Sausage, Salted Fish and Chicken Claypot Rice ($6/$11/$16.50/$22)
When we first stepped into this place, we noticed that Tong Chiang Claypot Restaurant made all the right moves to whip up a yummilicious claypot rice.
There was a minimum of 15 minutes wait — a sign that the claypot rice was cooked on the spot over charcoal fires. Secondly, it contained all the required ingredients for a good claypot rice — fragrant waxed sausage (both kinds as well), salted fish to tease the palate (could have used a bit more though), and well-marinated pieces of chicken.
The chicken was especially tasty. However the rice was a bit lacking in that charred flavour that I like. I had to really dig around and scrape the bottom of the claypot to get some mouthfuls of rice that had that nice smokey flavour.
In business for more than15 years, Tong Chiang Claypot Restaurant used to be at Race Course Road but took over this coffeeshop on Lavender Street in 2010.
On their menu, some dishes have an extra red dot next to them, this denotes a dish of Hakka origin. If you didn't know this you might think those dots indicated chef recommendations (which, on hindsight, they probably were).
Take for example the Hakka Yong Tau Fu, large pieces of soft tofu topped with a delicious pork and fish meat mixture and served in a claypot filled with tasty gravy.
However, the standout dish of the day would have to have been the 酒糟鸡 (Chicken with Rice Wine) — tender pieces of chicken covered in thick red gravy with a sweet-sour slightly-fermented flavour. This dish could be described in one word: "addictive."
|酒糟鸡 Chicken with Rice Wine ($8/$14)|
All of us gave our hearty approval while the boss proceeded to describe the laborious process that went into making the tasty gravy. While the distinct red colour of this dish comes from the addition of red yeast, the dish's unique texture and flavour was from the addition of a secret ingredient (we promised not to give this secret away). What we can reveal is the owners, a Hakka family, make their own traditional glutinous rice wine, which is legal if you make less than three litres and don't sell it.
This special glutinous rice wine is used in the cooking of many traditional Hakka dishes, but in the case of this particular dish, the dregs from fermenting the glutinous rice are grounded up and added to the red gravy to give it its distinctive thickness and slightly wine-y flavour. This is a dish that is probably impossible for most of us to attempt at home, so it is a must try!
Our meal wasn't all hits, with no misses. We ordered the 客家小炒 (Fried Hakka Vegetables) even though we'd never heard of it. It was a vegetable dish comprised stir-fried cuttlefish, snowpeas, celery, scallions and leek. The aroma of alliums combined with the snowpeas gave this dish a fresh grassy flavour. Unfortunately the cuttlefish seemed a little out of place, and didn't do anything for me. It was quite tasty but forgettable in comparison to the other dishes we tried.
So there you have it. A hunt for claypot rice turned into an unexpected lesson on Hakka cuisine and serendipitous discovery of a veritable treasure trove of authentic Hakka dishes.
We left lunch feeling both satisfied and slightly enlightened. I honestly can't wait to go back and try the other dishes with the red dots.
Rating – Food: 4; Service: 3; Value: 3
324 Lavender Street
Tel: 62964456 / 62964228 / 96423628
Opening hours: 10am to 9:30pm, closed alternate Monday
Also check out two other hawker food recommendations by Dr Leslie Tay!
Tong Chiang Claypot Restaurant also serves up traditional Hakka dishes.
Lau Hock Guan Kee Bak Kut Teh’s curry fish head is one of the best in Singapore.