The fish dumpling that almost got away
The sign says "shredded chicken noodle" but you won't remember it after you've had its handmade her kiao, or fish dumpling, which will soon go the way of the Tasmanian tiger.
Ah Liang and his wife Doris, with the help of their family members, make this little umami bomb every evening after they shutter up for business.
Understandably, only so many can be made each day.
This little Teochew gem has been steadily falling off our makan radar since we first gushed over them at the former Aljunied food centre some 17 years ago in our earlier Makansutra food guides. Now, the stall that sold them is closed for good.
There were barely half a dozen cooks and hawkers who handmade fish dumplings. Now, I reckon there are only a handful left, at Song Kee along Upper Serangoon Road, and another in Newton Food Centre, I sense, uses a supplier who handmakes them in a commercial kitchen as I don't see any equipment on location to make the dumplings.
NOT AN EASY TASK
If you think making fishballs is difficult - all that fish paste slapping (to get the bouncy texture), plus the art of seasoning and salting, before artfully hand-pressing out one ball at a time through your thumb and index finger - then making fish dumplings makes it look like a walk in the park.
Ah Liang took over from his father's pushcart fishball noodle stall over three decades ago in the MacPherson area.
They were last roosting in a coffee shop around Tai Thong Crescent before they nestled here in Toa Payoh four years ago.
The first thing that struck me when I noticed them three years ago was the stack of noodles laid at the stall front. Doris would aerate, dry and dust off the extra flour that suppliers usually leave in the bag to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
This is what diligent hawkers do to ensure their fishball mee pok tah is springy soft and resilient.
I asked Ah Liang to show me how fish dumplings are made and he agreed on one condition: "You cannot tell others how."
So I can only hint to you that making this little delicacy involves a lot of delicate work. The gossamer-thin translucent fish paste skin has to have the perfect resilience or it cannot hold the minced pork (flavoured with teepo powder or dried sole fish bones) filling tightly.
And it was a revelation how and why they fold them to look like gold ingots. They make only a few hundred daily.
"Which is why we give only two pieces per standard order," Doris reminds me.
There have been angry customers who demand a whole bowl of fish dumplings despite a prominent sign which states the limit.
A bowl of dry chilli noodles comes with shredded chicken, mushrooms and a bowl of soup with handmade fishballs and two fish dumplings. All spicy, springy and good.
The fish dumplings are very unlike the usual factory-made ones - where the flour-laden skin encases a lump of dough, egg and minced fish filling.
Here is one consolation: "If you want to order in bulk for your parties and festive season, give us ample notice," Doris says. with a smile.
Lao Sim Shredded Chicken Noodle
Block 127, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, #02-01
- 7am to 1.30pm (closed on Mondays)
Makansutra, founded by KF Seetoh, is a company that celebrates asian food culture and lifestyle. It publishes food guides in and around the region, produces a food series, develops interactive mobile content and services, operates foodcourts and eateries, organises food tours and events, and consults on culinary concepts.