Affordable home-style cooking
If you can get past the lack of ambience and variety on its menu, Restaurant 121, situated in a sleepy corner of Hougang, has a few gems to please the taste buds.
The prawn roll ($6.60 for small, $11 for medium and $22 for large) is a clear winner. Frozen ones are available in boxes ($17 a box, $16 each with purchase of three boxes or more), which come with reheating instructions. When cooked at 185 deg C for 12 to 14 minutes in the air fryer, they taste just as good as those you get when you dine in.
Coated in crispy batter, they are so tasty that I find the accompanying sweet sauce redundant. The filling is made from a luxurious mix of fresh chilled pork, fresh and frozen prawns, chunky bits of water chestnuts and spring onions.
They are prepared by owner and chef Tan Lee Fong, 61, who started her eatery in 2006.
Another dish worth returning for is the slurp-worthy crab tofu soup ($10). Although not visually pleasing, it is served piping hot in a claypot and boasts flower crab meat - a steal for $10 as the portion yields three to four servings.
Eggy with a rich soya bean flavour from the tofu, the broth also has a rich and robust taste, thanks to the use of pork bones. Try the soup on its own to appreciate how beautifully seasoned it is before adding a little black vinegar and white pepper for that extra lift.
The fried rice with salted fish ($5) is an excellent example of Madam Tan's cooking prowess. She uses salted ikan kurau, which is fried till crispy. The use of pork lard oil injects aroma and flavour into the simple dish. It is a hearty offering, with sausage slices, egg and spring onions.
But I cannot say the same for the Klang Hokkien Noodle ($5). Despite its smoky wok aroma, it is bland.
The Gan Xiang Yu (Garlic & Dry Fish, $13 for small) is worth ordering. It offers great value for money because Madam Tan uses either fresh and sweet-tasting angoli or ang zhor (golden snapper). The dish comes with pieces of okra and sinfully crispy pork lard.
For an economical meal, go for the sambal sliced pork rice with egg ($4.90). The lean pork slices are tender and the housemade sambal is packed with the flavour of dried prawn. My only gripe is the fried egg, which did not have a runny yolk. While waiting for your food, order a refreshing glass of grass jelly with longan ($1.50).
Where: Restaurant 121, 01-84, 6 Hougang Avenue 3
Open: Fridays to Wednesdays, 11.30am to 2pm and 5.30 to 9pm. Closed on Thursdays
Not planning to visit Penang any time soon but need your chendol fix? Head to Lim Cendol, a dessert stall in Tekka Centre. The tight parking spaces and sharp corners in the basement carpark are a hassle, but Mr Kyle Lim, 26, and his mother, Madam Agatha Chan, 64, serve up sweet treats that make it worth your while.
Madam Chan, who is from Penang, used to run the Penang Road Cafe at Novena Ville from 2011 to 2013.
The mother and son duo opened their dessert stall in October 2020.
The signature dessert is Penang Cendol ($2.30). Instead of using factory-produced pandan jelly strips, they insist on making their own chendol from scratch, using mung bean flour and fresh pandan leaves for colour and flavour.
The stall uses freshly squeezed coconut milk instead of factory-produced coconut cream or milk. Even the kidney beans are prepared in-house. They are soaked for six hours then cooked in a pressure cooker until tender.
What I like best is the perfect ratio of ice to coconut milk. The dessert does not get too diluted and tasteless as the ice melts.
Ask for more gula melaka syrup if you prefer your chendol slightly sweeter.
The ice kacang ($2.30) is also a winner, topped with rose syrup, roasted peanuts and slices of fresh banana. At the bottom of the bowl, you get creamed corn, grass jelly, kidney beans and two attap seeds.
The stall is adept at hot desserts too. The pulut hitam ($2) is a must-try. Made from Thai black glutinous rice, the texture is tender but still chewy. Dried longans give the concoction a floral aroma.
The cheapest item is the red bean soup ($1.50). It looks watery, but once you stir it, there is a generous portion of perfectly cooked red beans at the bottom. Fragranced with fresh pandan leaves, the dessert delivers on taste even though the stall omits dried mandarin orange peel to keep the price low.
The stall also prepares its own red ruby dessert from fresh water chestnut. The dessert comes with slices of sweet jackfruit. Also on the menu is ice jelly with aloe vera ($2.30), but I find the jelly's texture too firm for my liking.
The pandan agar-agar ($1.20) is a tasty treat, but only a small batch is made every two to three days.
Where: Lim Cendol, 01-315 Tekka Centre, 665 Buffalo Road
MRT: Little India
Open: Mondays and Wednesdays, 11am to 5.30pm; Tuesdays, Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 6pm. Closed on Sundays