Overall rating: 4/5
If you go to Hainan Dao (Hainan Island in China), you will not be able to find Hainanese curry rice because the dish actually originated in Singapore. During the British Colonial days in Singapore, many Hainanese were employed by the British as well as wealthy Peranakans as chefs in their homes. The Hainanese apparently got the pork chop idea from the British and the rest from the Peranakans. Curry chicken, babi ponteh and chap chye were some of the Nonya dishes which were adapted to produce Hainanese curry rice.
Over in Tiong Bahru is a stall selling authentic Hainanese curry rice dating back to 1946. Mr Loo, the stall owner insists on doing things the traditional way. The pork chops were coated with cream crackers instead of bread crumbs before frying. This is how my Hainanese mother in law does it and if you can find a stall that still does it this way, then you know you have stumbled upon a heritage Hainanese hawker who is really serious about his craft.
In order to enjoy the pork chops, you should get there early when the pork chops are fresh out of the fryer. Unfortunately for us, we got there just before they closed so the pork chops were not that crispy. I notice though that each pork chop was made from a good slice of pork loin (imagine Japanese Tonkatsu).
The killer dish for me that day was the curry prawns. It was fragrant and had a natural sweetness that got me lapping it up within minutes. The gravy was amazingly good and the fresh sea prawns big and succulent. I was told that their curry took three days to prepare, from the preparation of the ingredients to the grinding and frying of the rempah and finally cooking the curry. The rempah forms the curry base for their curry dishes.
Unlike the Nonya version, the Hainanese chap chye sold at these hawker stalls is very simple. It is essentially cabbage that has been cooked till they are slimy and soft. The chap chye here was ok but nothing exceptional on its own. However, it played a large supporting role in the whole Hainanese curry rice experience.
The kong bak was very different from the usual Nonya ones. In fact, it looked and tasted more like the Teochew version. Again, eaten on its own, it was nothing to rave about. It is like listening to only the cello in a three-string orchestra. But when enjoyed together with its accompaniments, it resonates synergistically with the curry and chap chye to become a melodious Hainanese symphony.
I will definitely go back again and again to eat the curry rice.
Rating: Food: 4; Value: 3; Service: 3
Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice
Blk 57 Eng Hoon Street #01-88
Opening hours: 7:45am-2:30pm; closed alternate Tues.
Also check out two other hawker food recommendations by Dr Leslie Tay!