Call me parochial, but I find that there is something strangely exciting about eating in a “Bus Interchange”. It brings to mind images of great road trips across the US (that I have, of course, never taken), or of the Australian outback. Like a last bastion of civilisation to stock up and refuel before embarking on another 500 miles or so of rumbling into the wilderness. Given that Bishan is essentially the bullseye of Singapore, it’s not quite the outpost that I have in mind. And besides, this is Singapore. Reality bites.
But still, Bishan Bus Interchange is a transient and industrious location that I actually rather like. It helps that its food court is located on Level 2, in a gallery that sort of enables you to look down, emperor-like, on the teeming masses below. Or, more accurately, on the back door of Junction 8 shopping mall. But still, it’s a rather unique vantage point that cannot be found in the average food court, coffee shop, hawker centre or other such culinary commune.
The motivation behind my visit to BBI was actually to go to Food For Life – a newish place that is hell-bent on healthy stuff. Perfect for a well-intentioned Saturday lunch, I thought. But, despite arriving during the latter-stages of lunch, the stall wasn’t yet ready and the food was still being prepared. At 1pm? Whatever the opposite of kiasu is, Food For Life appears to be it.
Thankfully there is one other vegetarian option available at BBI – the dazzlingly well-named “Bishan Vegetarian”. It’s as industrious as Food For Life is lackadaisical, with a team of 4-5 people manning (and womanning) the kitchen and counter. Everyone seemed to be chopping, washing, frying or serving – a sight that warmed the capitalist cockles of my vegetarian heart.
I thought that the dry noodle (SGD 3.20) was rather blandly named, especially seeing as it looked a lot like wanton mee from the picture. And on the surface, there was nothing to suggest that this dish deviated much from its more descriptive namesake. Sweet and tangy (and quite delicious) char siew, some crispy deep-fried squares, peppery egg noodles (that looked scarily like Maggi mee), and some obligatory greens. All rather innocuous and, dare I say it, rather tasty. And just look at that wedge of sweetcorn in the soup – what largesse!
But dig below the surface, and things were not as they appeared. At the base of the bowl lay lurking a not insignificant layer of thick and sweet tomato sauce. This was a first for me, and hopefully a last as well. Once mixed with the other ingredients, it dominated the flavours and caused everything to turn a bit sweet, a bit slimey, a bit red, a bit weird. I suppose it was quite original, but still. Weird.
Alongside the usual array of rice plates and noodle bowls, Bishan Vegetarian stands apart for offering a fairly decent array of snacking options as well. Said options include dim sum, steamed buns and various rice noodle-type-stuff (a la chee cheong fun). Such up-selling is relatively rare in Singapore’s eateries, and I immediately jumped at the chance to punctuate my dry noodles with a tasty little afterthought. If everyone that visits Bishan Vegetarian is as spontaneous (or just as greedy) as I, then this place must be raking it in.
The curry bun (SGD 1.20) was bursting at the seam, although unfortunately this was more a reflection of its shoddy construction than its overly generous filling. The filling itself was dry and spicy. Very dry, and very spicy. So dry that it made even me want to lubricate it with some sort of sauce, and so spicy that a more apt name would have been “chilli bun” (or, perhaps, “dry and spicy chilli bun”). A bit like how “weird noodles” would have befitted the above.
The pumpkin bun (also SGD 1.20) sat squarely on the sweet-savoury fence and was, in a word, delicious. It was handsomely big, appropriately coloured, and nicely seasoned with black sesame seeds and what appeared to be some sort of chewy bean to complement the pumpkin. Fantastic. The only problem was its relentless tackiness – it clung to its paper base, to my fingers, and to my teeth with fiendish persistence. Not necessarily a bad thing of course, as at least it allowed me to savour it long after I had dispatched the last bite to the darkest confines of my digestive system. All in all, a well-proportioned and well-priced snack that offered a redemptive lift to an otherwise disappointing luncheon.
Level 2, Bishan Bus Interchange Food Court, 514 Bishan Street 13