When a talented person makes a wrong turn in life and takes a fall, it can be said that the hawker centres is one of the best platform for salvation. I have met many a former jailbird who found a new calling happily helming a little hawker kitchen and getting back on the grid. Chef Chik Ka Chung, an award winning Chinese chef, made some bad decisions when he headed the Wan Hao Cantonese restaurant in Marriot Hotel earlier this decade. He took gift monies from suppliers in return for orders but paid a jail sentence and $178,000 fine for it instead. I asked about it and he still had that remorseful look as he look downwards. But when I asked about his little hawker operation he now runs with his wife Joanne, he lit up.
The ironic thing is, he had been helming this stall after his incarceration in 2012, and, I overlooked this stall this all these years. At a glance I noticed he specialised or concentrated on steamed Cantonese dishes, like fishes and some seafood, double boiled (steamed) soups and claypot rice. The only item he work the wok on was kalian vegetables, and he did a mean job on it. He uses a restaurant class deck steamer and out comes fishes (the specialty here) and some seasonal seafood which he offers “off menu when I finds good supplies at the wet market just beside the hawker centre” adding that it’s so convenient.
If I had a bigger group, I would’ve ordered everything in the menu but landed just 8 items. The Steam Threadfin Belly (market price) was a delight. Softly textured, not fishy and doused with a classic soy ginger sauce. It was ditto for the Fish Head/ Belly (market price) in black bean sauce except the sauce came bold yet comforting. Then came the Claypot Rice, and at $8, you can afford to eat this alone and not be worried about loneliness. Although he uses gas, instead of wood fire, the aroma was present and the crispy crust below was teasing too. The toppings of Chinese sausages, chicken, and vegetables was lifted with waxed pork belly, something you don’t see in the usual claypot rice suspects. It was to behold. The Kailan (from $6) was next and you can tell the skill of the chef just be seeing how the vegetable had that firmness yet was soft enough to the bite. The vegetable sat high and proud on the plate, not quite like a flat wet mop drowning in brown sauce. I was also taken by the Black Fungus Steamed Chicken ($8). The fowl was so smoot and soft in that light sauce with the softly crunchy black fungus. This is such a childhood pleasure for me. By now, you realise you also need plain rice for the mastication, because up next was the Salted Fish Pork Patty (from $3.50). The flavour was on point and he chopped, instead of minced the meat. But it was a tad over- tenderised as I usually like this to have some bite. His soups are his signatures too. The Cordyceps White Fungus Chicken Soup ($6) was as any soup maniac would expect- all the flavours melded into the savoury broth. And if you like Bitter Melon Pork Soup ($4.50) that has just the right amount of bitter tingle that teases, this is the one to beat.
Hold your head up high Chef, everyone deserves a second chance, even if we give it to ourselves at a hawker centre.
01-36, Haig Road Hawker Centre
Close Sunday and Monday.