If the “ketogens” (the concrete jungle health nut generation that shun carbohydrates) and the younger meat loving millenials have their way, then we are seeing the last of such stalls in our midst, especially in hawker centres. Many of the so called hipster hawkers cannot cook enough of , nor understand this dish culture to save their lives at such stalls. Chap chye or Teochew muay stalls have distinctly different types of dishes and you have to offer at least 20 dishes by meal time to make the cut and draw them in. For example, you won’t readily find soy braised tau pok or stewed salted vegetables in a chap chye rice stall nor tomato sardines in a Teochew muay station. But then, many are drawn to donburi, the Japanese term of rice bowls topped with whatever, just like a plate of chap chye rice topped with whatever, but with a brand and better photography on the signage. So, I recall my earlier statement about carbohydrates. It’s complex world we live in today.
This corner hawker centre stall never fail to draw a queue each business minute and I realise their customers are hard core old generation fussy “rice pots” folks. You can’t fool or lure these people with Instagram posts or pretty pictures, no one was fingering their phone checking for online guidance and ratings. They ‘see” with their mouth and tummy- good stuff, and they’ll be back, otherwise, it’s bye-bye and good luck. By 7.30 am I was already prepared to do the point-point act but only 13 dishes was ready and more was being whipped up and steamed as the line of 15 formed. From midway in the queue, I eyed the plain steamed belly pork and the red wine lees chicken and was praying the manila clams, they were tossing in the wok, would be ready when my turn came. The heavens opened, and it was staring at me when I began to point-point. The softly steamed belly pork came with a dollop of hae bi hiam with limes you squeeze over. I had to have that for the opening act, it felt so right and authentically Singapore. The wine lees chicken (fresh and moist), although milder than what I like, was right for this hawker dish as it should not overwhelm the other dishes nor the rice porridge. The server even warned us the pig skin (that went with the stewed pork trotters) was not as soft yet, but I liked it with some bite. Most hawker can’t be bothered. Those clams, were the highlight. Extremely fresh and simply stir fried in its own flavour lifted with some basil leaves and light seasoning. Crunch in on the fresh clams and you’ll know why almost everyone ordered this. We had to have the plain steamed little red snapper- uber fresh off the steamer and went so well with the stewed salted vegetables. I sense that combo is what many may ask for as their last meal on earth, with a taucheo (fermented soy beans) dip.
That whole meal of 7 dishes, including stewed cabbage and eggs, set us back by $25. These prices, even if you consider it expensive or otherwise, won’t last, as there aren’t enough folks practicing and offering this fading hawker craft in the foreseeable future.
Rian Cheng Rice and Porridge
01-37 Haig Road Hawker Centre
7.30am-11.30am (or till sold out)