Two stalls keep legacy of Hainanese curry rice going
it would not be strange to assume that Hainanese curry rice is an adaptation of Indian cuisine in Singapore.
But that is not entirely correct.
When researching for the SG50 Deliciously Singaporean project - aimed at discovering born, bred and evolved local food - we realised that the dish came through the British and Japanese.
In colonial times, the British created a version of Indian curries and shared it with their Hainanese housekeepers.
The Japanese enjoyed it so much that curry katsu don (pork cutlet with rice) made an appearance around the time World War II ended.
It is no surprise the chicken tikka masala, a type of chicken curry eaten with rice, has become a national dish of sorts in England.
The first known Hainanese hawker to offer this dish was Mr Lee Shi Su at the defunct Clyde Terrace Market on Beach Road in the late 1940s.
But the Hainanese version is far removed from its Indian roots - you will find pork chop, sardine, fried egg, prawn fritters, meat cakes and even Nonya-style assam fish at the curry rice stalls.
The unique local version, Scissor Cut Curry Rice, was created out of sheer desperation and practicality.
When lines formed, hawkers picked the dishes, cut them up, placed them over rice and then topped it with curry.
Over the years, we have seen a gradual decline of such hawkers.
The dish is fairly complex and those who enjoy it are usually fastidious about it.
But here are two worthy hawkers still protecting this legacy.
NO NAME CURRY RICE
Block 40, Beo Crescent, Ho Pin Hng Coffee Shop
7am to 3pm, closed on Wednesdays
This is arguably the gold standard of Hainanese curry rice today.
With a history of almost 30 years, this stall has a dedicated pool of regulars and there is often a long queue.
Mr Pang Teow Chin, a Hainanese, and his wife Madam Mo Zhuang, cook and serve the dishes quickly.
It is bold with flavours. There are almost 20 dishes available.
The pork chop is thin enough for you to enjoy the crunchy batter and the curry sotong is perfectly salted for it to be enjoyed over starchy curried rice (with two types of curries). I love their battered prawns and the lor bak (soya stewed pork slices) too.
HONG SENG CURRY RICE
Block 85, Redhill Lane, Redhill Food Centre, #01-74
10.30am to 10pm, closed on Thursdays
His grandmother started it and now, banking and finance graduate Lim Jia Han has taken over with the help of his parents.
He has standardised operation and cut down the types of curries to just one robust version for the meat and seafood dishes.
The spice and salt meter here is gentler and more appealing to a newer generation looking to fall in love with this dish.
The meat and seafood are fresh.
The curry mackerel is firm and juicy.
I love their peanut ikan bilis, which they sell separately in boxes too. It is sweet, spicy and crunchy.