After weeks of excessive eating, my stomach was protesting. I have to admit I was ready to throw in the fork, spoon and chopsticks. Imagine the relief to hear from my Makan Kaki, Chef Heman Tan of Moonbow at Dempsey, who suggested I reset my body with something pristine and nourishing. As a chef of Modern European cuisine, this stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre is his first stop when he’s in need of a respite from the rich foods he usually whips up in his restaurant. So in times of overindulgence, pay penance at Quan Xiang Fish Porridge with a bowl of their palate-cleansing Teochew-style signature.
Under the stall’s name, a menu board with the words “lao zi hao” (老字号) printed in large Chinese characters greets you. Roughly translated to “renowned old brand or established enterprise”, both are true for Quan Xiang, a proudly Teochew family business that had its beginnings in 1966 as a roadside pushcart. Stall owner Mr Loh Chee Song told me that his father first began selling his signature fish porridge at the now-defunct Beauty World Market, until frequent fires encouraged the move to their current location in Bukit Timah Food Centre in 1976.
The business, along with their closely-guarded family recipe, was passed down to Mr Loh in 1999 and for over two decades, he has been perfecting his father’s legacy. When it comes to traditional Teochew-style fish porridge, the emphasis is on retaining the fresh taste of fish, without any overt seasonings or extra ingredients to sully its purity. Unlike other types of Asian fish soup or porridge, no tofu, tomato, seaweed or lard is added. It needs to be very clean and unadulterated, so as to let the main ingredient shine. In Quan Xiang’s case, they use either batang (Spanish mackerel) or the less common wild red garoupa. The freshest they can find.
Please meet our new Foodie Friend, investment-banker-turned-award-winning-gelato-chef & founder of Momolato (cafe & gelato brand) Sharon Tay!
Momolato is short for “more and more gelato” and believe me, Sharon has dreamt up an extensive menu of unique and delicious gelato & sorbets that are eco-friendly and halal, with keto, vegan, dairy-free and no-sugar added options.
This week, get to know more about the brand, the cafe and the lady boss behind Momolato (she supplies lots of others places in Singapore too!) – do have a listen to our podcasts! And do scroll down for highlights from Momolato’s unique menu.
Gelato Chef Sharon Tay absolutely adores curry rice, specifically the classic Hainanese type, which features rice & a choice of accompanying dishes, all drenched in a bath of Chinese-style curry gravy. Her hands-down favourite has got to be Tiong Bahru stalwart, Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice, a stall that has a 75-year history and a painstaking curry recipe that allegedly takes 3 days to create. Operating out of its humble Seng Poh Road coffeeshop, Loo’s continues to delight hungry diners looking for the home-cooked comforts coupled with their signature curry.
Chef Sharon describes said curry as “creamy” and “aromatic” and indeed, when Denise popped by to do a quick takeaway, the intensity of flavour was distinct, even after sitting wrapped in takeaway wax paper for a good 30 minutes. What it lacked in temperature heat, the curry gravy more than made up for its kick and taste. It had soaked into the rice and dishes, imbuing everything with a delicious spiciness that was rich, yet not cloying.
Fresh out of the fryer, Chef Sharon cannot resist Loo’s famous pork chop, which is “amazing” and “crispy”. Coated with Khong Guan biscuits that have been pulverised to a fine powder then seasoned and fried, the pork chop boasts a golden-crunchy crumb crust and tender meat, enhanced by the classic sweet & sour Hainanese tomato sauce. Denise, however preferred to enjoy the porkchop sans tomato sauce, to really bump up the pure curry flavour from the gravy slathered all over the dish.
In true “point-point” rice style, lots of other dishes are on offer at Loo’s, presented in metal containers you can choose from. Denise got there near closing time, but managed to snag some braised cabbage with glass vermicelli, a whole squid and a fried egg which was squirted with sticky-sweet dark soy sauce (hence the deep brown colour of the sauce above).
All-in-all, Loo’s is really one of the best in Singapore, serving up consistently good curry rice and dishes since 1946 – seven decades of experience is testament to the quality of their food! Hainanese Curry Rice really is one of those quintessential “Ugly-Delicious” dishes – it’s pretty much a brown gloopy mess, but with the very special curry holding everything together, it just tastes wonderful. Hearty, satisfying and comforting!
*** BONUS *** Some highlights of halal, eco-friendly Momolato‘s menu – these look good and taste great, who would guess they are keto, vegan, dairy-free or no-sugar-added? Denise loves the combination of pandan waffle with coconut gelato. Other stand-out flavours were the unusual 1000 Days Gouda Cheese Keto gelato (delightfully savoury-sweet), Triple Blend Chocolate sorbet, Red Watermelon Soursop sobet and Oolong Kyoto Hojicha. Order your gelato, sorbet, frozen yogurt, popsicles and fruite lattes here now!
Masterchef Singapore Judge Chef Damian D’Silva loves porridge. Specifically Teochew-style porridge – the plain, watery rice kind served steaming hot with a whole array of cooked dishes. Despite his solidly Eurasian-Peranakan roots, his heart & stomach begin and end with porridge. So much so that he says that would be his last meal because there’s just something so soul satisfying about it.
SEE: Third time’s a charm with a return to Gar Lok Eating House, a place we’ve visited twice before! Our Makan Kaki Lyn Lee of Awfully Chocolate & Sinpopo brand (check out their gorgeous Lunar New Year hampers, cookies and cakes here!) had such a fascinating time the first time she went for her father-in-law’s favourite Hakka Beef Balls, she had to return to check out the other goodies on offer, including their hand-made Hakka Yong Tau Foo and this week’s recommendation, excellent Economical Rice!
De Ji Shen Cai Fan, serving up hot plates of white rice with a tasty selection of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, is one of the three stalls occupying the small but charming old school coffeeshop (but is of no relation to the other two Hakka stalls run by the same family). The day Lyn visited, she noticed that even though it was lunchtime, many of the dishes had already been snapped up. What was left on display, in large metal pans, were twelve to thirteen dishes and behind them, already plated, were what she assumed were single leftovers from what had already sold-out – tofu, fish, ngoh hiang and veggies. Definitely more a breakfast place, be sure to get there early to guarantee first dibs on the best variety of dishes!
Say you’re starving but you still want variety – something quick, tasty and wallet-friendly. Say those hunger pangs hit hard whilst you’re in the Orchard Road area. Nasi Padang might not be the most obvious choice to fulfill those criteria – unless your Makan Kakis Farah & Claudinho de Morais (behind Brazilian home business Claudinho’s Kitchen) recommend you try one of their favourite hidden gems, tucked away in a quiet fourth-floor corner of Far East Plaza.
Mansor D’Cafe is a mini makan place that can barely fit more than 12 diners (thanks, safe distancing!) in its compact premises. But what it lacks in space, it makes up in masses of flavour and choices. There, classic Malay lunch plates are served cafeteria-style (just get in line and point at what you want) by a charming couple, Mr Amin Mansor and his wife Jamilah Md. Daud.
“Our Nasi Padang is Singapore style! You really cannot find this in other places. All home recipes,” said Mr Amin, affectionately calling Madam Jamilah the “chief chef” and main pillar of their restaurant. Home and heart were never far from his lips when Mr Amin spoke. Respectfully named for Mr Amin’s father, they’ve been keeping Mansor D’Cafe in the family for more than fifteen years at Far East Plaza.
The whole Mansor D’Cafe experience – from the kampung spirit, through which customers were warmly welcomed and treated as more than friends, to the delicious home-spun recipes using fresh ingredients and celebrating local flavours – was like a home-coming.
Tired of healthy hipster grain bowls? Yearning for more comforting local flavours? Then lei cha fan, or thunder tea rice gives you the best of both worlds. This ancient Hakka invention of veggie-garnished grains in an astringent pour-over soup is certainly healthy, comforting and local, even with additional toppings of tofu and ikan billis. However because of its bitter herbal taste, traditional lei cha fan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Literally. Enter a crowd-pleasing version that’s been given a surprising vegan twist.
I first discovered this humble Bukit Timah stall during Singapore’s circuit breaker, when I was online hunting for affordable food delivery. What arrived (delivered personally by stall owner Wayne Tan) far exceeded my expectations. His vegan thunder tea rice may be meat, dairy and garlic free, but bland and boring it was not. Impressed by how rich, aromatic and packed with protein the dish was, I plotted my visit to Living Wholesome Vegetarian at Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre when restrictions were lifted.
There, I met the Wayne again, along with his girlfriend Agatha Teo, as they were busy serving the last of their lunchtime customers. Interestingly, as the owner of a vegan thunder tea rice stall, Wayne isn’t vegan nor Hakka himself. Rather, it was a business opportunity he took up when the previous owner decided to emigrate. Previously from the IT industry, Wayne was already thinking of swopping the late nights and heavy entertaining for a more regular, balanced lifestyle when Living Wholesome opportunely beckoned.
It seemed almost like kismet, so with zero F&B experience, Wayne took the plunge. He spent a month learning the ropes from the previous owner and then he found himself on his own. All the previous regular customers had left, business was slow and he was a one-man-operation slogging for survival. But Wayne stayed the course, welcoming feedback from customers and taking on pointers from mentors in the industry. Seven years later, he’s grateful. He learnt a lot from the tough times and not just about F&B. He actually found his passion through this experience. But that’s not all he found! His lovely girlfriend Agatha has been helping him for the past year and shares his passion for serving healthy food.
So what exactly is so special about their signature vegan thunder tea rice? Basically Wayne threw everything he learnt out the window, took the recipe and made it his own to save on labour, but not sacrifice taste. He thought hard about how to give a niche dish like that mass appeal, but yet keep it vegan to boot. His solution? Nuts. Lots and lots of nuts for fragrance and flavour…
Peanuts and sesame seeds are a given in most thunder tea rice recipes, but Wayne decided to really bump up the variety by adding cashews, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. No oil is added, just herbs like mint, basil, coriander, mugwort and ku li xin, then everything is blended into a concentrated paste. Many customers enjoy it served thick like that, but traditionally, the sauce is diluted with hot water to create the requisite green soup.
Either ways, it’s lush and creamy, intensely fragrant and undeniably delicious. Delivering maximum nutty flavour and a wonderful balance between savoury, sweet, and mildly bitter notes, thanks to the clever combination of the aromatic herbs. All the sharp edges have been knocked off, leaving a rounded, crowd-pleasing flavour profile that pairs beautifully with the organice brown rice and vegetables.
$6.30 gets you a regular rice set with soup on the side. It’s an attractively-arranged bowl full of vibrant colours. They only serve veggies that are in season, so I got finely chopped orange carrot, string beans, cabbage and cai xin in a varying shades of green. Then there’s whole brown beans, golden-fried firm tofu and bronzy preserved radish or chye poh. A scattered topping of whole sesame seeds and peanuts completed the picture perfect display, enough to rival any hipster grain bowl. The veggies were perfectly seasoned and cooked just right to retain a juicy crunch. In contrast, the brown beans were creamy-soft and the cubes of tofu were bouncy and crisp-edged.
Pour the bright green soup all over, mix and be prepared to get blown away! The garnish of sesame seeds and and peanuts amplified the gorgeous nuttiness of the soup. Ditto the toasty fragrance of the organic brown rice, flavoured with a little sesame oil. The bits of sweet Thai chye poh emanated sharp little bursts of umami, compounding the exciting play of flavours and textures.
Honestly, what more could you want in a rice bowl? It’s super tasty, full of fresh vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and herbs that pack a mighty punch of healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. And if you’re a noodle lover, you can even substitute the rice for bee hoon braised in mouth-watering mushroom sauce – so good!
TASTE Living Wholesome Vegetarian Food 生活天然健康素食 Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre, 51 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, #02-188, Singapore 588172. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10.30am to 2pm & 5.30pm to 7pm. Closed on Mondays. For deliveries, text + 65 84266033.
Hello Makan Kakis! Welcome to the first installment of our National Day special, featuring the 5 top local eats (worthy of “national dish” status), as voted by our Gold 905 listeners. The clear favourite, coming in head, shoulders and tail feathers above the rest, was chicken rice. Unsurprising, since nobody can resist tender chicken and toothsome rice, all bathed in mouth-watering aromatics. Add condiments of chilli sauce and thick, sticky-sweet black soya sauce, sliced cucumbers and a bowl of soup, chicken rice is a complete, affordable meal that truly reflects our country’s culinary history and development.
Initially brought to Singapore in the late 1800s by early Hainanese immigrants from China, chicken rice has evolved to suit local palates. Cantonese influences have crept into its preparation, from the tangy red chilli dipping sauce, to the traditional way of poaching whole chickens, then plunging them into cold water for that distinctive smooth, tender meat and gelatinous skin. The poaching liquid is also used to cook the fragrant and flavourful oil-coated rice, which some insist is the most important element of the entire dish.
When Gold 905 listeners were asked where they like to go for their favourite chicken rice fix, a few popular players emerged, of course – famous names like Tian Tian, Boon Tong Kee and Wee Nam Kee, as well as stalwarts like Yet Con and Chin Chin. Honestly though, discussions about where to find the best of this beloved national dish won’t reach any satisfactory conclusions. It’s impossible to find the “best”, simply because every self-respecting Singaporean has their own preference when it comes to the fragrance, flavours and textures of chicken rice. That said, here are a few we think are delicious for different reasons.
As we count down to the easing of the circuit breaker, how about a charcoal roasted meat feast? This week, have a gorgeously smokey set meal from RV Roasted Delight delivered straight to your doorstep at a reasonable price! Their meal sets for three to 8 people range from $21.80 to $71.80 and set meals for two range from $18.80 – 20.80, which is the one I chose. Package C for 2 consists of ¼ roast duck (upper quarter – which means I got a lovely juicy leg, breast meat and a little rib meat), plus an extra choice of 2 meats – choose from roast duck, chicken, char siew, roasted crispy pork belly or sausage. I went with the classic combo of roasted pork and char siew. White rice and oyster sauce vegetable with fried shallot rounded off the meal.
The roasted duck, in my opinion was the clear winner – really beautifully seasoned, with quite a refined taste that wasn’t too game-y or overpowering.