Hello Makan Kakis, with the Lunar New Year looming, how about some reunion dinner inspiration in the form of a hearty steamboat meal? Our Foodie Friend, restaurateur Jason Ong of Uni Gallery & Caviar, returns with this tasty and traditional recommendation for old school charcoal steamboat that’s economical, chock-full of ingredients and great for sharing!
Click to listen/ download podcast of this week’s bubbling hot & steamy episode!
So if you’re craving for the nostalgia and taste of charcoal steamboat, check out this stall at Whampoa Market. According to Jason, there are two sections – one is the very busy hawker centre that comes alive at night and then there’s the other section that’s mostly open for the daytime crowds. It’s in that quieter-at-night section you’ll find steamboat stalwart Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan. The stall’s name is slightly misleading in Mandarin, because it simply touts kway teow noodles, which is but a small part of their menu!
A ba chor mee stall by day selling yes, kway teow, mee pok and more, it turns into a popular steamboat stall by night, attracting up to 90 minute waits at peak hour. But braving the crowds is worth it, says Jason who heads over with his family every month or so when the craving hits. When I paid Xin Heng Feng a visit on a Saturday night, the stall was brightly lit and was the only stall open apart from a fruit juice stall. We had run of the entire space and finding a table was easy, despite the crowd. Best of all, zero wait time!
You can choose between fish head or fish slice steamboat and there are ang go li (white snapper), red grouper and batang varieties. I went with my favourite batang fish slices and settled down for the steamboat to be prepped and served. They have a specific system of service. A cheerful uncle takes your order, points you to a table and a wooden board (to protect the table surface from the heat of the steamboat) appears, along with plates, bowls, chopsticks, spoons and little dishes of red chilli in soy & chilli sauce.
Before long, the uncle in charge of sides trundled by with his trolley. That evening, much like dishes served with teochew porridge, soy-braised duck wings, taupok (tofu puffs), hard-boiled eggs and garlicky giam chye (salted veg) were available for our picking. I went with the latter three choices. Next, an auntie rolled her trolley laden with burning charcoal steamboats to our table and placed one on the wooden board. She then immediately collected payment – cash only, please – which she kept stashed in her trusty black waist pouch. Our fish slice charcoal steamboat for two, plus the 3 sides cost $35.
The aroma was heady, with that distinctive whiff of smoky charcoal. Swimming in the bubbling broth were ample portions of sliced batang, seaweed, Chinese cabbage and chunks of yam. The fish was fresh, firm and favourful and the tender yam chunks added bulk and a comforting creaminess to the otherwise clean dish.
But the star of the entire dish has got to be the soup. Jason couldn’t praise its tastiness enough and indeed, it is powerfully seasoned and bold in flavour, thanks to the liberal use of tee poh (dried flat fish), which imparts maximum umami to the punchy brew.
Some might find this soup on the salty side, especially as the charcoal fire keeps burning and concentrating the liquid. It was to my personal liking, but my advice is to fill your bowl with soup immediately, as soon as the steamboat is served. That way, you get to enjoy it unconcentrated and at its best. Adding an order of steamed white rice also helps!
All in all, this is a fun, nostalgia-tinged way to share food this festive season. Delicious and not too heavy on the tummy or wallet!
Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan (Fish Steamboat)
Whampoa Market 5
91 Whampoa Dr, #01-1415, Singapore 320091
Open: 5am – 9.30pm* (Wed – Mon, closed Tue)
*Steamboat only available for dinner. Operates as a noodle stall during the day.