OLD-SCHOOL MIN JIANG KUEH
In an age of shortcuts, the owners of He He Min Jiang Kueh, which sells old-school Chinese pancakes, still make their batter daily.
They also make the red bean filling from scratch and the toasted coconut filling using fresh grated coconut every morning.
The bestsellers of the corner stall on the second floor of Hougang Hainanese Village Centre are Peanut Pancake, Red Bean Pancake and Coconut Pancake ($0.90 each, additional filling at $0.20).
I find the red bean filling to be a little thin and suggest ordering the pancake with extra filling.
Stall-owner Chan Sock Kiang, 67, started her business in 1983. Her son Chew Chee Keong, 36, joined her full-time in 2008.
No effort is spared in perfecting the pancakes - even the griddles were custom-made according to Madam Chan's specifications.
She says in Mandarin: "The griddle size matters because it affects the cooking time and heat control. I want our pancakes to be soft on the inside and with crispy edges."
Indeed, her pancakes are spongy and moist in the middle, while the edges are wafer-thin and crispy.
She keeps the sugar level low to keep her snacks healthier and also does not use eggs, although the items are not dairy-free.
The stall also offers Cheese Pancake ($1.10) and Chocolate Pancake ($1.30).
WHERE: 02-16 Hougang Hainanese Village Centre, Block 105 Hougang Avenue 1 MRT: Kovan OPEN: 6am to 2pm daily
OFF-MENU PORK HOR FUN
Let me let you in on a secret. The best dish at 72 Xiao Chu Zhi Jia is not on its menu.
The signature dish mentioned on its signboard is Seafood White Beehoon. Skip that.
Instead, ask for Pork Hor Fun (zhurou hefen in Mandarin, above). For a medium portion that is good for two to three persons, get the $6 version with an additional $2 of pork. For a larger portion, order the $8 dish with an additional $2 of pork.
For those who equate the colour of hor fun with wok hei, don't expect it here.
Head cook Lee Kah Ming, 36, who is from Ipoh, does not use dark soya sauce to pre-fry the hor fun. Instead, he uses premium light soya sauce to season the hor fun while pan-frying it over high heat.
You can taste his mastery of heat in the hor fun. While it appears plain and lacks the caramel colour, once you taste it, you will be surprised by how savoury it is, complete with that sought-after smokiness.
Usually, when the chef lacks skill in pan-frying the hor fun, the starchy gravy becomes a crutch for flavour.
Not in this case. The hor fun is packed with flavour and pairs perfectly with the gravy that is well-balanced and not overly starchy or overpowering in the taste of oyster sauce.
The pork slices are expertly marinated and tender.
But save space for the Crispy Prawn Paste Chicken ($10 for eight pieces, $15 for 12 pieces, above). The well-marinated mid-joint wings are flavourful.
WHERE: 01-52 Upper Boon Keng Market and Food Centre, Block 17 Upper Boon Keng Road MRT: Kallang OPEN: 12.30 to 9.30pm (weekdays); 11.30am to 9.30pm (weekends) INFO: Upper Boon Keng Market and Food Centre will be closed from Monday to Wednesday for spring-cleaning.
LATE-NIGHT PORRIDGE AND FRIED HUAI SHAN
Here is where you can have a decent meal at a late hour as the 130-seat Le Xiao Chu opens until 5am.
Restaurant owner Alex Lim, 47, is particularly proud of the Seafood Claypot Porridge ($68+/$88+/$108+), which is served in traditional-style claypots that he sourced from China.
He first ate the dish last year in Shenzhen. Enamoured by one version he tried at a restaurant, he took his executive chef to the Chinese city so he could develop his own version.
Instead of long-grain rice, the seafood porridge here is cooked using a specially sourced short-grain rice from China. It comes with Sri Lankan crab, clams and prawn.
The porridge texture is lusciously thick - somewhere between Cantonese porridge and Teochew muay. Despite the generous amount of seafood, it could be a little tastier and sweeter.
Add-on choices include lobster ($38+ for 500g) and scallop ($18+ for six pieces).
A dish worth ordering is Golden Huai Shan ($12+). Fresh pieces of huai shan (Chinese yam) are dipped in batter, fried to a golden crisp, then coated in salted egg yolk and garnished with pork floss and toasted black sesame. The dish is served with a mayonnaise-based dip, where plain mayonnaise is mixed with condensed milk and lemon juice for greater sweetness and tang.
Another signature dish is French Beans with Shrimp ($12+/$18+). The beans are blanched quickly in oil, then stir-fried with plenty of dried prawn which lends the dish a refreshing crunchiness.
Mr Lim recommends adding some of the dried prawn topping to the seafood porridge for added flavour.
WHERE: 457 Balestier Road MRT: Novena TEL: 6265-3863 OPEN: 11am to 5am daily (last order at 4.30am)