Singapore's Famous Five: Best Carrot Cake



Today we pay tribute to the humble carrot cake.  This is a dish which has its roots in Southern China where it started off as rice cakes.  When it arrived in Singapore, the rice cake was fried with sweet black sauce which is a popular condiment in South East Asia.  Then someone gave it a twist by adding adding radishes (white carrot in Chinese) to the rice cake and frying it sans the black sauce.  That is, in a nutshell, how we came to have two versions of the dish!

Everyone has their own preferences.  Some like it black, some like it white.  Some can't decide and just order both.  The more passionate hawkers still steam their own carrot cake which is quite a laborious process.  However, as our pick of 5 popular stalls here shows, steaming your own carrot cake doesn't necessarily mean automatic success with the crowds.  Two of the stalls featured here use commercially bought carrot cake but still manage to produce a tasty dish with their superior wok kungfu!  Notwithstanding, my favourite stalls are still the ones which both steam their own cakes and fry them well.  I am still hoping that in the future, some enterprising hawkerpreneur will set up a carrot cake "restaurant" where the cakes are steamed on the premise, using freshly milled rice from a stone mill and fried with plenty of smoke and passion!

Here I present five famous stalls which you can get some Carrot Cake satisfaction!



Fu Ming Carrot Cake

Fu Ming Carrot Cake is aptly named because when the uncle fries the carrot cake, the whole stall is literally "Fuming" with smoke!  This is one of the few places where both white and black versions are good and the carrot cake is still made by hand on the premises!

Redhill Food Centre
Blk 85 Redhill Lane
Singapore 150085
12pm to 12am
96410565, 64758653

Read the full review



Lau Goh Teochew Chye Thow Kway

Peter Goh's father was one of the pioneers of the white carrot cake and in it's heyday, he was the undisputed king of carrot cake.  Nowadays, they don't steam their own carrot cake anymore but Peter employs a special trick to make his carrot cake distinct.  He uses his hand to mash the carrot cake so that its craggy surface holds more chye poh and fish sauce!  Peter is hearing impaired so regulars here use a combination of pointing and improvised sign language to order their dish!

Zion Riverside Food Centre
Stall 26, Singapore 247780
12pm to 2.30pm
6pm to 11pm
Tue closed
96745483 (SMS only)

Read the full review



Bukit Merah View Carrot Cake

This is the only stall left in Singapore which still uses a machine to grind rice to make into carrot cake!  They tell me that this is the only way to ensure that rice of acceptable fragrance and quality is used.  I am still hoping for more stalls in Singapore to resurrect the art of making their own carrot cake this way!

Bukit Merah View Food Centre
Blk 115 Bukit Merah View
#01-37
7am to 2pm, 6pm to 1am daily


Read the full review



Chey Sua Carrot Cake

This is undoubtedly one of the most popular stalls in Singapore.  They have been around for a long time and are still making their own carrot cake in small aluminum bowls.  In our recent poll on facebook, this stall was recommended by the most number of people!  If you are a self professed carrot cake lover but haven't eaten from Chey Sua yet, then you might as well go to Paris and not visit the Effiel Tower!

Chey Sua Carrot Cake
Toa Payoh Block 127 Food Centre
#02-30
Open 6am till 1pm
Closed Mondays

Read the full review



Song Zhou Luo Bo Gao

This is another very popular stall amongst our facebook fans.  The stall owner doesn't make his own carrot cake but makes it up with his superior frying skills!  The black version is the one that they are famous for.

Bedok Interchange Food Centre
Blk 207 Upper Changi Road
#01-18
6.30am to 8pm Daily

Read the full review

Ru Ji Kitchen: Gen Y Fishballs


Mee Pok Tar $3

I get very excited when I come across a bowl of hawker food that is done with passion.  I get even more excited when it is done by Gen Y hawkers AND doing it better than a lot of the more established stalls out there.  It is conventional wisdom that our new generation hawkers can't be as good as the older ones.  But I don't believe that it has to be so.  With better ingredients, better technology and a more scientific approach to our hawker dishes, what is there to prevent a Gen Y hawker from making a better bowl of fishball noodles than their forebears?  As far as I can see, the only thing that is holding them back is this very illogical Singaporean mentality of not wanting to pay a higher price for better quality hawker food while happily forking out the cash for the latest food fad.

Unless we can signal to Gen Y hawkers of our willingness to pay more for a better bowl of noodles, then there is no way that fishball noodles can evolve to the level of Ramen noodles.  There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't.  After all, I have heard that the Japanese have visited Singapore to try and learn how we make our fish balls.  Now, if we don't do it, soon they will be making a better bowl of fish ball noodles than us!



A few of our other hawker dishes like Prawn Mee and Bak Kut Teh have already paved the way of progress. These dishes have been able to break the typical $3 price ceiling of a hawker dish and their future is quite secure.  Can fishball noodles do the same?  Can it be elevated to a level where it can be exported overseas as a Singaporean dish much like how Sarawak Kolo Mee or Ipoh Hor Fun is now doing here? Or will fishball noodles continue to be regarded as a $3 dish with a uncertain future?  What Gen Y hawker will be willing to continue to make their fishballs by hand unless there is prospects for them to own a Condo and a car and send their kids to pre-school?

My vision for the future of fishballs is a Ramen-ya concept where the noodles and fishballs are both made fresh on the premises.  The technology to make excellent noodles in a small space is already available, thanks to the Japanese love for Ramen.  I have attended Ramen classes at Eureka Cooking Labs and I can tell you that the machinery, the ingredients and the knowledge for making the perfect mee pok is already available in Singapore. What would it take for some enterprising hawkerpreneur to  turn back the clock and resurrect the art of making of noodles with the same precision and passion of the Japanese? Won't you like to taste artisanal mee pok tar?


Joanne and Daniel

I am glad to have met Joanne and Daniel who share my vision.  These two Gen Y graduates just happen to be fishball hawkerpreneurs.  They wake up early to start making fish balls at Old Airport Road Food Centre at 4.30am in the morning!  Over the next 3 hours, they will be beating the fish paste, hand molding the fish balls, as well as preparing the sambal chilli and the pork lard.  By 7.30am, they are ready to present their bowl of mee pok tar!

This bowl of fishball noodles is easily one of the best I have eaten for quite a while.  The fishballs and fishcake are excellent and have a quality about them that sets them apart from the rest.  I was told that they use only pure fish meat without the addition of any flour in the preparation of the fish paste.  The combination of the sambal chilli, vinegar and lard is just right.  Not too spicy, not to sour but enough to bring out the taste of the noodles.  The fishcakes are very very good.  It's tender, bouncey and juicy with just the right amount of saltiness.  4.5/5

Is it perfect?  By his own admission, no. Daniel feels that it can be better and more consistent.  But that is going to require a central kitchen where he can better control every aspect of the fishball making process.  He also feels that the noodles can be better but so far what he has is about the best that he can get from his supplier.  He too feels that making his own noodles will be a big step towards that perfect bowl.



What this all means is that they cannot remain a single stall in a hawker centre.  Indeed, they have already expanded to two stalls.  One here at Old Airport Road and one in Redhill.  The challenge is to be able to set up a central kitchen with several stalls across Singapore selling the noodles.  That will be the only way to justify the cost of running a central kitchen.   This seems to be the only way forward at the moment given the limiting factors of manpower and the perceived price ceiling of a bowl of fishball noodles.  The challenge of having a few stalls run by workers will be the loss of that personal touch.

One possibility, and this is the one that I have been alluding to earlier in the article, is to open an artisanal fishball "Ramen-ya" like restaurant where each portion can be priced similar to that of a bowl of Ramen.  This would mean that this couple can continue to prepare the dish themselves, everything from making the noodles and the fishballs to cooking and assembling the final dish. Of course, the higher price must be justified by easily perceivable quality and taste.  I believe there will be a significant segment of Singaporeans who are discernible enough to support this, just as we have supported prawn mee and bak kut teh.

Conclusion

A very satisfying bowl of fishball noodles!  With Gen Y hawkers like these, the future of fishball noodles is secure at least for another generation!

Postscript:
Joanna's father was the one who first started Ru Ji Kitchen (Blk 44 Holland Drive) over 10 years ago having learnt the skill from his brother who sells fishball noodles at Ghim Moh Food Centre.  His passion for his fishballs was soon recognized and he was invited to represent Singapore overseas during Singapore Day celebrations.  Joanna and Daniel started off by helping her dad with fried bee hoon in the stall next door before deciding to focus on fishballs.

Ru Ji Kitchen
Old Airport Road Food Centre
#01-37
51 Old Airport Road
S390051
7.30am to 1pm
Closed Mon
94350820 Joanne/Daniel

50 Noodle Stall: Something spicy, something shiok!


Sichuan Seafood Soup $3

There has been a proliferation of PRC food stalls over the past few years. Just walk along People's Park Centre and you will be able to see the changing landscape of the hawker centre there.  However, I haven't written about any of them because I find the food a little too "authentic" for me. PRC food seems to have a peculiar flavour which I don't find enticing.  I felt the same way during my trip to Kunming. I know that this is a broad generalization as there are many regional cuisines in China.  Perhaps I would feel a little different if I went to Chaozhou or Xiamen where the Teochews and Hokkiens came from as the food there might be more familiar to a Singaporean palate.

Having said that, I have blogged about several stalls which are run by naturalized PRCs who sell excellent food.  Shanghai Renjia and You Peng come to mind.  I think that they have been here long enough to be able to tweak the dishes so that it is more suited to our local taste.  You might feel that this robs the dishes of their authenticity, but I think it is a good thing as that was how our very own versions of wanton mee and char kway teow came about.

This stall is run by yet another naturalized PRC lady who is married to a chef from a very famous hotel (which I cannot mention) who specializes in local cuisine.  What that means is that you are going to be presented with a dish which is relatively new to the local food scene but familiar at the same time as the flavours have been adjusted to suit the local palate.  Not only that, but the dishes are also prepared using sound cooking techniques as directed by an experienced hotel chef!

If you are looking for a something new, spicy and shiok, then the Sichuan Seafood Soup will surely hit the spot.  This is best described as the usual Seafood soup which has been spiced up with Sichuan Mala soup base.  However, the flavours have been moderated somewhat so it isn't unbearably spicy although it still packs quite a punch.  This stall sells prawn mee as well as other soup dishes and using its prawn stock as the base for the soup.  The flavour is sweet, well rounded and accented with the heat and palate numbing quality of Sichuan peppers.  Shiok is the probably the best way to describe it. 4.5/5


Zha Jiang Mian $4

Detractors might comment straightaway that this doesn't look like a bowl of authentic Zha Jiang Mian as it shouldn't come with the prawn and the fried fish.  Well, if you want to the original Zha Jiang Mian, it's very simple.  Just ask for the $3 portion and they will give it to you sans fried fish and prawns.  I, on the other hand would rather pay the extra $1 to get all the extra ingredients which I feel add a bit more excitement to the dish.

The meat sauce is very good.  I managed to speak to the Chef (husband) who was at the stall that day.  He explained to me that a lot of places don't do the meat sauce properly which result in the meat being dry.  (Yes, the minced meat in a sauce can get dry!) In order to make sure that the meat is still moist, it needs to be marinated first before cooking.  The sauce is a little dull until you mix it with the chilli, noodles and thinly sliced cucumber, then the whole dish becomes rather lively with a nice contrast between the crunchy chilled cucumber, the zing of the chilli, the sweet and savoury meat sauce and the satisfying chew of the noodles.  4.25/5


Mrs Liew

Conclusion

Singapore hawker food is constantly evolving.   As ethnic dishes from other regions of China get modified to suit the local palate, it will slowly become accepted as local hawker food.  This means we get to try something novel, yet familiar at hawker prices!  If you are looking to put some zing to your dreary workday, the Sichuan Seafood Soup will surely shock your tastebuds out of its slumber and raise some of the hairs on your head!

50 Noodle Stall
50 Serangoon North Ave 4
#01-30, First Centre
9am to 5pm
Singapore 555856
97392112
Sunday closed



Thank God It's Friday 2014: An invitation to explore the meaning of Easter



Wow, time flies!  This is the sixth year we are running TGIF and it gets better and better every year!  This year we managed to book the Grand Pavilion Restaurant which is a new Cantonese restaurant that took over the premises of My Humble House at the Esplanade and instead of the usual buffet lunch with paper plates, we are going to have a nice sit down lunch with proper chinaware!

There are quite a few christians in our ieatishootipost community and this is the one time of the year that we take the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with everyone.  So this is an open invitation to anyone who is interested in finding out more about Jesus Christ and how He can be a powerful force of transformation in your life.  We have invited Jabez Tan to share his life journey from being a gangster and drug trafficker to prisoner to successful hawkerpreneur and I will also be sharing a message about Good Friday.  Feel free to bring the whole family along as we will also have a parallel program for the kids!

Jesus said:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,"  Luke 4:18

This Easter, you too can experience the freedom that Jesus promised!

To register, please write to tgifesplanade@gmail.com or contact Shirley at 97946034.

See you there!

Sik Bao Sin: Old School Cantonese Dishes


Black Chicken Soup $25

If you have been to Sik Wai Sin recently and felt the the food tasted a little different, there is a good reason for it.  Desmond, one of the two brothers who used to helm the wok over at Sik Wai Sin has left to opened his own place up the road!

Those of you who are familiar with the dishes at Sik Wai Sin would know that they serve a very limited menu which can be divided into either steamed or wok fried dishes.  Desmond used to cook the wok dishes whiles Steve was in charge of the steamer. Desmond tells me that he had always wanted to open his own place and this new place has the full support of his family.


Tofu Prawn (large) $25

I had eaten here when the restaurant was just opened earlier in the year.  But at that time, Desmond was still breaking in his new kitchen and had tried to make his dishes more healthy by using less salt and oil.  The dishes at the time were a shadow of what he used to serve up in Sik Wai Sin.  A few months down the road and Desmond is now very much in command of his new wok.  His gas burners are now pushing out twice the amount of heat compared to his old place which means that he can really up the wok hei (smoky wok aroma) of his dishes.  Because all the old customers have commented that they wanted the dishes he used to serve at Sik Wai Sin, he has decided to forgo the healthier option and give his old customers what they want. That's not good if you are health conscious but great if you want to eat something shiok!

There are a few dishes which I specifically go for whenever I come here and the Tofu prawns is one of them.  This dish is a must have and is guaranteed to make you eat an extra bowl of rice.  Yes, it is salty and oily but it's just so good!  4/5/5


Kailan with Beef (large) $25

There are only 13 dishes on the menu and they are all meant to be eaten with rice.  The limited items mean that they can really focus on getting good produce and cut down on wastage.  This is one of the factors that sets Sik Bao Sin apart from a lot of other Cze Char out there.   You will notice that the dishes here are a little pricier than your garden variety Cze Char but with good reason.  The kai lan they use here are the cream of the crop and they are tender, crunchy and sweet. The other factor that sets it apart is that it is one of the very few Cze Char where the dishes are prepared by a Singaporean chef owner.  As you probably realize by now, most Cze Char places hire Malaysian Chefs to cook, so finding a real Singaporean Wok Star is a rarity.  All this means that each dish is personally prepared with care using the best ingredients which is why it would be unfair to compare their prices with your normal Cze Char. 

The kai lan with beef is the "must order" dish there, if only to get a good whiff of the wok hei which registers a 9 out of 10 on the Wok Hei scale.  The alluring scent of this increasingly rare quality in wok fried dishes is worth every dollar and minute spent!  The aroma is so thick that you can smell it from where you are are seated!  4.25

The only thing that really bugs me about the dish is the quality of the beef which can be inconsistent.  They are still using beef knuckle and cutting it by hand and they don't use any bicarbonate to tenderize it.  So, on some occasions, it can be a little tough.  I am still trying to persuade Desmond to try using US Angus karubi chips instead which I am sure will propel this dish to the 4.75 range!


Sweet and Sour Pork (large) $25

Sweet and sour pork has become such an ubiquitous dish that lots of Cze Char places serve it rather dispassionately. Indeed, this dish, which probably ranks as one of the top ten favourite dishes has been relegated to that of a commodity.  I have eaten one at a famous cze char place recently that tasted as if it was just scooped out of the bain marie of an economic rice stall!  While it is good that you can buy this at almost every economic rice stall in Singapore, it does mean that the status of the dish has been demoted to that of the hum drum.

Thankfully, Desmond still takes pride in this classic Cantonese dish and every plate is prepared ala minute.  What results is a pork which is crunchy on the outside but still steaming hot and juicy on the inside.   Desmond tells me that he has tweaked the sweet and sour sauce a little from the old place and so far the feedback has been good from the old customers, myself included.  4.25/5


Steamed Pork with Salted Fish $14

Opening his own place has meant that Desmond has to take charge of the steaming station which was previously the job of his older brother, Steve.  He has hired and trained another cook to look after this, but it is still very much under his supervision.

The steamed pork is a good example of what I mean by food that is prepared with passion.  The pork is still being chopped by hand such that it has a bouncy and firm texture which is very different from a lot of other places that serves this dish which uses ready ground pork tends to be mushy.  The slice of salted mackerel is generous and is great with rice. 4.25/5


Steamed Fish Head $25

The other steamed dish which is famous here is the steamed song fish head (fresh water carp).  This photo was taken earlier in the year when they just started and the new cook forgot to add the generous handful of pork lard.  So the fish was fresh but the sauce lacked something.  I didn't order it the second time I was there so I can't give you an update except to say that we saw all the other tables ordering it, so I expect that like all the rest of the dishes here, it should be like what it was in the old place.

Conclusion

Excellent old school Cantonese style dishes that is perfect to eat with rice.  Unlike a lot of other Cze Char places, the Singaporean chef/owner actually cooks all the dishes himself!  That does mean that the waiting time can be a little longer than usual but it also means that you can be assured that each dish is cooked with great care.  If you have forgotten what a good Wok Hei smells like, the fried Kai Lan will surely jolt it out of your temporal lobes.


Sik Bao Sin (Desmond's Creations)
592 Geylang Road
(Between Lor 34 and 36)
Singapore 389531
67443757
11.45am to 2.30pm
5.45pm to 9.30pm
Closed Mon




The 1 Million kg Challenge: The Journey of a Million kg starts with....

Advertorial


For those of you who haven't been following, here is the quick recap of the #1mkg blogger challenge.  These three guys made a bet to see who can get the most people to sign up for HPB's 1 Million Kg challenge.  So far mrbrown is ahead with DanielFoodDiary hot on his heels and Mr Miyagi lagging in third place.  At the end of the challenge, the loser will have to do a forfeit which involves donning a pair of leotards and have his photo taken while in some compromising contortion.

Now, you are probably wondering why HPB would go to the extent of organizing the 1 Million kg campaign and getting the four of us to help spread the message?  Well, the simple answer is that the obesity levels in our society is an increasing health problem and we need to get Singaporeans to do something about it.

Everyone knows that being overweight is not healthy.  But in our developed society where food is in abundance and most people lead very sedentary lifestyles, increasing obesity levels is inevitable.   Obesity is a risk factor for lots of chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, strokes etc etc.  Most people believe it, but not enough to actually do something about it.

I am sure that some of you have already signed up for the 1 Million kg challenge.  For the others who haven't,  there are probably a few reasons for not doing so.

Here are some which I can think of:

1.  Denial -  I am only slightly overweight.  All these chronic illnesses will not happen to me!

2.  Procrastination - Yeah I'll start my weight loss program next year!

3.  Pessimism - There is no way I will be able to lose 20kg to be in the correct weight range!  Might as well give up now!

4.  Cynicism - Aiyah, it's just another gimmick, I don't want to get involved!

5.  Indifference -   Losing weight is good!  Yeah... Good! 

6.  Pacifism.   You can lose weight, I can don't lose weight.  We don't have to impose our views on each other right?  Everyone live together in peace and harmony!

7.  Fatalism - Look, I am born this way, OK?!

I spoke to the CEO of HPB last weekend and he also acknowledges that weight loss is difficult for most people.  The whole purpose for the campaign is to get people to start thinking about the problem and take baby steps to do something about it.  They are realistic enough to know that you will not be able to get someone to give up Char Kway Teow overnight.  But if you can get them to reduce the frequency of intake by one plate a month, then that is one positive baby step. 

Here are some other baby steps you can take:

1. If you need to visit your colleague downstairs, use the stairs instead of taking the lift.

2. Start ordering Kopi Siu Dai instead of Kopi.

3. Turn off your devices/TV an hour earlier and go to sleep.

4. Instead of ordering your usual Chendol or Ice Kachang after a meal, order a fresh coconut instead.

5. Replace your sweetened canned drink with sparkling mineral water instead.

6. Start enjoying freshly cut fruits and progressively use them to replace desserts after a meal.

7. Sit down this evening and list down other baby steps you can take to create a calorie deficit in your everyday routine!

8. Sign up for the 1 Million kg Challenge and have a look at other resources that are available!

It is said that the best time to plant an Oak Tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now!  So, start doing something about your weight today!

Truly Curry Rice: Hard Working Gen Y hawkers!


Hainanese Curry Rice

What would possess a forex trader to give up his well paying job to enter the hawker trade?  Well, the answer I got is what one would have expected from a forex trader.  He is simply taking a position which he thinks would yield greater profits in the future!

At least that was what 28 year old Joel, a graduate of NUS told me.  He runs this hawker stall together with Deniece, another ex-forex trader from NTU.  (The two are not a couple, in case you are wondering)  The stall was previously run by Deniece's father and when he decided it was time to retire, she and Joel decided to take over the hawker stall.

For years I have been lamenting about the demise of our hawker heritage, but of late I have seen glimmers of hope.  I realize that every generation produces certain individuals who are simply passionate about food and that a certain number of these individuals are passionate about our local hawker food.  Lately, there has been more and more students asking me to help them with their school projects which focuses on our hawker heritage.  It looks like it might not be "The End of Char Kway Teow" after all.

Well, at least that is how I feel after speaking to Joel and Deniece.  These two are passionate about Hainanese Curry Rice.  So passionate that they come to work at 4am sweat it out in the kitchen till 5pm, everyday!  Now, if two graduate forex traders are doing this because they feel that they are taking a better position, then I really hope that they will succeed as it is the kind of success story we need to spur more Gen Ys to go into the hawker business!



To tell you the truth, the thing that initially brought me to the stall was the back story about two local grads selling hainanese curry rice.  I wasn't expecting the food to be all that great, but felt that I had an obligation to support these Gen Y hawkers. It also didn't help to see how unimpressive the display of food was at the stall.  It really is the kind of stall you would peer in and quickly decide to eat somewhere else.

But that assumption changed after I tasted the food.  Some of the dishes are very well executed and has that quality that would grab your attention.  I think what these two have that makes the difference is that they are not afraid of altering the recipe passed down from Deniece's father in order to further enhance it.

The two dishes which really stood out for me were the fried prawns with assam sauce and the chap chye.  The braised pork was meltingly tender (better than a lot of other places) although the sauce could do with a bit more oommph.   The fried pork chops were made with pork jowl and had a very good texture.  It just needed a little more seasoning and I would have liked it with some sweet and sour sauce.  They are still in the process of nailing down the curry.  Some of the improvements they have made was to use pork bone stock instead of water to make the curry which gives it more of an umami boost.  They grind both the wet and dry spices themselves and are now looking for a stone mill to prepare their spices.  Rockettgirl went as far to say that it was the best Hainanese Curry Rice she has eaten for a while, especially when it was compared to the last (famous) hainanese curry rice which I brought her to. (That is why I did not write about it).  Taken as a whole, this is a good plate of curry rice which can only get even better as the two of them continue to work hard on improving the recipes.    4.25/5


Deniece and Joel - Ex Forex traders turn hawkerpreneurs

Conclusion

A very satisfying plate of Hainanese Curry Rice!  As long as these two Gen Yers keep working on this, I am confident that we will be able to preserve this piece of our culinary heritage!

Truly Curry Rice
79 Telok Blangah Drive
Food Centre
Stall 29
9.45am to 1.30pm
Daily

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