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Cheap & Good

Tender are these trotters from Chef Sham H.K, Vinegar Trotters

I have never been pregnant, but I have a bizarre liking for Chinese confinement dishes such as rice wine chicken and pig liver soup.

Perhaps it is because the flavours are typically strong and aromatic or the knowledge that they are always filled with nutritional value, but I lap them all up.

My favourite is pig trotters cooked with black vinegar and ginger, a traditional confinement dish popular with Hakka and Cantonese families.

The dish is, however, an acquired taste for many people, given the pungent smell and sharp acidic taste from the vinegar. That is probably why it has been increasingly hard to find this dish at eateries here.

So imagine my delight when I chance on a stall tucked away at the back of Chinatown Complex Food Centre which specialises in it.


Mr Sham Hei’s black vinegar pig trotters come in a gravy that is lighter and sweeter than usual. ST PHOTO: YIP WAI YEE

Set up two years ago by Mr Sham Hei, his stall's wall is lined with bottles of Chan Kong Thye black sweet rice vinegar - the only brand that old housewives insist on using to make this dish.

Mr Sham, a jovial 70-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong, opened the stall because he wanted to "take it easy", he says, after selling his former business - Lao Huo Tang, the ubiquitous chain of double- boiled soup stalls.

Even so, his vinegar trotter business is evidently gaining popularity as he has already opened two more stalls in foodcourts - in Novena Square's Koufu and Westgate's Food Republic.

An order of his black vinegar pig trotters ($6) comes piping hot in a sizzling claypot, with three chunks of meat and a hard-boiled egg.

I have never been a fan of the egg in this dish because it is always over-cooked and rock hard. But the trotters are very tender here and I happily slurp the collagen-rich skin off them, thinking how good they will be for my skin.

  • CHEF SHAM H.K. VINEGAR TROTTERS

  • 02-07 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, 335 Smith Street, open: 11am to 8pm daily

    Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Of course, the gravy is just as important. It should not be overly greasy or so tart that it cannot be drunk.

Mr Sham's version is deliberately lighter and sweeter than usual, adapted from an old Cantonese recipe to better suit Singaporeans' taste buds, he says. But he leaves open bottles of black vinegar on the counter in case any customer wishes to amp up the flavour.

His stall sells two other claypot dishes - pig trotters braised with peanuts ($4) and mutton soup boiled with angelica root, a Chinese herb ($6).

These are also very hearty, but are easy enough to find at other hawker centres. But the dish of black vinegar pig trotters - that is what will make me return.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'Tender are these trotters'. Print Edition | Subscribe