When you first encounter a steaming bowl of stuffed bean curd from Bai Nian, a stall in Albert Centre, you might be mystified.
BAI NIAN NIANG DOU FU
01-58 Albert Centre, 270 Queen Street
Open: 8.30am to 9pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday
Rating: 4 stars
This is bean curd soup (from $4, right) that, as far as the eye can see, has no bean curd whatsoever. Instead, there is a whole lot of stuffing - sticks of minced pork and batons of minced prawn - alongside more traditional items such as a piece of stuffed bitter gourd and a bean curd skin-covered fishcake.
And you know what, it is wonderful.
Too many stalls put the cart before the horse when they sell an assortment of bean curd that is filled with the same fish paste - probably from the same factory.
Bai Nian is truer to the spirit than the letter of the dish, with the attention it pays to the stuffing.
Among the items, the prawn stick is the most surprising. The mince is smooth, but not too fine, such that you discern separate juicy morsels in each bite. Somehow, the stall has improved on nature and made prawns sweeter and springier.
The pork stick, flaked with black fungus and mushroom, is essentially a stuffed mushroom in a different shape. But again, the mince has great taste and texture.
The bean curd skin-covered fishcake is silky outside and firm inside, while the bean curd skin-covered pork stick is rougher outside and softer inside.
The stuffed bitter gourd is optional. The stall will ask if you want it in your soup, and you should answer yes. It is a welcome contrast with the soup, which makes it that much sweeter.
This article was first published on Feb 15, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.