PORK SATAY GOES LEGIT
People here talk very casually about hawkers. When we do that, we're referring to people who operate in hawker or food centres.
Ah Pui – real name Ang Boon Ee – was a hawker in the true sense of the word. The 64-year-old used to ply the streets of Tiong Bahru with his pushcart, selling pork satay. He kept getting busted, of course. This is Singapore after all.
My friends and I would have him grill satay at house parties and it was always the highlight of our meals. His satay – he does only pork – is nonpareil.
Since August last year, he has joined a group of entrepreneurs who run a cafe in Pearl's Hill Terrace, a laid-back enclave perched on top of a hill. It used to house the operational headquarters of the Singapore Police Force.
One of the people behind the cafe, Mr Benjamin Tan, 38, used to live in Tiong Bahru and was a regular customer. They became friends and Mr Tan persuaded Mr Ang to join him and his partners. So now, there is no need for hawking on the streets. Mr Ang has a legit gig.
Is his pork satay still as good? It is still the best I have ever had. But it is different from what it used to be.
The special thing about his pork satay ($9 for 10 sticks) is the strip of fat in between the pieces of meat. He grills it so expertly that the fat has a QQ texture.
The pork pieces used to be smaller, so the fat stood out more. Now, there's a bit more pork. It's a chunkier bite, to be sure, and most people will not complain.
I won't either. Not when I dunk the satay into the thick peanut sauce with a big dollop of fresh pineapple puree in the middle. Then crunch, QQ, tartness and spice meld and make magic.
If you are very lucky, you might see Mr Ang tending to the grill himself. Otherwise, he is in the kitchen, prepping satay, cutting pieces of pork off a huge chunk.
I go to the cafe just for the pork satay, but am persuaded to try the Pincho Sate Chicken ($9 for 10 sticks), with a very perky chimichurri drizzle.
There are pasta dishes on the menu too, done by Mr Sebastian Liu, 37, who used to work for the Les Amis Group. Mr Tan offers an array of Nanyang-style coffee drinks.
Many people talk about preserving hawker culture and lament when stellar hawkers retire. Instead of just talking and lamenting, the people who run the cafe – Mr Tan, Mr Liu, Mr Maurice Goh and Mr Melvin Tay – did something about it. They persuaded Mr Ang to join them and, in the process, are introducing his pork satay to a new audience.
Plus, fans like me can have this phenomenal pork satay almost anytime we want.
WHAT: 195 Pearl Hill Cafe, 01-56, 195 Pearl's Hill Terrace MRT: Outram OPEN: 11am to 5pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays and public holidays TEL: 9748-9904 INFO: www.est1930.co
Life is too short for bad food. And I often look to friends whose palates I trust to steer me in the direction of food that's worth eating.
When two of them rave about Cai's ngoh hiang, well, I just have to try it.
Three siblings – Irwin, Amanda and Charmaine Chua – are behind the business and they have successfully come up with a recipe that combines the best of the ngoh hiang their grandmothers make.
I also love how obsessively neat the finger-sized meat rolls are, and gasp with delight when I open the boxes.
Now, the traditional way is to deep-fry the rolls, which are already steamed before being frozen. I cannot bear the thought, so I place them on a foil-lined tray and stick that in my toaster oven. The rolls get beautifully brown that way and clean-up is a breeze. More importantly, I taste the rolls, not oil.
The Original Pork & Prawn Ngoh Hiang (top, $25 for 20 rolls) is delicious and I love how the chunks of water chestnut add texture, and how pungent Chinese celery adds funk. Dip the rolls in Cai's Sambal Belacan ($10 for a 180g jar). It is spicy, but I would like more belacan in it.
The Mala Pork & Prawn Ngoh Hiang (above, $26 for 20 rolls) needs no sauces. It is perfect eaten right out of the toaster oven. That numbing, tingly vibe infuses each roll, but they are not blow-your-head-off hot.
Nuance is everything.
WHAT: Cai Ngoh Hiang & Sambal ORDERING INFO: Look for @cai.eats on Instagram and complete the online form DELIVERY: $8 a location, free delivery to one location with minimum order of four boxes of ngoh hiang
THE LIVES OF PIE
Mimi Lee's double-crusted pies have been around since 2001 and I had forgotten how good they were until I had them again recently.
In these Covid-19 times, home-based food businesses are springing up like mushrooms after rain and I am glad she has revived her business.
I cannot imagine the work it takes to make shortcrust pastry from scratch, but that's the promise you get when you order one of her pies. The pastry is made with French butter too.
Customers can order the pies baked (80 cents more) or frozen. I get mine frozen and simply brush them with beaten egg before popping them in the oven, still frozen. In 40 minutes, the four golden brown pies are ready.
The best one is the Steak & Guinness Pie ($9.80 frozen), filled with carrots and chunks of beef in a robust gravy. Don't worry, it's not bitter at all. This one is available this month and next. If you eat beef, this is a must-order.
The Steak & Mushroom pie ($9 frozen) is good too, don't get me wrong. But the Guinness deepens the flavour of the stew.
Classic Chicken ($8 frozen), filled with boneless chicken leg meat, is easy to like because the meat is not dried out and the creamy gravy is so comforting on a rainy day.
The Vegetable pie ($7 frozen) is filled with potato, pumpkin, zucchini and mushroom. I will say, grudgingly, that it is much better than I expect it to be.
One thing very worth noting is this: Ms Lee's pies are double-crusted but do not suffer that ultimate horror – the soggy bottom.
WHAT: Mim's Fabulous Pies ORDERING INFO: Look for @miRead More – Source