Thursday, 20 July 2017

Singapore Chinatown Hawker Centre Claypot & Cooked Food Stall #02-83

Singapore-Chinatown-Hawker-Centre-Claypot-&-Cooked-Food-#02-83

I met up with YJ at the little stall #02-83 at Chinatown Hawker Centre. He wanted to share with me a lo mai kai 糯米鸡 dish rarely seen, and soon to disappear from Singapore hawker centres. I was excited to try it - the last time I had this style of lo mai kai was in Scarborough, Canada.

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The humble little stall doesn't really have a proper name. The simple signboard just states what it serves - clay pot and cooked food 😄 Below the main signboard, the menu of dishes can match most small restaurants.

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Uncle Hong is a 40 year veteran of the wok. Besides the standard menu which is already quite extensive, Uncle Hong has quite a few off menu dishes up his sleeves. The lo mai kai is one of them. (He also has a duck version.)

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For forty years, Uncle Hong tames leaping flames and wok with his iron spatula, dishing out delicious dishes to his loyal following. In their 80s now, Uncle Hong and wife serve customers only from 11:30am to 12:30pm. Most of their time at the stall is spent on preparing ingredients to serve during the 1-hour business hour which is furiously hectic. Most of Uncle Hong's customers are middle aged regulars.

Initially, Uncle Hong wasn't overly enthusiastic about a stranger poking around his little fort with a camera and asking questions 😂 Fortunately, he warmed up a bit to allow me to understand a little about how his signature lo mai gai is made.

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The whole fresh chicken, gutted, is stuffed with fried glutinous rice, lup cheong (Cantonese waxed sausage), Cantonese liver sausage 膶腸, mushrooms, salted egg yolk, etc. The stuffed bird is fried, allowed to cool, then wrapped with pork caul or lace fat. Pork caul is an ingredient I have not seen in Singapore for a very long time. My late mum used to cook with pork caul during Chinese New Year.

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The fat laced chicken is then enveloped with flour batter.

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The battered chicken is fried to a light golden brown crisp in boiling hot oil.

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The lo mai kai is ready to serve.

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The lo mai kai doesn't look very pretty outside as the lace fat breaks the shape of the bird. It looked like an out of shape ball of yarn 😂  

But, the real beauty of this dish is just below the crisp surface.

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The cavity is tightly packed with fried glutinous rice and lots of other ingredients. The dish is mainly sweet with subtle savoury undertones - in layers from the fried glutinous rice, mushrooms, lup cheong, the chicken meat, pork caul etc.

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The salted egg yolk gave the dish a little savoury balance.

It's a nostalgic blend of flavours from old Canton that found it's way to British Malaya with coolies and other immigrants from today's Guangzhou.

Each lo mai gai costs SGD80. The price may seem a little on the steep side but this dish involves a lot of work and time. The process is tedious. Hence, few if any hawkers would make it. Nowadays in Singapore, only a small handful of restaurants serve lo mai kai and even then, on a pre-order off menu basis.

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YJ ordered another dish which I haven't even heard of - Ku Lou Yok with hawthorn 山楂 (commonly known as sweet and sour pork). Instead of the usual ketchup, Uncle Hong marinates the pork with hawthorn 山楂, giving it its signature natural bright red colour.

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Hawthorn has a more subtle sweetness, unlike sugary ketchup so we can taste more of the pork's natural sweetness.

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YJ ordered yet another old school dish for us. Hor fun fried with preserved black bean sauce.

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I like it that Uncle Hong uses broad kway teow made with mainly rice (not tapioca or corn). I like the soft feel and taste of rice in my kway teow.

The sweetness from the rice noodles, fresh Sang Yue (toman) fish slices, and crunchy bitter gourd is balanced with the savoury sauce made with soy and fermented black beans.

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👉 Uncle Hong is one of a handful of Singapore's pioneer hawkers cooking heritage dishes which are likely to disappear soon from our hawker centres when they retire. Do pay Chinatown Hawker Centre visit - it's a treasure trove of rarely seen, delicious heritage dishes. A window into and a taste of life in pre-dependence Singapore. Probably the last vestige of Singapore's first generation hawkers and even heritage food.

Another version of lo mai kai at Maple Yip restaurant in Scarborough in Canada 👈 click

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Restaurant name: Claypot & Cooked Food Kitchen
Address:  #02-83, Chinatown Complex Market, 335 Smith Street, Singapore 
Map: http://bit.ly/IkanBilisYTF 
GPS: 1.282645, 103.842876 
Hours: 11:30am to 12:30pm (Sat & Sun off)

Non Halal  

Date visited: 17 Jul 2017  

Return to Johor Kaki homepage.

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