Homely dishes cooked with flair
Coffee-shop stall Tracy’s Sarawak Kitchen serves old-school dishes with a homemade taste. Run by Ms Tracy Liaw, it attracts many East Malaysian customers, especially on weekends.
The 41-year-old Singapore permanent resident wants to uphold the food traditions she learnt from her Hakka parents, who used to operate zi char eateries in Sarawak.
Go for the Original Kuching QQ Noodles With Char Siew (Kolo Mee, $5). The cream-coloured eggless noodles, from a factory owned by a Sarawakian, are extraordinarily springy.
The noodles are lightly seasoned and go well with the thinly sliced char siew, stir-fried minced pork, fried shallots and sliced spring onion. Customers can help themselves to the housemade pork lard. It is aromatic, though I prefer the nuggets to be crispier.
The stall also provides housemade garlic chilli. But the noodles are so tasty and no further adornment is needed.
Ms Liaw, who has a degree in housing, building and planning, came to Singapore in 2006. She worked in the construction industry as a quantity surveyor for 16 years, before trying her hand at entrepreneurship.
Armed with recipes she learnt from her mother, Ms Liaw started her business selling kolo mee in December 2021 at E-Centre @ Redhill in Jalan Bukit Merah and operated there until May 2022. She moved to the current Geylang location in June 2022.
A signature dish she learnt at her parents’ eatery is Fried Taugeh Kolo Mee ($6.50). The name is misleading because there are ingredients apart from taugeh (bean sprouts). Plenty of char siew, fish cake slices and egg go into the mix, along with two sea prawns.
The noodles are smoky and aromatic due to the pork and vegetable oils. Though a tad greasy, they are irresistibly tasty.
The most underrated yet spectacular dish is the Mani Cai Fried Egg that is off-menu. It sells for $6.50 – a steal because this vegetable is notoriously laborious to prepare. Mani cai, also known as sayur manis or sweet leaf, is a leafy vegetable scientifically known as Sauropus androgynus.
Ms Liaw and her staff take turns every day, spending 1½ hours plucking the leaves off the stems of 8kg of mani cai.
Deep-fried dried prawns add savoury accents to the dish. An egg is added, but so quickly tossed over high heat, the resulting pieces remain soft, silky and tender.
Another outstanding dish is Hakka Braised Pork ($6.50). The braising style is dry – this means minimal water is used so the sauces boil down, and the resulting thick and concentrated gravy coats the tender meat. This requires skill, as the sparing use of water means the dish can burn easily, and constant stirring is needed.
Galangal props up the dish, imparting much of its spicy and earthy flavours to the pork. A touch of premium-grade five-spice powder enriches the dish without overpowering the soya sauce-based flavour. The savoury dish is perfectly balanced with a bit of sweetness.
Ms Liaw has adapted the seasoning to suit local palates as the original version in Sarawak is saltier and sweeter.
On weekends, get the Yong Tau Foo ($1.50 a piece) – tau kwa stuffed with minced pork. I suggest ordering two because one is not enough.
No starch is used for the dish. The minced pork is mixed by hand until it becomes sticky enough to bind when stuffed into the tau kwa.
The juicy meat filling stays firmly attached to the tau kwa – crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside – a mark of skilled cooking.
Where: Tracy’s Sarawak Kitchen, 90 Lorong 25A Geylang
Open: 10am to 8pm, Tuesdays to Fridays; 9am to 7pm, weekends. Closed on Mondays
Comfortably spicy Northern Indian cuisine
Northern Indian restaurant Shamiana Restaurant in Maju Avenue, which opened in 2008, recently changed hands. The Muslim owners of New Mahamoodiya Restaurant acquired the 70-seat restaurant in the Serangoon Gardens neighbourhood earlier in May.
A fun snack to order is Pani Puri Shots ($9.90+), which comes in a tray of six. Crispy hollow puffs, each holding a small amount of potato onion masala, are served on top of shot glasses containing a jeera (cumin) and mint infusion which has crispy bits of fried batter. Empty the contents of the shot glass into the puff and pop it into your mouth. The puffs make for an addictive textural delight.
Also order the Lamb Sheekh Kebab ($20.90+). The restaurant uses fresh Australian lamb, which is well marinated and packs heat from the use of black pepper, fresh ginger and garlic.
The fat is removed from the meat so that it is lean. But the kebabs are expertly roasted in the charcoal-fired tandoor oven, so the meat remains moist. Kashmiri chilli paste and turmeric give an orangey-red hue to the meat.
What I like about the restaurant is how it eschews artificial colouring. Co-owners Abdul Karir Jahir Ali, 60, and his daughter, Ms Abdul Karir Jahir Ali Thasneem Banu, 31, want the food to have a homemade taste.
Ask for a little housemade mint chutney to go with the lamb kebab. The camouflage-green dip delivers an appetising spicy kick from the use of Indian green chilli peppers.
For spice relief, get the Mango Lassi ($5+), which is prepared to order from fresh mango pulp and yogurt. I ask for the less sweet version and, indeed, it comes with just the right touch of sweetness and tang.
A signature dish is the Kori Kundapuri ($19.90+), which is fresh boneless chicken cooked in a rich spice mix. The dish is a Southern Indian classic, usually cooked with coconut milk.
But Shamiana does it differently, using fresh grated coconut to thicken the sauce. The dish is served with a finishing touch of tadka – black mustard seeds, dried red chilli and curry leaves fried in vegetable oil.
The gravy is thick, luscious and unforgettably aromatic.
Have the dish with freshly made Pudina Paratha ($4.90+) – which contains mint and is pan-fried in a little butter – or Lachha Paratha ($4.90+) – plain paratha made with whole wheat flour and cooked in the tandoor without oil.
The Shahi Malai Kofta ($15.90+), which is mixed vegetable and cottage cheese dumplings simmered in a creamy almond sauce, is savoury and slightly sweet – suitable for those who prefer non-spicy options.
Try the Chicken Fried Rice ($17.90+) as well. The long-grained basmati rice, cooked with fresh chicken meat and mixed vegetables, is not greasy at all. You can ask for the dish to be non-spicy too.
For value meals, go for the weekday set lunches. There are two sets – vegetarian ($9.90+) and non-vegetarian ($10.90+). Each meal comes with five items and a dessert of the day.
When I visit on a Tuesday, the vegetarian set meal consists of Gobi Manchurian (crispy battered cauliflower stir-fried in soya sauce), which reminds me of sweet and sour mock meat; Paneer Butter Masala (cottage cheese in a spicy creamy sauce), Vegetable Kolapuri (a mixed vegetable curry), naan, Jeera Pulao (cumin rice, and Gulab Jamun (milk dumpling in sugar syrup).
Each dish is well-prepared, flavoursome and hearty, although the Gulab Jamun is too sweet for my liking.
Where: Shamiana Restaurant, 24 Maju Avenue
MRT: Lorong Chuan
Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm daily