'Old uncle food' gets new look
Take an old-school dish and make it relevant to younger taste buds?
Mr Melvin Chew may have found a way.
He took on his family's 35-year-old kway chap and stewed duck stall in Chinatown after his father died last year.
I have often been to this stall over the years. The offering is hearty and the homemade chilli-sambal-vinegar is "da bomb".
The kway chap and duck are fresh and not left to wither on display.
The other attraction is the "lor" or "lo sui" - the sauce used to braise the duck and kway chap.
Some far-too-simple recipes will tell you the secret is soya sauce, stock and fine five spice powder. But I know it is far more complex than that.
I delight in the additions hawkers add to make their "lor" sing - apples, marrow, old ginger, Chinese ham and even pineapple. Then there is the Chew's version.
I once asked to take away food for my mother. He dredged that magical stew pot and lifted a large piece of mui choy - preserved vegetable Hakkas use for braised pork.
There was also a mass of browned pandan leaves providing a sweet fragrance.
I then realised how his kway chap gets that wistful cooling herbal sensation.
"These are all old-school techniques my father learnt from the old masters," Mr Chew tells me.
But the 37-year-old is wary of how the old-school image could affect kway chap's future. He rues: "The new generation sees this as old uncle food. It will probably fade from our menus."
But he has a plan.
"I relooked the presentation."
That new look is Japanese.
The kway chap bento set is $8 for eight items and soup, and comes in a bento box.
The inspiration came after recently completing the Street Food Pro 360 course - conducted by Makansutra and supported by E2i. Mr Chew learnt how to be relevant for tomorrow's customers, without affecting his heritage.
Besides the usual meats and tofu, this is one of those few stalls still offering duck intestines and gizzards, pig ears and tongues, and offal such as fallopian tubes.
And with that selection, Mr Chew has no problem filling the bento tray.
He also has onsen tamago, an egg poached in its shell.
I applaud this thinking in reinventing old food culture. He thought out of the box and came up with this bento box. Bravo.
Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck
Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335, Smith Street, #02-156.
10.30am to 6.30pm. Closed on Fridays
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.