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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.