Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hong Kong Style Zi Char :the classic "Dai Pai Dong" dishes

I was there for a late lunch near their closing time at 2 pm. I stood in front of the stall waited for the Auntie to take my order. This Zi Char stall is manned by a couple that came from Hong Kong and they have been living in Singapore for more than 15 years. It sort of reminded me of Dai Pai Dong in Hong Kong but at a cleaner environment. They serve simple yet comforting Zi Char dishes like Fried Bittergourd with Fish Head, Seafood Tofu, Prawn Paste Chicken and more.

I told the Auntie, "I want to order rice and dishes." She replied with heavy Cantonese accent which I could not quite figure out and I have to tell her that I do not understand. She then talked with me in heavily Cantonese-accented Mandarin. I told her that I wanted to go with the Steamed Meat and Stir-fried Roasted Meat with Yam and before I went further, she asked, "For 2 person?" I nodded. She then said, "Enough already, 2 dishes are more than enough." She asked for my table number. I pointed at the corner and said, "Right behind there."

We waited for about 10 minutes before she came by with the Steamed Meat and 2 bowls of rice. She said, "We have run out of yam. Do you want to eat Prawn Paste Chicken?" We agreed. We waited for another 10 minutes for it to be ready and we have almost finished our bowls of rice and the Steamed Meat by then. 

The Steamed Meat is a homely dish that could easily be cooked at home. I could taste bits of ginger and salted fish embedded in it, it has just the right level of saltiness to go well with rice. 

The Prawn Paste Chicken is another appetising dish to go with rice. They use different chicken parts instead of the wings like most Zi Char places. It has a strong prawn paste flavour but it was not as crispy as expected to be. 

I paid a total of $15 for both dishes with rice. There is no menu available at the stall so it is making ordering a little difficult if you do not understand Cantonese that well. 

Block 94 Toa Payoh Lorong 4 #01-44 SINGAPORE 310094
Operating Hours: 12.00 pm to 2.00 pm / 5.00 pm to 8.00 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Chai Ji Fishball Noodle : that old-school taste

I walked past this stall that is in the coffee shop opposite the food centre a few times and there was always a queue each time. The last time when I made an effort to be there it happened to be closed. And, I know I just have to come back for this close to 50 years old Fishball Noodle. It is indicated on their signboard that they have been around since 1967. This time, I came back on a Sunday slightly after 2 pm, there was just another customer in the queue. While queueing I was informed that there are no more fishballs but I was told in just a bit that there are still 4 pieces left. There is the smaller portion at $3.00 and a standard portion at $4.00 which I ordered.

It consists of a good portion of mee pok with ingredients like fried dumpling, meatball, fishballs, mushroom, slices of fishcake and lean meat. The mee pok was lightly tossed in pork lard oil with chilli that brought forth the full flavour and further enhanced by the addition of fried pork lards. This is quite good, it has an old-school taste that is simple yet so satisfying. 

This is going to be a new found love that I will keep coming back for.

Block 94 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh SINGAPORE 310094

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fragrant Garden : is there a drop in the standard?

Fragrant Garden has a long history. They began in Geylang Serai Village in the 1950s when Mr Koh Ah Liang, the boss, was a teenager in his secondary school days. Madam Yeo, his mother, a native from Shantou in China, decided to earn an extra income by making authentic Teochew rice cakes and kueh tiao to sell and Mr Koh would help to deliver it on a bicycle to their customers in the neighbourhood. Mr Koh mastered the art of making these Teochew food items from his mother and he founded the Sing Siang Yuan Catering Services in 1988, a humble Zhi Char stall located in Tai Seng Avenue industrial park for about 25 years. They also operated a kitchen in Defu Lane for food catering from 2001 to 2006. In 2006, Mr Koh took over a shop space in Teck Chye Terrace and converted it into a Teochew restaurant serving Teochew delicacies and local delights. It was renamed as Fragrant Garden at that time. In May 2012, they relocated to Serangoon Shopping Centre. 

I was at Serangoon Shopping Centre to visit the newest outlet of Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee and decided to have dinner at Fragrant Garden thereafter. The tables were quickly filling up when nearer to dinner time and I was even asked whether I have made a reservation. We were ushered to a table for 4 right at the corner, just outside of their kitchen. The service was attentive, the menu was presented together with a plate of prawn crackers and a plate of azchar with Belachan Chilli. 

This was our first visit so we went for their signature dishes like Fried Kuay Tiao with Chai Por ($5), Oyster Omelette ($14), Liver Roll & Prawn Roll ($12) and Braised Pork with Steamed Bun ($12). All of the items came too quickly at almost the same time and that left us with not enough time to finish the prawn crackers and azchar. We enjoyed the prawn crackers and we even think that was the best dish of the night, even better than those signature dishes that we ordered. 

The Braised Pork with Steamed Bun came with 6 pieces of braised pork and 6 steamed buns. We did not like it as much as we felt the 5-spice flavour was a little overwhelming but even so, the meat was cooked well to achieve the right tenderness. 

Their Oyster Omelette was not bad if it is eaten with the chilli but was slightly plain if eaten on its own. It is quite similar to what we usually get at the food centre. It was not too starchy and is served with generous amount of eggs together with a handful of rather plump and fresh tasting oysters. We were told that chilli is added but we can choose to go without it, we went ahead with it nonetheless. It turned out the level of spiciness was rather manageable though and even my dining companion that does not eat chill has no issue eating it. 

We also ordered the combo of their ngor hiang and liver roll. We did not like either of it as the flavor for both rolls were dominated by the extreme saltiness. 

The most disappointed have to be their Fried Kuay Tiao with Chai Por. It was quite dry and the chai por was lacking in flavour and what we could taste was just the saltiness. 

Since this was my first visit, I would not be able to tell is this their usual standard or is there a drop in the standard? Overall, it is quite disappointing.

756 Upper Serangoon Road #01-15/16 Serangoon Shopping Centre SINGAPORE 534626
Operating Hours: 11.30 am to 2.30 pm / 5.30 pm to 10.00 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heavenly Snacks : their Muah Chee is so addictive!

There is a muah chee stall amongst the others in Circuit Road Food Centre and it is manned by Mr Andy Tan, 52,  it has been around for a year or so. Muah Chee is a traditional snack that is made with glutinous rice flour and it is not as commonly found as it used to be, there is Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh and also can be found at some Pasar Malam. His version is not quite like those available at Pasar Malam but a better quality one which it is even better than Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee that has been around for a while. He experimented with different recipes before deciding on the method of using a blender to mix the dough. He also divided the dough into individual trays before steaming it. This is to ensure that the portion is of equal size. 

There are only 3 items on their menu, the "Yuan Yang" Muah Chee ($3.00), Black Muah Chee ($2.80) and White Muah Chee ($2.50). I wanted to order their "Yuan Yang" Muah Chee but I was told it has already sold out, only the white muah chee and the black muah chee are available . I ordered one of each. 

Mr Tan took out a tin from the oven, tip it slightly to slip the muah chee into the wooden tray that is filled with ground, roasted black sesame seeds. He then cut the muah chee into the equal size by hand and tosses them into it. The reason for cutting it so small is to ensure every piece is coated evenly for more bite and flavour. The same process was repeated for the white muah chee with the peanut coating and both are packed into a red paper box with decorative toothpicks. A relatively long waiting time is expected as every order takes about 5 minutes to prepare.

The sesame coating has a nice fragrance and a well-balanced sweetness with a light crunch. The peanut coating is not as fragrant as compared to the black sesame one. The glutinous rice dough is not as greasy and sticky, it is rather soft with a nice chewiness. It also does not get stuck in between the teeth. It is a perfect snack to go in between meals and definitely, a healthier choice too. 

From the preparation to the packaging, many thoughts have been put into it as Alan is hoping that it would appeal to the new generation. 

Block 79A Circuit Road #01-106 Circuit Road Food Centre SINGAPORE 371079
Operating Hours: 11.30 am to 3.00 pm / 5.00 pm to 10.00 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Char Kway Teow : at Circuit Road Food Centre

Mr Chee Wei Liang, 61, is the owner of a char kway teow stall at Circuit Road Food Centre in Macpherson. He took over the stall from his father that was there for about 40 years in this area. He has been running the stall for more than a decade, he even modified the original recipe to a healthier version. My first visit was just last week. When placing my order, I requested for an extra amount of chilli to be added. He asked, "Have you ever eaten before?". I replied, "No. This is the first time." He then said, "My chilli is very hot and not all can take it." Then he suggested mixing a little in during the frying process and also placing some by the side which I agreed. 

I revisited within a week and this time, even before I place the order, he asked, "Have you eaten before?" I nodded and said, "I know your chilli is very spicy." He chuckled. He then asked, "So how? Do you want me to mix the chilli in or have it served on the side?" I replied, "Both, please." The smallest portion is at $2.50 followed by $3.00 then the $4.00 and $5.00, only the $4.00 and $5.00 served with medium sized prawn. I ordered the $3.00 portion this time. 

This Uncle is known to be the "dancing char kway teow man" as he will start dancing especially when there are massive orders lining up. He said, "This is partly to keep the momentum going and also to exercise as this will be my only time to do so." I did not get to see him dance in both occasions as I was his only customer.

His char kway teow is different from the other stalls. This is the healthier version with lesser oil, no pork sausages and fried pork lards, their replacements are mock char siew and chicken ham, he also added in preserved radish (chye poh) with a good amount of garlic to bring out the flavour. He is using thinner kway teow, which is more commonly seen in the Penang style char kway teow. He then fried all the ingredients together with fish sauce and dark sweet soy sauce with a dash of Hua Diao Wine and lemon juice together with bean sprouts, chives and beaten eggs. He does not include the fresh cockles during the cooking process but placed them on the pile of char kway teow when is ready to serve. His reason for doing so is not wanting to overcook those cockles. His homemade chilli is different, it is in bright orangey red and is very spicy.

I was told that his standard is not on par when compared it to his dad. You will either like it or hate this healthier version. I am not a fan. I still like to have lots of fried pork lards added to my char kway teow. 

Uncle is planning to retire in a few years time and is actively looking for a disciple to take over his stall.

79 Circuit Road #01-19 Circuit Road Food Centre SINGAPORE 370079
Operating Hours: 12.30 pm to 9.00 pm (Closed on Saturdays & Sundays)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Soon Lee Lor Mee Stall : the 4 decades old Lor Mee

This stall has been around for more than 40 years since the 1970s, manned by an elderly couple. It is currently located at Circuit Road Food Centre. I visited twice in the same week, the first time was to take away and dined there during the second visit. I was telling the friendly Uncle that I have been thinking about his Lor Mee constantly since that day I came to take away. "I know your stall is closed on Monday and Tuesday so I came back today to eat it." Then I said, "When I came to take away and left it for about 3 hours before eating it, the noodles surprisingly did not stick together and it also did not turn soggy or broken up."

Uncle chuckled, said, "We are using good quality noodles that able to absorb the sauce well. We are particular in its quality and we only want to serve the best to our customers as most of them are our regulars." He continued to say, "The better quality noodles are costlier but I would rather earn a little lesser." Then, he said, "The recipe can still be improved further but we are already old so might not have much time to do so." 

I asked, "Would any of your children interested in taking over?" He said, "I will leave it to them to decide. My oldest one is already in the 40s."

Their Lor Mee is different, it has an old-school taste that you hardly come across these days and it tasted good too. Their ingredients are not as elaborate as compared to some other stalls. Their handmade ngor hiang uses shredded yams that are shaped into flat patties then cut into stripes. It is served with plain hard boiled eggs and not the usual braised eggs together with tasty braised meat. The noodles were cooked just right and well-coated with the slightly sweet gravy. 

Block 79 Circuit Road #01-07 Circuit Road Food Centre SINGAPORE 370079
Operating Hours: 12.00 pm to 9.00 pm (Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee : a cafe at Serangoon Shopping Centre

Mr Alan Ng, 63, the founder, started the first outlet of Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee in a coffee shop along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 in March 2013 followed by the second outlet at Jurong East in April 2016. Then, the third outlet opened on 24 April 2017, an air-conditioned cafe at Serangoon Shopping Centre. Apparently, this location is chosen for its practicality as the rental there is amongst the cheapest in the area. They set up their central kitchen here as they want to ensure the consistency of its food quality of all the outlets. This is also where they do their delivery service. And no, they are not related to the Sabx2 Wanton Noodles located at Soi Petchuri 19 in Bangkok.

I came across the article that I wrote about them on Makansutra in June 2014 near the entrance, amongst the others. 

There are 4 choices for their signature wanton mee, there are the Regular ($4), Regular Extra ($5), Large ($5) and Jumbo ($6). I always go for the large size for a more substantial portion. There is even a dark sauce version for those that are not used to eating the Thai style wanton mee. There is also Pig Trotter Rice ($6) on their menu together with drink options like Iced Thai Milk Tea ($2.50), Iced Thai Coffee ($2.50) as well as Homemade Barley ($1.20 for hot / $1.80 for cold) and Coffee / Tea ($1.20).

Iced Thai Coffee was not available on the day that I visited so I went for the Iced Thai Milk Tea with a large portion of wanton mee. I was told to take a seat and it will be served to the table when is ready though there is a 'Self-Service' sign displayed at the counter. 

Their egg noodles are different, it is light as well as springy and served with ingredients like the fried wanton, slices of char siew, waxed sausage and fried pork lard, tossed in a bit of oil and with a dash of fish sauce then added in the dried chilli flakes and preserved green chillies to complete it. It was also served with 2 pieces of wanton in the soup. The dried chilli flakes and preserved green chilli are available at the counter for self-service. The fried pork lards are not free-flow over here, it is available at $0.50 per saucer or $3.00 for a small plastic container.

It was generally nice though not quite as memorable as my very first bowl of their wanton mee that I had about 2 years ago. 

756 Upper Serangoon Road #04-26 Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre SINGAPORE 534626
Operating Hours: 9.15 am to 8.30 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Block 130 Jurong Gateway #01-211 SINGAPORE 600130
Operating Hours: 7.15 am to 4.00 pm (Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays)

Block 151 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 #01-3030 SINGAPORE 560151
Operating Hours: 7.15 am to 3.30 pm (Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ah Song Noodle House : so so Lor Mee

I came for Hambaobao, a burger stall in this food centre but the waiting time was 1 hour after placing the order. And, just like a few of other customers, I decided not to wait. After walking around, I settled for this noodle stall that is at the quiet corner of Beauty World Food Centre. There was no other customer when I visited on a Sunday for lunch. Their menu is simple, there are Fish Ball Soup ($3), Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle ($3), Fish Ball Minced Meat Noodle ($3) and Lor Mee (3) which I ordered. 

The portion was substantial and served with braised egg, fried dumpling, slices of ngor hiang and lean meat. I was asked to help myself to the sambal chilli, garlic paste and vinegar.

The sauce was a bit too light and not gooey enough to coat the noodles well. It tasted slightly better after mixing in the garlic paste and sambal chilli. They served it with the poached meat rather than the usual braised meat which did not have much taste, it might be a healthier choice or simply serve it out of convenience. I did not like it. 

144 Upper Bukit Timah Road #04-59 Beauty World Food Centre SINGAPORE 588177

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mr Lorbak : impressively good Braised Pork Belly Rice

William Liou, 30, is also known as Mr Lorbak, the owner of this unassuming hawker stall, located in a coffee shop at Ubi. It used to be in Bedok North Street 3 but forced to relocate when the owner of that coffee shop wanted to close it. He has a Diploma from SHATEC with a background in culinary arts and he was a former General Manager of a restaurant group prior to starting this stall. He used to manage the now-defunct Kite, a restaurant in Craig Road and also worked in Princess Terrace Cafe at Copthorne King as well as in Swissotel The Stamford. 

I asked, "Have you ever regretted in making such a decision?" He replied, "Not at all. I am happy in doing what I am doing now." It has always been his childhood dream to run a hawker stall. His mother used to run a stall selling rojak in Tampines and she is always the inspiration that prompted him to start a hawker stall. 

There is only one dish on the menu, which is the Braised Pork Belly Rice ($3.50) braised for a relatively long period of 14 hours using about 20 types of herbs and spices based on a recipe that has handed down from his mother. Each bowl comprises of lor bak and a hard-boiled egg with pieces of black cloud ear fungus and there is the option to add braised mushroom, preserved vegetable and tau pok at $0.50 each.

I ordered a portion with braised mushroom, preserved vegetable and tau pok added for $5. The flavour of lor bak is rich and wonderfully simple, its texture is meltingly tender and this is what will get you hooked on. It is cheap, filling and delicious. It is every bit as good as expected, perhaps better. The chilli reminded me of Kway Chap as it tasted quite alike, just like those that is usually served along with it. In fact, the dish itself has certain resemblances but instead of serving it with the rice noodles, it came with rice. The braised egg, preserved vegetables, tau pork and black fungus were nice accompaniments. 

It is pure, pull-no-punches comfort food and it is just the kind of thing that you want to eat, this keeps people coming back.  And not forgetting, the service is absolutely welcoming. 

Block 350 Ubi Avenue 1 SINGAPORE 400350
Operating Hours: 11.00 am to 8.00 pm (Closed on Tuesdays)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

( Hong Kong Jin Tian ) : they are back but not with Arp Geok Pau (鸭脚包)

Simon, their customer left a comment on the post that I wrote about Hong Kong Jin Tian, to inform that they are back in a coffee shop at Ubi about a week ago. I decided to go follow up. Mr Yip Kowk Ching, 62 and Mrs Yip moved from Hong Kong to Singapore about 30 years ago, they started Hong Kong Jin Tian (香港錦田) at Tiong Bahru, a popular eatery serving Hong Kong style roast meat and their speciality is Arp Geok Pau (Duck Leg Wrap) or 鸭脚包, in Chinese, is hardly found in Singapore though it used to be a popular dish in the 70s and 80s. The eatery was shut down on 27 April 2014. They re-opened on 15 July 2014 in one of those shops along Zion Road but was closed in 2015. I visited them there and wrote an article on Makansutra at that time. 

This time, they started as a hawker stall in a coffee shop. I was there at about 11 am on a weekday and went around looking for the signboard that spelt 'Hong Kong Jin Tian" but I did not see it there and I thought that information might be incorrect. Then, I spotted a man that resembled Mr Yip and went to ask, "This, used to be Hong Kong Jin Tian?". He nodded and then he replied in Cantonese but I only understand little Cantonese. He was trying to tell me that they could not use 'Hong Kong Jin Tian' as their signboard and they will be taxed heavily for doing so. Their new stall does not have a name and with just a generic signboard. 

And then, I saw Mrs Yip in the kitchen. I waved at her and said, "I recognise her, she is 叶太 (Mrs Yip)." That was how she like to be addressed when I met her about 2.5 years ago. She asked, "Do you purposely make a trip here?". I nodded. She then said, "你们很有心." She also mentioned that some of their regular customers visited and managed to recognise them. 

I ordered a plate of Roasted Duck and Sio Bak rice ($4) with their Soup of the Day ($3), which was Yamaimo Soup. The overall standard of their roasted meat is still as good. They are not able to make Arp Geok Pau now as their current kitchen is quite small and they will need a long table to lay out all the ingredients when making that delicate dish. They are still able to do suckling pig through an advance order. Their business was better when they started last week but a bit quieter this week and she thought it should be due to the school holidays. Mr Yip mentioned that they have to travel an hour from Tiong Bahru to their stall now. They used to own a stall at the Tiong Bahru Food Centre but have since given up as they planned to retire at that time. 

Mrs Yip joined me at the table and we chatted, it left me feeling heavy-hearted after hearing her story. She said in her heavily Cantonese accent Chinese, "We were left with no choice but to close our shop in Zion Road because my younger son decided to quit quite suddenly." She shared about what happened then. I remember she told me then that they actually wanted to retire but opened that shop for their sons as they have already mastered the required skills and interested in carrying on the trade. 

She also talked about the main reason for starting this food stall as they are hoping their younger son will join them later. Mrs Yip, said, "I have a feeling that it is going to happen very soon. No matter what happens, he is still my son." Apparently, it is all about a mother's love. 

I left my number with her so she could contact me if they decide to relocate again.

Block 3014B Ubi Road 1 Stall Number 11 SINGAPORE 408722
Operating Hours: 11.00 am to 2.00 pm (Monday to Friday)