Cheap & Good

Sides steal the show

A protein bowl with spiced beef, cherry tomatoes, garlic chives and broccolini.
A protein bowl with spiced beef, cherry tomatoes, garlic chives and broccolini.ST PHOTO: ANJALI RAGURAMAN

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

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

This will appeal to those looking to eat clean before the indulgent feasting of Chinese New Year.

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

Bowls start at $6 for the smaller "hawker" bowl (one protein and two sides) and $9 for the "towkay" bowl (two proteins and four sides).

Options for the base are standard - white rice, fusilli pasta or romaine lettuce. The protein choices are chicken, spicy beef, dory fish and pan-fried tofu. I find the chicken and beef slightly under-seasoned.

The sides are the real stars. I enjoy the crispy, slightly charred broccolini tossed in sea salt and the crunchy, garlic chives. The lightly fried cherry tomatoes are sweet and succulent, while the onsen egg is perfectly cooked.

For added texture, options include corn flakes, garlicky bread crumbs, deep-fried tofu skin and tea jelly, which are more likely found in bubble tea.

The sauces - mild "lemonion" lemon and onion, sour "Golden Complex" or spicy "5-Foot Fury" - come in a separate container.

My bowl was just fine without the addition of any sauces, though the kicap manis-like 5-Foot Fury sauce packs a punch. Additional servings 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.

He might even slip you an extra side if you ask nicely.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 27, 2019, with the headline 'Sides steal the show'. Subscribe