Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Splendid Hainanese Lunch - Soul Food That Is Homecooked Food At Its Best!

11.45 and we were on the way up when Soundman's call came through. "Is it the right address? No one seems to be answering the door."

And as we were getting into the lift, the signature aroma of Hainanese Chicken Rice was already infiltrating the entire block, all the way down to the first floor. Yes, we knew we were in for a real treat today. And then some.

The access card to this venerable home where we were about to savor the real chicken rice was only held by one person. That card was Uncle Smart's face.

Once his hungry face filled the looking glass, the door was majestically opened and then, we were led into the house of one of my favorite chicken rice hawkers of all time. Mr and Mrs Teng's spacious abode.

This was a very special lunch indeed. For the amiable couple used to run Twe Kee which I blogged last year, and since then, The Tengs have decided to retire. Sad yes, for us selfish chicken rice lovers, and yet, I can't but help but feel happy to see the Tengs enjoying a life of relaxation and retirement happiness.

It is with a tinge of regret that we will never get to taste Mr Teng's authentic Hainanese chicken and rice at a commercial level anymore, but thankfully, the Tengs are such nice folks that they are so willing to cook for us at their beautiful home. Sometimes, we are indeed fortunate.

Classic Hainan Pork Chops

We were also in for a surprise, for the Tengs had prepared beyond just steamed chicken and aromatic rice. They also gave us some classic Hainan dishes, including the classic pork chops with potatoes, and a simple but lovely gao gei soup.

Yes, this was certainly an afternoon to remember. Joining us were Bonding Tool and Johor Kaki, 2 bloggers who are after our own hearts. It was not just a great time for our tastebuds, but at the same time, we were having the best company a foodie group could ask for.

Rounding up our motley gang of hungry stomachs, were cactuskit and yummicraft. And this meal would not have been possible if not for cactuskit discovering the Tengs in the first place. And heck, I was just happy to see the guy, seeing how busy he can be these days.

How chicken rice should look and taste

I don't need to tell you how good the chicken rice is. How every grain is distinct and lovingly coated with the aromatics that was laboriously prepared. Or how every mouthful of the rice will lift you up with gastronomic delight.

Nope, I am not gonna mention how gigantic the 2.3 kg birds were. Nor am I gonna mention the incredible texture of the meat, and how beautifully flavored it tasted. That would be superfluous, for you already know it if you have visited them in East Coast Road when they were still operating their stall.

Let's not even start on that incredible homemade chilli infused garlic and lime that just makes every mouthful of chicken rice soar through the stratosphere. There is no point for me to tell you how every thing came together, from the rice to the chicken to the chilli. No, everything was simple and perfect.

But what I will mention, is that dish of potato and ketchup pork chops that rekindled my childhood food memories of my dad's cooking. You see, my dad used to make this dish on weekends, and it was always one of my favorites.

Yes, it is simple, it has ketchup and it is a home dish, nothing fancy and all. But when you were just 6 years old, this was the most comforting dish you could get at home. Or, at least, it was for me. Now, when I look back, it actually dawned on me that it is something that I hardly get to eat today.

Until now, and looking at Mr Teng, reminds me of how my dad loved to feed his family. He hardly cooked for friends, but he was very energetic and always had that desire to see us enjoy his food. And that is something that I have since inherited.

Mr Teng's quite demeanor also says so much. Ever smiling, his face seemed to light up as we tucked in to the feast. And Mrs Teng, ever the diplomat, was generous with the information aka recipe. Yes, no secrets are here, just the desire to share with folks who would listen.

BT and JK poured on the questions and Mrs Teng would respond with enthusiasm and generosity. Ah yes, life should be this simple. You cook something nice, you show others how to do it. Don't be a prick and pretend you can sell this recipe for a million bucks.

Porridge Even!

As more Singaporeans gravitate towards the heavy seasonings of chickens and rices from the likes of Tian Tian, many have forgotten how real chicken rice should look and taste like. Their loss, actually. Something that is going to be a lost art is at least still visible at this lunch tasting.

For the rest of us, we are just thankful to be able to eat Twe Kee just one more time. But let's not forget, food is not the main thing. It's the people behind the making of such great dishes that we must always pay tribute to.

Not the Jumbos and Tians Tians which have all gotten too big and frankly, too big headed. But honest salt to the earth folks like the Tengs. They are what made hawker food great in the first place. We should be proud of their earnest efforts in preserving their classic cuisine.

For me, nothing says more than Mr Teng's big bright smile as we left the house. And Mrs Teng's unending hospitality. Food that was cooked from the heart and soul. The unsung heroes of Singapore's culinary history.

Thank you.


  1. nothing beats homecooked meal!

  2. Ian, I remember the lunch fondly - the gracious hosts, sincere friends and good ol' chicken rice, the kind that we first fell in love with. I enjoy this heartfelt post so much :) Thanks!