Monday, May 9, 2011
Ah Lun's Gourmet Food Trail, Part 1 - Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee
May 7, 2001 was a very exciting day! Yes, many people chose wisely on that Saturday, joining others from all walks to life to participate in the climatic finale of Ah Lun's Weekend Gourmet Food Trail "周末趴趴吃"! And yes, it was the watershed polling day too for Singapore, but that did not affect attendance for the gourmet tour.
At Omy.sg's invitation, I joined fellow blogger Darren Ng (SBA2010 Best Lifestyle Blog winner, and super winner for so many other contests!) for the gourmet tour. Our first stop was Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee at 74 Amoy Street. Huat Kee serves up really old school Teochew cuisine, and is still holding on to many traditional ways of food preparation, even though it's in third generation hands. It was a humble business when it started in 1969, but now occupies two shophouses on Amoy Street.
And who is Ah Lun? None other than the much beloved lifestyle and food columnist who's been with Lianhe Zaobao for 31 years. A veteran foodie, he is very knowledgeable and quite the authority on food in the media circle. "Ah Lun" is actually the Chinese form of Alan (he is very effectively bilingual, so you can ask him anything in English too).
Ah Lun has now switched to work with Wanbao and OMY.sg on a part-time basis. And he will be hosting these food trails possibly on a twice yearly basis.
Here's a video of him elaborating on the food (in Mandarin) at Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee. Part 2 of the video is here.
Our first dish comprised Four Signature Starters 四拼盘 - two hot items, and two cold items.
Each one came with its own dipping sauce.
The jellied pork trotters 猪脚冻 (meat and skin inclusive!) was one of the cold items. I always love this. Firm jelly and well-flavoured meat. Goes with a vinegary chili sauce or plum-based sauce.
And from the feet of the pig, we come to the head. Pork head "dumpling" 猪头粽, is made of mashed pork meat from the head, which includes the ears too. This was slightly more gamey and chewy. The sauce for this is the slightly sweet and clear citrus oil dip.
For the hot items, we have rather unusual deep-fried spring rolls. Inside the rolls are mung beans stir-fried with dried shrimp. I have never quite tasted something like this.
"Liver flower" 肝花 or deep-fried sausage with pork liver. This is like the ngoh hiang liver roll. If you like liver, this will please you with its densely compacted pieces of liver. It's recommended to be paired with a dark sweet sauce.
Few Chinese meals are complete without soup. This Sliced Chicken and Straw Mushrooms soup 草菇鸡片汤 features dried straw mushrooms for a stronger umami taste. Nothing from a can, for sure. Dried straw mushrooms used to be more common in the past and quite cheap too. But these days, they are harder to find.
Cabbage-wrapped Chicken 传统包菜鸡 is a whole chicken flavoured with soy, oyster sauce, sesame oil and such. It's wrapped with cabbage and steamed for about four hours, and I think it's finished off in the oven. Ah Lun spoke about cabbages that we get in Singapore - the ones from Indonesia need to be cooked much longer, due to the nature of the soil they are grown in. There are some from China that tend to be sweeter, but those are seasonal.
This is one of the better cabbage-wrapped chicken I've tasted. The braised chicken is tender and flavourful. The cabbage has absorbed all the delicious seasoning and lends its own natural sweetness to the dish. The end result is a broth so tasty, you'd want rice to go with this.
Fried kway teow with chye poh 菜脯炒粿条 - carbo comfort food. Reminds me of a Chinese non-spicy version of pad thai! Still, this was a little too moist or soggy for my liking.
There is a surprise dish at each destination, which is usually the best dish of the meal. There was a huge "Wow!" indeed from everyone when it was revealed - Huat Kee's signature suckling pig! They serve the crackling skin with a sliver of meat (and fat). Look at the curly tail! You can eat the head too, but I found that part a lot more gamey than the body.
Orh Nee 玻璃芋泥 - Yam paste dessert with pork lard slabs and ginkgo nuts. Quite good - the yam is very smooth. I was very happy to find out they still serve this with pork lard here (how rare these days!), but I had not expected the lard to be such huge slabs! The boss is way too generous! By the way, the glassy liquid is syrup, not oil. Mix in as much or as little as you like.
And after that rather sinful dessert, the perfect palate cleansers. Some strong Chinese tea in little cups. Gongfu cha, perhaps?
Here's Ah Lun with the boss of Huat Kee, who helped to add to the informative description of the dishes we were having, and the background of the restaurant. The meal was not all about eating though. Ah Lun and his team kept us entertained with games and prizes for participants. That really added to the rather festive atmosphere of the lunch.
Well, soon after finishing, we went off to the next dining destination - Casserole at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort. Oh yes, more food! Stay tuned for Part 2...
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