Glorious Taiwan Porridge
By TianTianChi - Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013
The 1970s was the golden period of Mandopop in Singapore. Singers like Teresa Teng and Jenny Tseng took Singapore by storm and spurred the establishments of Mandopop theatres and performance supper clubs, such as Wisma Theatre (popularly known as Hai Yan), Silver Star and Golden Million. Mandarin speaking Taiwanese singers arrived in droves to meet the demand for Mandarin proficient performers. The popularity of Taiwanese movies and drama series had also fueled the frenzy. At the same time Taiwanese style cuisine started to flourish in Singapore, especially the humble Taiwan porridge, which catered to the supper crowd and performers after their shows.
For a long time, Taiwan porridge was considered exclusive and pricey. High-end restaurants, such as Gold Leaf, Spring Leaf and Plum Garden, were popular among the elites. There were also restaurants, like the Oasis, which served patrons from nightclub and pub crawlers nearby, as it was the only one then that opened until the wee hours. Many hotels, led by the Goodwood Park, also jumped on the bandwagon and started offering late night Taiwan porridge as the mainstay offerings at their coffee house.
It was around the 1980s, along with the decline of Mandopop theater appeal, that Taiwan porridge flourished and began appearing in hawker centres. It melded well with the mass market expectations. One of them is Lau Pa Sat Taiwan Porridge. As the name suggests, it started at Lau Pa Sat by an ex-Taiwanese chef from one of the fancy restaurants.
After the aging Lau Pa Sat closed for retrofitting, the owner sold the business to his good friend, Mr Lee. The humble stall became famous under the hand of Mr Lee and his wife. Many customers like their a la minute style side dishes over the cap chye peng style at most Teochew porridge stalls. Mr Lee also injected elements of cze cha into his cooking, making it even more appealing. You can find dishes such as bitter gourd fried with sliced fish and sambal kang kong in the menu.
Mr and Mrs Lee later moved to Old Airport Road Food Centre due to rental hikes at the new Lau Pa Sat. Today, the menu remained, except that the smaller space here has limited them from making steamed dishes. They can only serve stir-fried and stewed dishes, and sadly, they also had to stop serving the piping hot free flow sweet potato porridge due to steep increases in cost of rice over recent years. It is still among the cheaper Taiwan porridge around with cost ranging from $4 to $8 per dish, with more expensive items such as whole fish cost about $12.
Their omelette is pan fried perfectly, thick, yet fluffy at the side and spongy at the centre. He does not stinge with the number of eggs and it also comes in several versions – chye poh, prawns, silver bait, oyster and minced meat ($4 for the chye poh version and $7 for the oyster). His version of stewed pork belly ($4) comes with light hints of herbal notes, even those who don’t handle the fattiness well, would still ask for a bowl of its gravy to douse the porridge with.
One of our favourites is the chilli cockles ($7), which he carefully checks to make sure the shell fish is fresh. He then loads the dish with scallions, onions and garlic for extra kick over the accompanying sambal. For those who shun shell fish, he does it with pork slices, sotong or prawns too. The sambal sweet potato leaves ($12) packs a punch and even the fried pomfret (seasonal price but usually about $12) with black bean sauce comes with appetising spiciness from chopped garlic and chilli.
The element of Taiwanese is also evident with the sliced pork fried with canned minced meat sauce ($6). The combination of well-seasoned and tender meat with the delectable minced meat sauce makes this perfect to go with porridge. We also love the braised beancurd ($5) which comes with chunks of pickled cucumber giving it more crunches and a touch of appetising tanginess. Check out the shredded pork with enoki mushroom too, he does it with slight chewiness to the mushroom that complements the crunchiness of the shredded pork. Most of the pork dishes here can be replaced with either seafood or chicken.
The best dish here, however, is the humble beansprout with salted fish. This is probably one of the best one we have come across. The intense wok hei he decreed that the bean sprout remains crunchy, plumb and juicy. Not exactly cheap at $5 but we will gladly pay for such quality. Another vegetable we recommend is the fried kang kong with fermented beancurd (or fuyu, $5). There is so much umami flavour in this dish; the sauce alone is good enough to down a bowl of porridge.
Generally the food here tends to lean on the side of salty , practically, designed to go well with sweet starchy rice or porridge. Business is brisk and the wait here on weekend can be excruciating. It is best to come before 6pm or better still after 8.30pm. The Lee’s are also getting on with age and it pains them that the children are not interested to take over the business. Retirement is in their cards and regrettably, while we can enjoy this now, the clock has started to tick away.
Lau Pa Sat Taiwan Porridge
51 Old Airport Road, #01-167, Old Airport Road Hawker Centre Hours: 5pm-11.30pm (Closed on Mondays)