Back in 1995, a good two years before Britain handed their colonial rule of Hong Kong back to China, there came a flood of Hong Kongers seeking new opportunities in Singapore. The Yip family was one of them. This family of cooks came, saw and became Singaporeans a few years later and in 1999, they set up a little cze cha hawker stall. One glance at the menu, and you know it yells “Cantonese” save for a couple of comforting twists. They are so in tune with their heritage (which is part of ours too) that when I ordered and enquired in Mandarin, Mr Yip Sai Tai replied in Cantonese and it kind of set the tone of the meal experience. And like every God fearing true blue Cantonese chef, steamed fishes must be in the menu, in one form or another as that’s the holy grail in the Cantonese kitchen, plus double boiled soups.
A glance at their little crowded kitchen, with a professional triple deck steamer taking centre stage, and a huge lightbox menu staring at you, and you’ll know they mean business. The always smiling Mr Yip operates it with his wife and daughter in law Jing Mei. The dishes are all classic Cantonese- steamed minced pork salted fish patty, steamed chicken chunks with fermented bean sauce, onion, lap cheong (Chinese sausage) or bittergourd omelette, bittergourd soup, among some, and of course, the steamed fishes, which includes , because of our love of spices, a ramped up rempah laced comforting Assam Fish Head ($18). This assam sauce had a dense and tangy smack on the palate. Sour, thick, spicy and absolutely right as rain over a bowl of steamed rice. The fatty bits of the carp head they use was pleasure in the mouth. We also tore into the steamed black garoupa (market price based on size) with fermented black bean sauce, garlic and chilli. If you are a Cantonese, you can taste what I am saying here. Best to go early for lunch to get the freshest selection. They sell out the better fishes like red snapper or red garoupa by dinner.
The Emperor or Di Wang Miao (from $5) vegetables, and we requested they cooked it plain garlic style, was a joy. It was nicely rendered in the wok and retained the distinct firmly soft smooth texture and sweet flavour. I know some like their style of minced pork and salted fish patty (from $6)- it came comfortingly soft and smooth with hints of salted fish and a spoon of grated ginger atop. This won’t fail you but I much rather the hand chopped chunky, fatty and springy version. I had to attempt the bittergourd omelette ($5) and this is a simple but rare hawker dish these days for a plain reason- the word bitter does not sit well with a new foodie generation and it is a skill to select and render these gourds till the offending bitter hints are tamed. They do just that and it, as usual, was so easy in over the rice, as like the other dishes.
And no, if possible, do not go alone or in a pair, rustle up some friends and tear into the complete meal, with vegetables, soups, fishes, pork, chicken and…more steamed fishes! Talk freely and be happy as such is the experience we take for granted when dining in such let-your-hair-down hawker centre places.
OK (steamed cze cha stall)
#02-20, Dunman Road Hawker Centre
11.30am- 10pm, close on Sundays
Tel: 9434 0043