What are the odds? First venture into the northeast – that wild, desolate land of half a million people – in 2017, and after wandering about in HDB estates as I remembered from my childhood, I strike gold. Gloopy, ivory-coloured gold.
(Actually, the odds were well in my favour. It’s called internet research and it often works.)
Sin Heng Kee reminds me of another northeastern spot I enjoy, namely Lau Wang Claypot Delights. The two share similar origin stories – claypotting and porridging their way from a single stall to taking over a whole coffeeshop niche. Their menus even overlap slightly, with Sin Heng Kee having a few claypot items. So clearly the moral is – to be successful in Singapore’s food scene, sell stuff in claypots. Or be a hipster cafe. Better still, a hipster claypot-serving cafe. Is that not yet a thing? Get on it, people.
I jest, of course. The morals of the story, if Sin Heng Kee is to be believed, are: be clean and meticulous in layout, be quick about your food, and be ready to upsell. I was just asking the auntie at the counter if they sell century egg, and she interprets that as an order. That’s another $3 in sales, guys. It all adds up.
I’m happy for that little sleight of hand, though. The century egg wedges, snowflakes gleaming in their ‘whites’, sit in a black puddle – soy, sugar, sesame oil perhaps, to accentuate the creaminess and slightly woody, ashy flavour of the yolks. Slightly gummy whites, meanwhile, pair nicely with the crisp pickled ginger slices.
And as for the congee? The porridge base feels like curling up with a duvet on a cold night – barely maintaining the texture and flavour of rice in its smoothness. This cries out for its longtime companion youtiao, for each to contribute flavour and bite. I get century egg and meatballs, because I like century egg that much; the loosely packed meatballs are full of flavour released at leisure, from a marinade of (I’m guessing) sesame oil and liquor.
Meanwhile, where are these people coming from? I’m seated here during work hours and there is always a vague queue before the counter. Out back, porridge is being ladled constantly into the little pots over a row of growling stoves, bubbling and churning over the fierce fire. A sprinkle of spring onions, fried shallots, sesame oil. Then out they go to the hungry and waiting, each a bowl of sweetly murmuring beauty.
Sin Heng Kee Porridge
685 Hougang Street 61 #01-150
Daily, 7am – 9.30pm
Closed on the 1st and 15th of every lunar month (Check their FB)