Fresh fish soup

Fish stock is made from boiling batang (Spanish mackerel) bones for 12 hours at Teochew Fish Soup-Fish Porridge.
Fish stock is made from boiling batang (Spanish mackerel) bones for 12 hours at Teochew Fish Soup-Fish Porridge.ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

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Don't judge a dish by its calorie count. The Sliced Fish Soup ($3.50) and Fish Porridge ($4) served at Teochew Fish Soup-Fish Porridge in Ci Yuan Hawker Centre deserve the healthier fare tag, but it does not mean they are not tasty as well. Try a spoonful of the flavoursome broth and you will find it hard not to slurp it all up.

Both dishes carry the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol and Lower In Calories label. To qualify for the Lower In Calories label, a dish has to add up to 500kcal or less. A typical dine-out meal is 700 to 800kcal, while the recommended daily energy intake is 2,200kcal on average for men and 1,800kcal for women.

With these servings of Sliced Fish Soup and Fish Porridge, you get healthy and yummy in one bowl. The delicious harmony of a clear but full-flavoured fish stock, fresh fish slices and crunchy greens, cleverly accented with a selection of condiments used in traditional Teochew fare, is the creation of Mr Goh Hwee Kang, 40.

He insists on using fresh batang (Spanish mackerel) and buys it whole from his supplier, who delivers the fish every morning except Mondays, when the stall is shut.

Mr Goh slices and debones the fish himself. The fish head and bones go into a large custom-made electric boiling pot which simmers the stock for 12 hours.

No ginger or garlic is used in preparing the initial base stock as they can overpower the delicate fish flavours. Mr Goh seasons it with rock sugar and a little salt.


    Where: 01-15 Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, 51 Hougang Avenue 9

    Open: 8.30am to 9pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays

A small amount of crushed ginger paste and fried garlic are added in the final preparation of individual orders. This way, "customers have an option if they don't like the taste of ginger or garlic", he says. "Over the years, I also reduced the amount of salt used, based on customer feedback as many people are getting more health-conscious."

He learnt to cook fish soup from his Teochew father, who used to operate his own stall.

When Mr Goh started his own at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre in 2015, he experimented with large pork bones and ikan bilis for the stock, but the resulting stock was cloudy and had a fishy odour.

He says: "In the end, I decided to switch back to the method my father taught me, which is to use batang bones for the stock."

The glistening white slices of batang are firm, succulent and fresh-tasting.

Instead of the common practice of adding a little cornflour to the fish to give it extra bite, Mr Goh brines the fish meat for half an hour after slicing.

The brine goes into the stock, while the fish slices are kept chilled until they are cooked. The resulting fish slices have a fresh, springy texture.

Mr Goh says: "My father taught me the importance of using fresh fish because the quality of the fish will speak for itself."

Each bowl of Sliced Fish Soup comes with six slices of fish, tofu cubes, a piece of Chinese seaweed and a generous serving of fresh crisp iceberg lettuce.

Fresh tomato adds zing to the savoury broth flavoured with tee po (dried sole fish), a sparing use of tang chye (preserved vegetable) and coriander for garnish. The Teochew-style Fish Porridge varies only with the addition of cooked rice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'Fresh fish soup'. Print Edition | Subscribe