Do we always need awards, accolades and media attention?
Sometimes, the best food in the world needn’t be sautéed, flamed, poached, fricasseed, braised, stewed, broiled or baked. Sometimes, the best food in the world needn’t be cooked in or drizzled with olive oil, or a zest of lemon, or a pinch of sunkissed precious Israeli sea salt. Sometimes, the best food in the world needn’t be at a Michelin starred restaurant, or in Spain by a lagoon facing the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean, or in an ultra untouched by time machiya in the middle of an ancient Japanese village. Sometimes, the best food in the world is keeping it back to basics – based on recipes as old an age a time, inspired by function, perfected by practice and passion, unchanged and until recently, loved by one and all it was insular to.
As you drive through the tree tunnels of the emerald and jade lined route Sembawang, Wong Chiew Dim Sum with its eye-catching bold, jungle red toned signboard, is just about the only cause for commotion along the quiet, rural provincial village of Springside. You see, “Wong Chiew Roasted Meat”, and you trust it. For some reason, your faith in Wong Chiew is greater than that of yours in God. You could go there for a meal next time and know that it’ll be a good one. But you never go. The eatery regresses into a mere landmark to signal to you that you’ve missed the turn for the zoo, or that you’re at the halfway mark between Upper Thomson and Yishun. Driven almost to desperation for a fresh spot for a bout of lunch, I decided that my “next time” would be right now.
When I arrived, I discovered that this chink of a “Wong Chiew” was definitely about the whole package. The eatery is almost a complete encyclopedia to old-school Cantonese Hong Kong cuisine: from sumptuous flame-roasted poultry and crackling pork bellies, the ancient Chinese vintage bucket kampung chicken, Cantonese stir-fry dishes and not to mention, the ubiquitous dim sum. Sure, Wong Chiew certainly seem to have adopted a Shunde sophistication but it doesn’t need to go that far. Because sometimes, the best food is all about keeping it simple.
My appetite these days has really gone down south after peaking in my early twenties. And I suppose it stems from a very human, albeit shallow fear of losing my looks. The fear has turned into an obsession for muscles and keeping fit. I want to look good, and even if it turns me into a dumb muscle jock, it’s something I can live with. Because unfortunately, how far you go in life these days is directly dependent on how good you look. So, with that in mind, I decided to go for a dim sum lunch.
From my opening paragraphs, you can probably gather that Wong Chiew, at least for its dim sum, is keeping it traditionally old-school.
Take the Shrimp Chee Cheong Fun for example. The cheong fun has probably gotta have the thickest consistency I’ve had so far, yet it works. The porous characteristic of this particular rice noodle roll really absorbs the fragrant essence of the soy sauce dressing and the fried shallots. The prawns, fresh, sizeable and generous give it just a touch of that matchless briny extract that only seafood can present. Similarly, the Prawn Dumplings were just as “flawed” compared to its downtown contemporaries, but tasted just as good.
To end off, I ordered some Custard Buns. Remember, Wong Chiew is doing Cantonese dim sum old-school, and serving up that 21st century invention would be going against what the restaurant stands for. Unlike liu sha baos whose primary ingredient is egg yolk, these nai huang baos (奶黄包) are made from custard powder, sugar, milk powder and coconut milk. The filling’s consistency is closer, rather I should say similar, to that of a paste like the classic red bean paste bun (豆沙包). It’s not uncommon: they are frequently stocked in halal dim sum stands at petrol stations and convenience stores.
I can thoroughly appreciate both the golden lava buns and custard buns, but I was disappointed by this one. Although the filling had a good flavor with a sweetness that hit the spot, the consistency was shockingly dry despite a very well steamed bun. Really, the ones you find at petrol stations are quite frankly, much better.
So, it’s a 2 out of 3. That’s not too bad of a score, and I wouldn’t hesitate coming back for more. Next time though, I’ll stave off the custard bun.