Song Fa Bak Kut Teh @ Seletar Mall, the same old good taste with a different look

Song Fa Bak Kut Teh @ Seletar Mall

Address: 33 Sengkang West Avenue  #01-39/40/41 The Seletar Mall

Opening Hours: Daily 10.30am to 9.30pm

They have other outlets at Chinatown Point , 11 New Bridge Road and UE BizHub East.

Introduction 

Song Ba Bak Kut Teh, has been selling Bak Kut Teh in Singapore since 1969 and is well known for selling one of the best Bak Kut Teh in Singapore. Apart from Song Fa, the usual names that pop up for peppery-style Bak Kut Teh will be Founder and Ya Hua. By writing this review, i think I’m kinda putting on head on the chopping board. Although there are many good reviews about Song Fa, there are also reviews saying this Bak Kut Teh is overrated, too commercialised, too touristy etc.

Song Fa Bak Kut Teh Menu: Click to enlarge

I had been supporting their Clarke Quay branch for the past years and decided to write about them after visiting their newly opened Seletar Mall branch. Even though it’s an air-conditioned environment, the price stated on their menu is net price with no additional service charge and government tax. Some of you might disagree, but personally i feel that Song Fa Bak Kut Teh is moving towards the right direction on the journey to retain our Singapore food culture and it’s worth my time writing, which i will state the reasons in my conclusion.

Pork Spare Rib / Premium Loin Rib ($7.00 / $9.50)

The pork rib comes into two variations, the ordinary spare rib and the premium loin rib. The soup is exactly the same, just that the loin rib cut is leaner and meatier and for that, you need to fork out an additional $2.50. For me, I tend to enjoy the soup more than the meat itself so the spare rib version is good enough for me. I only ordered the loin rib this time because it looks good on photo.

Song Fa Bak Kut Teh has a moderate pepper taste, not overly strong, but just the right amount for me. Like other good bowl of Bak Kut Teh, Song Fa’s broth has three layers of flavour (which some only has two or even only one). At first sip, you will taste the spicy peppery garlicky punch of the soup, followed a surge of smooth, rich and savoury flavours of the pork broth as it fills your palate and finally a sweet aromatic lingering aftertaste after the soup went down your throat that makes you go “ahhh”. This has always been my standard of judging a good bowl of Bak Kut Teh and Song Fa has been keeping up with this standard so far.

For those that are not familiar with such Bak Kut Teh eatery, their soup is refillable and feel free to drink to your heart’s content. I kinda like Song Fa’s service because there are always a few staff walking around in soup-filled kettle and an empty bowl is always quickly refilled with hot and piping soup.

Braised Bean Curd Skin ($3.50)

Apart from the Bak Kut Teh, i will always order their Braised Bean Curd Skin. Song Fa’s bean curd skin is the thinner variation that is soft and yet retains a chewy texture. Some bean curd skin tends to have an overpowering bean taste but Song Fa one is just right, with the right amount of braising flavour.

Dough Fritters (You Tiao) $3.20

Needless to say, the Dough Fritters, or You Tiao is also the must-order. The traditional way to enjoy the You Tiao is to soak them in the pork broth and pop them into your mouth. A rather generous portion (large size) cost $3.20, which is very reasonable for Bak Kut Teh standard which can be comfortably shared by two people. I never leave Song Fa Bak Kut Teh without ordering this bowl of You Tiao.

Braised Pork Belly ($7.00)

After patronising Song Fa for so many years, they finally came out with a new dish – Braised Pork Belly and it cost $7.00. This dish is pretty decent and my serving of pork belly is a rather lean cut but i was actually hoping for a more fatty slab. The braising was skillfully done. The leaner part of pork belly is very tender and the fatty part is melty soft. The braising sauce is very rich and thick which goes perfectly with a bowl of white rice.

Conclusion

Among the Bak Kut Teh big names, Song Fa is currently the first one that spent much effort on the interior design of their new branches, adopts new technology like taking order with an i-pad, ensuring their customers dine in a comfortable air-conditioned environment and yet retaining the same good taste. Not only diners want to dine in an air-con environment, it also provides the staff to work in a more comfortable environment. In fact, i can’t imagine having a bowl of piping hot peppery Bak Kut Teh in a hot and humid afternoon.

Some may say “Wah lau, one Bak Kut Teh cost $9.50? Crazy ar?”. But just imagine nowadays people are willing to pay $7.00 for a cup of coffee because “the place is nice”. It’s time we raise the status of our hawker food and to bring it up to the next level. Think of it that way. If we Singaporeans keep insisting in paying cheap price for hawker food, how will it attract sons and grandsons to inherit the skill and business of our beloved hawker stalls. Passion is one thing, but on the pratical side, the hawker business must also be profitable.

The ugly truth is, to our younger generation, being a boss of a cafe is cool but frying Char Kway Teow in a hawker stall is not as glamorous, and is tough as hell and not as profitable due to the low selling price. For me, I think it’s time to show some love to those so-call “commercialised” hawker food as i boldly say that it’s one way that our hawker food can go, by breaking away from the standard model of hawker food. As for us, paying a little more than coffee shop price is one pactical way to support our local hawker food.

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Canteen 398 at Seletar, the disappearing piece of history of Singapore

Canteen 398 at Seletar, the disappearing piece of history of Singapore

Address: 398 Piccadilly

Opening hour: Mon to Fri 6.00am to 4.00pm, Sat 6.00am to 12.00pm, Closed on Sun

Food stall only opens till lunch time

Introduction

An army friend brought me to this canteen in Seletar Camp during my reservist period. It does not has a proper name and signboard, and people known this place as Canteen 398. I was very captivated by it’s ambience and atmosphere so I decided to write about it.

Went back to Canteen 398 in the morning to capture it’s morning glory

At a glance, you won’t be able to guess that it’s actually a functioning canteen

This canteen consist of three stalls – the drink stall, and a stall selling mixed vegetable rice and the third selling Malay food. I was there nearing to their closing time at about 4pm and only the drink stall is open so i didn’t have a chance to try out the food.

History of Canteen 398

Canteen 398 is a piece of vanishing history of Singapore. This place is situated in the vicinity of an army camp, Seletar Camp, but is open to public and is accessible by car without subjecting to any security check.

The history of this building goes all the way back to our post world war two era when Singapore is still under the colonisation of Britain. This building was used by the British army as their Corporal Mess. This building was subsequently converted to a Canteen in Year 1969 and the structure and interior of the canteen has been retained till now.

The Canteen

The interior design of Canteen 398 brings you back in time to a typical coffee shop in the early 1990s when solid wooden top table and red stackable chairs are still widely used. The old school mosaic tiles flooring and the unpolished wall and ceiling look are widely mimicked by our cafes nowadays. While exposed cable trunking and dangling cable is a big taboo for interior design nowadays, Canteen 398 serves us a reminder that such minor details do not matter back in those simpler days.

Even at a warm afternoon at 4pm, i felt a sense of serenity while I was seeping my Teh-C at the outdoor stone table. Sitting at the “al-fresco” area under a hundred years old tree, and away from the city and crowd gives an entire different meaning to the term “chilling”. I don’t think such a place like Canteen 398 can be found at anywhere else in Singapore.

Conclusion

The progress of Singapore is scarily fast and there is almost nothing to identify our childhood with. Yes, we do preserve the old, but only if it makes any commercial sense. Like our Kampong Buangkok, the last kampong in Singapore, eventually still has to make way for future development.

Coming here to Canteen 398 gives me a sense of closeness to this place although it’s only my first visit. It offers a glimpse of Singapore’s humble past when things are not as perfect and not as comfortable as today. However during then, everyone learnt to enjoy life’s simple pleasure.

If you are there, do have a chat with the drink stall owner Mr Toh. He’s really a friendly chap and i love his enthusiasm in introducing the Canteen’s history to us.

Given the current cafe hopping culture in a clean, air-conditioned environment, i like to highlight that Canteen 398 is definitely not the place for everyone. There is no fancy food menu to rave about and also no squeaky clean environment to talk about. However the experience at Canteen 398 is one of a kind in Singapore. You either hate it or you love it, and it’s definitely the later for me.

PS: I hope I don’t sound like an old man. I have readers who thought that I am in my late 40s. *faint* 

Direction 1 (by public transport)

Take bus 103 at Serangoon interchange and alight at After Baker Street, Seletar Aerospace Drive, 22 stops later.

Direction 2 (by public transport)

Take a train to Sengkang MRT and transfer to LRT and alight at Thanggam LRT. Take a short 5 minutes walk to Jalan Kayu shop house and board bus 103.  Alight at After Baker Street, Seletar Aerospace Drive, 4 stops later.

Tim Ho Wan at Hong Kong Fortress Hill

Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong (添好運 / 添好运)- The One Michelin Star Dim Sum

English Address (Google Map): 2-8 Wharf Road, Seaview Building, North Point

Chinese Address: 北角和富道2-8號嘉洋大廈地下B,C及D鋪

Opening hours: 10am to 9.30pm

Scroll to the end for address and opening hours of other Tim Ho Wan Branches

Click here to view my full Hong Kong Food Itinerary and the 8 must-know about Hong Kong Cafe Culture

Introduction

Firstly, i will bore you with a little bit of history of Tim Ho Wan (添好運/添好运). The main chef Mak Kwai Pui (麥桂培) of Tim Ho Wan was originally from a well established restaurant  under the Four Season group – Lung King Heen (龍景軒). He later opened Tim Ho Wan in year 2009 that offers 5 stars hotel Dim Sum at street price.

In less than a year, Tim Ho Wan was awarded one star by Michelin. By then, it already has a reputation for selling the best dim sum in Hong Kong. As we know, it had created a storm when they opened their first branch in Singapore.

I used to visit their branch situated between Prince Edward and Sham Shui Po station and that is the branch that was awarded the Michelin star. I remember it was not exactly a great experience. The place is really really cramped and the waiting time is crazy, and service is below average. My conclusion then is they are great for the Polo Char Siew Bao.

When i visited Hong Kong this time, I didn’t have the intention to visit Tim Ho Wan but i got some free time on hand and the location is rather near my hotel so i thought , “Ok I’ll give it another shot”. I visited their Fortress Hill branch for supper at around 8.45pm.

This branch is at least 4 times bigger than the one that I visited and it’s much more spacious and well decorated. It was almost full house but i still manage to get a table instantly. I only ordered a few items, and surprisingly, all of them hit the right spots.

Tim Ho Wan's Menu: Click to enlarge

Tim Ho Wan’s Menu: Click to enlarge

Char Siew Polo Bun (酥皮叉烧包)

The Polo Char Siew Bao is fluffy soft and topped with a thin layer of not-overly-sweet sugar crust. The Char Siew is covered in a warm thick and rich gravy. The bun’s crispy texture complement the Char Siew perfectly.

This is the exact item that was awarded with one Michelin Star and just one serving is always not enough. This is still the best item at Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong. However, i do hope that they can be more generous with the Char Siew fillings though. This dish cost HK$18 (S$2.90) while it cost S$5.25 in Singapore.

Beef Ball with Bean Stick (陈皮牛肉球)

This dish is pretty good as well for it’s soft steamed and well marinated minced beef. There is a well balance of fatty and lean beef in this combination and the steamy hot beef ball taste really fresh.

There are also Bean Sticks (Tau Kee) placed beneath the meat ball and they absorb the natural sweet meat sauce during the process of steaming. This meat ball is my second favourite dish of the day. This cost HK$16 (S$2.60) while it cost S$4.90 in Singapore.

Steamed Malay Sponge Cake (香滑马拉糕) 

This is one of the four heavenly kings of Tim Ho Wan and it’s well known for it’s soft fluffy texture. I had this in Singapore’s Tim Ho Wan and i actually like it, but it comes at a costly price tag of $4.45 nett.

For the same item, it only cost HK$15 (S$2.40) and therefore makes this dish much more enjoyable than having it in Singapore. The steamed cake is served piping hot and i enjoy the fluffy spongy texture with a eggy light brown sugar taste.

Beancurd Skin Roll with Meat and Prawn (美味鲜竹卷)

The ingredient of the Beancurd Skin Roll taste very fresh and flavourful and the shredded vegetable wrapped in the chewy Beancurd Skin actually enhances the overall texture.

The gravy that comes with it has just the right level of saltiness and does not overpower the main lead. It cost HK$20 (S$3.20) while it cost S$4.65 back in Singapore.

Conclusion

Actually I myself was quite surprise that the experience of visiting Tim Ho Wan’s Fortress Hill brand is vastly different from the previous visit (5 years ago) of the Sham Shui Po Branch. Comparing Hong Kong’s price to Singapore, their signature Polo Char Siew bun is mark up by a whopping 80%. I always have this philosophy that the taste of food is somehow link to the price and waiting time. For this visit, there is zero waiting time and realising Tim Ho Wan’s affordable price, everything appears to be better.

Their century egg congee is not the most flavourful. Those who enjoy something light may enjoy this porridge much.

For those who are already a fan of Tim Ho Wan, then this is a must-visit for you. And for those who think that Singapore Tim Ho Wan’s price is too exorbitant, this will be your chance to enjoy a better quality Tim Ho Wan at a much cheaper price.

Click here to view my full Hong Kong Food Itinerary and the 8 must-know about Hong Kong Cafe Culture

Map and Directions

Actually Tim Ho Wan is between the Fortress Hill and North Point Station but it’s more straight forward to walk from Fortress Hill.  It’s about a 7 to 10 minutes walk.

1. Come out from Exit B of Fortress Hill Station

2. Walk straight and turn left at a junction to Power Street

3. Continue walking straight until a T Junction and turn right on City Garden Road

4. Continue walking straight. City Garden Hotel will be on your left.

5. After passing City Garden Hotel, walk a little bit more and Tim Ho Wan will be on your right.

Scroll to bottom to see address and opening hours of other Tim Ho Wan branches

Other Tim Ho Wan Branches

Olympian City Branch

Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui [大角咀海庭道18號奧海城二期G樓72號舖]

Opening hour: 10am to 9.30pm

Sham Shui Po Branch

11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po [深水埗福榮街9-11號地下]

Opening hour: 8am to 9.30pm

Central Branch

Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall) , Central [中環香港站12A鋪(IFC地庫一層]

Opening hour: 9am to 9pm

Tseung Kwan O Branch

Shop 49, G/F., POPCORN 2, 9 Tong Chun Street, Tseung Kwan O [將軍澳唐俊街9樓POPCORN 2期地下49號] O

pening hour: 10am to 9.30pm

Poh Kee Satay and Penang Kia at Sengkang

Poh Kee Satay and Penang Kia, Good Food at Sengkang Coffee Shop

Address: 205D Compassvale Lane

Poh Kee Opening hours (for satay): Daily 5.00pm to 12.30am, Closed on alternate Thu

Penang Kia Opening hours: Tue to Sun 10am – 8pm (or till sold out), Closed on Mon

Introduction

Both stalls are situated in a Coffee Shop at 205D Compassvale Lane. It’s not easy to find good food at Sengkang but you can find two pretty decent one in the same coffee below a multi-storey carpark.

Poh Kee Chinese-Style Satay

Poh Kee is a very well known Satay stall at the North-East region. It was previously at a coffee shop that is near Nakhon Kitchen and it moved to Sengkang a couple of months ago. During dinner time, a 30 minutes wait for Poh Kee’s satay is a norm, even at such ulu neighbourhood coffee shop. This stall is manage by a Chinese lady, easily identified by her super curly hairstyle. Poh Kee is a Chinese-Style Satay stall that offers Pork, Chicken and Mutton satay. There are two things I really like about this satay – their peanut dipping sauce and pork satay.

The juicy pork belly satay

Poh Kee added grinded pineapple into their dipping sauce that adds on a little tinge of sour and pineapple fragrance to it. The peanut sauce is really smooth, not overly thick or cloying. It doesn’t taste greasy and not overly sweet.

The highlight of the meal is the pork satay. Poh Kee uses Pork Belly cut for their Chinese-Style Satay.  Apart from the well-marinated meat and the skillfully grilled texture, the best part is fatty part of the pork belly.

$7.20 for 6 chicken and 6 pork. Not exactly cheap.

Due to the grilling over Charcoal Fire, the fiber in the fat breaks down resulting in an almost-melt-in-your-mouth texture. Each mouth is filled with the grilled pork fragrance.  Definitely my favourite choice among the three. I consider the Chicken satay as more ordinary comparing to the pork satay. At $0.60 a stick, it is not exactly economical (they are selling $0.50 a stick before they move), but I do visit Poh Kee for their pork satay for occasional sinful indulgence.

Poh Kee Peanut Dip with shredded pineapple

Penang Kia (Penang 仔)

Malaysian-style dishes are becoming more popular in Singapore as they are slowly introduced into our Singapore food community and Penang Kia is one such stall that offers authentic Penang-style dish. Penang Kia serves a kind of prawn noodle that is similar to one of Penang’s most popular dishes,  Penang Hokkien Hay Mee, as their signature dish.  Don’t mix this up with Hokkien Char Hay Mee (Stir Fry Prawn Noodle). The prawn broth plays a critical role for the Penang Style Hokkien Hay Mee.

Penang Kia had changed their menu a couple of times and the most recent addition is the big prawn noodle at $5.50. Their signature dish still remains as the prawn noodle soup at the cheaper $3.50. I actually had this a couple of times and the standard fluctuates. They used to use shrimp instead of prawn and at one point of time the shrimp is kept for an extended period of time until the texture turned powdery. Recently,  they got back the standard and had a constant crowd during meal time.

Penang Kia’s prawn noodle is served with crunchy bean sprouts, peeled prawns with meat laid on top and complete with fried shallot, chilli and chilli oil. The soup is robust and full bodied without an overly strong prawn taste. The sweet tasting broth is definitely the highlight of the dish. If you can take spicy stuff, then go for their chilli version that adds on a shiok factor to the soup.

I think so far the best combi to go with their soup is Kway Teow Noodle with the smooth Kway Teow absorbing the broth with the noodle adding a chewy texture.

Conclusion

Sengkang is still considered a relatively new neighbourhood with little exciting choice for good food. With more youngsters and food lovers moving into Sengkang/Punggol area, i hope business owner can see the potential in it and start moving their business into this new district. Poh Kee Satay and Penang Kia is a good addition for Sengkang food lovers and i hope it’s only the beginning of the revolution.