Zhi char goodness between burger buns
Although I'm all for old flavours and traditional ways - which gave Singapore its international culinary reputation (say what you will, people who come here still go for chicken rice and chilli crab) - I also keep an eye out for new creations based on old ideas.
So, what does an old school restaurant (or zhi char) chef turn to when all is said and done about a wok hei-laden classic like chilli crab, salted egg yolk this and that, fried coffee ribs and even a mummy's favourite such as spinach with ikan biliis?
You look west, while keeping your base camp in sight. One simple trick: Stick them between burger buns.
Second generation chefs Wayne Liew and his brother Paul at KEK Pandan Gardens introduced a slightly nuanced menu from its flagship Keng Eng Kee Seafood Restaurant at Alexandra Village.
They introduced the Wok Hei Burger menu.
Best part about it: At $9 each, the sets come with a choice of drink and fries, with pickles at the side.
First, the Salted Egg Pork Burger stuck in my taste memory cells. The chicken version is nice but I prefer the pork for its texture.
The soft buns and greens need a firmer protein in the middle and this does the trick neatly. The sauce is salty enough to be balanced by the breads and fries.
The Sambal Beef Burger, while looking like a roast pulled beef chunk tossed in sambal (not overly spicy) came very robust and beckoning.
The portion is generous but it is kind of a hit-and-miss for me.
YUMMY: (Above) KEK Pandan Gardens chefs, brothers Wayne and Paul Liew, Sambal Beef Burger and Salted Egg Pork Burger. PHOTO: KF SEETOH
The flavours of sambal and beef dull each other out. We are more used to the sweetish beef rendang. But it is still a nice twist to existing offerings in the common menus around.
A no brainer to munch on is the Coffee Pork rendition.
Just imagine breakfast: Sweet kopi-o with roti and pork (ham) and fries. Hey, if they slapped on a fried egg in between, the show would've been complete.
The intense kopi flavours take centrestage (they use a coffee essence from suppliers who specialise in these things).
It comes bittersweet and the bits of sesame seed calm it just a bit.
Finally, the Pai Kwat Wong pork burger. It's just that - a platter of the weekend family zhi char favourite, done boneless and placed between burger buns.
If you eat the pork ribs by habit, this burger sails right in.
So, what next?
I say, take a look at the massive range of chap chye rice stalls (especially those in industrial areas) and think how some of those dishes would taste between buns and even with pasta.
How about Mala beef tofu spaghetti, or double fried head to fin crispy sambal ikan selar placed between foccacia?
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
KEK Pandan Gardens
200, Pandan Gardens, #01-12
- 11.30am to 2.30pm and 5pm to 10pm, daily
Tel: 6694 3044