There are days when you don’t feel like eating anything despite your hunger. You have this notion that nothing much will please you and these are the days when you turn to … comfort food. They are usually not photogenic (instagramable in mod speak) but will lift your day, albeit for a few hours at least. Some resort to a good ol’ cheeseburger (that’s what Ironman aka Tony Stark aka Ironman asked for after being rescued from capture), some a warm bowl of soto ayam or kway teow soup, Teochew porridge with basic items like braised tofu and salted mustard leaves. Our Indian friends may turn to a platter of rice slathered with a ladle of good dhal curry. Then there’s the uber comforting Cantonese porridge. We rated Joe’s porridge some 15 years as the top dealer in the game. It came rich, thick, smooth and his slices of fish or pork offal over it was stuff you had to have on a regular basis. Joe retired some years back, sold his business to a Chinese PR and things weren’t quite the same and that eventually shuttered last year too. So, in honour of Joe’s porridge, Charlie Chang, a hard core regular at Joe’s, waited patiently for that same stall to vacate and successfully bid for it and sold porridge.
Charlie is not just any ol’ regular customer, he had chef stints in hotels like Raffles, Crown Prince, Oriental, Fullerton and even a stint in an Asian restaurant group in Miami, USA and Beijing. With over 30 years’ experience in the kitchen, he decided to honour Joe and set this stall up with his wife Philomena and partner Stephen Sim. He was a hard core weekly regular back in the day and was so comforted by that bowl of Joe’s offal porridge, with some dough fritters and a cuppa kopi-o. “I wanted to preserve this food culture” he says but it’s tough even for a veteran chef like him. “The hours are long and the customers are demanding. Once an old lady gave me a shelling because I opened half hour later than usual” but he smiled and gave her some extra topping for her impatience. His Premium Porridge ($5), comes with ten ingredients- lean pork, minced pork balls, sang cheong (fallopian tubes), small intestines, cuttlefish, fish, abalone, century egg, liver and kidney slices. It’s a mouthful in so many ways and he is easy on the salt department- you can splash on more soy sauce if you like, over that thick and smooth porridge made with premium Jasmine rice. Their Boat Porridge ($3.50) is humbling yet you’ll find a moreish mess of pork, fish and cuttlefish inside. You’ll notice Charlie’s expertise just by looking at his two self-fashioned pots of base porridge – it’s a giant gas fired rice cooker modified with aluminium extensions to better and faster circulate heat. You won’t conjure this up if you don’t have that kind of background in the kitchen. I also like his Triple Egg Porridge ($3.50)- done so simply with century, fried and salted egg. Just shoot puffs of white pepper and soy sauce over and the day won’t feel so bad suddenly.
He whispered to me “I saw your YouTube SG50 Deliciously Singapore video on making Bak Kut Teh porridge. Can I have your permission to offer it here?”. You betcha and no permission needed. I did not meant for that recipe to be a secret. Boil away Charlie, and say when!
Weng Kiang Kee Porridge
Chinatown Hawker Centre, Smith Street
7am-2pm, closed on Monday