In recent years, there have been an increasing number of Chinese dining establishments that have applied for halal certification to cater to Muslim diners. This is a positive trend for our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society – it means Muslim diners can get to enjoy a wider variety of authentic Chinese dishes, usually known to contain pork, alcohol and non-halal seasonings. This also means more dining options for both Muslim and non-Muslim friends when eating out together. Here are 10 great-tasting halal Chinese hawker dishes and snacks:
BAN MIAN | Ban mian is our local version of Chinese handmade noodles. Typically, it is served in a pork and dried anchovy broth, topped with minced pork, deep-fried anchovies, egg, and vegetables. This halalban mian ($3.50) stall's offering at Fork & Spoon foodcourt tastes better than some non-halal stalls we’ve tried: the soup is rich and robust, and the noodles are nicely smooth and al dente. The pork is substituted with chicken; the minced chicken is smooth, bouncy, and nicely seasoned. If you prefer, a tom yum broth version of the noodles is available here, as is one with sliced fish.
CHICKEN KONG BAK PAU | Kong bak pau (stewed pork belly in a steamed white bun) is a traditional Hokkien dish that used to be served at festive occasions or celebrations. Fortune Foods – which runs a chain of popiah stalls as well as an online popiah party delivery service – has come up with a halal version of kong bak pau ($2.20 each), substituting the fatty pork belly with boneless chicken leg. The meat in this ayam koro pau is stewed in soy sauce and five-spice, the meat is well-infused with flavours of the braising sauce. It may be a little on the salty side, but the slice of cucumber and butterhead lettuce leaf offset the saltiness. The steamed bun is pleasantly fluffy and moist. The experience is quite distinct from the pork version, but it’s a good chance for Muslim diners to experience a taste of this popular Chinese snack. Do note, however, that the stall is not halal-certified, though all food and ingredients are supplied from its halal central kitchen. Available only at Food Republic at 112 Katong and as a party set (delivery service).
DIM SUM | Known as the place to go for halal Chinese dim sum and tze char (stir-fried food), Tang Tea House Hong Kong Cafe is a household name among Muslim diners. Located opposite Simpang Bedok, it occupies two shophouse units and has both indoor and outdoor seating. The Hong Kong-style dim sum (nearly 30 items on the menu) is freshly made on the spot by Chinese chefs. The signature chicken xiao long bao (four for $4) has skin that is quite resilient, but is sufficiently thin. It has rich stock that bursts out of the dumpling at a bite, and has tasty, succulent meat filling. One of our tasters did not realise that it was a non-pork xiao long bao, neither did he suspect the juicy siew mai (three for $3.50) was made of chicken. We liked the fluffy and flavoursome mini chicken char siew bao (three for $2.80) and fried radish cake (two for $2.40) that is packed with dried shrimp, mushroom, and carrot, but it is a bit on the oily side. The har gow (three for $3.80) has fresh juicy shrimp, but the skin was too mushy.
FRIED HOKKIEN PRAWN NOODLES AND PRAWN NOODLE SOUP | Across the street from Selera Restaurant (next to Rex Theatre on Selegie Road) is New Hawa Restaurant, a weather-beaten coffeeshop that serves a wonderful variety of halal Chinese food – from chicken rice to charcoal steamboat. The halal versions of fried Hokkien prawn noodle and prawn noodle soup are very good: while most non-halal versions use pork to make the all-important stock for these two dishes, these guys create umami-filled versions that did not veer too far off the authentic version. The fried Hokkien prawn noodle was a little too moist – the noodles could have been stewed a little longer to absorb the stock. The prawn noodle soup boasts a delightfully sweet stock though.
HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE | TFF Boneless Chicken Rice is the halal arm of Tong Fong Fatt Chicken Rice, a popular chain chicken rice stall that can be found in several hawker centres. The halal version of the chicken rice (from $2.50) tastes very similar to its non-halal version. At this outlet however, there is the extra option of roast chicken. We like that both the steamed and roast chicken are juicy and tender, served with subtly fragrant rice infused with ginger and chicken stock. The all-essential chilli sauce is suitably punchy and zingy, completing the entire chicken rice meal experience.
IPOH HOR FUN | A coffee chain cafe from Malaysia, Old Town White Coffee serves the authentic version of Ipoh hor fun ($8.90++) that comes as a noodle soup dish. Silky with slight springiness, the smooth strands of flat rice noodles are very comforting. Served in a chicken- and prawn-based broth, the noodles are topped with chicken meat, prawns, and Chinese chives. The soup is pleasant enough, but could do with more depth and is a bit on the sweet side. Thankfully, the accompanying soy sauce and fresh chilli padi dip help to liven up the dish.
NYONYA BAK CHANG | Best known as a little haven for a mouthwatering array of Nonya kuehs, popiah, and nasi padang, Glory Catering’s flagship shop is also the place to go if you’re looking for halal Nonya bak chang. At $2.80 each, these glutinous rice dumplings taste just like their pork-filled counterparts. The sweet-savoury chicken meat filling – finely chopped and seasoned with coriander seed and candied winter melon – tastes almost identical to the pork version, albeit a smidge drier, if you have to nitpick. The best part of this offering is you don’t have to wait for the annual Dragon Boat Festival when they are typically eaten. They are available all year round.
OYSTER OMELETTE, CHAR KWAY TEOW AND FRIED CARROT CAKE | The operators of Green Sky Fried Kway Teow have been frying up its trinity of oyster omelette (from $5), char kway teow (from $3), and fried carrot cake (from $3) for eight years at Bedok Food Centre. Previously, a sub-leased no-name stall, it moved to another unit and re-branded itself as "Green Sky" early in 2013. The oyster omelette has a starch batter that is expertly spread into a thin layer, and crisp-fried till wafer-thin and is super crunchy. Interspersed among the layers of batter are fat nuggets of fresh oysters. Traditionally, char kway teow is cooked with pork lard for that slick mouthfeel. Despite the absence of pork lard (vegetable oil is used instead), the fried kway teow here tastes just as good: the noodles are slippery, flavourful, and have a hint of the breath of the wok. We also enjoyed both "black" and "white" versions of the fried carrot cake. The radish cake chunks are smooth and melt in the mouth; the delicious black-sauce version is sticky and moist with a delicious, while the "white" omelette version is evenly coated with egg and pan-fried till fragrant, and isn’t overly greasy. We feel these are even better than some non-halal versions we’ve tried.
YONG TAU FOO | The main draw at Dajie Niang Dou Fu is the wide variety of freshly made yong tau foo items as well as different styles of serving them. Made on the spot, the items (from $0.50 per piece; minimum order $3) are freshly stuffed with fish paste and come both steamed and fried. Apart from the typical variety, there are more unique items such as those in crab shells. Choose to have your items cooked in different ways: there is the usual soy bean and ikan bilis stock (which we liked because the clear soup was light). You can also pick the black bean sauce, tom yum or laksa broth. The most popular choice is the Ampang style, with a sweet-savoury gravy drizzled over the yong tau foo pieces.
ROAST DUCK RICE | Duck is hardly used in local Malay-Muslim and Indian-Muslim cooking. There is only one halal duck supplier in Singapore. However, with exposure, there appears to be an increasing demand for duck dishes among Muslim diners, especially Chinese roast duck. After having tried a few halal roast duck stalls, Selera Restaurant’s version is our favourite choice for authentic and delicious Chinese roast duck with rice (from $5). The meat is tender, moist, and has a subtle aroma of five spices. The duck skin is sinfully crisp and juicy.