Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cooking Singapore hawker centre food

Singapore's traditional hawker centres bustle with activity all day long, serving hundreds of thousands from that nation of foodies everyday. For a few dollars, one can get a filling meal of one's choice from a vast buffet of options.

During my short stay there (and each time I went back), my staple was always the combination of 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (century egg and lean pork rice porridge) and 菜头粿 (steamed Chinese radish cake omelette, which Singaporeans call "carrot cake"), with a hot, fresh mug of smooth Singaporean coffee (ideally served in a glass mug). Good for any meal or heavy snack; I practically lived on this stuff. Breakfast time, Singapore style.

Making the rice porridge is really easy. I put 1.5 cups of soaked long-grain rice and 5 times the volume of water into a pot, along with 6 sliced garlic cloves and about an inch of peeled ginger thinly julienned, boiling and simmering for a few hours until the rice easily broke up on stirring. I then stirred in about 500g of lean minced pork, 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce, and a little salt and ground white pepper for further cooking until the pork was done and the rice had almost completely disintegrated. It needed frequent stirring to prevent settling. Right before serving, I was cutting up some century eggs and chopping scallion.

There was enough to go around for 10 heavy portions. I served it up hot and fresh in bowls, each with a few cubes of century egg, a sprinkling of some chopped scallion and ground white pepper, and drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce. A great breakfast and a great comfort food.

The fried carrot cake is not nearly as easy as it looks. Those cubes in the omelette? Those are not cubes of radish. They're cubes of a radish cake, which I had to painstakingly prepare by finely shredding and straining dry 600g of daikon/mooly radish, stir-frying with half teaspoons of salt and white pepper until soft, mixing with 2 cups of Asian rice flour whisked into 2 cups of water, and steaming until it set into firm cake. Which THEN had to be cooled and chilled. Oy, vey.

I wish my cake were firmer, because the cubes did not fry as well as I hoped, turning into lumps in the wok. Anyway, after browning the lumps a little with 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, I added 8 eggs beaten with half teaspoons of salt and white pepper, and cooked until the eggs set. Just prior to serving, I stirred in a quarter cup of sweet soy sauce, a quarter cup of chopped scallion, and 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek.

I served it with some more sambal oelek on the side, garnished with chopped scallion. I guess I need to refine the cake-making process to get the perfect cubes of radish cake you see in the pictures, but it turned out more or less okay.

And of course, no Singaporean meal at my place would be complete without a mug of hot, rich, freshly-brewed Singaporean coffee from my little stash.

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