BROWN BEAUTIES

SALT Magazine - - Heritage Heroes -

Who can re­sist bit­ing into Ah Hoi’s Kitchen’s chicken sa­tay slathered with rich peanut sauce, Baba Chew’s kueh pie tee filled with turnip, char kway teow kissed with wok hei, and deep-fried car­rot cake sticks. Plus a mug of milky tea to soothe the palate.

Hav­ing been raised on a smor­gas­bord of af­ford­ably priced street food, Sin­ga­pore­ans are a spoilt lot. Yet we are fiercely proud of our sig­na­tures from slurp-wor­thy laksa to the quin­tes­sen­tial chicken rice. Most of th­ese dishes have a slew of vari­a­tions and an orig­i­nal ver­sion that loy­al­ists love.

Take our fa­mous chilli crab for in­stance—it was Madam Cher Yam Tian who fired up her very first sam­bal-spiked crab recipe in the 1950s at an eatery on pre-recla­ma­tion Be­dok Beach along Up­per East Coast Road. Her son, Roland Lim, con­tin­ues to serve this iconic spe­cial­ity—a lighter, sweeter ver­sion of the orig­i­nal—at Roland Restau­rant. Other ren­di­tions can be en­joyed to­day at places like Dragon Phoenix, which still turns out its orig­i­nal sweet, spicy and tangy chilli cre­ation.

It goes with­out say­ing, life would be pretty mo­not­o­nous with­out our mor­eish carb-filled sta­ples. We have them for break­fast, lunch, sup­per, or when­ever hunger pangs strike. Ev­ery­one has his or her favourite. Pop­u­lar stal­warts in­clude wok hei in­fused char kway teow, chicken rice (steamed or roasted), and richly flavoured Hokkien mee from Yong Huat at East Coast Road, which proudly dis­plays a lam­i­nated sign of its found­ing year: 1949. And of course the wildly pop­u­lar bak chor mee from the nine-decade-old Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noo­dle. It doesn’t mat­ter if it has a cov­eted Miche­lin star or not, the mod­est cof­feeshop stall con­tin­ues to draw crowds day after day.

While avocado toast and other healthy-ish break­fast food trends are all the rage now, what’s stand­ing the test of time is our hum­ble yet sat­is­fy­ing lo­cal eats. Be­fore we start the day, we can’t wait to un­wrap our brown pa­per pack­age of steamed chwee kueh topped with a de­li­cious mess of chai poh (pre­served radish) and dol­lops of chilli paste, or nasi lemak topped with fried fish and sam­bal, snugly co­cooned in a ba­nana leaf par­cel. We crave for ad­dic­tive deep-fried car­rot cake ba­tons of yes­ter­year or our favourite wok-fried car­rot cake tossed with egg or lash­ings of sweet black sauce. To ev­ery food lov­ing Sin­ga­porean, th­ese are worth wak­ing up early for.

Of course, in be­tween meals, we have all man­ner of treats to fuel our stom­achs. Savoury snacks in­clude blush­ing pink Teochew png kueh, and Nonya pu­lut pang­gang made with gluti­nous rice and rem­pah udang wrapped with ba­nana leaves and grilled. For sweet bites, there’s the ubiq­ui­tous steamed multi-coloured kueh lapis, ang ku kueh, bouncy on­deh on­deh and cus­tardy pan­dan-in­fused kueh salat. For some­thing that’s harder to come by, there’s the kueh tutu filled with co­conut or peanuts, and Malay-style putu piring sweet­ened with gula me­laka. Per­fect with a cup of hot teh tarik or kopi O.

Our rec­om­men­da­tion? Drop the diet if you’re on one, and revel in th­ese colour­ful lo­cal sig­na­tures this Na­tional Day or if you must, around the clock.

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