The promise of authentic Taiwanese cuisine had us lured into the 5 Little Bears Taiwan Food and Beverages Restaurant at Far East Plaza! Serving popular delights such as Braised Pork Rice, Oyster Mee Sua, Deep-fried Chicken Chop and Homemade Wintermelon Tea, the food at this casual eatery certainly lived up to our expectations. This is now one of the best places I would go to in Singapore whenever I miss Taiwan's street food. "Very good!", or as how the Taiwanese would say it: "赞!"
5 Little Bears - 五只小熊, what an impossibly cutesy name for an establishment selling hearty street food (I would have thought it's a café). It turns out that the boss is fondly known as 大熊 (big bear) and has five kids, so that's how the eatery's name came about. Of course, we all know that Taiwan's national animal is the Formosan Black Bear.
Since relocating to Singapore from Taiwan 6 years ago, the boss and his wife have been missing the food from their homeland. Though Taiwanese cuisine is available locally, they found nothing close to the familiar taste they have grown up with. They decided to set up 5 Little Bears themselves after much disappointment.
With an aim to replicate the recipes and tastes as authentically as they can, several trips back to Taiwan were made to source for the appropriate sauces. Ingredients were imported wherever possible. Looks like the efforts paid off, as I was told by the boss that they do have quite a number of regulars who are Taiwanese. Their support are literally a nod of yes to the Taiwanese taste.
The Taichung Braised Pork Rice ($4.80) was indeed aromatic after being marinated and simmered for hours in premium Taiwan soy sauce. I find that the Taichung version wasn't as oily or heavily flavored as the ones I had in Taipei, but the little pieces of pork belly had the right balance of saltiness, sweetness, leanness and fattiness which was totally satisfying. Portion was undeniably generous, we couldn't even see the rice buried underneath! Love the QQ bouncy texture of slightly sticky short-grain rice and crunch of pickled vegetables. This is a highly comforting one-bowl dish which I would eat over and over again.
5 Little Bears' Taipei Oyster Vermicelli ($4.50) was notably different from the pig-intestines laden Ah Zong Mian Xian (阿宗麵線) version (which we must must must have whenever we visit Taipei), their mee sua came with plump oysters and tiny stripes of black fungus. The thin strands of rice vermicelli had a nice bite and was just as delectable with its slightly starchy broth and additional condiments of garlic, vinegar and chilli stirred in. We easily slurped up the whole bowl.
The Kaohsiung Beef Noodles ($8.50) was another slurpilicous treat which had us emptying the contents in its entirely from the bowl. Broth was rich and robust, beef chunks were braised to divine tenderness, flat noodles were enjoyably chewy. We agreed this can even rival some of the restaurants' version in terms of taste and win by the much lower price point.
A Taiwan dish that's new to us, yet with a tinge of familarity, was the Tainan Soup Noodles ($4.80). I nicknamed it as 'bak chor prawn mee' because of its prawn-based soup and topping of braised minced meat over yellow noodles. The Hsinchu Fried Rice Noodles Set ($5.90) with meat ball soup is also a dish which we don't usually see in Taiwan eateries here. Though not amazingly spectacular in culinary sense, both noodles dishes gave a deliciously rustic, homely taste. Worth trying if you like something different.
Deep-fried food are hazardous to my voice and waistline, but there is no way I can ever give up on them. Here, you will find all the perennial favorites like X-Large Chicken Chop ($4.80), Sesame Seed Crispy Chicken ($4), Crispy Shiitake Wedges ($3) and Sour Plum Sweet Potato ($3). I wonder if there will be chicken wings too someday :p
Perhaps the best way to minimize damage is to share the deep-fried goodness with friends. That's precisely the reason why the boss served the succulent chicken thigh cutlet neatly cut in long stripes to make sharing easier. In his words, he explained: "可以与朋友分享，更容易 share share". You can tell he's quite localized (at least in the Mandarin + English speaking way) already lol.
(In Taiwan, many vendors stand by their principle of not cutting the chicken cutlet to better retain its juiciness.)
We were quite surprised at ourselves by finishing the Eight Treasures Ice ($6) after all the savory food above. Brimming with 8 different type of ingredients including kidney bean, red bean, green bean, barley, yam ball, sweet potato ball, black pearl jelly and the unique addition of raisins, it's the signature dessert leh, how can leave without trying! It could be deemed expensive as it actually cost more than most of the rice and noodles main courses, but one serving is more than sufficient for 2-3 persons to share. Very refreshing!
Overall pricing is affordable. The prices stated are all nett with no service charge or GST, a set meal of main and drink goes from as little as $5.50. Considering that this is dining in the city with air-con comfort provided, food is of substantial portion and good quality, I wouldn't hesitate to say what 5 Little Bear has offered is absolutely good value-for-money.
Drawback might be that the eatery could have appeared to be a tad more costly than what it really is on the outside, deterring new customers who are on a meal budget from walking in. Shoppers looking for convenient snacks on-the-go might be unaware that behind those glass doors, popular items like chicken cutlet are ready to be deep-fried and takeaway in a jiffy, much like those Taiwanese chain-food kiosks we see everywhere.
Next time if you're hungry, why not walk into 5 Little Bears and show them some support?
5 Little Bears (五只小熊) Taiwan Food and Beverages Restaurant
Address: 14 Scotts Road, #01-07 Far East Plaza, Singapore 228213 (Relocated to Paya Lebar Square)
Contact: +65 6836 5198
Opening Hours: Daily 11.30am - 9.30pm
Updated April 2015 ~ 5 Little Bears is relocated to Paya Lebar Square
Address: 60 Paya Lebar Road #B1-09, Singapore 409051 (beside Paya lebar mrt)
Contact: +65 6702 1098
Prices are nett with no service charge and GST.