Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Singapore’s hawker culture may be added to Unesco list: Here are 4 chef-approved stalls to try

Maxwell Food Centre Singapore hawker culture
A scene at Maxwell Food Centre taken in 2016 (pre-Covid-19). Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Singapore’s rich hawker culture might have a shot at getting a place in the coveted Unesco heritage list, according to The Straits Times on 17 November.

An evaluation body comprising 12 experts around the world had said in a report that Singapore’s application satisfied all criteria, and it recommended that hawker culture here be added to the official list.

The report recognises that hawker culture provides Singapore “a sense of identity and continuity for people across the generations and in a context of urbanisation”, adding that it also plays a crucial social role in enhancing community interactions and fostering an inclusive society.

While we anticipate potential good news (slated to be announced in December), check out our guide below on which hawker stalls should be on your radar.

Singapore’s best-known food experts recommend heritage hawkers that tenaciously hold on to time-honoured recipes and cook everything from scratch. And without successors to take over the reins, they’re also among the last of their kind – so go, have a taste of history while you can.

These minced pork dumplings wrapped in fish paste skin are painstakingly made by hand at Lao Sim Shredded Chicken Noodles

1. Lao Sim Shredded Chicken Noodles, recommended by Willin Low, chef-owner of Wild Rocket Group

This stall is actually famous for her kiao – minced pork dumplings wrapped in fish paste skin. The yellowtail meat has to be manually scraped, minced into a pulp, beaten to the right texture, then rolled paper-thin.

Willin Low Wild Rocket Singapore SilverKris
Willin Low

There are very few stalls in Singapore that still laboriously make these Teochew dumplings from scratch. I love her kiao for the al dente skin – even its characteristic slight sliminess! – and the umami flavour of the pork and ti po (dried sole fish) filling.

Sim Buay Liang LAO SIM SHREDDED CHICKEN NOODLES Singapore SilverKris
Sim Buay Liang, 60, has been running the stall for 40 years

The second-generation owner Sim Buay Liang has been running the stall for about 40 years. Unlike the rubbery factory-made variety, the dumplings here are just like the ones from my childhood. Be sure to get the All-In option, which is a hearty bowl of shredded chicken noodles, handmade fishballs, and of course, her kiao.

#02-01 Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre, 127 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh

China Street Fritters Singapore SilverKris
This thick, housemade soy sauce-based condiment on the left can be used as a dip, or lightly drizzled over the noodles at China Street Fritters

2. China Street Fritters, recommended by Violet Oon, chef & co-creator of Violet Oon Singapore

This stall pre-dates World War II. I’ve been coming here since I was a food critic in the 1970s. I visit whenever possible because I don’t know how much longer we can enjoy such authentic Hokkien fritters.

Violet Oon Violet Oon Singapore SilverKris
Violet Oon

Although similar items are readily available elsewhere, most are factory-made and pale in comparison. Everything is still hand-made by the third-generation Ng brothers, and makes use of original recipes.

China Street Fritters Singapore SilverKris
Brothers Richard (left) and Kok Hua (right), and Kok Hua’s wife, Ong Siew Eng

I especially adore their kwan chiang – Hokkien-style pink sausages stuffed with lean pork and a light pink paste of sweet potato flour. The natural pork casing is incredibly thin and the higher ratio of minced pork gives the sausages a good bite. Other outstanding items to try are the pork liver sausage, prawn fritters and egg slice.

#01-64 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street

Yong Huat Singapore SilverKris
The fried noodles at Yong Huat come with a generous serving of pork lard

3. Yong Huat, recommended by Annette Tan, food writer and private dining chef

Yong Huat has been an enduring presence at the Joo Chiat Road junction, which has seen many changes over the decades. My father took me there often as a little girl as he loved the Teochew-style fried mee sua (rice vermicelli) here.

Annette Tan Fatfuku Singapore SilverKris
Annette Tan

It’s similar to my other favourite, Hokkien mee (yellow noodles and rice noodles wok-fried with seafood and prawn broth) but the texture of the mee sua is silkier and more slippery. Eating this dish always reminds me of childhood.

Yong Huat Singapore SilverKris
Pang Weng Hong cooking up a storm with his wife Xie Siew Heok

The stall, established in 1949, is run by second-generation owner Pang Weng Hong and his wife. I love that they continue to make it the way they always have – with unabashed amounts of crispy lard.

Alibabar Hawker Bar, 125 East Coast Road

The Beef House Singapore SilverKris
Abacus seeds (bottom left) are a traditional Hakka ingredient, made with yam and stir-fried with dried shrimp and minced meat at The Beef House

4. The Beef House, recommended by Petrina Loh, chef-owner of Morsels

I like food that offers that familiar feeling of “grandma’s cooking”, and the food here gives me just that – especially the beef ball soup. This family-run eatery is now run by second generation owners, Chia Teck Kwang and his siblings, and everything is still homemade.

Petrina Loh Morsels Singapore SilverKris
Petrina Loh

Here, they offer two types of beef balls: one with ground meat and the other with only tendon. The texture is amazingly bouncy.

The Beef House Singapore SilverKris
Chia Teck Kwang has been running the stall for more than 30 years with his siblings

I also love the soupy yong tau foo, which is a bowl of assorted ingredients like mushroom, tofu and beancurd rolls stuffed with minced meat. The abacus seeds (similar to gnocchi, but made with yam and stir-fried with dried shrimps, black fungus and minced meat) are another delicious Hakka snack.

217 Syed Alwi Road

Illustrations by Priscilla Wong

SEE ALSO: Where to find healthier versions of hawker fare in Singapore

This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of Silkwinds magazine

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