Cheap & Good: Sides are the stars in healthy, DIY protein bowls at Beng Who Cooks

Entrepreneur Jason Chua of Beng Who Cooks at Hong Lim Market and Food Centre in Chinatown.
Entrepreneur Jason Chua of Beng Who Cooks at Hong Lim Market and Food Centre in Chinatown.PHOTO: ST FILE

At first glance, the protein bowls from a tiny hawker stall named Beng Who Cooks at Hong Lim Complex Market & Food Centre are not the prettiest to look at.

But unlike some Instagram-friendly bowls that do look pretty but lack flavour, these make for a satisfying and semi-healthy meal.

This will appeal to those on a health kick after the year-end festive season and before the impending Chinese New Year, when another round of indulgent feasting will start.

At this stall, you can customise your bowl - pick your carbohydrates, proteins, sides, add-ons and a sauce - by filling out a form.

Bowls start at $6 for the smaller "hawker" bowl (one protein and two sides) and $9 for the larger "towkay" bowl (two proteins and four sides). The menu also changes at the start of every quarter.

The options for the base are pretty standard - white rice, fusilli pasta, or romaine lettuce.

For proteins, the choices are chicken, spicy beef, dory fish and pan-fried tofu. However, I find the chicken and beef slightly under-seasoned.

The sides are the real stars.

Healthy protein bowls (with spiced beef, cherry tomatoes, garlic chives and broccolini) at Beng Who Cooks in Hong Lim Complex Market and Food Centre. ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN

I particularly enjoy the crispy, slightly charred broccolini tossed in sea salt, and the crunchy, garlic chives that I pick for my bowl. The lightly fried cherry tomatoes are sweet and succulent, while the onsen egg is perfectly cooked.

For added texture in your bowl, options include corn flakes, garlicky bread crumbs , "broken crispy fragments" or deep fried tofu skin, and the unusual tea jelly which you are more likely to find in bubble tea.

I also like that the sauces - choose from mild "lemonion" lemon and onion, sour "Golden Complex" and spicy "5-Foot Fury" - come on the side in a separate container, so you can add as much as you like.

My bowl was just fine without the addition of any sauces, though for those who want a spicy kick, the kicap manis-like 5-Foot Fury sauce definitely packs a punch.

Additional servings for any of the components cost between 50 cents and $2.

It is amazing to see that co-owner and chef Jason Chua, the charming "beng" who cooks, manages to make all of this with a minimalist kitchen set up in a tiny space.

Chef Chua might even slip you an extra side if you ask nicely.