Food Picks: Handmade dimsum and authentic Vietnamese fare

Fresh Prawn Siew Mai at Bao Zai Handmade Dim Sum (left) and Vietnamese Kimchi Pork Soup at An La Ghien. ST PHOTOS: HEDY KHOO

Affordable handmade dimsum

For around $15, you can enjoy a sumptuous spread of handmade dimsum at this coffee-shop stall in Serangoon North Avenue 2.

There are 28 items on the menu of Bao Zai Handmade Dim Sum, all handmade by stall owner Lee Mee Poh. Originally from Ipoh, the 40-year-old Singapore permanent resident has 20 years of experience making dim sum and started his stall in December 2020.

The Fresh Prawn Siew Mai ($2.50 for three pieces), wrapped in eye-catching green wonton skins, look like those you would find at finer dim sum establishments.

The prawns used are fresh. The juicy savoury filling is a mix of lean meat, pork fat and mackerel fish paste. What looks like salmon roe for the topping is, in fact, sago pearls dyed red. It is a creative budget-friendly solution to add a touch of fine detail.

My favourite is the Century Egg Dumpling ($2 for two pieces). Mr Lee uses good-quality century egg, with bouncy egg white and creamy yolk. The pork filling also contains crunchy water chestnuts.

The Fried Yam Dumpling ($1.20) is also recommended, with plenty of char siew inside and a strong taste of yam. The top layer is reasonably crisp.

The Fried Prawn Roll ($2 for two pieces) is one of Mr Lee's signature dishes, though I wish there were chunkier pieces of prawn. But at this price, it is hard to ask for more. The beancurd skin is crispy and I like how it is not overly salty.

The skin of the Braised Meat Bao ($1.60) is incredibly soft, fluffy and moist, and remains so even at room temperature. The meat is a little dry, but is thoroughly infused with the flavour of the braising sauce.

The Steamed Lotus Leaf Rice ($3.50 a piece) comes with two slices of pork belly char siew, two pieces of boneless chicken thigh meat and a whole mushroom. You can taste dried prawns in the glutinous rice although the chicken is a little dry, as Mr Lee removes the skin to make it healthier.

Mr Lee also prepares Honey Chicken Feet ($2.50) from scratch. Most of the chicken feet are small as the supply for bigger-sized chicken feet is inconsistent. The sauce does not actually contain honey, but is made using fermented bean sauce and sugar, which turns out savoury and sweet.

Where: Bao Zai Handmade Dim Sum, Stall 2, 01-41, Block 151 Serangoon North Avenue 2
Open: Tuesdays to Sundays, 7am to 4pm; closed on Mondays
Tel: 9237-3279

Authentic Vietnamese fare

An La Ghien in Marsiling offers a wide range of Vietnamese fare. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

Get a taste of authentic Vietnamese fare at An La Ghien's second outlet, which opened in an industrial coffee shop in Marsiling on Dec 31.

An La Ghien's first standalone outlet in Geylang specialises in hotpot and barbecue, but it also has a lovely selection of Vietnamese dishes.

Its second outlet stays true to owner Tran Thi Ngoc Giau's intent to provide authentic Vietnamese fare. About 70 per cent of the stall's customers are Vietnamese.

Offal lovers will enjoy the Pork Intestine Salad ($9.90), which comprises small intestines served in a salad of cucumber and carrot, and tossed in a savoury tangy dressing of fish sauce and lime juice. Wonderfully free of unpleasant odours, they are tender with a slightly chewy bite.

The Snacks Platter ($39.90) - good for two or three to share - is a combination of six dishes. There is tender octopus dressed in a heady mix of fish sauce, lemongrass, coriander, garlic and chilli. The refreshing cabbage salad is a medley of shredded cabbage, carrot and onion with crunch from green mango and peanuts. Fresh mint leaves lift the dish.

You get both deep-fried rice paper rolls and fresh rice paper rolls that are stuffed with prawns, pork and vegetables. Sawtooth coriander in the deep-fried rice paper rolls gives an aromatic zing. The fresh version boasts cucumber, mint and coral lettuce.

The flavourful fried chicken wings - marinated in fish sauce, garlic, black pepper and sugar - are addictive. The BBQ prawns marinated in chilli salt are cooked until the shells are crispy enough to eat.

For home-style dishes, try the Vietnamese Kimchi Pork Soup ($7.90). The stall prepares its own preserved mustard greens, which are similar to local preserved mustard greens. However, An La Ghien's version is more sour than salty. The broth is light, but has enough meaty flavour.

An La Ghien's second outlet has an ongoing lunch promotion for selected dishes. Between 11am and 2pm, the Claypot Stewed Pork Belly With Egg and the Claypot Stewed Tuna With Pineapple are each available at $4.50. Each dish, which comes with rice, is usually priced at $6.90.

Claypot Stewed Pork Belly With Egg. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

The stewed pork belly looks like local braised pork belly, but has a lighter shade of caramel as the meat is cooked in fish sauce and coconut water.

The stewed tuna - fragrant with the flavour of blue ginger - goes well with the tangy pieces of pineapple.

Dishes popular with Vietnamese customers include the Big Grilled Dried Squid ($24.90) and Steamed Chicken With Lime Leaves ($25 for a whole chicken). But the tough texture of both takes some getting used to. The stall grills dried squid and tears it up by hand before serving. This is good with drinks, especially beer.

The steamed chicken is an old hen and the texture is tough and sinewy. This is the way Vietnamese like it, Ms Tran tells me. But the meat is flavoursome and comes with a lovely salt-and-pepper dip to which you squeeze fresh limes.

Where: An La Ghien, Stall 2, 10 Marsiling Industrial Estate Road 1
Open: Wednesdays to Mondays, 10.30am to 10pm; closed on Tuesdays
Tel: 9763-2589

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