Makansutra: Family-run Cantonese zi char that's more than just OK
Steamed fish is the star at OK zi char stall at Dunman Food Centre
Back in 1995, two years before Britain ended its colonial rule and handed Hong Kong back to China, there was a flood of Hong Kongers seeking new opportunities in Singapore.
And with them came the Yip family of cooks, who became Singaporeans a few years later.
In 1999, they set up a little zi char hawker stall called OK at Dunman Food Centre.
One glance at the menu and you know it yells "Cantonese", with a couple of comforting twists.
They are so in tune with their heritage (which is part of ours too) that when I ordered and enquired in Mandarin, Mr Yip Sai Tai replied in Cantonese and it kind of set the tone of the meal experience.
And like every true-blue Cantonese chef, steamed fish must be on the menu in one form or another as it is the holy grail in the Cantonese kitchen, alongside double boiled soups.
One look at the small crowded kitchen - with a professional triple deck steamer taking centre stage and a huge lightbox menu staring at you - and you know they mean business.
The always smiling Mr Yip operates it with his wife and daughter-in-law.
The dishes are all classics - steamed minced pork salted fish patty, steamed chicken chunks with fermented bean sauce, onions, lap cheong (Chinese sausage) or bittergourd omelette, bittergourd soup, and of course, steamed fish, which includes a comforting, ramped-up rempah-laced Assam Fish Head ($18).
The assam sauce is a dense and tangy smack on the palate - sour, thick, spicy and absolutely right as rain over a bowl of steamed rice.
The fatty bits of the carp head they use give so much pleasure in the mouth.
We also tore into the steamed black garoupa (market price based on size) with fermented black bean sauce, garlic and chilli.
If you are Cantonese, you will know the taste.
It's best to go early for lunch to get the freshest selection, and they sell out the better fishes like red snapper or red garoupa by dinner.
We requested the Emperor Sprouts or Di Wang Miao (from $5) to be cooked in plain garlic style, and it was a joy.
It was nicely rendered in the wok and retained the distinct firm yet soft and smooth texture and sweet flavour.
I know some like their style of minced pork and salted fish patty (from $6), which comes comfortingly soft and smooth with hints of salted fish and a spoon of grated ginger atop.
This won't fail you but I much prefer the hand-chopped chunky, fatty and springy version.
I had to attempt the bittergourd omelette ($5), a simple but rare hawker dish these days as the word 'bitter' does not sit well with the new foodie generation.
It is a skill to select and render these gourds till the offending bitter hints are tamed, and the folks behind OK do just that.
If possible, do not go alone or in a pair.
Rustle up some friends, let your hair down and tear into the complete meal, with vegetables, soups, fish, pork, chicken and yes, more steamed fish.
#02-20, Dunman Food Centre
11.30am to 10pm, closed on Sundays