If you don’t know by now, I am not one who jumps right out of my comfort zone to be the first to pen (or keyboard) new restaurants and hawker fare. I much rather tell and sell the comforting and heritage flavours and experiences that resonate with our food DNA. In a heartbeat I would tell you about century old or off the beaten track eateries that are still up and about or the 3rd or 4th generation kids who have bravely taken on the mantle of continuing the proud family business. We wrote about and advocated the food and culture of Yuet Loy almost two decades ago (they had been at it forty years before that). Second generation Mr Fong Peng Cheong and his wife Brenda still holds fort and their daughter Mei Teng helps out front of house. They are unapologetic with what they hawk since being lifted off the Chinatown streets and installed in the then newly created Chinatown Hawker Centre late last century.
I wanted to retell their tale and effort to preserve this food culture since we knew them way back when, but had not found the sweet spot timing. That is until, makan buddy Tony Boey of Johorkaki blog posted about this icons recently. It rings loud with one iconic dish, possibly the last hawker in Singapore to hand make and sell this Cantonese classic, the Golden Coin Tofu, and a host of comforting dishes.
First, like all good Cantonese meals, is the soup. Their old school Boxthorn Soup (Kao Kay Tong, from $7) with pork and fish was a delight. It came specked with egg drops flecks with that sweet bitter vegetables so nicely married with umami from the meats and fish. Before the “ahh” of satisfaction was completed, the platter of their signature Golden Coin Tofu (from $5) showed up. You need your head checked if you cannot love this one. Just reading a recipe of this alone is tedious, let alone make them. Mashed tofu, with egg and corn starch is moulded into a ball, deep fried, then braised for 10-15 minutes till it’s carpet-like outside and mushy soft within. Their light salted fish sauce with a few strands of headless beansprouts totally hit the spot. You will need rice to complete the meal marathon by now. Then the Steamed Chicken with Salted Fish (from $13) appears and you know you are saved by the rice because the salted goodness was enlivened by a splash of Chinese wine and ginger in the sauce. The ultra smooth chicken, I suspect, breathed in a puff of corn starch before they steamed it. This one is to die for. I also tucked into another Guangzhou comfort flavour- the Fish and Kailan (from $13). Those slices of sang yu was so fresh, soft yet firm and had a delightful texture. You can only do this if you have a high heat wok to quick sear the fish without breaking the slices. That’s skill.
The only other place I had, and it was a much decadent version, with crab meat and seafood sauce, was at the defunct Moi Lum restaurant. It is sad to see such legends of our makan landscape fade into oblivion just because they aren’t trending on the internet. When it comes to food, look away from that device, take a walk, go left when all seems to be doing right (by online rules) and search, smell, ask, eat and revel. That’s that mark of a true galloping gourmet.
02-151, Chinatown Hawker Centre
12.30pm to 2pm/ 6.30pm-9pm
Closed on Wed and Thurs.