The joy of Cantonese comfort food
Chinese food is getting more westernised.
Chinese restaurants offer a rojak of anything Chinese people here eat - from sambal something to truffle oil this and that.
We are quickly losing our grandma's makan heritage.
So it was a very pleasant discovery when buddy and 18 Chef restaurant boss Benny Se Teo told me about this little spot in Toa Payoh.
It's an all-Canto zi char hawker stall whose owners would happily take orders in "pai hua" (Cantonese). Of course, English and Mandarin would do, too.
Three very important factors stand out here:
The dishes are all hardcore comfort Cantonese fare and you won't find sambal on the menu.
The owner-chef is easy on salts, making it better for tasting and appreciating the ingredients.
All dishes are done at lightning speed with a wok and a steamer.
The hearty plate of fried garlic and salt prawns with golden mushrooms was done with soft-shelled prawns (banana prawns). It was soft yet crispy right through and very lightly salted.
YUMMY: The stall relies on just a wok and a steamer to prepare all its dishes.PHOTO: KF SEETOH
The stall also offers two types of fish, usually the red garoupa variety, done "yao chum" (deep fried and with light soy ginger sauce) or steamed with that same sauce. The key here is the freshness of the fish.
I saw other customers order the lohon chye vegetarian dish. The garden platter of black and button mushrooms, baby corn, wood ear fungus, carrots and chye sim, is done expertly in that wok in the tiny stall space.
The antithesis to that was the har cheong gai (prawn paste chicken), executed old style with nary any batter, heavy on flavour and light on salt.
The chicken chunks were fresh and juicy, meaning they weren't pre-fried to save time.
The nine dishes I ordered came within 15 minutes, every dish cooked in that jet-fire wok.
PHOTO: KF SEETOH
I also love the sum wong dan (three-egg spinach,abvoe ). The half-done slippery egg slathered over the blanched greens with hints of salted and century egg, which was a refreshing turn from the soupy types.
The yoke pang or steamed minced pork patty was really light on salt. I could taste the sweetness of the pork and the bits of water chestnuts, flavoured with a gentle splash of wine.
PHOTO: KF SEETOH
The speciality dish was the bittergourd (above), proudly Cantonese and touted on the signboard. I had the juicy gourd plainly done with black bean sauce and fish head chunks.
Top these with a humble bowl of steamed rice and any Cantonese soul would cry: "Ah Ma, ngor oi fan leh keen leh (Mum, I'm coming home to visit you)." In other words: "Mummy, I miss you!"
The prices were generally cheap, that steamed garoupa was only $12.
Gang Shi Xiao Chao
Address: Blk 93 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh #01-44
Opening hours: Noon to 2pm, 5pm to 8pm, closed on Mondays