When Mr Yip Sai Tai opened his stall in Dunman Hawker Centre 16 years ago, he did what he was good at when he was working in a restaurant: steaming fish.
At the appropriately named OK! stall on the second floor of the hawker centre, the 66-year-old's signature dish is the steamed fish head in bean sauce ($13).
The taste of the Song fish, or songhe as it is known in Hokkien, belies how simply it is all put together - steamed with a few tiny strips of chilli padi, fermented black beans and roughly ground ginger slices. The fish is fresh and tender, the flesh falls off the chopsticks easily. There is quite a lot of it to savour, with the flesh not cut too close to the head.
There are just enough of the black beans to flavour the fish. I enjoy spooning the broth over steamed rice. Chilli padi slices add the requisite spicy touch.
02-20 Dunman Hawker Centre, Onan Road, Tel: 9434-0043
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 5 to 11pm, closed ad-hoc
Rating: 3.5 stars
Pair it with a small plate of sambal tapioca leaves ($5) and the meal is just right for two. A bigger serving costs $9. I would have preferred fewer stalks and more leaves, though.
Mr Yip has other types of fish, such as sea bass or grouper steamed in bean sauce. These come at seasonal prices.
His other steamed dishes, such as steamed minced pork with salted fish ($6 or $11) and steamed pork ribs in bean sauce ($6 or $11), are worth checking out. The minced pork spread thinly on a small oval metal plate is so well done, it is firm enough to the bite but not hard.
The freshly ground ginger slices and chilli padi slices lift the taste of an otherwise common dish that seems easy to replicate at home.
The well-seasoned pork ribs are steamed till tender. The sauce is savoury enough to go well with rice. I would have enjoyed the ribs more if they were more meaty.
I had to wait about 40 minutes before the food arrived, but you can call ahead to order.
I did that the second time around and had assam fish head ($15) for a change. The dark reddish hue may not look appetising, but it was not too bad with its sourish and spicy flavour. My vote still goes to the version in bean sauce.
I ordered sambal tapioca leaves and requested for more leaves and fewer stalks this time around.
I was prepared to pay $7, but the amiable stall owner's daughter said they have only two servings - at $5 (small) and $9 (big).
I opted for sambal kangkong ($5) instead. It was also good as the same homemade sambal paste is used.