Cheap, good & healthy

Dumplings made to please

Water chestnuts give a crunchy texture to the dumplings at Ah Li Ipoh Hor Fun Fish Dumpling stall.
Water chestnuts give a crunchy texture to the dumplings at Ah Li Ipoh Hor Fun Fish Dumpling stall.ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

In this series brought to you by the Health Promotion Board, find out where to go for healthier food that is tasty and affordable

It is a daily labour of love for this noodle seller who wants her customers to willingly eat healthier.

Despite her tight operational hours - her stall is open from 5am to 3pm six days a week and preparation starts at 4am - Madam Chen Li still makes time to carefully peel and cut carrots into flower shapes that she uses to garnish her lower-calorie Mushroom Spinach Noodle ($3).

The 47-year-old, who runs Ah Li Ipoh Hor Fun Fish Dumpling at the Pasar Bedok Central food centre, says in Mandarin: "It is worth seeing the happy smiles of surprise on my customers' faces, especially those who expect healthier food to look and taste boring."

Her stall's Fish Dumpling Noodle ($3), which comes with a choice of noodle or Ipoh hor fun, and Mushroom Spinach Noodle carry the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol and Lower In Calories label.

To qualify for the Lower In Calories label, a dish has to contain 500kcal or less. A typical dine-out meal contains 700 to 800kcal, while the recommended daily energy intake is 2,200kcal on average for men and 1,800kcal for women.

Given the price, the Healthier Choice dishes offer plenty of value for money.

The Fish Dumpling Noodle comes with four plump juicy sui kow (dumplings) stuffed with fish and chicken meat and a generous portion of cai xin.

I opt to have the fish dumplings with Ipoh hor fun, which are blanched to the right doneness. The dumplings are delightfully tasty with chunky bits of water chestnut, carrot and slivers of spring onion. The freshness of the ingredients in the filling comes through as Madam Chen keeps the seasoning simple with only a little sugar and salt used.

Fish dumplings have been on her menu since she started the stall in 2004.

Originally from Hainan, China, Madam Chen moved to Singapore in 1992 and worked at a wonton mee stall until she decided to run her own business.

She insists on using water chestnuts instead of bangkwang (jicama) for the dumpling filling, even though this means higher cost and more back-breaking work to clean, peel and chop the water chestnuts.

A friend had taught her to make ngoh hiang (minced meat rolls) filling with water chestnuts and it inspired her to use the ingredient to "upgrade" her sui kow.

She says: "The texture and flavour from water chestnuts is different from bangkwang. They stay crunchier in the dumpling filling."

She prepares a fresh batch of dumplings daily.

The Mushroom Spinach Noodle, with springy green noodles made from spinach, is a dish to try if you want a break from meat-laden dishes.

It is not vegetarian as the gravy is prepared from a meat-based stock and the flavoursome and aromatic chilli paste is made with dried prawn.

The braised mushrooms doused in gravy are mouthwateringly succulent.

Madam Chen uses just enough dang gui (a Chinese root herb), wolfberries and soya beans to flavour the gravy without leaving an overpowering herbal aftertaste. The pretty garnish of carrot flowers adds visual appeal to the dish.

She says: "There are customers who complain about how they don't like eating healthier food, but do so only because they have been told by their doctors to watch their diet. I find it satisfying when they try my Healthier Choice noodles and cheer up after eating them. Many customers become regulars."

AH LI IPOH HOR FUN FISH DUMPLING

Where: 01-37 Pasar Bedok Central, Block 216 Bedok North Street 1

Open: 5am to 3pm. Closed on Thursdays

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'Dumplings made to please'. Print Edition | Subscribe