Hawker’s Delight –
I can distinctly remember the day that I first visited Hawkers Delight, because it also happened to be the day that Victoria Beckham’s brief visit to the city caused a virtual media frenzy. Several local online news sites were constantly updating the status of her impending arrival and it caused some low-level commotion in a little corner of the twittershpere. I actually was not clued in on her visit until my wife – who happened to be picking something up at Pacific Centre – sent me a picture she took of the crowd that congregated in anticipation of Mrs. David Beckham’s arrival.
I really could care less if she finally did make her first visit to the city because I was focused on my personal first visit. I was going to visit what many online reviewers claim to be the most authentic Singaporean/Malaysian/Indonesian restaurant in the city. I was full of anticipation and full of anxiety. On the one hand, I was excited to finally be able to get an authentic taste of a regional cuisine that I have been craving. On the other hand, I was anxious because I didn’t wanted to be disappointed again after being repeatedly disappointed by other local and supposedly authentic Singaporean/Malaysian/Indonesian restaurants (I’m looking at you, Tropika and Banana Leaf…).
Since I had done a lot of reading up on the restaurant before I visited it, its divey hole-in-the-wallness was totally within my expectations.
The people you see milling around in the picture were waiting to place their orders just like I was. Even though the door to the restaurant was opened when I got there at around 11:45 , they were not entertaining customer orders until they officially opened at 12:00 P.M. sharp.
While I was waiting, I had some time to study their short and focused menu.
I basically knew what I wanted to order, but I checked their menu again to see if there were more interesting items that I could order instead. I didn’t see any, so I stuck with my pre-planned order.
This being a Singaporean place, I of course had to order the Hainanese Chicken Rice. I also ordered an addtional portion of the chicken just in case my son monopolized all the meat.
The Hainanese chicken, and the chicken-oil rice that accompanied it, was an utter disappointment. The chicken was dry and tough; it tasted like it had been pre-refridgerated and reheated. The flavours of the chicken-oil rice were also very weak. It had none of the usual chicken-flavoured unctuousness that accompanied other versions of chicken-oil rice. It was bland. It was so bland and flavourless that I have no doubt that it would lose in a blind taste test against a bowl of adequately cooked, average-quality plain white rice.
The Indonesian Gado Gado was much better than the Hainanese chicken rice.
Most of my experiences with Gado Gado have come from from the Indonesian/Chinese nannies/housekeepers that I have hired when I was in the U.S. The main ingredients that I had in those home-cooked versions were basically similar to the version that I received from Hawker’s Delight. The ratio of the ingredients, however, were very different. The home cooked versions I’ve had in the past have always had more deep fried tofu and than any other ingredient, but the version that I got from Hawker’s Delight had relatively few pieces of tofu. What it had more of was pieces of potatoes, which I don’t think has ever been included in the versions I’ve had. There were also much fewer bean sprouts in the version at Hawker’s Delight, though they did include a larger variety of other vegetables. The sauce was the element of the dish that had a consistent flavour between all of the versions I’ve had. It was also the element that made the dish. It was slightly sweet, nutty, and made every component of the dish enjoyable.
I also ordered two noodle dishes. The first was the Mee Siam.
I liked the flavours that I got from the Mee Siam. It came with a rich sauce that was predominantly sour. The sourness/zestiness went very well with the the tender rice noodles and the bits of various ingredients suspended throughout the sauce. Every bite of the sauce revealed a different textural profile that came from the particular ingredients that I happened to scoop up with the bite. This dish was a winner when in comes to both textures and flavours.
The second noodle dish that I ordered was the Mee Goreng.
The noodles were nicely dry-fried and they had a firm yet chewy texture. The noodles were also adequately seasoned and spicy enough for my wife to call it a ‘real’ spicy dish. It wasn’t so spicy that I needed to have a mouthful of water with every bite, but it was spicy enough for the heat to linger in my mouth for a good minute after every bite. The other thing that I liked about the dish was the bean sprouts. They were not overcooked and they still retained a crunchiness that contrasted very well with the firm and chewy noodles. This was an enjoyable dish overall, but I liked the Mee Siam better.
The food that I got from Hawker’s Delight was generally pretty tasty. I would stay away from the Hainanese Chicken on my next visit, but I would not hesitate in re-ordering the other three dishes. From my limited experience eating Singaporean/Malaysian/Indonesian food outside of Southeast Asia, I thought that the food was pretty authentic. While I was eating the food, I definitely felt that I was temporarily transported to Southeast Asia…but then I was jolted back to reality with the news of Victoria Beckham’s arrival…I never really liked the spice girls…