[Singapore] Breakfast eats from Tiong Bahru Food Centre

  1. Fried Chye Tow Kway (Fried Carrot Cake)
    One of my fave food items in Tiong Bahru Food Centre (better-known to locals for their 3 iconic hawker stalls: Jian Bo Chwee Kway, Koh Brothers Pig’s Organ Soup, and the Tiong Bahru Pau) is actually the fried carrot cake stall located right next to the escalators coming up to the food centre from the market below.

Eschewing my usual choice of the “white” fried carrot cake, I chose the “dark” version this time round. Prepared using the same ingredients as its white counterpart, i.e. steamed rice/radish cakes, salted radish, soysauce, fish sauce, garlic, chillis - the black one is distinguished by the addition of sweet dark soysauce - a typical Singaporean slant to the dish which you’d not find in Penang, Bangkok, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City or anywhere else where a similar dish also exists.

Absolutely delish rendition here. Don’t miss it!

  1. Tiong Bahru Pau - also grabbed Tiong Bahru’s “big chicken pau”, a large steamed Cantonese bun with chicken, mushroom and egg filling, flavoured with ginger, oyster sauce & other condiments, and Shaoxing wine - still the best hawker centre “pau” on the island, IMO.

  2. Jian Bo Shui Ko - this is one of my favourite places for Teochew-style “chwee kway”, steamed saucer-shaped rice cakes topped with salted radish that’s been chopped and sautéed in oil. It was simple but oh so good.

In my recent trip to Hue, Vietnam, I came across bánh bèo, steamed rice cakes topped with dried shrimp and pork crackling, which is highly likely to have been introduced by the Teochews who’d settled in Vietnam for centuries. The Vietnamese versions were served in the porcelain saucers in which the cakes were steamed.

The texture of the Vietnamese bánh bèo is stretchier than the Singaporean chwee kway as tapioca flour had been added to the rice flour mix for the bánh bèo.

  1. Koh Brothers Pig’s Organ Soup - this “ter huang kiam chye” (pig’s organ & salted mustard leaves soup) dish is another Teochew favourite, the stall is perhaps Tiong Bahru Food Centre’s best-known and most popular. Founded in 1955 by Teochew chef, Mr Koh Kee Teo, the stall today is run by his grandson, 32-year-old Thomas Koh, a graphic designer-turned-hawker who decided to carry on the family’s business, taking over from his father, Simon Koh, 59, who still helped out.

People drive from all over the island to have this for breakfast or lunch: pork, pork meat balls, pig’s intestines, liver, kidney and pig’s stomach strips, slowly simmered with salted mustard leaves to obtain an addictive savoury-sweet-sour broth that’s to-die for. The stall was also listed under Michelin’s Bib Gourmand 2020 list.

  1. Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow - Singapore-style char kway teow - Teochew-style fried flat rice noodles - is a variant of the lighter versions one finds in Penang. This stall at Tiong Bahru Food Centre is one of the best-established - its greasy fried noodles are fried with blood cockles, fishcake, beansprouts, egg, and bits of Chinese sausages, seasoned with a blend of fish sauce and soysauce.

This legendary stall was founded by Mr Tay Soo Nam (who’d be 91 years old today, if he’s still around) who sold his fried noodles from a push-cart along Kim Poh Road since back in 1953, before moving into the old Tiong Bahru Food Centre in 1968.

Singapore-style char kway teow tends to be greasier, darker and heavier in flavours than its Penang counterpart: see picture of the one from Penang’s Jin Café (Penang ones also would have prawns and chives, much loved by the Teochews)

I never miss a trip to Tiong Bahru Food Centre on every trip back to Singapore. Singapore’s hot and humid weather meant it’s more conducive to get there early in the morning, say, 7.30am.

The food centre is on the 2nd floor of the Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre building. Downstairs on the 1st floor is the wet market, and is my favourite place for grocery shopping. One of my fave stalls in the one which made Teochew-style fishballs on the spot. We were a bit late when we were here the last time, and the stall was already packing up (it was just 10.30am, but Singaporean do their marketing very early).
These steamed/pre-cooked crabs, rabbit fish and mackerel looked pretty tempting, and popular among the Teochews, who’d buy them home and re-heat. The fish would very likely be pan-fried.

Address
Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre
30 Seng Poh Road, Singapore 168898
Operating hours: 7am till 3pm (unless sold out earlier) daily

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From your descriptions and photos I definitely prefer the Teochews 'version of Char Kway Teow.

Is there any coconut cream in the Hue “banh beo”? The ones in south Vietnam do. As do over the border in Cambodia. IIRC, there’s also tiny dried shrimp flakes on top.

No coconut milk at all. We were shown how these cakes were made by Mrs Tu in our visit to the Tu family home in Hue, and the mixture for the bánh bèo consisted simply of 10 parts of rice flour to one part of tapioca flour, water, peanut oil and salt. The toppings were cooked shrimps with shallots, and chopped scallions in oil.

I just came across this wonderful recipe for bánh bèo by Australian-Vietnamese TV chef, Luke Nguyen:

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I confused myself. I mistook Banh Beo for Banh Khot. I really like Banh Khot. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.

This site has photos:

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Those certainly looked good! We did see them being sold in Hue, but never tried any. Now, I’m regretting missing out on them.

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Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre is always a very special place for me - its hawker stalls offer typical Singapore eats - those we grew up eating, and which reminded us of all those family eating excursions of decades gone by.

I was back there a week ago - my first time ever since the COVID pandemic lockdowns in Mar 2020. The food centre looked pretty much unchanged, with all the popular stalls doing brisk business.

  1. My fave item at Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre: chwee kway - Teochew steamed rice cakes topped with chopped preserved radish - from Jian Bo Shui Kueh.

Also bought some Teochew “p’ng kway” - pink-tinted rice cakes filled with glutinous rice, peanuts and dried shrimps from the stall. But they didn’t have the pan-fried version which I liked.

I can’t get “p’ng kway” in Penang, or anywhere in Malaysia, for that matter. In Singapore, it’s found in every other food centre, and is as common as sliced bread.

So, I usually buy boxes of “p’ng kway” to bring back to Penang where I live now - enough to last me for a few months, before my next trip back to Singapore.

“P’ng kway” keeps well when frozen. You thaw them in the fridge overnight, then pan-fry them for breakfast the next morning:

  1. The other must-have when I am at Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre are the steamed “baos” (Cantonese stuffed buns) from Tiong Bahru Pau. The best buys are their “char siew baos” - filled with Cantonese-style caramelised, BBQ pork.

Their “dai bao” (“Big Chicken Bun”) didn’t seem to taste anywhere as good as I remembered. Or, maybe, my tastebuds have been spoilt by the amazing ones I get in Penang, or Ioh and Kuala Lumpur.

  1. Other items ordered included pan-fried chai tow kway" (radish cake), which was pretty average-tasting.

  2. A “new-ish” stall which I’d not noticed before was the curry noodles one, offering the same type of dish one usually gets in Hong Lim Food Centre from Heng Kee or Ah Heng: yellow Hokkien wheat noodles, rice vermicelli, poached chicken, curried potatoes, sliced fish-cakes and tofu puffs, steeped in a spicy curry soup.
    The version here was pretty spicy, but lacked the aroma and flavours of the ones in Hong Lim.

  1. Another must-have when I’m back in Singapore is “tau suan”, the simple sweet dessert porridge made from mung beans. It’s served with pieces of crisp-fried “yu tiao” (Chinese crullers), which provided the taste and textural contrast to the sticky, unctuous porridge.
    Again, something one finds in virtually every food court in Singapore, but doesn’t exist anywhere in Malaysia.
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