BAK KUT TEH GETS JAPANESE MAKEOVER
If the Japanese can keep coming up with new variations of ramen, why can't Singapore entrepreneurs do the same with hawker fare such as bak kut teh?
Well, one of them has. Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh recently opened a spin-off concept called BakBak that serves its signature dish with additions such as udon noodles and sea cucumber.
The two-storey shophouse in Circular Road emulates Japan's Ichiran Ramen with single cubicle seats, where the diner does not have to interact with the staff. Orders are made via a QR code with the customer's mobile phone and food is served through a window that does not allow the staff to see the diner's face. Not a word is exchanged.
But for those feeling more sociable, there are conventional tables, where you place your orders by scanning a QR code.
Rong Cheng's signature Premium Dragon Rib Soup ($10.50), cooked with long pork ribs, is on the menu. Diners can also go for variations such as Sanuki Udon With Dragon Rib ($11) or Pork Rib Soup With Sea Cucumber ($17.50).
The sea cucumber version, cooked with shorter ribs, tastes pretty much the same as the original, except for two added pieces of tiny sea cucumber.
Adding udon dilutes the flavour of the soup slightly, but it works as a noodle dish. The eatery also offers side dishes such as Cold Tofu With Ponzu Sauce ($2) and Chawanmushi With Homemade Crab Sauce ($4.50).
There are also the usual sides such as Braised Peanuts ($2) and Fried Dough or You Tiao ($2), which comes skewered to make it less messy for you to dunk it into the bak kut teh broth.
WHERE: BakBak, 10 Circular Road MRT: Raffles Place OPEN: 10am to 11pm (Mondays to Saturdays) TEL: 6222-8022
HUP CHONG YONG TAU FOO
If you are deterred by the queues at Hup Chong Yong Tau Foo in Toa Payoh Lorong 2, you may want to go to its branch at Block 203 Toa Payoh North instead. It opened a couple of months ago and while there is a queue at lunchtime, it's not as long.
The other good news is that the stall recently extended its opening hours to 8pm - from 5pm during its early weeks - so you can go for dinner too.
Most items cost 60 cents each and the highlight is the deep-fried meatballs, a signature of the stall which started in 1952.
The meatball is well-seasoned and has a nice, hand-chopped texture. It is fried till brown and firm outside, but when you bite into it, it is not dry at all.
The same filling is used for the ngor hiang, so you can have that instead. I prefer the meatball, though.
There's also a boiled meatball that I like. For this, the pork is ground to a paste and the ball has a springy texture that you do not find in factory-made versions.
There is another stall called Hup Chong Hakka Young Dou Foo nearby at Block 206. That is a different operation started by relatives who split from the original stall.
WHERE: Hup Chong Yong Tau Foo, Block 203 Toa Payoh North MRT: Braddell OPEN: 6.30am to 8pm (Wednesdays to Sundays). Closed on Tuesdays
ZICHAR FAVOURITES IN TOA PAYOH
Toa Payoh is truly a trove of good food. I have been working in the estate for years, but am still discovering food places that I did not know about.
I have to thank a colleague for the latest discovery, which is a zichar stall with the unlikely name of Switzer Alliance. The reason for the name is a long story and you can ask owner Daymon Lim to tell it to you if you get to know him, but it has something to do with a car and his ambition to start a business empire that goes beyond food.
For all its unusual name, Switzer Alliance serves familiar dishes such as sweet and sour pork, and salted egg squid.
But the cook sometimes adds an extra touch: For example, the Salted Egg Fish Skin (from $15) has the crispy salmon skin not only coated in salted egg yolk sauce and curry leaves, but also topped with deep-fried strips of yam for additional crunch.
And the Dual Flavoured Kailan (from $12) has the deep-fried leaves of the vegetable tossed with pieces of chai poh (preserved radish), which add another layer of flavour. The kailan stems are stir-fried.
The Pig Trotter Beehoon (from $12, above), however, is pretty generic except that the gravy has a touch more black soya sauce than most places. That gives the dish a fuller flavour that I like. It is a very good rendition of this familiar favourite and is something I would certainly go back for.
WHERE: Switzer Alliance, Volkswagen Golf Centre, 590 Toa Payoh East MRT: Toa Payoh OPEN: Noon to 10pm (Mondays), 11am to 10pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 9am to 10pm (Sundays). Last order is at 9.50pm daily; kitchen opens at 11am on Sundays TEL: 6635-7806
NEW MENU AT JOYDEN TREASURES
Joyden Treasures at Leisure Park Kallang has recently expanded its menu after two years of operation.
The restaurant focuses on traditional Chinese dishes and the newly introduced items are reflective of this. They straddle cuisines from different Chinese provinces, from the Teochew-style Chilled Yellow Roe Crab (market price) to the homey Cantonese dish of Steamed Minced Pork With Mei Chai ($18).
You also find less common dishes such as Poached Flower Clams And Mustard Greens In Superior Broth ($20), in which the sweet clam juices temper the slight bitterness from the vegetable, with ginger strips and a splash of Chinese rice wine to balance the flavours.
And for something luxe and comforting, the Lobster Claypot Porridge With Crispy Rice Puffs (market price, above) is not to be missed. The Teochew-style porridge is cooked using broth simmered with lobster shells. Whole lobsters are dunked in at the last stage of cooking so they do not get overcooked. The rice puffs are added at the table to ensure they are crispy.
WHERE: Joyden Treasures, 02-24 Leisure Park Kallang, 5 Stadium Walk MRT: Stadium OPEN: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm (Mondays to Fridays), 11am to 3.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays) TEL: 6446-8488