Hainanese curry rice is defined by the four classic dishes of Pork Chop, Curry Chicken, Chap Chye and Kong Bak right? Ever wondered why?
If you go to Hainan island, you will not be able to find Hainanese Curry Rice because this is a style of cooking that is only found in Singapore. The Hainanese were excellent cooks and were often employed by the British as well as the wealthy Peranakans as chefs in their homes. They got the Pork Chop idea from the British and the rest from the Peranakans. Curry Chicken, Babi Ponteh and Chap Chye, these were some of the Nonya dishes which the Hainanese cooks adapted for Hainanese Curry Rice. Nowadays, it is instantly recognized Hainanese Curry Rice. Sure, other economic rice stalls might sell curry, kong bak and chap chye, but they always have a slew of other dishes. If you go to a Hainanese Curry Rice stall, these few dishes are the main attraction. You really don’t need anything else.
Over in Tiong Bahru, there is a stall selling just such a curry rice which dates back to 1946. But just because it has a 64 year history doesn’t mean it is necessarily good, although the fact that it lasted so long does mean something. No, they are good because the uncle here still insists on doing things the traditional way. So the Pork Chops are coated with cream crackers instead of bread crumbs before frying. This is how my Hainanese mother in law does it and if you can find a stall that still does it this way, then you know you have stumbled upon a Hainanese Hawker who is serious about his food.
In order to enjoy the Pork Chops, you do need to get there early when the Pork Chops have just come out of the fryer. Unfortunately we got there just before they closed so the Pork Chops that day were not that crispy. I notice though that each pork chop is made from a good slice of pork loin ie it is almost like your Japanese Tonkatsu, and not a piece of pork that has been pummeled to death. So when it is hot out of the fryer, it should be nice and juicy. 4/5
The killer dish for me that day was the Curry Prawns. It was an unexpected dish since we usually order the Curry Chicken. The gravy was eye openingly good and the prawns were the fresh sea prawns which were big and succulent. I was told that their curry takes three days to prepare, from the preparation of the ingredients, to the grinding, to the frying of the rempah and finally cooking the curry. The rempah forms the curry base for all their curry dishes. The prawn curry was fragrant and has a natural sweetness that got me lapping it up and thinking of when I am going back again. 4.5/5
Unlike the Nonya version, the Hainanese Chap Chye sold at these hawker stalls is very simple. Of course, when my mother-in-law cooks Chap Chye, there is a lot more stuff in the dish. But at these Hainanese Curry Rice places, Chap Chye means cabbage that has been cooked till they are slimy and soft and when you order just one plate of rice with the dishes on top, they will use this superbly slimy concoction as a topping together with the curry and braising sauce. The Chap Chye here is ok but nothing exceptional on its own. However, it plays a large supporting role in the whole Hainanese Curry Rice experience. 4/5
Although Mr Loo told me that the Kong Bak was an adaptation of Babi Ponteh, I can’t help but think that since Kong Bak is a common dish even amongst the other dialect groups that it is probably something quite generic. The Kong Bak here is certainly very different from the Nonya version and looks and taste more like the Teochew variety. Again, eaten by itself, it is nothing to rave about. It is like listening only to the cello in a three string orchestra. But it resonates synergistically with the Curry and Chap Chye to become a melodious Hainanese symphony. 4/5
I know that three of the four dishes only scored 4/5 but this is still a place which I would go back again and again to eat the curry rice. It is just the combination of the dishes and the whole environment that makes it a great place to enjoy Hainanese Curry Rice. That said, I think I would have had a much better meal if I had gone there before 12pm when the Pork Chops are still coming out fresh from the fryer!
Update 23 Dec 2013
The stall will move to Blk 71 Seng Poh Road #01-49 on 10 Jan 2014
Thanks to Sen for video link!
Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice