Hawking SG’s Food Heritage

Hawking SG’s Food Heritage

Just because Singapore’s hawker culture has been listed as part of UNESCO Intangible Culture list doesn’t mean it stopped facing the threat of erosion from modernisation and rising costs. Hawkers provide us with cheap, accessible food with incredible variety — the least we can do is to keep supporting stalls we love by enjoying their fare, and paying them for their craft. Here’s a little collage of places that hold a special place in my heart, and hopefully yours too when you try them!
Mystickal / Melly W
Mystickal / Melly W

Feeling a little nostalgic, guess who joined her dad at Sixth Avenue for some nasi lemak!

Hoping to replicate my taste memories, I was disappointed to find out that due to the prolonged pandemic, Sixth Ave Nasi Lemak has significantly shrunk their à la carte selection, choosing to subsist on the usual nasi lemak set staples alongside other noodle dishes like mee soto, mee siam, and mee rebus.

I ended up settling – I know – for a normal set with two extra fishes while my dad ordered his usual bowl of mee siam. Here is normally where I tell you how much everything costs, except that because I’ve never actually ordered food from SANL myself before, I have no idea how much anything costs. The ballpark if memory serves is around $4-$5 for their standard nasi lemak set without additions, with extra charge for more sambal.

While I wished I had the presence of either their sambal cuttlefish – thick, luscious cuts that my mum and I would get extra servings of – or sayur lodeh as a reprieve from all the dry ingredients, the nasi lemak is still really good.

The basmati rice was misty with the scent of coconut, making it even sweet when rolled with their signature sambal. Perfectly built to cut the richness of their protein. The fishes are bigger and fleshier than most places, and seared just enough to bring forth their natural flavour and to create texture. And their ikan bilis is just magical in their crackle. Even their chicken wing – which I normally skip – had a beautifully crisp skin and juicy interior, neither marred by the overwhelming stain of oil.

Always a treat when your childhood food heroes live up to your taste memories!

[ Food Week — Hawker Food ] As we approach the tail end of this season’s food week, it’s time to bring out some of my favourite local dishes that I rarely get the chance to feature, be it due to distance or calories (heh).

Believe it or not, there was a pretty extended period in my life when I subsisted on lor mee nearly every other day! Even though I don’t showcase it much, I adore the dish. Cue today’s feature: 137 Lor Mee Prawn Noodles at Tampines Round Market!

137LM is no exception. Opening at ripe hour of 6.30am, if you’re lucky, visiting at 10am m a y net you the last bowl before the stall starts wiping down for the day. Be warned! (All this being pre-P2 ofc; for now, please don’t forget to support your favourite stalls by taking away food looking at places like WhyQ to see if they offer delivery!)

I know many of us lor mee meisters have v e r y strong opinions on what constitutes a worthy bowl of lor mee. As someone whose opinion tend to skate along the edges of near blasphemy, let me get one thing straight: Lighter lor mee broth doesn’t mean less flavour!!! /deep exhale/

Growing up on lor mee with thinner/lighter sauces — specifically Clementi’s Ah Ma Lor Mee — I’ve never once felt the lack of a viscous, sticky broth detracted from the dish. As long as the chef knows how to balance their ingredients, they can still create a beautiful bowl no less worthy than its denser counterparts. After all, coherence and character are what build the unique signature of each stall.

137LM can be polarising for some: Those who enjoy heavy, substantial “lor” won’t get it here. The broth is lighter and easier to enjoy with your noodles; in spite of that, the aromatics and spices are unmistakeable, and when paired with the near ridiculous amount of toppings — fried fish chunks, ngoh hiang, fish cake, pork belly, egg — makes the entire experience a coherent yet vivid one. (Try imagining digging through stiff, sticky sauce trying to retrieve all those goodies, ugh — this is why the broth here is lighter.)

Oh, did I mention they have amazing crispy fish nuggets? Despite being drenched, these crispy pieces never wilt! And you get a ton of them regardless of serving size!

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[ Food Week: Hawker Food ] When we think of hawker food, the usual suspects likely come to mind: Laksa, hokkien mee, mee siam, briyani etc. Rarely — for me at least — does my mind wander towards snacks sold in hawker centres like rojak, savoury kueh, tutu kueh, apam balik, and other snacks that make up my childhood.

And usually when I get one as a treat from my folks, I rarely bother to document the moment, feeling like a between-meal indulgence doesn’t warrant enough significance to be immortalised in my food dairy.

This Phase 2, while we are seeing a profusion of heartfelt adoration for hawker stalls, many of their neighbours who sell desserts or small bites tend to slip under the radar. After all, when we think of hawkers, most of us associate them with our major meals of the day — everything else is filtered by the feathered edges of the hours that revolve around proper breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I struggled to find a snack that would induce a similar effusion of ardour. Hopefully this uncommon treat — that teeters on the precipice of extinction — can remind us to support hawkers who devote their time and craft to perfecting small bites that tide us until our next meal.

This, my friends, is the Fuzhou oyster cake (aka the aptly named UFO oyster cake). Brought to Singapore by Fuzhou immigrants, this is a rather laborious treat to make, consisting of a thin, fried shell of batter made from rice (sometimes blended with soya beans) encapsulating a potpourri of minced meat and cilantro, pierced with the occasional oyster (or whichever other topping you prefer), and finally dusted with fried peanuts and/or anchovies.

It smells absolutely amazing — the rich brine of the meat-oyster combination is tempered by gentle whiffs of sweet rice batter, melded into a coherent whole by the bite of cilantro and weight of oil.

And yes, it’s as — and likely even more — sinful than it looks.

There are several big names that still serve excellent Fuzhou Oyster Cakes. Each has its own signature, but they all share the same denominator: Crisp and fragrant shell of burnished bronze, a generous dollop of filling, accompanied by fresh and succulent seafood/oyster.

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[ Food Week: Hawker Food ] Just because a hawker is renowned doesn't make it impervious to the adverse impacts of Phase 2. When you are next at your favourite hawker, take a moment to survey their stall. Do you see more leftovers than usual? Or maybe the variety of dishes has shrunk? Or perhaps the operating hours are much more restrained than before?

Whichever the case, even hawkers who traditionally sell out before the sun reaches its zenith have been seeing enough irregular demand to warrant concern. If we wish to support their longevity, the best way to do it is to buy a meal yourself. Who knows how many others are relying on the same fallacy of “someone else will buy” — if you don’t take action, and neither do they, who else is there left?

Today’s feature, Tiong Bahru’s Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice, needs little introduction. Helmed by Mr. Loo, the son of the original recipe’s creator, the establishment has endured for over seven decades. Rain or shine — sans Thursdays on every fortnight — Mr. Loo continues to serve his family’s legacy to locals and tourists.

During more normal times, look across the crowded coffeeshop and it feels like a microcosm of Singapore: Multi-generational families hunched over small tables; white-collared workers rushing against the clock; partially intimidated tourists ogling at the clockwise chaos; foremen braving the sun to cart back multi-packs; affluent matriarchs perched in their rides awaiting their helpers’ return.

I digress — but what I’m trying to say is that places like Loo’s don’t just exist as pit stops for great food; they’ve evolved their own gravities, creating atmospheres and environments that are solely unique to their existence. If these places disappear, not only do we lose a link in our already precarious hawker culture — we risk weakening the integrity of our already patchwork social fabric.

For those who do want to try Loo’s legacy, the choice is simple: Try his Hainanese pork chop. Both the original ketchup or the curry versions are worth a taste. To pair, their chap chye acts as a wonderful contrasting complement; if not, go for their pork belly or other curries to amp it up even further.

[ Food Week: Hawker Food ] Moving a little outside my usual sphere of travel by dining at Holland Road this time! (It’s Holland Village Market & Food Centre, not to be conflated with Holland D r i v e Market & Food Centre in the Buona Vista/Ghim Moh area btw.) In terms of sheer variety, accessibility, and affordability, I still find this enclave unmatched when it comes to cheap and quick eats in the estate.

Despite the popularity of other stalls, I always found myself gravitating towards the seafood soup from Li Ji Xiao Chi (李记小吃), a place that serves a medley of unrelated homemade-styled local delights.

While we didn’t get that today, there was an old regular who was recovering from an accident who hobbled to a table near ours. It was only after a brimming bowl of seafood soup appeared in front of him did he visibly relax. In that moment, I felt the comfort of my childhood nostalgia. Amazing what a simple bowl of noodles can do to you, eh!

Forgoing the siren’s call of the beautiful prawns-fish-cabbage combo (darn you, medical diet!), we ended up with a plate of her fried rice instead. Here’s the thing: I’m no fan of fried rice. Don’t like rice, don’t like oil (and thus most fried stuff), but I was fine sampling her variant because throughout the years, she has always been meticulous in her preparation, and consistent in keeping her dishes healthier than the usual bar.

This was no different. Each scoop revealed studs of shrimp, egg, and meat (either char siew or lap cheong, alas, my memory fails me) squirreled within the mound of rice. The rice wasn’t too salty nor oily, relying on the pairing of basic condiments like salt and pepper to accentuate the toppings to impart flavour to the dish. The rice was a lot more moist than I’d prefer, but the glistening, sunny egg was stirred in, the yolk trickled between the grains and masked (complemented?) the wetness, turning it into a much more satisfying lurid affair.

This dish isn’t meant for the ravenous. Think of it as a scoop from the chef’s home kitchen instead — a measured taste of her experience and history that satiates the weary, but not enough for one to surfeit on for an extended day.

Continuing with this season of food week with something much closer to my neighbourhood: Malaysian-styled Wanton stall + Roast meats at Binjai’s Hup Choon Eating House!

Ever since we discovered Hup Choon Eating House hidden within the Binjai Park estate when I was a child, it’s been a staple in our breakfast diets for over a decade!

I remember covering the roast meats this stall has to over a bit ago, so today I’ll be focusing on my f a v item here: Their char siew wanton kway teow soup! (Yes, I know that is a very specific order.)

Some FYIs: The goodies tend to sell out after lunch; the entire coffeeshop is closed on Weds; the location tag is for the seafood stall that’s run by the coffeeshop’s owner, this stall is next to it!

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why I’ve no problems eating their wanton kway teow nearly every single week for breakfast across multiple years (that trend is still going strong!):

The meat cuts you get here — be it duck, roasted pork, or char siew — are always freshly roasted, and are lean yet juicy. This doesn’t mean you end up with dry, bristled pieces. On the contrary, because of the roasting process, you get to savour the sweetness inherent to these cuts without being inundated with excessive fats and oil. (You can request for specific cuts — the uncle-auntie pair is really friendly and loves to chat!)

Their wantons aren’t anything to scoff at either. Each bulb is generously stuffed with meat and wrapped in a thin layer. The meat is never fatty, and seasoned just enough to provide flavour to pair with, but not distract from the soup. (Order a separate bowl of these/shui jiao on cold days for a treat!)

Finally, what really enamoured me to this specific dish is the soup. No, it doesn’t share a profile with complex double-boiled soups; instead, it offers a smooth, warm, comforting bloom of yellow beans suffused with vibrant greens — it’s the perfect complement to the heavier meats, and grounds you back into the simple yet blissful joy of enjoying a bowl of freshly cooked noodles. It’s a reminder that no matter how tough the day is, there is always a warm, homecooked bowl waiting to nourish you.

[ Hawker Food Review ] I managed to get my hands on some good ol’ hawker comfort food today! I am super excited to post about this, and also in part to support the movement to share and promote traditional hawkers via social media — especially if they have been left behind by the digital divide. Today’s food in focus: Thye Hong Handmade Fishball Noodles (Ghim Moh)!

Fellow fishball fanatics may recognise the brand — Thye Hong is quite the bulwark in the hawker sphere, whose reputation has been fuelled by the culinary efforts of five siblings (of which three specialise in fishball noodles). The brand I’m most familiar with is this, the one in Ghim Moh managed by the second oldest of the sibling group. The two sibling (heh) brands are in Bukit Batok — run by the youngest brother under the same brand name — and Holland Drive — managed by the fourth brother under the name Ru Ji Kitchen — but despite similar roots, their noodles have a unique signature courtesy of the respective chef’s interpretation of their father’s techniques, and decades-long incorporation of their own masteries and flourishes.

I’ve eaten these noodles since I was a child, and even back then (i.e. when yours truly was more than happy to stuff anything fried into her stomach without much care for finesse and flavour), I always had a special fondness for THHFN.

The true magic of the bowl is in the wreath of handmade fishcakes and fishballs that circle the noodles. Made from fresh yellowtail with just enough a pinch of flour to hold everything together, each bite is met with a wispy hue of brine-touched savoury goodness. Despite the potency of the mix, you’re never met with a mouthful of fish; and in spite of its more muted intensity, you can still revel in the sea-swept flavour.

That’s the real magic: Decades upon decades of gastronomical prowess condensed into these hand-moulded bites. (And yes, the meatball is just as-, wait, it’s e v e n more boisterous in flavour, and has the most divine bouncy crunch.)

Don’t wait to taste the magic of a bygone decade — given the uncle’s age, please give him the support; besides, who knows how long it’ll be until the taste of his legacy becomes but a wistful memory.

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[ Food Review — Teck Hin Fishball Noodle ] Finishing the weekend with something I grew up with — fishball and fishcake noodles from Bukit Timah Market! (Nope, it’s not Sheng Cheng!)

I know quite a few people who diss TH in favour of SC, but hear me out: Handmade fishballs and fishcake cooked à la 1970s style.

Sure, the couple can be grouchy, and sure the number of toppings you get have dwindled significantly over the years, but if shelling out for a large is what I need to do to get their springy, succulent fishballs, sign me up! Their fish cakes are even better IMO — the crumpled mantle of gold that coats each slice has excellent texture, especially when paired with chilli! Moreover, since they do a more even blend of fish and flour than other traditional stalls, you get an actual crunch with each bite, which makes the overall mouthfeel even more remarkable.

For those who are still sceptical, think about it this way: You’re tasting a part of SG’s rapidly disappearing food heritage. Who knows how long we will have left before such flavours become eroded by time, only existing in the ambiguity of our memories?

If you’re looking to try this, climb up the stairs to the food centre and make a left. After you pass the first dual-stalls row, it’s the one immediately after — backfacing the entrance and flanking the edge of the row. (Or you can just keep an eye out for #02-141!)

[@meltingflavours on Insta] I ramble about food. A lot. 📝Long posts | ❌🧀🍷🥛 ⛔️Do not repost⛔️

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