Makansutra: Chilli crab sauce yong tau foo spices up the scene
Balestier Road yong tau foo stall creates a chilli crab version for extra oomph
The best answer I've ever heard about what is "authentic food" was a remark Mr Claus Meyer delivered at our World Street Food Congress in Singapore some years back.
The Danish culinary entrepreneur said "authentic is an expression of who you are", to which I'll add, because you know where you came from.
Mr Meyer is the founder of the two Michelin-starred Noma, which was voted best restaurant in the world for many years.
When a Hong Kong food critic said our pig offal soup was not authentic, I replied with "Which dynasty did he refer to?".
The Hakka migrants from China gave us yong tau foo, originally a piece of firm tofu stuffed with salted minced pork and pan fried.
But over the years, it morphed.
Mushroom, eggplant, chilli, tofu skin, lotus root slices - stuffed with fish paste so those avoiding pork can enjoy it too - can be found at any yong tau foo stall today. They are seldom pan fried, but boiled or deep fried and sat in soup, laksa broth or chilli sambal sauce.
Today's version has come so far, yet we still call it yong tau foo.
Which brings us to a chilli crab sauce, courtesy of Niang Duo Fu at Balestier Road.
Proprietor Kylan Soo, who came up with this version about five months ago, said: "I just felt this dish needed some extra oomph and it is a recognisable sauce, so here we are."
The humble stall does not look fancy and the yong tau foo pieces (80 cents each) come from a supplier.
But home cook Soo, who has never worked in a professional kitchen, takes an extra step to fry up every piece on order, then make that sour, sweet, savoury and spicy chilli crab sauce (a dollar extra) to slather over it.
It was refreshingly different, yet is still yong tau foo as we know it. The tang, umami, spices, sweetness and egg drop that are swirled into the sauce lifted things nicely.
I would prefer if they made some of their own or offered varieties of chunky minced pork yong tau foo pieces.
The extra bite would have made a difference over the fish-stuffed ones they now sell.
Another surprise item on the menu is the kiam png ($4.50), or "salty rice", essentially much like baked claypot rice, except it's steamed with soy stock, mushrooms, Chinese sausages, pork slices and garlic bits.
An order of this was so comforting with the platter of fried yong tau foo in chilli crab sauce.
I had only to pick a few cabbage leaves and have them served in a plain soy bean and ikan bilis soup. Flavoured rice, fried yong tau foo pieces and sweet cabbage soup - you can't go wrong with that.
There is also ter ka beehoon ($6.80). It looked sad and dry, but bite in and you'd find that every bit of the white beehoon has been soaking up the flavours from the braised pork trotters. Just add some spicy chilli sauce for the extra kick.
To top it off, having this meal on fold-out tables, alfresco-style, outside the stall that is a little above road level along charming Balestier Road, has a certain allure.
Niang Duo Fu
221 Balestier Road, #01-01 Rocca Balestier
Opens 12pm to 10pm, closed on Sunday
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra,dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.