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Cheap & Good

Italian-Japanese fusion on a budget at Pasta & Donburi

A sense of dread always fills me whenever I hear that a hawker centre is to be renovated.

There is the possibility that some of the popular stalls, usually run by old hawkers, might not return. Some stalls may move to other locations, which require some effort to track down.

So I was relieved that on a recent visit to the revamped Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre, I found that many of the popular stalls have returned. The 72-stall hawker centre reopened in March after a 11/2-year renovation.

Most of the hawker heavyweights, such as Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow, Chuan Kee Boneless Braised Duck and Jiu Jiang Shao La, which sells roast meats, are still there. They drew queues of about 20 people throughout lunch time.

While it is comforting that these stalwarts have remained, it is also refreshing to see new stalls pop up. One of them is Pasta & Donburi by Kenny, which sells a curious combination of pasta and donburi (Japanese rice bowls).

The three-month-old stall is run by first-time hawker Kenny Hew, who has worked as a chef in Japanese and Western fine-dining restaurants, including those in hotels, for 12 years.

  • PASTA & DONBURI BY KENNY

  • Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre, 01-53, Block 20 Ghim Moh Road, open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5 to 8pm, daily except Thursday, go to http://bit.ly/1YvMCT1

    Rating: 3/5 stars

The affable 32-year-old fuses two of his favourite cuisines, Italian and Japanese, and has created nine dishes priced from $5 to $7.50.

By "starting small in a hawker centre", he hopes to offer restaurant-style cooking to heartlanders.

To support his aspirations of owning a business, his father-in-law, who runs the famous 57-year-old Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh stall, bought the adjacent unit for him.

While being in an iconic hawker centre has its perks - Ghim Moh attracts hordes of diners, for instance - it also means competing with other cheaper hawker stalls. However, Mr Hew says there are now more office workers and younger diners in the vicinity, who are open to his East-meets-West dishes.

His Miso Carbonara With Onsen Egg ($7) is one of the crowd-pullers. The idea for this Japanese-Italian hybrid dish came when he accidentally spilled miso soup onto carbonara pasta during a work lunch six months ago.

The end product is a mound of spaghetti drenched in a misoinfused carbonara sauce that is sweetened with mirin and sake.

The savoury tang from the miso does not hit instantly, but grows on you. A food porn-worthy opportunity arises when slicing the oozy onsen egg that crowns the pasta.

The flowy egg yolk gives the pasta a rich and velvety mouthfeel. The bacon bits perk up each bite with dashes of saltiness that cut through the creaminess.

My only gripe is the lack of sauce.

The Chicken Donburi ($6.50) is a drier version of oyakodon (Japanese rice bowl with chicken and egg).

The bowl comprises an onion- streaked omelette studded with a golden panko-crusted chicken cutlet on fluffy Japanese short-grain rice. The thick slices look like they belong in a Japanese restaurant rather than a hawker stall.

The chicken has a good bite and its egg-soaked base, juicy centre and crisp top give an enticing range of textures. The rice bowl is drizzled with a sauce made with konbu seaweed, bonito flakes, shoyu and mirin.

Other interesting pasta options that have housemade seasonings include the Ratatouille Pasta With Tomato Sauce ($5). The hearty vegetarian dish deconstructs the classic French vegetable stew with spaghetti, onion, zucchini, eggplant, red bell pepper and mushroom.

With generous food portions and scrummy sauces made from scratch, I will gladly leave the queues at the other more popular stalls and hop over to Pasta & Donburi by Kenny.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'The accidental pasta hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe