Well, I am back in sunny, hot and sizzling Singapore at last. Having endured two weeks in the UK, where the gastronomic highlights of my frenetic days were bacon, sausages and eggs, I now badly need some proper nutrition to restore me to my former glow and glory!
This afternoon, my ever gallant and intrepid foodie brother-in-law took us all to this place in the heartlands of Singapore, where they serve a wonderful array of herbal soups, and I solemnly swear that this was better than anything grandmother ever brewed! We ordered four different concoctions: ginseng and tang gui (angelica sinensis) Chicken brew; lotus root, lean pork and peanut soup; watercress and pork rib soup; and a preserved Chinese date and tripe soup.
Every one had a distinct character of its own, and they were all fabulously delicious. But my favourite was the Chicken, ginseng and tang gui herbal brew, served with a succulent chicken drumstick. Ginseng and tang gui both have strong, unique flavours, and if the combination is exactly right, the contrast and juxtaposition can be rather jarring and overpowering. Here, the blend was a perfectly balanced synthesis of golden tart ginseng, wrapped in a sonorous elegant veil of tang gui, accompanied by top notes of fresh chicken – tasty, full-bodied and assertive, without being too voluptuous.
The runner-up of the day was the lotus root and lean pork soup: thinly sliced lotus root and peanuts lent a ‘politely sweet’ tone to the savoury lean pork. I dipped the lotus root slices in the sweetish dark soy sauce, which enhanced the crunchy, slightly glutinous texture of the lotus root. I was told this dipping sauce is specially made from a secret recipe and not from out of a bottle. Delicious! I ended up using the dip for the pork ribs from the watercress soup too.
I love watercress, it is my favourite vegetable, and when combined with pork ribs in soup, there is a warm, comforting and reassuring buzz to the dish, a ‘down home’ kind of soup that is guaranteed to wash away the blues! The tripe soup was flavorful, again without being stifling, even for one with hypersensitive taste buds. I am not a fan of offal and tripe, but this soup was surprisingly pleasant, not cloying the way most tripe dishes can often be. The after taste was pleasantly savoury, while the Chinese dates added dulcet tones and the Chinese parsley punctuated the composition well, artfully lifting any leftover trace of heaviness from the tripe. Of course, one must not forget the Chinese staple – rice. I didn’t have much rice, because there was plenty of goodness in the soups, but this rice is special and can be eaten on its own too: fluffy rice gems steamed with yam, dried shrimp and other ingredients which the chefs were reluctant to reveal. In true Chinese culinary tradition, the best recipes were always closely guarded secrets, handed down orally from master to disciple or mother to daughter, never divulged to ‘outsiders’ – well, I am happy to just imbibe and enjoy the gustatory and olfactory delights, anyway!
The chefs, Jimmy and Henry, were very friendly, and very patiently explained to us the different characteristics and efficacies of the magical potions on the substantial menu. They even helped us rearrange our chairs and found us a cool spot in the sweltering mid-day heat. What can be more satisfying to any bon vivant of gastronomy than dedicated chefs, elegant artistry, and amazing service? The great surprise was that this was no fancy restaurant with inflated prices and overly ostentatious decor, but a simple, welcoming al fresco cafe/stall in the heartlands of Singapore (and very reasonable pricing too)!
It was altogether a most satisfying foodie adventure, and the sensory delight was well worth braving the tropical hot, humid weather for, even by my hypersensory standards! If you are ever in sunny Singapore, you absolutely must head down to this little al fresco stall for a taste of unexpected artistry in the heartlands!
The Soup Specialists (湯之家), Hougang Street 21, Kovan City, Block 210, Singapore.