Makansutra: The vanishing act of Teochew muay
Lack of successors means this simple, comforting fare may disappear
We stroll so casually around food centres and eat whatever we feel like, taking it for granted that these dishes will forever fall down from the food heavens for our dining pleasure.
But I fear that more than a few of them will fade into oblivion or go the way of the robotic kitchen factories in the near future.
This occasional series will detail the harsh realities behind their eventual demise. And in this new year, I throw light on the artisanal made-with-love yet humble Teochew muay.
Whether the stall offers a dozen or 50-plus iconic and culturally accurate items does not matter today.
If you love this comforting porridge meal, the worrisome fact is that no one on the horizon is coming on board to take up the mantle of the old Teochew masters of this game.
Seriously, to put out an average of 20 items on brightly lit bain-marie is not an easy feat.
Even if they look simple (the hallmark of Teochew muay dishes), it is hard work and curating the menu is an art in itself.
Sadly, I do not see new faces in this space nor are there decent Singapore food academies churning them out - it is easier to learn how to cook French food than local makan here.
Here are two of my favourite but soon-to-vanish Teochew muay spots.
Teochew Rice and Porridge
#01-98, Maxwell Food Centre, 11am to 3pm, 5pm to 8.30pm.
The little old lady who hunches over the wok is a phenomenon.
The matriarch of the Seah family is already 82 but single-handedly churns out at least 15 comfortingly simple dishes by 11am each day the stall is open.
Her braised ter ka (pig trotters) has the correct doneness and the "fattier" version comes with skin, fat and collagen that lovingly melts in the mouth.
Her fried leek dish is intentionally wok-charred at some edges, the bittersweet umami sensation it delivers goes so well with the porridge.
And the traditional shark meat with chilli tau cheo (fermented soy bean) is a must-order.
Even the tau pok is braised till soft and absorbs all that goodness from the soy stock.
When she retires, no one will continue her legacy as her son, who mans the counter, does not cook.
Sin Hock Heng
701 Geylang Road (Lorong 37), 24 hours daily
It is daunting to realise you have to cook over 50 fresh exacting items by lunch each day to feed the customers.
It is even more scary when your makan place is open 24/7, and it is not easy to find staff manning the kitchen round the clock.
But the food here is still top notch. The duck is freshly braised and a plate of it comes sans the ducky pong.
The fish cakes embedded with pickled radish and vegetables are all handmade, and the braised tau kwa comes gently perfumed with sesame oil and is such a joy to tear into.
The snapper is steamed than blanched in simmering salted vegetable stew to up the savoury and umami quotient.
We are seeing fewer such stalls of late. Worse, many such dishes are now provided by mass production suppliers.
I am not exaggerating when I say the art of this meal will soon be lost. So we have lots to think about and act on. A Singapore Food and Culture Academy, anyone?