There’s something supremely satisfying about a good bowl of laksa lemak. It’s one of those dishes that seem so simple — basically noodles in a spiced-up, coconut-creamy soup, along with seafood and other ingredients. But getting the balance of flavors right is clearly harder than it looks, otherwise we’d have a lot more places here of Mu-Hung’s quality.
For close on 20 years, this friendly, no-frills diner has been the go-to destination for Singapore street-level cooking — the kind of wholesome dishes you find at hawker centers and food courts in the island state — at least for the lucky people who live in western Tokyo.
From the start, Mu-Hung’s proud claim to fame has been that it was the first place in the city to serve Hainan jīfan, the classic rice and chicken dish that is one of the de facto national dishes of Singapore. It’s still one of the best of its kind in Tokyo. But there are more unusual items on the menu that make the restaurant even more worth a special journey.
Starting with that laksa. The strands of bīfun rice noodles are submerged under the surface of the rich, amber-orange gravy (as the curry soup is often known). You’ll also find bean sprouts concealed in there, along with thin slices of abura-age (deep-fried tofu).
And then there is the superstructure, the colorful toppings: small pink shrimp, kamaboko fish paste, a sliced-up hard-boiled egg and slivers of blanched red onion, with a sprig of coriander leaf as the final garnish. It’s an impressive bowl, as pleasing on the eye as it is on the tongue.
The chili burn is strong enough to balance the sweet creaminess of the coconut milk, but never too insistent. The gravy also has a thickness that derives from ground shrimp paste, adding a further layer of complexity. These are precisely the kind of comforting yet stimulating flavors that help keep the midsummer heat at bay.
Two major caveats: while Mu-Hung’s version could hold its own against many in Singapore, just don’t compare it to the very best, such as that at the legendary Sungei Road Laksa. Also, Mu-Hung only serves laksa at weekends, and it often runs out early on Sundays. In that case, its spicy Malay chicken curry has a very similar flavor profile, and makes a more than worthy weekday substitute.
That said, there’s plenty to explore on the menu, including fried chicken; the ever-popular congee (ask for chicken kayu); and the excellent daikon-mochi omelette, made with fine-chopped daikon and seasoned with black soy sauce. Special mention is also due to the ota-ota: These small packages of soft-as-custard minced fish paste are wrapped and grilled in banana leaves, and would be worthy of any hawker stall in Southeast Asia.
Laksa (weekends only) from ¥800, Hainan chicken rice from ¥700, Malaysian curry with rice or roti from ¥800; chicken congee from ¥600; Japanese menu; a little English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5