Handmade Hakka fare for CNY
Chinese New Year dishes from one of the last two Hakka restaurants in S'pore
It is a pity that after more than 30 years, Mr Lai Fa Nian, 70, is considering closing Plum Village, one of the last two Hakka restaurants here.
The Hakka people have given us many culinary delights, such as yong tau foo, Hakka soon kueh (made with wood ear fungus and bamboo shoots) and suan pan zi (abacus seeds).
I asked Mr Lai what true Hakka Chinese New Year fare is, and at least six items came to his mind.
The first dish was the Red Wine Rice Lees Steam Fish Head (grass carp, or song her tau, $22, advance order).
What made it unique was the red wine rice lees that Mr Lai had made - it was nothing like the bottled versions you get in supermarkets. It had a rich aroma, and adding bits of salted vegetables made the dish even richer in flavour.
His 3-in-1 Yong Tauhu Platter ($45, all handmade) - stuffed firm tofu, bean curd skin roll, and a mince meat-wrapped braised dried oyster - was superbly comforting, especially when paired with a plate of Mr Lai's signature Hakka noodles ($15), mee kia-like noodles and mince pork flavoured with lard and fish sauce.
The Red Wine Belly Pork ($24, advance order) is sweet and savoury, and the aroma of the glutinous rice wine is heaven-sent.
The dish is made with "glass pork", otherwise known as three-layered belly pork.
The combination of the smooth lard and the wine made me go "oh my gosh". Again, just pair this dish with rice.
I had the same reaction for the Red Wine Chicken with Ginger ($24). The difference came from the glutinous rice wine, which Mr Lai fermented in his kitchen.
I saved the best for last - the Hakka Radish Balls.
Dried shrimp, mince meat, teepo (sun-dried and smoked sole fish bones) and radish scraps are rolled into starched balls and then steamed.
They were crunchy, savoury and meaty all within a bite. Please do not let this dish evaporate from our menus.
There is a flicker of hope - Mr Lai can perhaps persuade his accountant son to take over.
Plum Village's Hakka Chinese New Year sets are available for booking now.
16, Jalan Leban
11.30am-2.30pm and 6pm-10pm daily
Tel: 6458 9005
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.