Out-of-this-world UFO-shaped Snacks!

Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of my appetite. The mission: to explore strange new foods, to seek out new flavours and new places, to boldly go where no stomach has gone before. Glutton’s log: following a tip-off from my Makan Kaki, Chef Anthony Yeoh of Summer Hill French Bistro, contact was finally made with target. Something previously never seen or heard of before. Something deep-fried, savoury and shaped like a flying saucer.

With apologies to Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, that marked the beginning of my culinary adventure into the heart of Jalan Besar. There at Berseh Food Centre, I made a delicious discovery – Fuzhou oyster cakes. A traditional snack brought to Singapore from the capital of China’s Fujian Province, Chef Anthony described them as a Chinese version of French beignets or Indian Vadai.

 

Imagine edible pastry pockets stuffed with tasty little treasures of minced pork, prawn, Chinese celery, and yes, oysters. At Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake, crispy peanuts and whitebait garnished each puffy golden disc, which was eaten with a zingy chilli sauce. According to owner Madam Ong Poh Hwa, her eponymous stall was set up in memory of her grandmother, whom she grew up helping at a back street stall near Bugis in the 1950s.

However, when her grandmother’s house was destroyed in a fire in 1970, the business was put on hold and for a long time, they didn’t return to the trade. But after much cajoling from neighbours who missed the taste of their oyster cakes, Poh Hwa decided to use the skills inherited from grandma and set up her own stall in 1986 at Sam Leong Road. When rentals increased, Poh Hwa moved and started over at Berseh Food Centre. It’s been six years now at their current location and business has picked up considerably by word-of-mouth.

Madam Ong Poh Hwa & her husband, Mr Tan Hock Teck with Denise.

From 10am to 6pm, six days a week, Poh Hwa and her husband (along with occasional help from relatives) are stationed at their stall, ready to create oyster cakes ala minute. The snacks are made-to-order in small batches, which accounts for the queues. However, the wait is well worth it, once you sink your teeth into an oyster cake fresh from the wok…

These crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside snacks were irresistibly moreish and generously protein-packed. Each “normal” oyster cake cost $2.30 and consisted of an oyster, a prawn, an ample ball of minced pork and Chinese celery. The “upsize” version cost $2.80 each and came with double the ingredients. Of course I went for the latter.

My first bite of the edible flying saucers spun me into orbit and I found myself crash-landing on Planet Delicious. Fat, briny oysters, lean minced pork and naturally sweet, bouncy prawns robustly dominated the interior of each plump, pillowy pocket. Chopped Chinese celery lifted the intense flavours of land and sea with a peppery, herby freshness. Poh Hwa imports her fresh, voluptuous oysters from South Korea because “quality is very important and customers can tell if we compromise.” 

The batter was also quite a game changer for me – how did it stay so thin and crunchy on the outside, yet not claggy or soggy on the inside? A delightfully crisp shell had formed, with just enough airy batter to hold the filling together. Each crunchy, yet luscious bite yielded more oyster and meat than cake, which to me, were in exactly in the right proportions.

Poh Hwa explained that the batter was made from her Grandmother’s secret recipe and remained unchanged since her early street-hawking days. Three types of flour were used, including soybeans and water, to create its unique texture. A single, no-frills blender sat on the work surface, whizzing up the batter to the perfect viscous consistency, one jug at a time.

For such a stellar snack, their kitchen set-up was decidedly down-to-earth. A table for containers of ingredients, a large wok of oil and a metal ladle seemed to be all that was needed. According to Poh Hwa, the ladle was probably the most precious and important implement at hand. Specially shaped to give the oyster cakes their distinctive UFO shape (two shallow domes joined by a protruding seam), the ladle belonged to her grandmother, who brought it to Singapore from Fuzhou more than sixty years ago. This same ladle has been used in the family business since as a treasured heirloom.

A relative helping out at Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake.

The ladle was half-filled with batter, deftly sprinkled with the array of fillings, then more batter was spooned on to cover, garnished with whitebait and peanuts, before being lowered into the bubbling oil. It was mesmerizing to watch the doughy discs lift off the ladle, hovering just like little UFOs in the wok. Once one side reached a shade of deep golden-brown, it was carefully turned. As I watched the floating fleet of foo fighters, Poh Hwa shared, “All you need is eight minutes for a perfect oyster cake.”

The toppings helped to differentiate between a “normal” and “upsize” oyster cake. A normal cake only had one kind of garnish – either peanuts or whitebait. An upsized cake, understandably, featured both toppings. The crispy little fish embedded in the surface of each elliptical puff did provide the perfect, aromatic hit of umami. The upsized version was the best choice because together with the earthy, toasty crunch of peanuts, the two toppings jettisoned bags of extra taste and texture.

Delicious and addictive as they were on their own, lashings of Poh Hwa’s homemade chilli sauce shot the oyster cakes straight into the flavour stratosphere. Traditionally, her grandmother’s oyster cakes were sold plain, but due to customer demand, Poh Hwa started experimenting in her home kitchen and came up with a condiment that was the perfect balance of sour and spicy. Her special-blend chilli sauce had a vinegary kick and a gentle burn which cut through all the deep-fried, meaty richness. Its tanginess really stimulated the tastebuds and made the dish even more appetising.

Only a handful of traditional oyster cake stalls remain in Singapore, so make your next food expedition count. Hurry at warp speed to Berseh Food Centre and grab yourself at least a dozen of Fu Zhou Poh Hwa’s astronomical pocket rockets. You’ll devour them faster than you can say UFO – Unbelievable Frying Object!

  • TASTE: Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake is located at Berseh Food Centre, 166 Jalan Besar, #02-34, Singapore 208877.
    It’s open 10am to 6pm, Wednesday to Monday. Closed on Tuesdays.
    Tel: +65 8112 5286
    GrabFood delivery available.

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