Secret Eat Revealed: Chinatown Fish-Head Beehoon

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Remember that place I told you about before? I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. This place needs recognition. It’s run by an old couple in a Banda Street food court. Not sure where Banda Street is? It’s the place overlooking the carpark next to the Buddha Tooth Temple, kinda across the road from Maxwell Market.

I went back there with Delightt and this time we brought our men with us. The fish head beehoon was as good as ever, perhaps better this time as the beehoon was perfectly done. I liked how the soup was still cloudy with no milk added and plenty of good flavour from the fish head and bones. It was hard to eat the fish pieces because tongue had to navigate between fishy grooves to find tasty meat and spit out the spent bones. It was one of the few places where the second visit after so long was better than the first!

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The nice stallholder auntie recommended chicken with bittergourd and black bean sauce. It was good too! There was plenty of wok hei in the dish and both chicken and bittergourd were well-cooked. The chicken was tender and just cooked through while the bittergourd was nicely braised yet not too soft. The chef has real mastery over his fire here!

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Come here for good Cantonese fare, just be prepared to wait as there are lots of regulars and the old man at the wok isn’t very quick on his feet.

Blk 5 Banda Street
Corner near restrooms

Fried Laksa

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One of Mum’s friends once made a dry version of laksa for a potluck. It made so much sense to do it without the liquid for easy luggability. It was really yummy, so I had to recreate a version so that DC could try it. It was incredibly easy, although it requires quite a bit of effort in chopping everything up. The picture didn’t come out so good partly because I was trying out a new camera and partly because I lost patience with the chopping. Get some help with the cutting if you can. If not, don’t worry, it tastes much better than it looks!

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in water
1 piece belachan, about the size of two 50 cent coins, toasted
6 shallots
1 clove garlic
5 stalks laksa leaves
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp dried shrimp (keep dry, do not wash)
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
2 thick slices galangal
1 packet laksa paste (I use Dancing Chef brand)
good squirt of coconut milk, approx 10 tbsp
6 taupok, cut into squares
400g beansprouts (40 cents from my market), picked over and washed
1 kg thick beehoon ($1 from my market)

Sides:
20 poached prawns, shelled
1 big fish cake, shredded
2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced

Garnish:
1 cucumber, peeled, cored and shredded
large handful laksa leaves, shredded

Method:

  1. Pound the soaked shrimp using a mortar and pestle together with the belachan, shallots, garlic and a handful of laksa leaves.
  2. Fry the dried shrimp in hot oil till crisp, taking care to put them all in at the same time. Remove promptly from the oil as the shrimp burn easily. Set aside on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  3. In the same oil, fry the pounded paste of shrimp, belachan, shallots and garlic with the lemongrass and galangal slices till fragrant, about 2 minutes on low. Pour in the laksa paste and fry till fragrant or till you start choking from the pungent chilli smell (whichever comes first). Remember to turn on the fan extractor if you have one. Still, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your whole house will reek of laksa for days.
  4. Remove the lemongrass and galangal, discard.
  5. Add the coconut milk and stir till you get a thick but fairly runny paste.
  6. Stir in the taupok and beansprouts, making sure to incorporate fully before adding in the next ingredient, then finally the noodles.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste. Garnish with cucumber shreds, chopped laksa leaves and crispy dried shrimp.
  8. Serve with fish cake, prawns, chicken and boiled egg slices on the side for everyone to help themselves.

Enough for 6.

Favourites at Changi Village

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One of my favourite hawker centres is the one at Changi Village. There’s just so much variety and plain good food there. The only problem is that the ventilation is bad and some stalls are either sold out or worse – closed – if you arrive too late. The beef noodles are a case in point. Arrive too late and they’re likely to be sold out of the dry version. The soup rendition is pretty decent, but oh how the dry one beats it hands down! The gooey starchy brown sauce is flecked with bits of finely shredded beef, showing how much good stuff goes into the stew. Order it “mixed” so under the dark velvety sauce you’ll get lots of melt-in-the-mouth tendon, chewy tripe, tender braised beef and fresh beef slices. Squeeze over the lime, toss in the chilli sauce, mix and eat with the pickled onion-chinchalok accompaniment. All together, it makes for a lovely bowl of bliss.

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Just a few stalls along the row is another firm favourite. Guang Xing is hardly open when I’m there in the evenings, so make sure you have it for lunch. Once when DC and I weret there for Sunday brunch, I spied it just opening and immediately jumped at the chance for my favourite fried noodles with fish head. Even though the stall had only just opened, the wait was still at least 30 minutes long. Even though we spoiled our appetites during the wait with inferior nasi lemak and other assorted snacks, we managed to wallop the whole $10 plate of noodles. (In case you’re wondering, yes we are greedy but no $10 is really the minimum order.) We saw other tables of 3 or 4 going for the samd $10 plate so you can imagine how good it is. This dish has flavourful chunks of juicy and slightly cartilageous fish head  as well as thick beehoon fried in plenty of onion, garlic and ginger as well as spring onions, caixin and bitter gourd and finished off with some black bean. There’s plenty of wok hei and intense flavours. Accompanying it with the special sambal brings it to a whole new level. Notwithstanding having to spit out bits of snapper bone, gristle and scale, this stuff is my holy grail of fish head beehoon.

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Changi Village Beef Kway Teow Mee
#01-19 Changi Village Hawker Centre

Guang Xing Original Taste Fish Head Mee Hoon
#01-16 Changi Village Hawker Centre

Secret Eats: Pasir Ris Crab Again

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I know I’ve not got very far in my Secret Eats series before revisiting the same place here, but I swear this place beats the famous ones hands down. I go there about once every two months, though now that my friends know about it, that’s increased to about once a month.

This time, we also tried the white pepper crab. It’s a milder version than the black pepper and the crab flavour comes through much stronger. I liked it a lot, though my friend like the black pepper stuff more.

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We ordered the crab beehoon with female crabs. The orange roe studding the soup made it extra special. Boy was this good. Our servers forgot to give us extra soup and they took the half-eaten dish back to the kitchen to add more and cook it together again. The crab was still fine and the extra soup was lip-smackingly good.

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One thing that disappointed was the sambal mussels. They tasted quite flat and were too sweet and watery, even though the mussels were quite fresh. Don’t order them.

It’s still in Pasir Ris. Drop me a comment or email if you want to know exactly where it is!

Secret Eats: Chinatown Fish Head Beehoon

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I was helping out a friend with some research on Chinatowns and the people who live there. We interviewed a sweet lady who brought us to this secret location, ordered and stealthily paid for dinner before merrily waving goodbye.

This place was unexpectedly good! One look at the soup and I knew that it was good. The first taste confirmed that despite the cloudy broth, there was no milk in it: it all comes from good bone stock and skillful cooking. The fish head was great, full of texture from the flesh and lots of flavoursome sinew and cartilage. Sucking out lumps of good stuff from between bone compartments was extra rewarding. A mouthful of thick beehoon and a slurp of soup and all was well with the world.

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Sure, the beehoon was slightly clumpy and the soup had a bit of msg in it, but for $8 to feed two girls well, it’s all good. Plus, we didn’t have to pay for it.

Where’s this place? The only clue I can give is that it’s in a coffeeshop and it’s in Chinatown. Happy hunting! 😉

Quick Eats: Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon

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This stall at Maxwell Hawker Centre sells what a lot of people consider the best fish soup in Singapore. It’s very decent because of the thick deep-fried sangyu (snakehead) pieces and rich soup. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Cantonese style (my Cantonese ancestors must be turning in the grave),  I think this is probably the best bet to get your milky fish beehoon fix.

Note that it’s not always consistent and definitely not perfect. My beehoon was clumpy and I felt that the soup had a bit too much evaporated milk in it. Will report back the next time I try this without milk.

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Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon
Stall 77
Maxwell Hawker Centre

Mellben Crab at Toa Payoh: Not Up to Standard

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I was keen to have crab again and this time we tried Mellben at Toa Payoh. It’s supposed to be famous, therefore it should be good, no? After much discussion, we ended up ordering two kinds of crab beehoon,  an oddity called Playboy Chicken, and stir-fried baby kailan. The sad thing is that the kailan (not pictured) was probably the best part of the meal.

The Playboy Chicken was tempting only in name. It was deep-fried breaded chicken under some grated radish topping and sweet-sour chilli sauce. In other restaurants, this would probably be named Thai-style chicken. Interestingly, the menu also listed Thai Apple Chicken, probably much the same except with apple instead of radish. How unimaginative! Taste-wise, the chicken was quite blah. I can’t remember much of it as I write now. Two words: Don’t Order.

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The crab fried in beehoon came very badly presented as crab parts were all over the place and we had to dig out the crab carapace and style this dish ourselves for the shot. I think we did quite well here, our crab has a certain piratic charm here. This dish would have been the best of the lot if not for way too much pepper in the brew. We kept imagining the scene in the kitchen where someone spilled the whole pack of pepper powder into the beehoon (oops!). Otherwise, it had decent flavour. Decent flavour until our mouths and throats went numb from the pepper. The crab itself was fine. Someone commented that the shell had some use after all: protecting the succulent flesh from the pepper sauce!

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The pièce de resistance was the claypot crab beehoon with extra-large crab. Here, extra-large seemed to mean extra-old and extra-tough and extra-stringy. FAIL on the crab front. The beehoon was nice and chewy, it would have been great if not for the soup. My dining companions said that the soup tasted like something out of a can, like Campbell’s cream of something (crab?) soup. Needless to say, we weren’t pleased at all by Mellben at Toa Payoh and had to compensate by going to Ji De Chi for dessert.

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About $150 for six people.

Mellben Seafood
Block 211 Lor 8 Toa Payoh
#01-11/15
Tel: 63533120

Secret Eats: My Favourite Crab Beehoon

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When I eat crab, I like to actually taste the succulent flesh and slurp up all the crabby flavour instead of having too much sauce masking the crustacean. It’s no surprise that having crab done beehoon style is my favourite way to eat crab. My second favourite is pepper crab but that’ll take up another post another time.

There’s a cze char place in a Pasir Ris coffeeshop that serves my favourite crab beehoon. It’s not the typical Mellben variety with thick beehoon and milk. This one uses skinny beehoon and skips the milk, giving the dish a naturally creamy finish from crab roe and good stock. I can’t tell exactly what goes into the soup/sauce/jup but it is so flavourful I always ask for extra jup when ordering.

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The crab is invariably fresh, though the last time I went, my quibble was that while it was still fresh, it hadn’t hit the platinum standard of freshness I know the place for. Still, my friends were impressed.

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This place does other things well too. They have a good chef who imparts wok hei to every dish. I like their olive fried rice (zhao pai chao fan) and broccoli with scallops. Go with their suggestions for vegetables, they’re invariably well executed. We had stir-fried spinach (heng chye) with garlic and it was great.

The whole meal came up to $69 for two crabs with beehoon and the stir-fried vegetable. It fed four very happy people.

Hint: the place is in a coffee shop in Pasir Ris and it’s not a branch of Mellben. Happy hunting!