The Many Meanings of Slow Food: Zhen Zhen Porridge

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Zhen Zhen Porridge and Maxwell Hawker Centre are perhaps more famous for the long queues than the great award-winning porridge. I made the fatal mistake of meeting a friend there for lunch at 12.30 pm. Patting myself on the back for arriving early at 12.15, I put down my tissue paper and book bag on two seats in the classic CBD Tissue Paper Chope and went off to queue. As I’d not queued longer than 25 minutes before, I figured it’d only be a 10 minute wait by the time said friend arrived.

Boy was I wrong. When she showed up, I hardly moved from my original spot. Apparently some unmentionables in front had ordered takeaway porridge for their entire building. There was no choice but to wait. And wait. And wait. I finally made my order at 1 pm and collected 10 minutes later. It was almost an hour’s wait! By then my friend had finished her fishball noodles (no queue, not nice) and was eyeing dessert.

The chicken porridge was good as always, smooth and thick with ghosts of rice grains, generous portions of chicken thigh chunks and loads of toppings. They’d obviously spent ages boiling the grains off the rice. There’s plenty of spring onion, fried shallots, dong choi (preserved Tianjin vegetable) and sesame oil. It all comes together in a surprisingly crunchy and textured whole. Very yummy. I also like waiting for the egg to set a bit so I get swirls of soft just-set egg white and rich streaks of runny yolk, then as a prize I sometimes get a bit of yielding solid yolk. Mmm.

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I always have the yu-sheng as a side. No other stall I’ve tried makes it this way. Again, the theme is generous servings and toppings. I can barely finish the small portion. It’s made of slices of raw fish topped with ginger matchsticks, spring onion, fried shallots, toasted black and white sesame and sesame oil. Top it all off with a sprinkling of lime juice and some cut red chilli and the flavour combination is phenomenal. It’s almost the entire reason why I keep coming back for more.

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$4.50 for a chicken porridge with egg and a small yu-sheng. Go early or on an especially hot day where there’s less of a queue. Don’t dither with your order because the lady can be quite curt. Be brave!