Yew Chuan Claypot Rice: A Claypot Rice Master in the House
By KF Seetoh - Monday, May 18, 2015
There is a theory about how claypot rice came about when a humble highway stop eatery honoured their rich travellers by cooking this decadent (by their standards then) rice meal. It had meats, sausages, and vegetables- something of a luxury back in the day in China. Nice theory but today, not all who sell claypot rice are exactly grinding the bottom of the economic ladder here. It’s a well-loved, difficult to perfect and not quite a budget meal adored by many foodies. Its way more than that 3 step samba recipe- rice, water, toppings and over low fire in a claypot for 45mins. No sir, not at all and I know from experience.
“I worked and learned for 6 years from my bosses at Lor 33 Geylang before I had the guts to strike it out on our own” admitted boss Mr Pan Nip Chang, manning his 13 wood and gas fired stoves with his wife Mdm Tan Choon Lin. This twice-cooked-two-fire technique is adopted by many claypot rice masters to quicken the process without losing its roasty and fragrant aroma- a technique the folks at Geylang Claypot restaurant at Lor 33, still practice today. The couple have been running their tight, and well-oiled little stall, decked with seasoned sooty stoves and pots for ten years now. A sight to me that say “claypot rice master in da house!”
If you tried making this at home over your low fire gas stoves, you will notice the pot bottom grains get very black and loses quite a bit of that signature aroma of roasted rice. But these masters, like Mr Pan, are very careful about first cooking them in gas fired stoves before it is caressed with gentle wood fire to yield that golden brown “fan chiew” or roasted bottom layer of rice. This is where the entire pot of claypot rice gets its distinct fragrance from. His toppings of soy and oyster sauce marinated chicken chunks, meat and liver sausages, salted fish, greens and quality in general, reminded of just how well he learnt his craft from his teachers at Lor 33. They are very similar. But being sited in an edge-of-town heartland corner hawker centre meant “I have to cater to the budget conscious who wants to eat or even share single portion versions” he said as I noticed some older folks tucking in a small portion all by themselves. I think he is about the only few hawkers I know that will cook a single generous $5 portion the full-monty manner, just like how they would at $15 order. You have to wait up to 30 minutes for it. “But I have a lot of regulars who don’t mind the wait by now” and surprisingly, he adds that about 70% of his customers are Gen Y foodies. Most others, especially stalls in food courts needing fast turnovers, will cooked ahead of time, just warm it up and serve in a claypot, in under 5 minutes.
When I drizzled the black soy sauce and flavoured oils into my $15 order (for 3 persons), it felt so right- from colour, aroma to texture in the seasoned claypot. The fragrant, softly al-dente grains were so easy in with bits of kum heong (golden fragrance) salted fish, savory chicken chunks, sausages and greens. Stir the bottom of the pot and you get bits of crunchy crispy toasty grains when you bite in. Delightful, to say the least.
His only worry is the uncertainty and rumours surrounding the permanent closure of the hawker centre at year’s end. “I don’t know where to go”, but I told him that it would be a crime if the hawker centre folks do not allot him a nice spot knowing full well that such hawker masters don’t grow on trees in today’s society.
Yew Chuan Claypot Rice
01-56, Golden Mile Food Center
505, Beach Rd
12pm-10pm, Monday to Friday
4pm-10pm Saturday and Sunday
Close on Thurdays.