SINGAPORE - Looking on the bright side of life took on a new meaning for me recently when an eye infection led me to Soon Soon Huat Curry Puff in East Coast Road.
It was the eye clinic nurse who alerted me to her favourite curry puff seller across the road.
It was love at first bite. The addictively flaky exterior and warm comforting filling of the Curry Chicken Puff ($1.70) made me momentarily forget about my eye woes. The spiral-patterned pastry is wonderfully delicate and has that melt-in-the-mouth texture. Yet, it is sturdy enough to hold the generous amount of curry chicken and potato filling. This is certainly not one of those "Decepticon" curry puffs, which look fat but contain more air than filling.
The potato in the filling is uniformly cubed to a width of 1cm. The potato cubes, which retain their shape through the cooking process, turned out beautifully tender. Each Curry Chicken Puff contains a generous piece of hard-boiled egg.
The curry puffs are handmade by chef-owner Tay Mui Lan, 38, and her mother, Madam Ow Siew Kheng, 60. They make the curry puffs in batches of 40 to 50 throughout the day to keep quality at an optimum. The curry paste is made in-house and a fresh batch is made daily.
Both women learnt how to make curry puffs from Madam Ow's late mother, Madam Lim Sai Hiong, who died in September last year at the age of 82. Madam Lim was the original founder of Soon Soon Huat 1A Crispy Curry Puff which she first started in 1992 at Blk 1A Eunos Crescent. Madam Ow helped her mother from the time she started her business.
Madam Lim, who was Teochew, learnt to make curry puffs in the 70s after tasting the curry puffs a Malay neighbour sold at the kampung in Kaki Bukit, where they lived. Madam Ow said, in Mandarin: "My mother loved to experiment with cooking. As she could make soon kueh which is a similar shape, she decided it would not be difficult to try making curry puffs to sell."
Soon Soon Huat Curry Puff
220 East Coast Road; open: 7.30am to 5pm. Closed on Mondays
The unique spiral pattern of the curry puffs was inspired by the snails that Madam Lim often saw in the kampung. With nobody to teach her, Madam Lim learnt to make the curry puffs through trial and error.
Due to rental issues, Madam Lim gave up her rented stall in Eunos and moved to Henderson Road in 2002. In 2012, the stall moved to Kim Tian and again to Clementi in 2015.
Ms Tay quit her job as a secretary in 2009 to join the family business when her mother wanted to give up selling curry puffs due to manpower shortage.
Ms Tay said: "I enjoyed my office job at that time, but when my mother told me she wanted to stop selling curry puffs, I felt it would be a pity to let go of the family business after all the hard work my grandmother and family put into it."
Ms Tay also had a goal to get a shop location close to where her grandmother had originally started her business. In late 2015, she found her current shop space at 220 East Coast Road and started a small cafe in January 2016. She dropped "1A Crispy" from the business name, calling it Soon Soon Huat Curry Puff instead.
Since taking over the business, Ms Tay has made a few modifications to the preparation process of the curry puffs. The dough and filling are weighed for precise measurements. Each Curry Chicken Puff is 130g before frying. Ms Tay also consulted her mother and grandmother on adjusting the level of spice of the curry chicken filling to make it mildly spicy as they had received feedback from customers who wanted it less spicy, especially for children eating it. Apart from the spice level, the recipe remains true to the original. The potatoes are cubed and steamed before they are mixed with the curry. Boneless chicken legs are also diced to a width of 1cm for the filling. Premium wheat flour is used for the pastry.
Ms Tay has also kept to her grandmother's original recipe for the Sardine Puff ($1.20). Her grandmother had come up with the recipe as sardine was one of her favourite foods.
For the filling, white onion, red finger chilli and red chilli padi are added to the sardine. Ms Tay also uses her grandmother's recipe to make a sauce, which is added to the sardine filling. The result is a flavourful sardine filling that is moist with a creamy mouthfeel - without the slightest fishy odour - which delivers a fiery kick. For someone like me who is terrified of fishy odours, this Sardine Puff speaks of the attention to detail that Ms Tay and her mother put into upholding Madam Lim's legacy.
Indeed, these curry puffs are the silver lining to my cloud of eye allergies - a comforting consolation each time I have to visit the eye clinic.