Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant : My Dim Sum Mistresses
By KF Seetoh - Thursday, Aug 22, 2013
It’s one of those makan moments, an approved sin of sorts, that I need to relive ever so often. The first time I came across Swee Choon for Makansutra was in 1999, when a very dear and ardent foodie-buddy-cum-researcher, Mee Peng, buzzed us about them. She bragged about how humble their freshly made on site bak pao was, and how it had that pleasant generousity feel. She also mentioned the “seedy backlane” seating location. Afterall, this was sited at the top (or bottom, depends which end floats your boat) of the notorious Desker Road, where missteps can have you end up playing the lead in the Crying Game.
That first encounter was very promising. The boss, Mr Chan Ann Tan, was busy in the back kitchen serving customers, friending them, while in between – folding a fresh big pao stuffed it with a wedge of boiled egg, mushroom and a juicy piece of chicken. It looked very inviting, seductive, humble and ready to please. It was big enough as a light meal, all on its own. I wolfed one in. It was fluffy, fresh, soft, chunky (as whole, not minced, chicken meat was used) and the egg lent a comforting touch. Nice. And then my eyes opened to the other pleasures on offer. At least three caught my eye and it was not the usual dim sum suspects like har kao , siew mai and cheong fun.
The menu said Mee Suah Kueh and the accompanying picture was sad, at best. But I didn’t buy into pictures, I fell for the idea. They stir-fried a wok of mee suah, a la fried beehoon style, with bits of mushrooms and nicely seasoned with haebi. They let it rest, laid it out even in sheet trays and chilled it. When ready, the little blocks are carved out and deep fried. You can just imagine how crispy the exterior, and how soft and noodl-y the inside was. My dim sum mistress number two at this place.
Then, another attractive character just popped out of the menu to distract me. It looked pale and boring, but again, I fell for characters, not just looks. It was simply Steamed Chicken Wing, a name that challenged my imagination. The steamed wings sat on a little iron plate with a layer of steamed egg white done with rich stock and a hint of Chinese wine. The sweetness, gentle saltiness, the umami, plus the aroma whiff of wine, with the softly steamed wings, was ambrosia. This is lover number three here. I washed down with a pot of hot jasmine tea.
The palate now beckoned for something sweetish yet not quite (I’m not toothy sweet), and a “Banana Prawn Fritter” ogled at me. They take shrimps with mashed banana, rolled it up, battered and deep fried. I fell in love for the fourth time that night.
I was back there last week for my usual fix, except it had been almost a year. That “seedy backlane” is still there, but now crowded with newer and eclectic folks. The atmosphere- the charming backlane with occasional breeze, where you have to run when it rains – was a page of history on how it was like back in the day. Mr Chan was on long “well deserved break” and his nephew and MD, Mr Tony Ting was confidently managing the fort. He asked if I wanted to try their new line of Shanghai style dim sum and snacks, but I needed to first get past my comfort food fix at their shop before I can consider anything else. When I was done with the “foursome’, with sides of fan choy (steamed char siew rice) and century egg porridge, I was too loaded up to think about anything else Chinese, let alone Shanghainese. The throngs that filled up the air-conditioned section, however, were all over these newer offerings.
When asked if prices will go north of their very affordable range any time soon, Tony quipped “rent and manpower will dictate the bulk of costs, but we have a very good team and we own the shop lots… an investment that can help us somewhat to maintain prices.” They now have five shops, lined in a row, up from the one outlet they were operating in almost 15 years ago. Well done Tony and Mr Chan.
Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant
187-191, Jalan Besar Tel: 62945292 6pm -6am (next day) daily