As far as I can remember, salted duck has never been common in Singapore. In fact, I can remember exactly one place which sold it, which was at the old Sembawang Hill Food Centre, and I always had that every time I dropped by (which was not frequent).
As such, the news of a new salted duck place in Toa Payoh is intriguing, and I’m thankful I went to look for Benson Salted Duck – a reason to revisit Singapore’s oldest HDB estate, where my mother used to live. She has her list of places round here which we still go to every time we drop by. And I suspect we will be adding to that list now.
Benson showed up on my radar because of a flurry of attention from other writers, and upon seeing it I can see why. It’s deep within a residential area, and the coffeeshop looks pleasant, preserving small circular marble tables and an old school signboard. A new shop, a new sort of dish, in an old (or at least old-looking) place – makes for a nice narrative.
As for the duck’s preparation, Benson (the boss) came up with the process himself. It is actually quite reminiscent of how chicken rice chicken is made, slowly poached in a broth with ginger, garlic and other aromatics.
That alone would work for mild-mannered chicken. But duck, full of character, needs more – first brining, then rubbing with more salt to marinate before it is served with butter rice. Neither salt nor aromatics stand out very much in the final product, having melded with the duck’s own flavour and neutralising it somewhat.
More intriguing is the texture. Benson’s method is a lot gentler on the duck, coaxing it to doneness. This yields different results from the more common roast and braised duck. The skin is taut and springy, retaining a lot of its moisture. And while roast duck risks drying and toughening the breast, here it is oozingly juicy. Even the slips of flesh around the bones are slippery and tasty.
Besides the duck, they also serve pig’s organ soup with plenty of liver, sliced pork, stomach and meatballs, which can be jazzed up with spongy fish maw. As such soups go, this is quite mild-mannered, but very generous with the meats, letting their own character shine through.
Despite its relative newness, Benson knows very well what it’s doing, and it’s clear the customers are responding positively; most of the others at the lunch hour are nibbling away at the pale duck. Long may this continue.
Benson Salted Duck
Blk 168 Toa Payoh Lorong 1, #01-1040
Contact no.: 9781 4042
Daily, 9am – 7pm
Closed on Thursdays