually unchanged over the years.  

Tan's signature Mee Pok Tah

His noodles, known to locals as “Lao Di kway teow” is a recipe from his old neighbour, fondly called “Lao Di,” a Teochew endearment meaning “younger brother.”  The partnership started in 1959 when Lao Di asked Tan to help him with his noodle business and they started trading as Tong Yuan Restaurant at Jalan Siu Nam, a site now occupied by Top Hotel. 

After about eight years, they moved their business to Chuan Fan Restaurant.  In 1987, Tan set up his own stall at Jalan Bukit Meldrum and in 1998 he moved the business to Jalan Ah Siang.

As in all noodles, the success of the dish lies in its sauces and soup preparation.  Tan uses this closely guarded recipe to prepare tasty soup stock for his famous noodles.  This rich broth continues to be enhanced with natural flavours as he cooks fresh meat and prawns in the boiling broth and briskly serves up individual bowls upon receiving orders.

Tan's Kway Teow Th'ng

Tan, a father of three – a son and two daughters – has his fair share of challenges as a food trader.  He is on his feet at his “live” cooking station for hours every evening, except on Monday.  While he does the cooking, his children helps him at the stall, taking orders and serving steaming bowls, often in a non-stop pace at peak dining hours. 

One of Tan’s most traumatic experiences must be that morning in 1999, after he sent his two daughters to school.  As usual he went for his regular morning exercise before going to buy fresh ingredients at the market for the evening’s business but he was attacked by robbers and suffered serious head injuries. 

With resilience and a great deal of courage, Tan recovered from this horrifying experience and went on with his business as usual.

Tan preparing noodles at Choy Ngiap,
Jalan Ah Siang
Now at age 68, Tan says that it’s time to retire – and he’s not joking.  This is cause for concern because when he stops his business, fans of his noodles will certainly miss him and the familiar taste of his noodles. 

His daughter, Penny Tan Joo Hui, 27, said one of the reasons he’s stopping is because his children want to pursue their own careers.  Then Tan will not have enough help in their business.  While Tan accepts the fact that his children may not share a similar interest in the noodle business, he is also ready to take a break for now. 

If you are a fan of Choy Ngiap noodles, I hope you had the opportunity for a final taste of his delicious Teochew noodles before the year was over.  That’s because Saturday, 31 December 2011, marks the day when Tan will hang up his chopsticks and close his noodle business.  Fans of his noodles are going to be disappointed when they go looking for him in 2012 but let’s hope that he can be persuaded to pick up his chopsticks again!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 2 January 2012

Glad to share some interesting feedback

Penny said:  We prepared more to serve on the last day but it was still not enough!  What a pity!

John said:  Interesting article!  How sad - nobody to take over his business...

Alfred said:  Good write-up!

Gillian said:  Oh no!  This means we have to go to another place...

Shaun said:  I'm absolutely gutted about this news!  It's a sad day for foodies.  The last time I ate there was almost two years ago. I should come back [from Australia] and reach out to him with a proposal to set up a shop with his recipe and offer him royalties - just to keep it going!



  1. Anonymous1/30/2012

    One of the best. Great Taste.
    Sad that he is no longer selling it.

  2. Anonymous6/19/2013

    Hey, that's my uncle on my mother's side.