Saturday, October 07, 2006

Teochew Muay

Porridge Culture潮粥
242 Jalan Kayu,
Tel: +65 6483 1202
Date of review: 3rd October

To most people Jalan Kayu would be the place to go for pratas and sarabat , which I find totally over hyped and nothing fantastic. Not that I do not like pratas, but I have found better versions many a time elsewhere like Evans Café near Botanical Gardens and Old Simpang Bedok. My wife N and I love Jalan Kayu as one of our favourite eating-places with affordable prices yet has a rustic feel. This place is getting better bit-by-bit slowly with additional car parks, new mix of eateries and a more cosmopolitan crowd. From just a few prata shops and Jerry’s, the number of eateries has increased significantly in the last year to include Spizza’s, Johore Bahru famous He Ji Wonton Noodles and Porridge Culture, which is the subject of this review.

We first stumble upon Porridge Culture late last year when we passed by on the way to Sunset Grill at Seletar Airport. I found the Chinese translation rather catchy so I made it a point to check it out.
Expecting a de rigueur Teochew Porridge eating place, we were pleasantly surprised by its clean and tidy décor rather than the usual stuffy grubby places we have been to in the past in Havelock, Geylang and Balestier Road areas. The semi buffet dinning concept was also a refreshing change. Porridge Culture offers a hybrid of Cze Char and Teochew Muay rolled into one. You must make a minimum order of two dishes from the ala cart menu and add on $3.90 per person to enjoy a free flow of porridge or rice with standard condiments, side dishes and a selection of 3 types of local desserts from the buffet counter. Alternatively you can just eat only Cze Char if you are not keen for porridge. What I like about this system is that not only your food is freshly cooked, you are able to gauge the prices of the food you ordered, unlike most other Teochew Muay places, where you are at their mercy when they come around, make a mental calculation quietly and then tell u how much you have to pay without giving you a breakdown on the costs of each item ordered. Such methods have often resulted in inconsistencies at the many places I have eaten, especially at Havelock and Geylang.

While the condiments and side dishes are pretty standard, I do recommend a few nice Cze Char dishes that we have tried during our last few visits. Steamed fish was their specialties and so far we have tried their Steamed Pomfret Teochew Style and Steamed Black Mullet with Taucheo and Chilies on different occasions. The Pomfret came with a nice broth flavoured with sour plum, tomatoes, tofu, salted vegetables, mushrooms and a few strips of pork fat. With so many tasty ingredients, you can’t go wrong with the resulting broth from steaming the fish. The Steamed Black Mullet was paired with a Taucheo sauce supported by chilies, Chinese celery, onions and mushrooms. While the sauce was very good, I would have preferred if the black mullet was slightly fattier as this would make the meat more velvety.

So far we have had three strikes on the pork dishes from the menu and none was a let down. The Steam Mince Pork with Salted Fish was very well done with a light broth accompanying the delicately steamed pork patty. Coarsely minced water chestnuts were added to the minced pork to provide extra crunch. Overall this was the best pork dish to go with porridge. Honey Pork Ribs King was your typified Pai Kuat Wong but I find a nice balance of sauce and tenderness here with the pork. A generous sprinkling of sesame seeds gave it an extra dimension to the sweet and sour sauce and a small serving comes with a generous portion enough for 4. Most importantly, the chef was skilful in the use of sodium bicarbonate to tenderize the meat without making it too mushy on bite or leaving behind a soapy aftertaste on the palate. The last pork dish we had was during asparagus season in May this year when we took on the recommendation on Stir Fried Pork with Asparagus and Crack White Peppercorns. What highlighted the flavours of this dish was the fragrance of the toasted coarsely ground white pepper corns paired with the smokiness of wok flavours on tender meat and crunchy asparagus. It was a first class stir-fry skillfully well executed.

As a chef, I have always believed that the simpler a dish is, the harder chances of it getting it right in preparation. Chinese style omelets are easy to prepare at home but at restaurant level, it’s another skill demanding dish. The right amount of oil to bring out the aromas of fried egg without greasy aftertaste, the skill in flipping over the omelet and getting a nice colour, to achieve a desired crispy edge and keep the center fluffy, that’s really a need to have experience in taking on this perceived simple task. Yet the Chai Poh (pickled radish) Omelet here at Porridge Culture has managed to achieve all these criteria. It’s so good that you can even eat it on its own without porridge.

If freshly cooked vegetables are a must for your meal, the Sambal Kang Kong is one of Porridge Culture’s best performances. As renowned Singaporean born Hong Kong based food critic and gourmet author Chua Lam puts it; Tasty foods are not healthy, healthy foods are not tasty. The sambal kang kong here is done unreservedly with crispy pieces of pork lard which lends its important function to bring out the fragrance of minced dried shrimp and sambal chili. A comforting note to those health freaks who now read this part of the review with horror, the chef at Porridge Culture certainly knows the benefits of using pork lard and how much is to be used to keep the dish pleasant and not over greasy. The sambal sure does pack a good wallop with the nice balance of spices such that you still do get flavours of other ingredients and not just plain chili hot.

Desserts are complimentary when you go for the semi buffet concept and one of their best offers is Pulot Hitam (Black Glutinous Rice Porridge) with Coconut Milk. Other occasional offerings include Red/Green Bean Soup. Bubor Terigu,Yam Paste (or nee), Bubor Cha Cha and Gingered Sweet Potatoes Broth.

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