We, Singaporeans, have a thing for condiment, just count the number of times you asked for chilli sauce, tomato sauce, vinegar or sambal when you eat out. It is a practice to which we have grown accustomed: go to any hawker stall and there will be a special condiment, often chilli sauce, to go with the dish. It is as if we cannot live without it. They add a little kick, tang or to balance flavours. Here is a guide we put together to show you why you should not skip the condiment.
The chicken rice chilli sauce is a blend of fresh chillies, ginger, garlic and vinegar or lime juice to give it its signature bright orange hue. The heat is sharp on tongue, like a pinprick, with a subtle hint of ginger and garlic. The acidity from the vinegar or lime juice refreshes the tastebuds, and helps to cut down the oiliness in the rice. The chilli adds flavour to the juicy but mild-tasting fowl.
Fresh-cut red chillies and light soy sauce is one of the most commonly seen condiment. It goes well with light and soupy dishes, such as fish soup. The soy sauce makes the fish slices more savoury and masks the "fishy" aroma that some may not like. Instead of biting on the fresh chillies, try adding a small amount of the fresh-cut chillies in the clear broth to spice it up.
Pickled green chillies with light soy sauce is usually served with wanton mee or hor fun(pork dumpling noodles). Pickling the chillies reduces the level of spiciness greatly, so this condiment helps to add a sour flavour to the dish more than to add heat. The acidity also helps to balance the starchiness of the dish, to counteract the alkali taste of the thin egg noodles.
When you get fresh-cut red chillies in dark soy sauce, it is more about the sauce than the chillies. The dark soy sauce has a hint of smokiness that goes well with the pork ribs in bak kut teh (pork ribs in spiced soup) and its consistency is thick enough to cling to the tender meat that has been cooked in the broth for hours. Some places offer chilli padi for a spicier mix, while other places use bullhorn chillies, which are bigger, has crunchier texture and less heat.
The Teochew chilli sauce has a bright orange hue similar to the chicken rice chilli sauce. However, it tastes mainly of garlic and ginger with mild heat. This is the sauce usually provided at Teochew porridge stalls, and it goes well with Teochew-style steamed fish with ginger and tau cheo (fermented soya bean). Some stalls also add tau cheo in the mix, or simply serve it on the side. Tau cheo is pungent and strong, as Teochew dishes are usually prepared in a mild way that retain their natural flavours.
The oyster omelette chilli sauce is probably the most acidic among this list, to cut through the oiliness of the dish. The red chillies are blended more finely and mixed with a generous amount of garlic and vinegar. The flavour reminds us of tabasco sauce, and the sour flavour goes well with the plump oysters.
The chilli sauce that goes with pig’s organ soup has a coarser texture, with a strong garlicky taste and a rather bitter aftertaste that recalls tannin in wine. It goes well with the broth that is sourish from the pickled vegetable. The chilli sauce is pungent enough to mask the smell of the offal that some may find offensive.
The chilli sauce for yong tau foo (a hawker dish where you pick your own food ingredients to be sreved with noodles) is traditionally made with dried chilli, garlic, sugar, taucheo (fermented soy bean) and accented with five-spice powder. It is mildly spicy, savoury and sweet when mixed with the sweet black bean sauce. It is somewhat close to the sweet sauce used in cuttlefish kangkong (water spinach), which goes well with the umami flavour of the fish paste stuffing in the food items.
It is pure chilli business when it comes to the chilli sauce for barbecue chicken wings. A blend of fresh chilli padi and lime juice, there is a clean and fresh taste. Its tanginess goes well with the juicy chicken, the consistency of the sauce is more diluted so as not to distract from the chewy yet perfectly crispy skin.
The chilli sauce for roasted meat usually comes with a layer of chilli oil because it has been stir-fried until aromatic. Dried chillies are used instead of fresh chillies to give this blend a darker colour. It is also more robust and has smokiness that goes well with the roasted meat. Sometimes, dried shrimp or belacan (spicy shrimp paste) is added as a stronger flavour to complement the meat.