The Fishmongers of Lor Ah Soo (Hainanese Village) Wet Market: Will there be Wet Markets in the Future?
Stall 1 - Ah Han (closed Thurs)
I have spent the last few months rediscovering the wonders of our local wet market. Like a lot of Singaporeans, I (used to) do most of my grocery shopping at the supermarket. Well actually, most of the shopping is done by my wife so I don't really shop for grocery unless I need stuff for my own recipes.
Then I started going crazy about prawns. I had been toying with the idea of cataloging all the different prawns available locally for some time but it wasn't until this year that I resolved to go ahead with the project. Why prawns and not fish? Don't prawns play 2nd fiddle to fish? At least that was the adage which I grew up with as a kid: "Boh Her Hei Ah Hor" (没鱼虾也好 - If there is no fish, then we will settle with prawns").
Well, it's very simple. To catalog all the local fish would be a monumental task, but with prawns I know there are perhaps 10-20 species at most which I had to cover. That made it a very doable project. Also, I was very curious about Ang Kahs and Sua Lors which I hear so much about in my conversations with the hawkers and I wanted to get to the bottom of the conundrum. I also realize that very little has been written about our local prawns online, so I hope my photos will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in prawns.
Another reason for my fascination with prawns is that of convenience. It just so happens that my local wet market happened to be quite famous for its fishmongers. I only found that out when I met a senior who had lived all his life in Hougang. He told me about the excellent fishmongers there who attract customers from all over Singapore! Wow, I never realized that I had such a treasure trove in my backyard just waiting to be discovered! Up till then, my perception of the Lor Ah Soo market was just a simple heartland wet market that somehow got misnamed. Everyone knows of Hougang as a Teochew enclave, so why was it called Hainanese Village Centre? It turns out that although there were a lot of Teochews living near the "river's end" (lit translation of Au-Kang), there was also a Hainanese Village located at Upper Serangoon which the market was named after.
It might be called Hainanese Village market, but if you visit the wet market, the lingua franca is Teochew. Even more so when you are trying to buy seafood. Most of the fishmongers here have been selling fish for a long time, some since the days when there was a fishery port at Punggol. The port had since shifted to Senoko Fishery Port which is where the fishmongers still buy their seafood.
Buying good fish is all about relationships. Firstly there is the relationship between you and the fishmonger. Once you have established a good relationship with him, he will often tell you what is the catch of the day and let you in on a few secrets. Then there is the relationship between your fishmonger and the wholesaler. This is a very important relationship which is fostered through many years of working together. This is what sets the really good fishmongers apart from the rest.
Take Stall 1 for instance. The elderly fishmonger there will always have a pile of glass prawns 玻璃虾 for sale. Glass prawns are favoured by prawn fanciers for its sweetness and thin shell. It is also a prawn that is fished off local waters, so it is very fresh. The uncle tells me, quite proudly, (a typical Teochew trait) that the wholesaler at Senoko Fishery Port will always keep a batch of the very best glass prawns for him because over the years he has always paid a good price for glass prawns and he would buy some every day whatever the going rate may be.
The Stall 1 uncle is usually quite relaxed. He is semi-retired and so he continues to sell fish to past the time. Unlike a lot of other stalls that may prevent you from choosing the prawns, he would throw you a basket and ask you to choose for yourself. Occasionally, he had picked up a few unusual ones for me and tells me with a wink that these are the best eating ones!
Stall 2-3 - Ah Di (Closed Wed, Fri)
Stall 2-3 is by far the busiest stall on the weekends. This stall is run by an energetic uncle who has little time for chit chat as there is usually a crowd clamoring for his attention. There is another lady helping him who is stationed at the adjacent stall whom I assume is his wife.
This is one of the few places in Singapore where people don't bother to queue. Here is where you can stand back and watch Darwinianism in action. You can't be passive here. It is survival of the fitness. Only those who can nudge and shout will be able to get their fish before it is all snapped up by others.
They are only opened on Tues, Thurs and weekends. The uncle usually arrives with boxes of seafood at around 6.45am and people will start crowding around him while he unloads the seafood onto the counter. Some ladies would start picking their fish while it is still in the box at the risk of getting reprimanded.
I was told by a customer that he is popular because his fish is cheap and good and he is quite a nice chap. I have bought some really good Blue Tail Sua Lor from him as well as some Western King Prawns. The quality is excellent. The prices are also quite reasonable. The Sua Lor cost $13/kg which is about the going rate but they are bigger and fresher than a lot of other places.
Stall 5 - Xiao Hei (right)
Over at stall 5 is where you can catch the rare sight of a family of fishmongers at work. Young fishmongers in their twenties are not a common sight and they represent our hope for the future. You will notice that most of the other fishmongers featured here are at least in their forties. So, I am very worried about the wet market of the future. Would it disappear altogether such that, God forbid, we all have to buy all our seafood from the supermarket?
The problem, it seems, is that the wet market has not kept up with the times. When I was a kid, my mom was a homemaker and she would often shop at the wet market in the mornings. Nowadays, both husband and wife work and because the wet markets only open in the mornings, they end up buying their seafood at the supermarkets.
I feel that the NEA needs to take this into consideration and design the markets to cater for young working adults. That means that they need to be opened in the evenings, not just the mornings. The morning market during the weekdays is usually pretty quiet. They only get busy on the weekends. Sometimes I wonder how the fishmongers can make enough? What young person would want to enter this industry?
I met a person who has been trying set up a standalone shop to sell local seafood. He told me that it is almost impossible to set up a seafood stall in the HDB heartlands as there are strict rules set up by HDB and NEA that is preventing him from doing this. Don't you think that having a standalone seafood shop selling fresh local seafood is a great idea? Why is it we can only buy Japanese or European seafood at such places? There must be a change of thinking in order to cater for the next generation of Singaporeans, both the consumer and the fishmonger. Or else we will all end up eating generic prawns and cloudy eyed fish in the future.
Anyway, back to Stall 5.
The young chap on the right is Xiao Hei (小黑). He is the one whom I usually converse with. His elder brother is the quieter one. Xiao Hei tells me that they like to sell prawns because they don't need to be gutted and scaled like fish do! I can usually find some nice Green Tigers or Sua Lor here. They also occasionally sell those little Southern Velvet shrimps which the locals call Tai Gor Hei (lit rotting skin prawns) because of their variegated appearance. These little Tai Gor Hei are excellent just simply deep fried with sprinkled of salt. (or Truffle salt?). I used them to make a superb Prawn Mee soup. At $5/kg, I could afford to boil a whole kg of prawns; meat, shell and all together with a bit of lemongrass and blue ginger to make a solid prawn stock.
Stall 6 - Ah Chai (closed Wed)
Stall 6 is one of those stalls who have loyal customers coming all the way from Bukit Panjang to buy his fish. If you are looking for Grade A1 fish, this is where you will find it. He usually sells out by about 10am everyday. His fish is more expensive than but it is quality stuff. I have never actually bought anything from them yet, but he has a stirling reputation attested not just by the aunties I spoke to at the stalls, but by other fishmongers at the market.
The lady at Stall 7 operates alone most of the time. How does a lady like her manage to go to Senoko Fishery Port and haul all that seafood back to the stall to sell? Well, it turns out that she gets help from the Sam and Mary from Stall 20 who would help ferry her fish back to the market in their pickup.
You have to admire this lady who has to single-handedly scale and gut the fish for her customers. Selling fish isn't like selling veggies. You are not just paying for the fish, but also for the service of scaling and gutting of the fish. Try scaling your own fish at home and you will soon realize what a messy job it is and how it can clog up your sink!
She has a special supply of small Sua Lors which you don't usually find at the other stalls. According to her, the wholesaler keeps them specially for her. These small Sua Lors are sweet and flavourful and would be excellent to fry with veggies or to stuff Sui Gao (水饺). I have also bought some excellent Western King Prawns from her.
Stall 19 (open everyday except Mon)
Stall 19 is where you can find seafood from Pengarang. The lady at this stall proudly tells me that 80% of her seafood comes from this region in Johor that is only a few minutes bumboat ride from Singapore. That means that most of her fish are fresh as they come from local waters. It has a reputation for selling really good seafood but it can get a little pricey. She is usually alone during the weekdays but on weekends, a young man (?son) would come to help her. She opens daily except for Mondays and hers is the only stall that is still opened at 3 or 4pm.
Here is where you learn one very important principal about buying fish. Just because a fish is fresh doesn't necessarily mean it is the best. If there are two similar fish of equal freshness, one might be a Grade A fish and the other Grade B. Where the fish came from is of paramount importance. Even two fish that are caught in the same net may have subtle differences which only the really experienced fish enthusiast will know. This kind of information is usual beyond the reach of the normal consumer which is why one should invest the time to build a good relationship with the fishmonger.
This stall will usually have Glass prawns and Black prawns for sale and on occasions, you will find some wild caught Giant Tiger Prawns. On weekends she also sells live lobsters. If you are looking for prize catches like big Chinese Pomfret, this is where you will be able to find them!
Stall 20 is one of the few stalls who bother to have a stall signage. Their stall is called S.A.M and is run by Sam and Mary. They are the fishmongers that I struck up a conversation with and subsequently allowed me to tag along with them to Senoko Fishery Port while they buy their daily supplies. They are not so much specialized in prawns although they will usually carry some live prawns at their stall. Sam goes fishing quite often and would sell his catches at the stall, so you can sometimes find very fresh local fish here. He caters for customers who want reasonably good stuff at a good price. If it is your first time visiting the market, you would find that he is one of the more approachable fishmongers there.
Next to S.A.M is Prince Charles (that is the name I coined for him). Prince Charles stall is very unusual in that he only sells small fish. Most of his fish is less than 1 foot long and he doesn't sell any prawns. I have bought some nice leatherjackets from him but haven't yet figured out why he does what he does.
Stall 24 is manned by a white haired uncle who also has a reputation for really good seafood. He's quite approachable and his prawns are usually very fresh. This is where you can find really good stuff like large Chinese Pomfrets!
There are two guys manning this stall at the end of the row and they usually display their fish in an orderly fashion. I have seen them sell "live prawns" in bulk at very good prices before. They are quite friendly and approachable.
Stall 28 is manned by an old uncle who epitomizes what I feel about the industry. He is hunch and gaut and I look at him and ask myself what the wet market would look like 10 years from now. Quite a few of the other fishmongers are around his age and should be retiring soon. It is amazing that they are still able to wake up in the early hours of the morning to buy the seafood and then man the stall till about lunch time.
His fish is usually piled up on the counter and it doesn't seem as if he bothers to arrange them. It always gives me the impression that his fish comes from the kelong as they are usually of varied species and sizes. You will find a lot of small fish here which is what the Teochews like. He will also have a bag full of small Sua Lors or other small prawns for sale.
Senoko Fishery Port
Most people know about Jurong Fishery Port which is the larger of the two Fishery Ports in Singapore. The fishmongers of Lor Ah Soo market buy their fish from Senoko Fishery Port which used to be located in Punggol. Any one can visit the fishery port, all you need to do is to change your IC or driving license at the guardhouse. The action starts at around 1 to 2 am.
You can buy seafood here but they usually sell by the baskets. So if you are looking for 10kg of prawns for a party, you can buy them direct from the wholesalers
I met with Sam and Mary at 2am. I followed them as they went around the market searching for good buys for the day. By about 3-4am, they will pack all the fresh seafood onto the truck and head off the Lor Ah Soo market to start selling the fish.
If you have been buying your seafood from the supermarkets, then I hope that you will be motivated to start visiting your local wet market soon! You might feel a little lost at first, but after a while you will find a local fishmonger whom you can trust and start enjoying really good quality seafood!
Today is Giving Tuesday.
It is a National day of giving and you can play a part in making December 3 to be Singapore's biggest day of giving!
You all may know about our latest ieatishootipost T shirts. Those of you who have ordered the T shirts should be receiving them any time now. Together with TeeFaction.com, we have managed to raise $2000 from the sales of the T shirts. I want to thank Mark from TeeFaction for donating their portion of the profits to our cause. I have had a great experience working with TeeFaction to print these T Shirts. Basically, all I had to do was to provide the design and whoever wanted a T shirt would visit the Teefaction.com/ieatishootipost to order their T shirts. Once the T shirts are printed, they are sent direct. The quality of the silkscreen printing is excellent and there was minimal administrative work on my part!
Over the last few months, we have also managed to raise another $7000 from our various makan activities. I had initially planned to do food drops in Batam, but because of Typhoon Haiyan I have decided to channel our funds to help the victims there first.
The ieatishootipost community will be donating $9000 to Goducate for their work in helping the people affected by the typhoon. I have just spoken with Dr Paul Choo who has just returned from the Philippines. He has a team there who are helping the people there rebuild their communities. They are now focusing their efforts on setting up temporary shelters in order to start up schools and teaching the locals how to to use chainsaws to make planks from the fallen trees in order to rebuild their houses. They are also providing seeds and worms to produce organic fertilizers (vermi-composting) so that they can start growing their own food. You can read more about their work there on their website.
The scriptures say that "It is more blessed to give then to receive". This is a fundamental truth in any culture or religion. I am only citing Goducate as one way in which you can help. There are needs everywhere, both locally and abroad, so there are plenty of opportunities to give. Do give a thought today about how you too can experience the joy of giving!
More info about GivingTuesdaySG.
More info about Goducate.
US Wagyu Karubi Donburi set $33
I often get asked what my last meal would be. The first time I had to answer this question was when Teo Pau Lin interviewed me for the very first "Foodie Confidential" column in the Sunday Times way back in 2007. I couldn't just give a simple answer, so I came up with something a little more "beat around the bushy":
"Who cares about the last meal? There is a heavenly banquet prepared for me on the other side which will make all the Matsuzaka beef on earth taste like bad vegetarian bee hoon" (Sunday Times, 13 May 2007)
If you read between the lines, you would know that what I was trying to say was that my favourite food of all time are slivers of lightly grilled Matsuzaka A5 Wagyu atop of a mouthful of perfectly steamed Koshihikari rice that has been mixed with mentaiko furikake.
Five Piece Sashimi - Part of the Beef Donburi Set
The first mouthful is always a sublime moment for me. I would close my eyes and spend the next minute in meditative introspection. It is not just about taste, but also about sensual textures and seductive sounds. The release of the sweet bovine juices gradually mixing into a mouthful of pillowy warm rice punctuated by the popping sound of the tiny mentaiko bursting between the teeth fills me with insane gratification. For some of us, this may be that one moment of the day when one gets to experience pure unadulterated pleasure! Savour that moment, because soon you would be back in front of the computer to find 50 new emails screaming for your attention!
Japanese Ohmi Wagyu Donburi Kaiseki set $59
I have been going around trying to find good Beef Donburi sets. Amazingly, there really isn't a place in Singapore that does this as a specialty dish. Ok, we do have Yoshinoya but that's a fast food joint. So I asked some of my friends in the restaurant industry for help.
Last week, I introduced Aji Ichi's value for money, sub $10 Beef Donburi set. This week we move a bit up market. Chef Thomas of Hokkaido sushi agreed to do two Beef Donburi sets for me.
The first set is $33 set which features US Wagyu Karubi with Hokkaido yumepirika rice that has been mixed with mentaiko furikake. The set comes with a 5 piece sashimi dish and miso soup.
The 2nd set is for those who really enjoy Japanese Wagyu. Hokkaido uses Ohmi Wagyu which is considered one of the top three Wagyu brands in Japan. The other two being Kobe and Matsuzaka. The Ohmi Wagyu Beef kaiseki set costs $59 and comes with the 5 piece sashimi as the first course, then followed by Ohmi Beef Donburi as well as tempura (another of my favourite Japanese dishes) and fish head soup.
The Japanese Ohmi is, of course, more luscious than the US Wagyu, but the US Wagyu uses the shortrib cut which has a wonderful beefy flavour which I really enjoy! 4.5/5
I love Beef Donburi and if you do too, then I hope these special sets would help satisfy that craving!
Special for Ieatishootipost readers
10% off when you mention ieatishootipost donburi set when you order. Valid till end of Dec 2013.
M Hotel, Level 9
81 Anson Road
I know Chef Thomas quite well and I have designed these sets to include my favourite dishes using quality ingredients while keeping the prices reasonable. I didn't pay for my meals nor am I being paid for my work as food consultant.
Beef Don $7.50
My friend Aston of Aston Specialties really understands the heart of Singaporeans.
Singaporeans are Kiasu (afraid to lose out) and a natural manifestation of this trait is that whenever we buy anything, we want it "Cheap and Good". Nothing is worse that buying an item at what is thought to be a good price and then finding out that your friend managed to buy it cheaper! Aston has exploited this Singaporean trait when he opened his first Astons Specialties along East Coast Road. By providing good quality steaks at affordable prices, he has managed to build a household brand name within a few years and will soon be expanding beyond our shores into Indonesia and China.
He is now trying to do the same for Japanese food.
Aji Ichi has been around for a few months now and I have been tracking its progress. Aston has had some experience with Japanese cuisine when he opened the now defunct Maeda, a joint venture between him and a Japanese chef. But he hadn't quite gotten a good grasp of Japanese food when he first opened Aji Ichi. Since then, he had traveled to Japan twice and is now ready take on the very competitive market for Japanese food here.
If his Beef Donburi is anything to go by, I think he is going to put some price pressure on many of the casual Japanese eateries around.
Aston uses genuine Koshihikari rice from Niigata prefecture for the rice bowl. This rice is regarded by many to be the very best in Japan and is usually found only in top end Japanese restaurants. The beef is a thinly sliced US plate and chuck that is simmered with a special donburi sauce imported from Japan. At $7.50 for a large bowl that is big enough for an NSman who has just finished a 24km road march (OK maybe he needs 2 bowls).
The beef is very good. It has a good beefy flavour and enough marbling to give it a nice bouncy texture. It can get a little dry if it is overcooked, so make sure you let the chef know if you like your beef a little pink. It is, of course, not as luscious (or as expensive) as Wagyu, so it is not something that you feel you need to slowly savour one mouthful at a time to make your dollar stretch further. Rather, it is something you would quickly wolf down, enjoying the sensation of big, warm mouthfuls of rice laced with sweet beefiness, then sit back and feel really happy that you managed to get so much satisfaction for just $7.50! 4.5/5
Tonkotsu Charshu Ramen $7.90
There has been of late, several local guys taking on the Ramen market. I have written about homebaked dough before and since then, there has been a few other stalls sprouting up in coffeeshops. Aston wants to serve up a bowl of quality Ramen for less than $10. He uses noodles that are manufactured by a Japanese company in Malaysia and has been using a soup base from Japan. However, he wasn't too happy with the quality of the soup and has started to make his own stock using pork bones which are boiled for 24 hours. His bowl of Ramen is tastes better than many of the mass market Ramen you find at the shopping centres, but hasn't quite reach the standards of the good Japanese ones. His normal ramen using the soup base from Japan is $7.90 and for a dollar more, you can opt for the soup he makes himself which is richer and has more body. As my ACS friends would like to say, "The best is yet to be!". For us Saints, I predict that Aji Ichi would be going "Up and On!" 4/5
I am excited that Aston is taking on Japanese food! At $7.50, a bowl, this is probably the cheapest place in town that you can eat Beef Donburi that is made with US beef and imported Japanese Koshihikari rice!
I know Aston very well since the early days when he first started. Since then I have been invited by him to give feedback on his many of his new dishes. This review is written after a few rounds of tasting. I don't pay for my meals but neither does Aston pay me for food consultancy. What we both want is good quality food at value for money prices for all to enjoy!
Blk 139, Tampines St 11
Fu Chan Coffeeshop
11.30am to 3pm
5pm to 10pm
Kopi Gu You (Coffee with Butter)
Coffeeshops like Heap Seng Leong might be a distant memory for some and stuff of legend for others. Most Singaporeans would have probably heard of the uncle in pajama pants making kopi. Some might not even know what a pair of pajama pants look like. For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, they bring back fond memories of a Singapore when there was no COE and buses had no doors. Those were the days when blackouts were an opportunity to play with candles and kids were still catching spiders. For Gen Yers, what I just said are just grandfather stories of a mythical past.
77 year old Mr Shi making kopi
Stepping into Heap Seng Leong is like stepping into a time portal. I was immediately transported to a Singapore in the 70's when I was growing up. This place seems to have been trapped in a time warp while the rest of Singapore is surging toward "happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation".
Not only has time stood still, the passage of time in this kopitiam also seems to have slowed down. While the rest of Singapore is in a perpetual rush, the pace of life here is like a leisurely stroll with grandma on a walking stick. Here, you will find old men who would buy a cup of kopi for 70 cents and spend the next two hours reading the papers while being lulled by the rhythmic gyrations of the ceiling fans. The tranquil scene only betrayed by the occasional ringtone of a handphone followed by the broadcast of a private telephone conversation for all to hear.
Here, it is fashionable to be old-fashioned. All the things that you might be a little embarrassed to do at Starbucks, you can do here with impunity. So go ahead and sip your coffee from the saucer! Try some traditional Kopi Gu You (Coffee with melted butter). I know it makes a lot of people cringe but it is no worse than a Coffee Vienna. It isn't something that I would advocate you do at home or anywhere else. But when you are at Heap Seng Leong, you have permission to do it, just for the sake of preserving our culinary heritage. Just don't do it too often.
This is one of the few places left in Singapore that one can catch a glimpse of Singapore past. It is a living museum which I hope will continue to resist the onslaught of progress. As of now, the owner of the premises is happy to let it remain as it is. But all it takes is for someone to buy over the shop and before you know it, it will be selling Italian pizza.
What can we do to preserve this? Can we not confer some form of National Heritage status so that it receives some protection? We need places like this so that our kids know where we came from and what it was like in the past. When all of these places disappear, we will lose a part of us that makes us truly Singaporean. We will become generic citizens of a generic city, just like that generic cup of kopi you find at the generic food court.
Oh, by the way.... our forefathers really knew something. The kopi with butter here is super good! 4.5/5
Heap Seng Leong
Blk 10 North Bridge Road, #01-5109
4am to 7pm daily
Poached Beef Short Rib with Bean Sprouts $15
"This reminds me of a story, looooong before your time, in the Southern province of China......"
I am sure that many of us are familiar with this line from "Under One Roof" which was made famous by Moses Lim's character, Tan Ah Teck waaaaaaay back in the 90's!
Somehow, I still think of the 90's as quite recent. Not like the 70's and 80's which feel like a long time ago. But when you watch episodes of "Under One Roof" you begin to realize how time flies!
Moses Lim, as you know, went on to become quite a gourmand and you can see standees of him recommending restaurants across the island. He also organizes food trips overseas and has recently been made ambassador for Korean food and was even conferred an award in a certain province of Korea. So much for the Southern province of China!
Sliced Fish Porridge $6.50
With such a refined palate for good food, one would expect that his restaurant would serve up food that would satisfy us "Live to Eat" types.
That would be quite a safe assumption.
Singapore Style Porridge is a restaurant that is opened by his daughter Grace together with her husband who is the chef. They started off last year as an air-conditioned place for "Jok", the Hainanese style porridge that we are all familiar with. What makes the porridge different is the way in which it is prepared.
Traditional Hainanese porridge is made with a plain rice porridge which is made by boiling rice and water until the rice is just broken. When you place your order, this plain rice porridge is then cooked in a small pot and this is the stage when the ingredients and seasonings are added. What Singapore Style Porridge has done differently is to take it up a notch by using some of the techniques used for Cantonese style congee. Unlike the Hainanese porridge that uses water to cook the rice, in the Cantonese version, the rice is cooked in pork stock. This extra step produces congee with extra umami. So you can say that Singapore Style Porridge is an Canto-Hainanese porridge that combines the best of both worlds.
The flavour of the jok was very good but I thought that the liquid component lacked a certain level of smoothness. I guess what I was looking for is a a smooth jok ala Cantonese style, with broken rice, ala Hainanese style. Another thing on my wish list is some You Tiao (fried dough sticks) to go with the porridge. To me, that is a very important component of jok! 4/5
Short Rib Beef Hor Fun (Leslie's Special) $15
It was a good idea to use stock to cook the porridge but the problem is the lay person wouldn't be able to tell the difference immediately. The usual response is that the porridge is very nice, but $6.50 is double the price you pay at the hawker centre! It is because of this and the fact that Singaporeans are not used to going to a restaurant just to eat porridge that they have decided to bring in the Cze Char dishes.
The one dish that really stood out for me was the poached beef short ribs with bean sprouts. Unlike a lot of other Cze Char that use mediocre beef cuts, they use a nicely marbled USDA beef short ribs here which makes a whole world of difference to the dish! The beef goes very well with the bean sprouts and is will also go well with a bowl of jok. 4.5/5
I liked the beef so much that I just had to try their beef hor fun, but when it arrived it was their normal beef hor fun ($8) which was not made with the same beef! So I asked them why they didn't use their excellent USDA beef short ribs? Their response is as much the same as every other hawker stall owner and it is that they are afraid that their customers won't be willing to pay so much at a Cze Char place. So I re-ordered a plate of beef hor fun using an extra portion of their beef short ribs ($15) and it was very good! It would have been perfect if the hor fun itself had a bit more wok hei! 4.25/5
NB: The $15 USDA Beef Short Rib hor fun is not on the menu, you need to ask for the "Leslie's Special"
Taiwanese style braised platter $8
Moses Lim's wife is Taiwanese and so when they added a braised platter to their menu, they just had to use a Taiwanese style braising sauce. That meant that they had to specially procure the soy sauce and herbs just to make this dish. The resulting dish is something that has a distinct flavour not usually found locally. Cactuskit loved the dish and especially like the braising sauce over the jok. I am not so used to the Taiwanese flavour, but it was a good braised platter which I wouldn't mind ordering again. I think that it is the kind of thing that would grow on you. 4/5
Prawn Rolls $10
The prawn rolls here are excellent. I know that I have said before that I have never really had a bad prawn roll, but neither have I had one that really stood out. Well, I take it back because the prawn rolls here do stand out. Firstly, they are really big, unlike most other places where you can pop one into your mouth, you will need two bites for this. The meat and prawn filling also has a very nice texture that is tender, yet has a good bounce to it. Moses tells me that they make extra effort to get the bouncy texture by slapping the meat with their hands. They also do the same for the pork balls which they use for their porridge which I thought were also very nice. 4.25/5
Salted Egg Eel Skin $15
If you are looking for a snack that is crispy and full of yummy umami, then the salted egg crispy eel skin is what you are looking for. This is the kind of dish that I would have preferred to take with plain porridge but it goes well with the jok too. Their salted egg sauce is pretty good and it doesn't come with a pool of melted Planta margarine at the bottom which is the problem with a lot of other Cze Chars that I have come across. A nightmare for the health promotion board and certainly not for those who have been chided by their doctor, mother, wife about their cholesterol levels! 4.25/5
The quality of the food here is very good. You can't expect any less from Moses Lim. The simple and comfortable settings make it a conducive place for the family and the combination of Hainanese style porridge with Cze Char is quite unique. I am just not sure how long they will keep calling themselves Singapore Style Porridge? The name is very creative because 真粥道 (Zhen zhou dao - lit real porridge flavour) sounds like its sounds exactly the same as 真周到 (good hospitality) so I am sure they would like keep it. But now that the Cze Char is such a prominent feature, the name just fails to capture the essence of the place!
228 Tanjong Katong Road
12am to 2.30pm,
5.30pm to 9.30pm
Common name: Indian White Prawn
Local name: Ang Kar Hei 红脚虾 (lit red leg prawn)
Ang Kar prawns are one of the most abundant wild sea prawns which you can find at the wet markets. That is why it is the most common prawn that is used by jumbo Prawn Mee places. The shell is thin and the tail is very meaty, so you do get a good amount of prawn meat per kilo. They are easily recognizable at the markets by their shape. Their tail tends to be broad and flat and although they are called "Ang Kah" which means "red leg" in Hokkien, they don't always have red coloured legs. Their colour ranges from a transparent yellowish white to a reddish hue and can grow to quite a large size as shown in the photo above.
Common name: Banana prawn
Local name: Ang Kar Hei 红脚虾 (lit red leg prawn)
There are actually two different species of prawns that are called Ang Kah at the market. It is a little bit of a technicality since both taste almost the same. So if you are not really into these kinds of details, you might want to skip the next bit.
The two species in question are the Indian White (F. indicus) and Banana Prawn (F. merguiensis). They look very similar. The only way to tell them apart is to look at their rostrum (that pointy bit on top of their heads). The rostrum of the F. merguiensis tends to be higher and more triangular shaped than the F. indicus. You can also inspect the 3rd maxilliped of the adult male prawn to confirm. (See fig 54 below. The third maxilliped looks like the first pair of legs. Prawns have five pairs of crawling legs (pereiopods), so if you count the five pairs of legs on the head starting from the tail end, you will find a sixth pair which is not actually the leg, but the 3rd maxilliped. This is considered a part of the mouth)
Graphic from FAO species identification sheets
The flesh of the Ang Kah is very bouncy, crunchy and sweet but it lacks flavour. It is great for dishes where you pan fry the prawn with the shell on and then coat it with sauce, eg Har Lok prawns because the shell is thin and flexible like a piece of cellophone, and it is nice to lick the sauce off the prawn shells and suck on them. They also do well in a prawn curry as the meat is firm. Some people like them as tempura but I prefer something like Sua Lor or Green Tiger prawns for tempura as they are more flavourful.
Common name: Indian White Prawn
Local name: Peh Chi (白刺) (white whiskers)
Sometimes you might come across prawns that are called Peh Chi (白刺 - lit white whiskers) by the fishmongers. These are actually juvenile Ang Kahs which are white in colour with yellowish white legs. Prawn fanciers tend to favour the Peh Chi because of their sweeter taste and more tender texture.
Common Name: False White Prawn
Local Name: 玻璃虾 (Glass Prawn)
When it comes to seafood, freshness is paramount. Prawns are at their best if they are consumed within four days of when they are captured. You can tell that the prawn is fresh by inspecting their heads. Once the prawn dies, the digestive enzymes that are located in the head will start to eat into the flesh in the tail. As a result, the prawn head becomes loose. The digestive enzymes will go on to break down the flesh of the tail which results in mushy prawn meat. One way of preserving the quality of the meat is to remove the heads immediately when you buy the prawns. Either that or cook the prawns straightaway to deactivate the enzymes. I often see cooked prawns being sold in Australia but it is seldom seen here in Singapore as the locals like to see the whole prawn, not just the tail. So the best thing is to buy really fresh prawns from the wet market.
Freshness is a function of the distance the prawn has to travel from the place where it was caught to the local wet market where it is sold. So, prawns from the South China Sea will not be as fresh as the ones caught locally. There are two species of locally caught prawns which are sold by the really good fishmongers. The glass prawns 玻璃虾 and the black prawn 黑虾.
The glass prawns are not readily available everywhere, but I always see them at the Lor Ah Soo market where I shop most often. They are caught by local fishermen and so they are often sold within a day or two of their capture. The old aunties and uncles that I often meet at the market love these.
The shells are thin and the meat is very sweet and they love to steam them and eat them with some soy sauce and cut chillies. They are also excellent for steamboats. At $30/kg, they are quite expensive for medium sized prawns but they are worth it if you are trying to impress your mother-in-law. Buy some glass prawns for steamboat and your life will be bliss. Buy the ones from the supermarket and the next time you ask them to help look after the kids, they might tell you that they have a mahjong game scheduled.
Fenneropenaeus silasi ?(un-confirmed)
Common Name: False White Prawn
Local Name: Orh Hei 黑虾 (Black Prawn)
The other locally caught prawns are the black prawns. They tend to be slightly smaller than the glass prawns and are slightly cheaper ($20+ per kg). But they are still expensive compared to Ang Kahs of the same size which go for around $16 per kg.
I have had difficulty trying to identify the species. As far as I can make out, they are probably the same species as the glass prawns but are caught from a different area. The colour of prawns depend on their environment as they take on the colour of their surroundings. So I suspect that these are the same breed of prawns as the glass prawns but are caught at a different location. It is interesting to note that prawn farmers make use of this fact to engineer the colour of their prawns. They will often paint the tanks black if they want darker looking prawns.
As with the glass prawns, the folks at the wet markets really like these as they are very sweet and tender. Some say they are even sweeter than the glass prawns. They are best prepared the same way, by steaming or for steamboat.
Common name: White leg shrimp, Pacific white shrimp, Grey prawns,
Local name: Huo Xia 活虾 (lit live prawns)
The two most prominent types of farmed prawns in the supermarkets are the Tiger Prawns and the White Leg shrimp. In fact, the White Leg shrimp or Litopenaeus vannamei is the most farmed species globally and is the prawn that you would most often be eating if you eat out. They have become the generic prawn much like how Del Monte bananas are now the only type of bananas that some kids know about. When you eat your next Har Kow (prawn dumplings), it is almost certain that the prawn used is a L. vannamei. At the supermarkets, you can sometimes see them being labelled "vannamei". Most of the time, they are just called grey prawns.
At the wet markets, they do sell a better quality L. vannamei. They are known as 活虾 (lit - live prawns). I have seen them at Senoko Fishery Port where they off the boat still jumping. The advantage of these live prawns is that they are very sweet as they are very fresh. They do lack the flavour of the wild caught prawns but the difference can only be detected by people who know their prawns. The texture of the prawn is nice and bouncy but not as bouncy as that of Ang Kah. When you eat them in Har Kow, they seem to have an almost crunchy texture. That is because they may have been treated with bicarbonate. (You can check this website to see how you can do it at home.)
One of the biggest advantage of these live prawns (and a lot of the other prawns from the wet market) is that they don't get preservatives added to them. The ones you buy from the supermarket might have a preservative called bisulphites added to them to prevent them from going black too quickly. At the wet markets, always ask the fishmongers if the prawns have chemicals added to them. Most of them who pride themselves at selling fresh seafood will tell you that their prawns have no chemicals added. If you think you are allergic to prawns, it might be that you are allergic to the bisulphite rather than the prawn. It may be that you would not get the same reaction if you ate prawns which have not been preserved by bisulphites. (Please do not try this if you get a severe, life threatening reaction to prawns!) These live prawns usually go for around $24/kg.
Common Name: Yellow Shrimp
Local name: Zhong Xia 中虾 (Mid Sized Prawn)
The final prawn in this series of "Coloured Prawns" is this yellow prawn which is known in Malaysia as Udang Kuning. I found them on my trip to Pontian Wholesale Seafood Market. They are beautiful to look at but taste wise, they are not as good as our local glass prawns. I have included it here for your reference in case you come across them. The locals at Pontian wholesale market call them Zhong Xia 中虾 or middle sized prawns whereas big Ang Kahs are call Da Xia 大虾 or large size prawns.
In my next post, I will be talking about Sua Lor prawns. In the meantime, go buy some of these really excellent prawns from your local wet market. Not only will you be supporting a very important local industry, but you will also find that the quality and freshness of the seafood is far superior to what you can get from the supermarkets!
Here is a short video of how you can devein a prawn without having to cut it open. I learnt it from Mom when I was a kid! Thanks Mom!
Read my post about Striped Prawns here.
I wish to thank the following experts for helping me with the identification of the prawns:
1. Prof Tin Yam Chan, Institute of Marine Biology of the National Taiwan Ocean University
2. Ken Loon, The Naked Finn