Oct 122012

Sometimes, I eat food from the local supermarket. Prepared food, that I just reheat. One of my favourite breakfast meals is the humble Ngoh Hiang Roll – and these usually come in a packet from the nearest supermarket.

According to the Makansutra Guide, Ngoh Hiang properly refers to a selection of deep fried snacks traditionally served with bee hoon (rice vermicelli) of Teochow Chinese origin. The fried snacks include prawn fritters, tofu, little sausages and fishballs. I’ve had similar a few times – a plate of mixed fried morsels can be the perfect beer snack on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

For me the term “Ngoh Hiang” has mostly meant the tasty fish meat rolls derived from this traditional snack family that I obtain from – yes – the supermarket.  The fish/prawn mixture is wrapped in tofu skins then fried and allowed to dry. These are then reheated by steaming for 5-10 minutes. This photo shows the large ones from my local supermarket – for size comparison, that is an 18 centimeter steamer.

These are incredibly cheap – SGD1.15 to SGD1.30 a packet depending on where you look – that’s around AUD1/USD1. They are also an easy thing to unwrap and pop in the steamer on the way to the shower in the morning. Each packet will contain three large (in roll form shown above, or flatter cake form) or around eight small rolls.

The average Singaporean supermarket usually has these smaller ones. Note that the skins are very wrinkly – these are yet to be steamed:

I usually drop them into a bowl and add a little soy and chili sauce.

One more word on supermarkets in general. I know that this might sound like heresy to the foodie purists – but I would encourage anyone coming to Singapore for the first time to find a supermarket and look at what is available – you might be pleasantly surprised. If you carry a copy of the Makansutra Guide with you (or have access to a data plan for your phone) you can spend hours wandering around learning about new foods. It is a passion I have had wherever I have traveled – the everyday foods will be found in the coffee shops and the hawker centers here, true, but you will learn a lot about a place through its supermarkets.

Oct 012012

This is a Steamed Pork Big Pau from my local Hokee outlet:

Note that the walls of the pau above are uneven, and that it has a generous amount of filling – these are the hallmarks of a hand made pau.

I sometimes disparage machine made supermarket pau. The mass produced ones are cheaper than the hand made variety, and the taste is really not that bad – nowhere as bad as the difference, say, between a McDonalds flavour free burger and a really good steak. But if you want to try a good pau, the best that you can find, go to a HDB coffee shop or a chain of local pau makers like Hokee.

I have to say that my current breakfast favourite at home is Hokee’s big pau – they have a dozen outlets all over the island, including Tampines Mall nearby.

Individual vendors aside, there are many varieties of pau to try in Singapore – my favourites are:

  • Char Sui: BBQ pork in a sauce
  • Tar Sau: sweet yam paste (brown or a surprising purple in colour)
  • Chicken: usually a ball of minced chicken that holds together like a dumpling inside the dough.
  • Big: Big Pau are, well, big,  usually minced pork and or chicken inside, and usually contain half an egg (sometimes a whole egg, halved).

You’ll notice the word “usually” in this post – the different combinations of main ingredient, flavouring, additions, and dough texture are quite numerous. The meat (or vegetables, as there are vegetarian versions) may be minced fine or chopped coarsely, there may be eggs included, the eggs may be of the ordinary hard-boiled variety or century/tea eggs, the dough may be plain or flavoured/coloured, and so on.

Eating pau, especially a good juicy Big Pau, can get messy – the ingredients move about as the dough gets smaller, and the juice will drip – not a task to be undertaken lightly if wearing a white shirt with a silk tie :)

If I am heating pau at home I prefer to use a bamboo steamer like the one shown above. These can be obtained from BHG department stores for SGD16 – the size they carry fits perfectly into a 9 inch saucepan, and comes with two trays. I think that if it is good enough for hawker centre dumpling vendors and Din Tai Fung to use bamboo, then it is quite good enough for me :) I am on my second bamboo steamer now, the first one served me well for close to a year before unraveling completely. The trick with using them is to provide sufficient water such that it doesn’t boil dry, but not so much water that it bubbles up into the pau. A word of advice – steam is hot, and the bamboo steamer gets very hot too.

There would be few food courts or coffee shops on the island that did not have someone providing pau. Find one, grab a cup of Teah O to wash it down, and enjoy.