Singaporeans would be familiar with the name Casper - not the little ghost in the cartoons, but the tze char hawker stall that started off in 1985 at the Golden Mile Tower, and which later moved to Whampoa. The old couple is still actively running their stall at Whampoa, but one of their sons is building up quite a reputation for himself at his own stall, Casper at Bendemeer Food Centre, specializing in a small selection of noodle dishes.
We tried a couple of hor fun (flat, wide rice noodle) options:
Sliced fish, fish maw and prawn hor fun (S$5). One quibble about the way hor fun dishes are prepared and served in Singapore. The correct way requires a two-stage process: first, the hor fun noodles should be wok-seared in lard and light- and/or dark-soysauce till slightly charred & fragrant or, as the Cantonese-Chinese like to call it: wok hei.
The chef should then plate the noodles, then proceed to the second stage of preparing the braising sauce and meats, sautéing garlic, shallots, fresh meats or seafood, adding the stock, adjust the flavours, then thickening the sauce with a corn-starch slurry. These are all done in a jiffy, as the hot gravy should then be poured over a still-warm plate of noodles, and served immediately.
Anyway, that is the correct way a Cantonese stir-fry with braising sauce is supposed to be prepared. And we usually get this done properly in Penang, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Hong Kong.
Now, in Singapore, where hawker food preparation has been “simplified” (dumbed down is the more correct term to describe it), the hor fun noodles are often cooked by bulk (maybe 30-40 serving portions at a time) first, then stored in a large container. When the hawker receives an order, he merely scoops some gluggy noodles from his stash onto a plate, cooks the braising sauce and pour the whole thing over the “cold” pre-cooked-since-an-hour-ago noodles. I really hated that. Hawkers in Singapore never do that back in the 70s or 80s. But this seemed de rigeur nowadays, and one of the many reasons why I rather grew to detest Singapore hawker food in general, as compared to the much better Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese ones.
Anyway, this was also the way the much-vaunted Casper prepared their hor fun dish, and I’m more than a tad disappointed.
Sliced beef hor fun (S$5) also underwent the same treatment. The beef slices were marinated before cooking, giving the meat a dark-hue. Quite flavoursome. The dish also had a generous sprinkling of crisp-golden lardons, which added richness to the overall dish. I liked this one more than the seafood rendition above. But the use of gluggy, pre-cooked hor fun again detracted this dish away from achieving its full potential.
BTW, whilst one is over there, don’t miss the very much under-rated Kovan Chwee Kueh, which I think could rival any of the other top chwee kueh spots in town, with its delicate-textured steamed rice pudding, and flavoursome sautéed chye por (sautéed pickled mustard vegetables) topping. Really enjoyed this tremendously.
Casper at #01-36
Kovan Chwee Kueh at #01-64
Bendemeer Market & Food Centre
29 Bendemeer Road, Singapore 330029
Opening hours: 7am to 9pm daily for the food centre
[Singapore is currently under COVID Lockdown till June 4. Stalls might do take-outs but NO dining-in at the moment]