Debbie Yong finds 10 hawker dishes of note that have undergone 'upgrading'.
Rickshaw noodles, $18
Clifford Pier, The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, 80 Collyer Quay
As a tribute to his grandfather, an itinerant hawker who used to peddle noodles to rickshaw riders on their lunch break at Clifford Pier, head chef Ken Zheng's rickshaw noodles come in two ways: soup-based and dry. The former - thin yellow noodles in a slightly starchy clear broth - is based on his grandpa's hand-me-down recipe while the latter is chef Zheng's circa 2014 re-interpretation, which works with half-boiled egg, lard and a sprinkle of ikan bilis over ribbons of kway tiao.
$5 for 100g with a minimum order of 300g Char, 393 Guillemard Road
You'd be forgiven if you thought the char siew from Char was, well, charred. Instead of the artificial bright red food colouring that Cantonese noodle shops typically use to tart up their barbecued pork, Char's version is all black and tarry in appearance - and doesn't really strike you until a first bite yields ultra-tender pork meat slicked over with a beautifully caramelised, molasses-textured glaze. The "angmoh char siew", as some have labelled it, is prepped with a combination of Western and Chinese cooking techniques, and over 10 spices from both larders, says Char owners and Birmingham-raised brothers Anthony and Alvin Ung.
Salted Egg Steamed Crab, $88
Naked Finn, 41 Malan Road #01-13 Gillman Barracks
A combination of two popular ways of eating crab - steamed Teochew-style and coated in salted egg yolk - Naked Finn's latest menu addition comprises brown crab from Scotland steamed with salted egg yolk and served with a bright ginger vinegar dip. Think crabs are too fussy to eat? Happily, the crabs are served dressed, that is, its meat already extracted by deft kitchen hands and stuffed back into its salted egg yolk-lined shell. It is then steamed in its own protein-rich juices, which form a flavourful chawanmushi-like layer that caps the dish - no seasoning required. Each portion contains about 750g to 850g of crabmeat and three salted egg yolks, and is so rich, it is best shared among a group of two to four people. Only a maximum of five crabs are served per day and three days pre-order is required.
Hokkien mee, $12
Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall 60A Boat Quay
As it turns out, the ever-dapper bar manager of Singapore-inspired speakeasy Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, Edwin Poh, is also a fourth-generation hawker who has been helping out at his family's hawker stalls since he was eight. Though slightly above your usual hawker centre prices, Mr Poh's Hokkien Mee is slapped up with generous portions of squid, giant tiger prawns and fresh noodles hand-picked and carted over from his neighbourhood wet market daily.
Assam pedas with Saltwater Barramundi, $20
Ding Dong, 23 Ann Siang Hill
Malaysian head chef Jet Lo's tribute to his Peranakan heritage manifests in a reinvention of assam pedas at Ding Dong - a new entry to the modern Asian restaurant's recently revamped food menu. The ingredients for the tamarind-based sour and spicy stew are cooked sous vide for 12 hours, yielding a viscous but flavour-packed bright orange gravy that is tipped over a slab of juicy, pan-fried saltwater barramundi that flakes at the touch of a fork.
Crab Kut Teh, part of the Ultimate Crab Feast Dinner
Buffet promotion from June 13 to July 27, $65++ for adults, $39++ for children
Plaza Brasserie, ParkRoyal on Beach Road, 7500 Beach Road
What would happen if I tossed some crab in, thought executive chef Jackson Goh one evening last year as he was simmering a pot of bak kut teh at home, and behold, the birth of the crab kut teh. Odd as the dish may sound on paper, it actually works on the palate: intensely peppery on the first sip, the combination of glutamate-rich Sri Lankan crab chunks with the intensely peppery and nucleotide-saturated pork rib broth then coaxes out the umami flavour, which is followed by a sweet, lingering aftertaste.
part of the degustation menu, $138 per person
Labyrinth, 5 Neil Road
Go ahead, have dessert for breakfast at Labyrinth, where head chef Han Liguang's sweet treat of wobbly vanilla panna cotta and yolk-yellow mango puree has been cheekily disguised as the typical kopitiam breakfast of soft-boiled eggs. Details are spot on, from the vintage serving bowl to the accompanying squeeze bottles of dark sauce (chocolate) and white pepper (crushed almonds). Stir and slurp it up with a side of teh tarik ice-cream. Genius.
Har zi meen, $17.90
Ujong, 328 North Bridge Road #01-10 Raffles Hotel Arcade
Inspired by the Hong Kong-style noodles her mum used to cook for her as a kid, Shen Tan's version of har zi meen or prawn-flavoured noodles have become a fast favourite at month-old Ujong. The noodles have a delightful springiness with just the right amount of bite, and come tossed in a spicy, Indomie-inspired dressing of kicap manis, onion and garlic. Top it off with your choice of crispy chicken or chewy curls of deep-fried pork.
Smokey cockles, $7
Dibs, 51 Duxton Road
The crowning glory of local favourites such as laksa, char kway tiao and some say mee siam, blood cockles are cooked to luscious perfection in chef Leong Khai Git's appetiser-portioned serve at Dibs, which renders them in a stock of bacon dashi and smoked chillies. It's anything but humdrum - you'll probably be mopping up every last drop with the accompanying toasted baguette.
Richman Birthday Mee Sua, $38
Pappasan, 333 New Bridge Road
Pappasan's birthday mee sua, named after the Chinese tradition of eating noodles on one's birthday for longevity, is comfort food for any season. The thin wheat flour noodles are doused in a starchy soup base topped with wolfberries, baby bak choy and - here's where the "Richman" reference comes in - a decadent half roe and cheese-covered lobster.
This article was first published on June 7, 2014.
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