In Singapore where you can have sashimi for breakfast, prata for lunch, bulgogi for dinner and just about anything else in between, you’ll excuse this Hokkien girl for not having the chance to acquaint herself much with the food of her people. Until recently, that is. In my quest to get in better touch with my Hokkien roots, I’m grateful to my Makan Kakis – restaurateur & food writer, Violet Oon and Theatre’s Broadway Beng, Sebastian Tan – for pointing me in the right direction, starting with deep-fried snacks, steeped in hand-made Hokkien tradition. If you love Ngor Hiang, Liver Rolls and the like, let us take you from the Heart of the City to the Heartland of the North, and give you two tempting options.
TRY THIS: China Street Fritters
Stall 64, Maxwell Road Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184. Tel: 92386464. Open 12-8pm Tuesday – Sunday (Closed Monday).
This is a stall that takes Violet Oon way back to her early days as a professional food taster in 1974, but goes back even further to when hawkers literally sold their wares on the street. This Hokkien snack stall is a family business that used to operate out of China Street in the 1950s and moved to China Square in the 1970s. These days, China Street Fritters is run by the affable Ng Brothers over at a stall in Maxwell Food Centre. Many have been bowled over by the traditional flavours, the “original” taste of the fritters and the richness of the delicacies, as many older folk who flock to the stall will testify.
In this day and age of factory-made products, it’s heart-warming to see hawkers who are still proudly making their food by hand, according to the same recipes that have been passed down through generations. I definitely got a crash course in typically Hokkien snacks during my visit to China Street Fritters, so here’s a quick run-down of some best-sellers:
• Guang Chiang – the traditional pink Hokkien sausage made from a lean pork & a flour paste mixture, enhanced by the typically Hokkien deep fried flat fish called Pee Her, which gives the sausage a delightful umami. This mixture is stuffed into pig’s intestine and the distinctive pink is actually food colouring, which gives the Guan Chiang its traditional look.
• Ngor Hiang – Rolls made from minced pork, good quality Five Spice powder, all wrapped in bean curd skin, steamed, then deep fried.
• Liver Rolls – cubes of cooked liver, Chinese chives and slivers of pork fat (their secret ingredient for ultimate flavour!). The Ng brothers proudly call this their Hokkien version of sushi, because of the way its cross-section looks when cut and fanned out on a plate
• Egg Slice – Eggs beaten with flour, lard & other flavourings, steamed, sliced and then finally pan-fried. This has a firm texture similar to luncheon meat.
• Century Egg with ginger.
• Fried Bee Hoon – this reminds Violet of the kind served up in our old school canteens. Plain bee hoon fried with soya sauce & bean sprouts. The thing is, plain bee hoon is very hard to do well, but theirs is fragrant and tasty despite being “plain”.
Everything needs to be doused liberally with their wonderful starch sauce & chilli sauce. The starch sauce is not gloopy, but silky and fresh, with silver threads of egg running through. The sweet, runny chilli sauce has a strong, solid flavour from the chilli powder.
OR THAT: Old Chong Pang 老忠邦五香虾饼
#01-166, Chong Pang Market & Food Centre,104 Yishun Ring Rd, Singapore 760104. Open 6-10pm Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday).
This stall in the North of Singapore is a popular one and has been frying up Hokkien snacks since 1986. Old Chong Pang is owned and operated by a friendly husband and wife team who also just happen to be Sebastian Tan’s uncle and aunt on his maternal side of the family. Interestingly, just like the owners of China Street Fritters, they are also Ngs!
Their stall sees a steady stream of dinner-time customers who have a staggeringly vast array of snacks to choose from. Here, you’ll find the usual hand-made favourites like Ngor Hiang, Liver Roll, Sausage and Egg Slice, along with Tau Kwa, Fishballs and Century Egg with ginger. And then there are other goodies like prawn rolls, shredded yam fritters, and 2 kinds of prawn fritters that Mrs Ng says are also hand-made with pride. Fried bee hoon with bean sprouts is also served here at Old Chong Pang, along with a similar sweet, runny chilli sauce.
What Old Chong Pang has going for it is the sheer variety of choices and the deliciously briny prawn fritters (one is much like a small pancake studded with tiny shrimp, and the other is a huge, crisp, yet fluffy explosion of batter embedded with crunchy prawns). Another must-try is their stewed soy-sauce pork. Tasty morsels gleaned from a pig’s head – from lean meat framed by layers of fat and gelatinous skin to crunchy cartilaginous slices of ears – are slow braised in soy till tender and go so very well spooned over the bee hoon, which just sops up all the fats and juices like a sponge. Add all the other crunchy deep-fried elements and you get a very textured, satisfying, albeit calorific sampling of Hokkien street food culture.
A lot of the snacks are essentially protein with a lot of flour mixture and if I were to hazard a guess, this is part of a thrifty tradition of stretching out the use of pricier meats and egg. Frying preserved the ingredients and added flavour. Eaten with bee hoon, these would have made for a substantial, but relatively cheap meal for those engaged in manual labour.