Makansutra: Authentic Hainanese herbal mutton soup
Ivy's Hainanese mutton soup remains a treat
Not everyone loves mutton.
But to those of us who disobey grandma's rule about the smell when you eat mutton in hot and humid Singapore, you are truly blessed, albeit with the few mutton soup specialists left.
There is Sup Kambing, which is especially nice when you dunk it with baguette slices. There is mutton hotpot, though not many steamboat places offer mutton slices. There is also the more obscure northern Chinese cumin mutton skewers.
There is Hainanese herbal mutton soup. You find it in a few enclaves and it still has a group of ardent fans.
There are some stalls at hawker centres such as Alexandra Village, Old Airport Road, Bukit Merah View and Amoy hawker centre that cater to the non-hipster CBD foodies.
Then there is Ivy's. It deserves all the praise it has received. Mr Max Ng and his wife, Ivy, moved from Toa Payoh to Pasir Panjang some three years back. They have been at it for over two decades.
This traditional style of Hainanese mutton soup has a distinct flavour and aroma, which is largely from the red fermented bean curd or nam yue. Ivy's uses good nam yue, which is made from yam instead of the cheaper fermented tofu and colouring.
You can see the reddish pieces and chunks of mutton shanks, meat and ribs simmering in the brownish red broth. The flavour it lends to the herbal broth, masks and contains the herbs used and I could detect only faint elements of it.
The umami in the soup is a celebration for me, a Cantonese boy with a DNA that loves these ingredients that came from my late dad's hometown in Guangzhou, China.
As mutton is more expensive than the regular beef you get at the market, you are looking at prices starting from $11. This is not unreasonable given the amount of shanks and ribs you get in this soup served simmering hot in a claypot (plus the pricey nam yue used).
The murky rich broth alone will get to you - just pour two spoonfuls over the rice and it will turn you into a little starving tiger waiting to pounce on the claypot mutton soup rice meal.
The gaminess is almost non-existent, tamed by the puff tofu, black wood ear fungus, beancurd skin and ginger. The shank and tendon versions are insanely good too.
The chilli is authentic, with traces of lime and lime peel, garlic, chilli and that all important blue ginger.
The couple have no plans to expand, citing that being a hawker is a difficult job, and there is no one to take over them.
So to all Hainanese herbal mutton soup lovers, enjoy it while you can.
Ivy's Hainanese Herbal Mutton Soup
121 Pasir Panjang Road
Stall 14, Pasir Panjang Hawker Centre