Cheap & Good

Cheap & Good: Best dishes are off the menu at Hao Kee

Chao tah bee hoon (top) exudes a heady aroma, while the deep-fried kailan (above) comes with a generous lashing of pork floss.
Chao tah bee hoon (above) exudes a heady aroma, while the deep-fried kailan comes with a generous lashing of pork floss.ST PHOTO: TAN KENG YAO
Chao tah bee hoon (top) exudes a heady aroma, while the deep-fried kailan (above) comes with a generous lashing of pork floss.
Chao tah bee hoon exudes a heady aroma, while the deep-fried kailan (above) comes with a generous lashing of pork floss.ST PHOTO: TAN KENG YAO

The thing about zi char stall Hao Kee, which I call "the magic kitchen" for how it churns out all manner of delicious food, is that to taste its best dishes, you have to be in the know.

This is because hardly any of its specialities are showcased on the menu, which lists only the workaday offerings such as fried rice and noodles.

But there is a way to join the insiders' club - ask the stall-owner's wife for recommendations and she will gladly oblige. Which is how my colleagues and I discovered many secret gems from this stall opposite our office in Toa Payoh North.

There is mee suah gor ($5), for instance, which I have not heard of before discovering it here. It is a simple dish of mee suah in a thick soup, but the taste of the soup is strikingly similar to that of the shark's fin soup served at Chinese banquets.

Eating an entire bowl of mee suah may be quite a carb-fest, but it is, nonetheless, a deeply satisfying carb-fest.

An attempt to find out more online about mee suah gor led mostly to Malaysian food bloggers, who say the dish is traditional Penang hawker fare. However, Hao Kee's owner and cook, Mr Jeremy Tan, 37, says he learnt to cook this hard-to-find dish from someone in Singapore and then tweaked the recipe himself.

  • HAO KEE SEAFOOD DELUXE

  • Block 203 Toa Payoh North 01-1097; tel: 8688-1382; open: 11am to 2pm, 5 to 10.30pm daily. Closed occasionally. Check its Facebook page for updates

    Info: www.facebook.com/pg/haokeetoapayohnorth

    Rating: 4/5

Whatever its origins, I loved the mee suah gor so much that it was all I ate from this stall, until the day my colleagues wanted a family-style lunch there to celebrate chap goh mei. We ordered a variety of dishes to share, and let's just say that it was a very good way to mark the end of Chinese New Year.

There was the chao tah bee hoon ($6), seafood bee hoon so skilfully charred that it exudes a heady aroma not unlike that of freshly toasted bread. (This requires a waiting time of 15 minutes, but good things come to all who wait.)

And then there was the garlic chicken ($13), succulent chunks of chicken coated in a tangy plum sauce and fried with so many whole cloves of garlic, it will easily repel a vampire. While the chicken is the star of the show, the garlic is pretty tasty too, cooked over such high heat that its bite is tamed into a mellow nutty flavour.

Other noteworthy dishes are the fried chye poh hor fun ($5) and pan-fried chye poh tofu ($12) - commonplace dishes given a twist with preserved radish - and deep-fried kailan ($12) served with a generous lashing of pork floss.

Mr Tan introduces new dishes when inspiration strikes, so follow the stall's Facebook page for updates.

Or just ask his wife for recommendations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 06, 2018, with the headline 'Best dishes are off the menu'. Print Edition | Subscribe