Teochew Muay- a Vanishing Act
By KF Seetoh - Friday, Jan 11, 2019
We stroll so casually around a food centre and eat whatever we feel like, as if it will forever fall down from food heaven to please us and take for granted. But on closer inspection, realisation and with a stark admission, I predict more than a few dishes will fade into oblivion or go the way of the robotic kitchen factories in the near future. This occasional series will touch on some of such dishes and I detail the harsh realities behind their fade. I sound out, in this new year, the eventual demise of artisanal made-with-love and well-loved humble Teochew Muay.
Whether they offer a dozen or 50 plus iconic and culturally correct items does not matter today. The worrisome fact (if you love this comforting porridge meal) is, no one in the horizon in coming on board to carry on the mantle of the old Teochew masters of this game. Seriously, to put out on average 20 items on brightly lit bain marie food warmers, is not an easy feat. Even if the dishes look simple (the hallmark of Teochew muay dishes) it is hard work and curating the menu is an art in itself. There’s nothing creative and every Teochew muay lover know exactly what they want and expect. I don’t see new faces in this space nor are there decent local makan academies churning them out. It is easier to learn French food than local makan here. I cite two of my favorite, soon to fade Teochew Muay spots.
Teochew Rice and Porridge , 01-98, Maxwell Hawker Centre, 11am-3pm/ 5pm-8.30pm. closed Sunday.
She is all of 82 and still going strong in the Maxwell kitchen
The little old lady manning the wok, who churns out at least 15 dishes, ready by 11am each day they open, is a phenomena. The matriarch of this Seah family is already 82 and hunches over the wok, singlehandedly to get some comfortingly simple dishes out. Her braised ter ka, has the correct doneness and the “fattier” verision comes with skin, fat and collagen that lovingly withers in the mouth. Her fried leeks is intentionally wok charred at some edges as the bitter sweet umami sensation it delivers is so adorable with the porridge. Her traditional shark meat with chili taucheo is a must-order item. Even the taupok is braised till soft and gives in to the soy stock and absorbs all those goodness. When she retires, no one will continue as her son who mans the counter, does not cook.
The sweet bitter umami laden fried leeks at Maxwell hawker centre
Shark Meat in taucheo chilli, at Teochew Rice and Porridge
Sin Hock Heng, 701, Geylang Road (Lor 37), 24 hours daily
The amazing spread at Sin Hock Heng
It is daunting just knowing you have to cook up to or over 50 fresh exacting items by lunch each day to feed them. What’s more scary, this place is a 24/7 spot and it’s not easy to find staff manning the kitchen round the clock. They freshly braised the duck and a plate of it comes sans the ducky pong (it’s what they use in the soy braised). And those fish cakes embedded with pickled radish and vegetables are all hand made. The braised tau kwa, comes gently perfumed with sesame oil and it was a joy to tear in. The snapper fish, is simple steamed than blanched in simmering salted vegetable stew to up the savoury and umami quotient. We are seeing less of such stalls of late and worse, many of such dishes are now provided my mass production suppliers. The art of this meal, will soon be lost.
The juicy and resilient fish cakes at Sin Hock Heng
So who’s going to carry on this makan legacy? We got lots to think about and act on. We so need a Singapore Food and Culture Academy.