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Hawker Hunting

Hawker Hunting

Always out to hunt for the best hawker food in town and those hidden gems that have yet to be discovered.
Terence Ong
Terence Ong

Once in awhile, it’s nice to give yourself an artery clogging treat of char kway teow. Where’s your favourite char kway teow?

You can’t miss No. 18 Zion Road Char Kway Teow (01-17) if you enter the hawker centre from the main road as there’s usually a long queue.
Three sizes are available: $4/6/8. If you’re having it by yourself, the $4 portion (pictured) is sufficient as the portion is rather generous.

What’s nice about this char kway teow is that it retained its flavour when I had it as a takeaway. I was greeted by a good wok hei flavour (although I’ve read that it can be rather inconsistent) and it’s not too sweet and salty and oily. On the wet to dry scale, it deviates more to the dry side which is what I prefer for char kway teow.

You’ll get a good mix of ingredients including cockles (hum), fish cake, lup cheong (Chinese sausage), eggs, beansprouts and Chinese chives (ku chai). I’d appreciate it if there was a little more lard bits as I enjoy eating those little artery clogging bits.

One of the things I like to eat in Bangkok is kuay jub so when I heard that there’s a stall in Singapore specialising in this, I was eager to try. Yaowarat Thai Kway Chap is a good place to try this clear, peppery offal soup in Singapore.

Unlike Singapore’s kway chap that’s braised in dark sauce, its Thai counterpart is similar in taste to our pig organ soup. And another noticeable difference is that the Thai kway (flat rice noodle) is rolled like a cigar unlike the broad flat sheets in Singapore’s version.

There’s only one size for the kway chap where a bowl costs $5. You have a choice of kway or white rice. Naturally, I opted for the former as I like the texture of the rolled noodles. Every bowl comes with sliced pork, crispy pork belly, pig stomach and fish sausage. Anyone who has tried the Thai version knows that there’ll be more types of innards served. But this is good enough for me.

Going to the most important element of the dish, the soup, I found it to be extremely peppery and flavourful, considering there’s a multitude of herbs and spices added into the soup. I easily finished all the soup and it’ll be a great treat to have on a rainy day. If you want to eat it like the Thais, you can add some dried chilli flakes and fish sauce into your soup.

For an additional $2, you can choose to add other ingredients such as Thai fish sausage or crispy pork. I must say that the crispy pork belly is worth adding as the skin is really crispy and the meat itself is very well-marinated and tender.

I do like the interior and the concept. It resembles what you would experience in a typical Bangkok coffee shop.

This is the closest one can get to trying Thai kway chap without leaving our shores. I do find this very comforting and will have it any day when the cravings kick in.

What’s good to eat at Empress Road Market (a.k.a. Farrer Road Market)? One of the stalls you gotta try is Ah Wing’s Wanton Mee (01-108). Spot the stall with the longest queue in the hawker centre and you’re at the right place.

I was terribly impressed by both the wanton mee ($3.50/4.50) and dumpling soup ($4 for 5 pieces’/ $7 for 9 pieces). Let’s first talk about the noodles. There’s a pleasant yellow hue to the noodles and they are firm, elastic and eggy. Very similar to what you get in Hong Kong with the mild alkaline taste.

And the wantons here are delectable. Loads of minced pork filling is packed in each wanton. Plus the skin is soft and smooth. Char siew is of the lean variety. It has a charred, caramelised exterior that was reasonably sweet from the marinade.

Each dumpling was plump and meaty. The filling is generous where it’s stuffed with pork, a whole shrimp and black fungus. Very tasty.

Decided to add on the braised chicken feet (additional $2; or available separately as a noodle dish). It’s decent but I found it to be rather bony and dry.

Not forgetting the sauces, their dark sauce was a perfect concoction. The chilli had a strong taste of dried shrimp but wasn’t spicy enough for my liking. It tasted more like XO sauce.

My only regret is that I didn’t try this much earlier despite it being very convenient for me.

Ah Wing’s is open on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the CB period.

Maxwell Food Centre has seven chicken rice stalls. Which one is your go to chicken rice at Maxwell? Here’s one from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (01-10/11), the most famous of them all and features snaking long queues (mainly from tourists and curious locals) during lunch hour in better times. It has received rave reviews from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay.

There are two sizes available ($3.50/$5). Go for the $5 one as the $3.50 portion won’t fill up your stomach. So what makes it so special from others? It lies in the rice and the chilli sauce. The flavoured rice is fluffy and fragrant as they use loads of garlic, chicken fat and chicken stock. The rice is good and consistent in texture.

Having eaten Tian Tian for over 20 years, I can boldly say that standards have dropped quite a bit and lost its original shine. It’s not inedible, but it errs towards the side of inconsistency. Perhaps they cook most of the food in a central kitchen now. When I had the chicken rice on my very last visit, it was fairly good probably because I was given the chicken drumstick. The drumstick was soft, juicy and tender which made me reminisce my younger days. But the steamed chicken breast meat is rather tough on most occasions. So opt for dark meat here for a pleasant experience.

Chilli sauce here is rather spicy and tangy. The taste of the ginger, garlic and lime is evidently strong. Don’t have too much in one go if you aren’t good with spice.

So how does this compare with its closest competitor Ah Tai? My vote goes to Ah Tai. Ah Tai’s version reminds me of the old Tian Tian (the owner parted ways some years back) while Tian Tian feels rather commercialised.

Where’s your favourite place to get your oyster omelette (or luak) fix? If you’re in Kovan, check out Simon Road Oyster Omelette at Hougang Street 21 (Kovan). They whip up the crispy version of this calorie indulging delight. Decided to try this after reading about this place for years.

The batter is fried for a long time that contributes to its very crispy exterior. But the inside remains reasonably starchy and gooey giving it a good balance overall. The oysters were plump and juicy and there was a good coating of starch. Within the dish you will get pockets of fluffy fried egg omelette which is an important element of the entire dish. Not to mention the chilli sauce is fresh, tangy and zesty.

I thought the batter would’ve been crispier based on what I read about this place previously. Perhaps it wasn’t the best day when I went but I’ll be open to trying them again.

Everyone loves their wanton mee and has their favourite place to get their fix. Probably some would point to Koung’s in Geylang as their favourite.

Menu here is simple and straightforward. Wanton mee ($4) and dumpling soup ($3/4/5). I had the wanton mee and requested for additional ingredients (additional $3). It’s rather old school style here. The egg noodles here are firm, thick and springy and I really enjoyed chowing down the noodles. Char siew here is the traditional variant - lean and thin. It’s roasted in a charcoal oven in-house. Although it was lean and had a low fat proportion, the char siew has a sweet, honey taste and tender texture.

I love how they are generous with the lard and the bits are crispy and certainly worth the artery clogging. The sauce is a special concoction of dark sauce, lard and chilli sauce. I had my noodles extra spicy. What’s good is the chilli isn’t so spicy for those who can’t handle their spice and doesn’t mask the flavour of the entire dish.

So what about the wanton and dumplings (shui gao). The wantons have a generous filling of minced pork. Dumplings were decently sized and similar to the wantons except that it had a piece of shrimp and water chestnut. The wrapper was slightly on the thick side and I wished it could be a little thinner and it’d be perfect.

I love having Cantonese roasts (烧腊) and always on the hunt to find a good place for them. So for those who eat at Hong Lim often, you should be familiar with roasted meat stall Lee Kheong (02-15). This stall attracts long queues (at least 20 minutes or more) during lunch hour and most of the items are sold out before 2pm. In fact it’s a one man operation that’s run by an uncle who is a man of few words.

I had my usual combination of char siew, roasted pork and roasted duck rice ($6). The char siew here definitely stands out with its charred exterior that was nicely glazed and caramelised. And the meat being lean, tender and juicy.

Roasted pork is my favourite roasted meat item and I was very impressed by this. The crispy skin together with the nice layer of fat and well seasoned meat made it a delight. I only can wish that I was served with thicker slices of this delectable meat.

The roasted duck was decent with the meat being juicy and tender but the skin being a bit soggy rather than crispy. But it’s fine by me as I’m used to having soggy roasted duck skin during my student days in London.

I must say that there’s a generous serving of sweet savoury gravy is poured over the rice. Nothing special about the rice here. It’s just to fill your carb intake.

The presentation here may not be photogenic but sometimes good food don’t need to look that nice.

Spoilt for choice at Old Airport Road Food Centre and looking for a new stall to try? Try Xiang Ji Lor Mee (01-81) which is the other popular lor mee stall here. It’s opened by a former staff of the famous Xin Mei Xiang so the similarities are there.

Portions are available at $3/4/5/6. The starchy gravy here is thick and consistent which I prefer unlike some versions that become watery like a braised soup after a few spoonfuls. I opted for flat yellow noodles as that’s my personal choice. Of course, bee hoon and kway teow are also on offer.

And what I like about this is the generous serving of ingredients they put in this bowl. For $5, there was a lot of crispy fried fish, braised pork belly, ngoh hiang and a hard boiled egg. I like how there’s lots of chilli (sambal belachan and chilli padi) and minced garlic too which added a spicy and pungent dimension to the dish.

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Look at that crispy, glistening skin of the fried chicken wings. I haven’t had Eng Kee’s chicken wings in a decade but they still taste as good. Eng Kee constantly attract long queues at both lunch and dinner.

At $1.30 per piece, each wing is fried till golden brown yet retaining its juiciness and tenderness on the inside. I absolutely love the seasoning here but I can’t exactly figure out what’s the secret ingredient besides salt, pepper and soy sauce.

Have the economical bee hoon and other items as well.

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Calling out all lovers of white chai tow kway (carrot cake). Westies would probably say that He Zhong Carrot Cake (02-185) at Bukit Timah Food Centre is one of the best stalls for carrot cake in the West.

Unlike many stalls these days, they still make their own carrot cake in a separate unit. For those that aren’t familiar, carrot cake contains no carrots but only radish. Prices start from $2.50 and servings of $3/4/5 are available.

Waiting times of up to 20 minutes aren’t uncommon during peak hours. When you dig in, you’ll understand why it’s so popular. It’s very unique in its own way. Unlike other stalls, it’s cooked and served in such a way that it resembles a chunky pancake.

Large rectangular blocks of steamed carrot cake are fried with chai poh (preserved radish) and a copious amount of egg batter is added while cooking to hold the blocks together. Blocks of carrot cake are stacked on top of each other before it’s served to you.

So what’s the taste profile like? Crispy on the outside, soft and springy on the inside. Very light and not too oily. A strong eggy and garlicky taste as a result of the amount of eggs and some garlic used in the dish. It hits all the right notes.

A hipster hawker stall in an old neighbourhood hawker centre in Commonwealth. What are the odds of that? Check out A Wonder Bowl (02-97) at Commonwealth Crescent Food Centre.

Less common hawker options such as Pao Fan (泡饭) and Braised Pork Rice/ Lu Rou Fan (卤肉饭) are on offer.

Pao Fan isn’t one dish I’m familiar with till very recently. We had the minced chicken pao fan ($5) which was fairly decent and the highlight here was definitely the soup. I wonder what’s used in the stock to bring out the umami flavour but I could just have the soup alone. My preference would to be have ingredients that would add additional flavour and dimension to the dish.

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A hipster hawker stall in an old neighbourhood hawker centre in Commonwealth. What are the odds of that? Check out A Wonder Bowl (02-97) at Commonwealth Crescent Food Centre.

Less common hawker options such as Pao Fan (泡饭) and Braised Pork Rice/ Lu Rou Fan (卤肉饭) are on offer.

The Lu Rou Fan is probably the most popular item here. It comes in two sizes $4/5.50. I love braised pork so it was my natural instinct to try this. A generous portion of minced pork, pork belly, hard boiled egg and preserved vegetables on rice awaited me. What I loved about this dish is how the braised pork belly melted in my mouth and a balanced fat to meat proportion. The minced meat and the gravy could have a little more flavour as I found it to be a little too healthy for this sinful dish.

It’s breathtaking to see hawkerpreneurs opening up stalls to continue our dying hawker trade. Do check out this stall if you’re in the vicinity.

The camera always eats first. Instagram: @eaterries/ #terryongeats

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