It’s time for “Cheng”
By KF Seetoh - Friday, Feb 07, 2020
It’s about now that we think of eating “cheng-cheng” or soupy, less complex meals to counter and calm the Chinese New Year feasts we tore into last week. Not forgetting the bak kwa and the jars or snack and crisps that cornered us almost everywhere we went. I came across this month old hawker stall run by an ex-F&B industry consultant who just “felt like selling this recipe he had been working on for nine months”. Chuk Kee and his wife Kim hawks this very simple pork soup and in a corner stall framed with very interesting and informative stall graphics (this largely overlooked aspect of running hawker stall is very important in today’s crowded and noisy world of street food vendors).
A huge sidewall graphic shows clearly the ingredients laid out plainly above a bowl- showing anything from pork ribs, skin, belly pork, spinach, shallots, scallions, skin, offals, egg sausage, meatball etc.. The item that will catch you is the egg sausage. This is a celebratory dish in many parts of China and Indochina. I had this at an event in Thailand years ago when a child came of age and was ordained into monkhood. Beaten eggs with spices were piped into sausage skin and steamed, then cut into slices. Chuk kee and his wife Kim does the same here.
The simplicity of this pork soup is the clarity of the recipe. I tested all five items in the menu and clearly, the calm and clean pork broth stood out- it was just a coherent bone broth, a pinch of salt with some basic spices like shallots and scallions. The signature Monan Pork Soup ($3.80), with belly pork, lean meat, egg sausage, meatball, radish and greens looks like a loss-leader item on the menu. It was so easy to consume, no bone or wriggly offals to scare you (if you are of that inclination). And if you like it even simpler, take on their Shabu Soup ($5) with egg sausage and a stack of shabu pork slices with greens. But I had an affinity for the Pork Leg Soup ($5) because they cooked it till just before it went all soft and floppy. I like the bite they left in texture- soft enough but not overly so. By now, clearly the winners for me was the broth, egg sausage and definitely the pork or meatballs. It was own made and came dense and firm yet springy as it was a recipe of his Vietnamese born wife. I should suggest they offer a bowl of just egg sausage and meatballs with greens, it’ll please the kids too. But if you avoid our popular Teochew style peppery bak kut teh, but adore ribs, then their version may please you. This $5.80 bowl comes bold and laden with chunks of ribs, radish and meatballs. That, with a bowl of steamed rice and their very appropriate vinegar garlic chili sauce, makes a very humbling meal.
At this stage, you should realise that Chuk Kee is a first-time hawker and is a beneficiary of the hawkers incubation program by NEA (National Environment Agency). He gets some subsidies for his equipment and operation advice, but that is no guarantee for success. But I think he’ll make it- because he is not doing anything different in this fussy hawker centre, just doing indifferently.
02- 137, Chinatown Hawker Centre
Closed on Monday & Sunday.
*Operating hours updated as of September 2021