I was shuffling about the very busy lunch hour crowd looking for another stall to try and feature and I stumbled upon this old legend in Teochew Muay (Teochew porridge). Amidst the fancy donburi bowls, truffles and bespoke noodles, roasted almond lattes and fancy new age chow this CBD hawker centre is famed for, Teo Heng still hold their own. It’s a 65 year old icon and I feel this uber comforting meal is slowly fading into oblivion for so many reasons. “My father started in a coffeeshop in Chulia Street, moved and relocated around the area” and Mr Teo Heng (his stall named after himself) still continues about in town.
For starters, cooking over dozen items, some complex and otherwise, is not something a new generation of hawkers of cooks are capable of these days. The items, because they are so iconic and embedded in our makan ecology, have to meet the exacting high standards of even the casual Teochew Muay fan. I had featured them in our Makansutra TV show over 16 years ago and that one fleeting glance at their stall, brought it all back. I remember just how special their brand of Teochew porridge was. And it still is.
Unlike many of such stalls that offer all sorts of “chap chye rice” items to go with and falsely call it Teochew Porridge, these folks are exacting and the menu reflects that food culture. About 12 items are offered daily and each is a moreish bait all on its own. The Teochews largely braise, boil and steam their coastal town food and in the words of Teochew food master, Mr Lee Chiang How of Huat Kee Restaurant, “fish must taste like fish, and likewise, meat and vegetables. Take nothing away from nature”. Their “clean” items, well laid out include a whole plainly steamed sotong (fresh and softly crunchy), stuffed fried then steamed taupok (with cucumber, fish cakes and shredded braised pork), one of the best fish cakes I’ve had, soy braised eggs (tamago style with half cooked middle albumen and yolk), braised duck breast (the favourite part for such meals), large intestines, tau kua, soft braised pig skin and belly pork. They also steam garoupa and warm them in salt mustard vegetable stew, served with a ladle of it over the fish. This one was as sweet and fresh and made downing that bowl of porridge a joy to do with. I just ordered a “whatever you suggest set” and Mr Teo placed seven items (because it’s me the glutton, on overdrive that day), belly pork, sotong, taupok, intestine, egg, duck and fish cake, all in a platter with a bowl of their warm rice porridge. The two chilli dips, a blended and a vinegar garlic version, was exactly what the meal called for. That cost me no more than $9 and I had to order the beckoning steamed fish in salted vegetables (from $16).
That was one of the most comforting Teochew meal that is “raceless” to me. It was just a great meal in a foodie city served affordably in town. When I asked about continuity, he just looked down and smiled as he shrugged citing the oft heard old hawker phrase by now “who wants to do these hard jobs anymore!” Sigh, but meanwhile, I will be back for a repeat session.
Teo Heng Porridge and Rice
01-27, Amoy Street Hawker Centre
Closed Saturday and Sunday.