As the monsoon season descends upon our island, we find ourselves seeking out belly-warming comfort foods. In my humble opinion, one that certainly ticks all the boxes for a warm and comforting meal is Hainanese Curry Rice, which, while indeed an invention of the Hainanese diaspora, is also a perfect amalgamation of Singapore cuisine. You have carbs, protein, vegetables, fat and a curry that marries Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures in a gloriously sloppy one-plate meal.
For an authentic Hainanese curry rice experience, you’ve got to include the holy trinity of crispy pork chop, soy-stewed pork belly and cabbage over your rice (and then whatever else takes your fancy), before the pre-requisite drenching of curry.
Here, we bring you two options recommended by my food and lifestyle blogger kaki Alexis Toh, where you can either go time-honoured traditional or next-gen with a tasty twist.
1. Try this: Loo’s Hainanese Curry, from $4 for one meat and two veg over white rice and curry.
With a history of over 70 years, this popular Tiong Bahru institution is all about tasty tradition. Loo’s has all the classics and then some! The signature Hainanese dishes to order here are the pork chop and chap chye (stewed cabbage). The pork chop, in particular, is well-marinated and tender on the inside while retaining its crispness on the outside. Loo’s adheres to Hainanese tradition by coating the chops with cream crackers instead of breadcrumbs before frying. Then there’s flavourful tomato gravy that is spread generously over the pork chops – it’s tangy, sweet and a good foil for the salty, savoury blend of sauces drizzled over the rice.
The curry boasts a very pleasant, slightly sweet undertone and isn’t too spicy or runny. It definitely gets a tasty finish too from the melt-in-your-mouth fatty pork belly, tau pok and hardboiled egg stew.
If stomach real-estate permits, have a go at their very traditional Lion’s Head meatballs. These are handmade from a blend of finely minced fatty pork, onions and crunchy water chestnut – do we detect some tang chye (preserved cabbage) in there too? These large meatballs are browned to a nice crust on the outside, but pillowy soft and umami once your teeth break through the crust. If there’s still room for more, their whole Assam Sotong is a fiery treat not to be missed!
We like that the dishes come on individual plates – even the curry sauce, which is served in a large bowl. That way, you can decide how to combine the flavours on your plate of rice. This is the perfect set-up for those who don’t like too much a of saucy mess on their plates!
71 Seng Poh Rd, #01-49, S160071. Tel: 62253762. Open Fri-Wed, 8am-2.45pm. Closed Thu.
2. Or that: Hong Seng Curry Rice (Yishun Hawker Heroes Branch), from $4.50 for a curry chicken rice set.
This is a much newer curry rice stall, a next-gen endeavour helmed by Alex Lim, who took over his family business that’s been operating out of Redhill Hawker Centre since 1995. The banking and finance graduate may be young, but he has put in hours of back-breaking effort to learn the ropes from his uncle and father, first helping out at Redhill, then branching out to Chinatown, SMU and now Yishun. This third-generation hawkerpreneur’s strategy for curry rice dominance includes using labour-saving machines as well as providing catering and delivery services. While uncle and dad still watch over quality control and the continued legacy of their traditional family recipes, there are a few noticeable next-gen twists at this Yishun location.
Most obvious of all is the offering of brown rice as a healthier option. This is a great idea because health benefits aside, brown rice has a firmer texture and lends a pleasing hint of nuttiness to your meal. Don’t worry, purists, you can still choose white rice though! Their sweet and spicy sambal ikan billis with peanut is also a nice addition of texture and crunch. In the true spirit of entreneurship, Hong Seng have made take-home packs of their signature ikan billis and peanut sambal available.
The Hong Seng way is to arrange your meat and vegetable choices atop the rice, then smother everything in their rich and tasty curry, along with lashings of soya sauce-braised gravy. What you end up with doesn’t look too pretty, but tastes just beautiful. Everything is extremely tasty on its own, from the crispy cream-cracker coated pork chop, to the tender, fatty stewed pork belly and the naturally sweet stewed cabbage. But the curry really is the delicious glue that holds all the dishes together on your plate. Thick and silky, yet not gloopy from too much starch, Hong Seng’s curry is the star here. The deeply savoury dressing, rich with spices and more fiery than the usual, takes everything to a whole other level.
Hawker Heroes, #01-07, Northpoint City, 930 Yishun Avenue 2, Singapore 769098. Open daily Mon–Fri 7am–10pm; Sat–Sun 8am–10pm.
Denise Tan hosts The Lunchtime Jukebox on Gold 905. Makan Kakis is her weekly good food guide, where her panel of culinary personalities like KF Seetoh takes you on gloriously gluttony adventures. Tune in to Gold 905 for new episodes every Thursday, from 11am.