article #4 .

Shark meat and Thai girls

This month's eatery is not an eatery, but a collection of eateries.
This month we visit the Golden Mile Food Centre at Beach Rd. Here we 
will sample food at a number of stalls.

The emphasis is on food that goes well with beer. But first
let me tell you a bit about this food centre and its history. Built in
the 1970s, it is quite an old food centre, and most of the hawkers are
relocated from Jalan Sultan  from the time when it was lined on both
sides with food stalls, just as Hokkien  St. and Dunman Rd. once were.
It also lies in quite a unique area, having Malays from the Arab St, 
Kampong Glam area and Chinese, mainly descendants of boatbuilders and
tongkang men from  the days when there was an unloading point at the 
mouth of the Kallang River and a thriving entrepot trade from here to 
Tanjong Rhu. And that is why you will find quite unique food here.

    First we will visit the stall at the basement which sells shark
meat and jellied pork. These are Teochew dishes eaten in the
old days by the tongkang ( wooden boats used for transfering cargo to
and from big ships anchored offshore) men with Chinese wine, but now 
with beer. The shark meat is simply boiled, but goes down nicely dipped 
in two sauces - one a sweetish sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds, 
and the other a vinegar/chilli/rice-wine combination. The garnish of 
Chinese celery is also an apt accompainimment to the bland,fishy shark 
meat. Order the shark liver to make your meal complete. The slightly 
bitter liver and its rich taste adds "body" to an otherwise light dish.
The pork encased in gelatine is also quite unusual for Chinese
cuisine. Its not unlike the pork you find in English pork pies. Again,
it is a good dish to go with beer. One can just imagine the boatmen
playing cards, drinking beer and eating shark meat and jellied pork
in their hideouts by the river bank. You could also complement this
meal with yam rice ordered fom the stall next door that sells seafood
soup. But the shark meat stall will be moving to the San Lee eating
house 45-48 Syed Alwi Rd. from 10 Jan. 96.

    Next we climb the stairs to the first level for the crytal dumplings.
This stall hand-makes its crystal dumplings painstakingly.In fact the
owner's movements are so infuriatingly slow that it gives me stress just
watching him. This is also "finger food" good as accompainiment for beer
or other liquor. The dumplings are filled with either turnips or red
bean paste. You could easily polish off half a dozen of each if you
are hungry. These bite-sized morsels are addictive.

   Another stall which is quite renowned is the peanut glutinous
rice ball in peanut soup on the same floor as the crystal dumplings.
This is the Singaporean version of Shanghainese Ah-Baling. The glutinous 
rice balls are filled with ground peanut,and the soup is laden with boiled
shelled peanuts in a sweet soup.. Its a dessert dish which is quite rare,
although I understand the owner has franchised out 2 other stalls .
The present boss is actually the son of the original owner who was 
selling at the Jalan Sultan site since the 1950s.This man despite his 
"bent-perpendicular" frame and humpback was a legend in the old days 
for the merciless scolding he would give you if you so much as heaved a
sigh while waiting half an hour for his peanut soup.

   The area in which is this food center is located is quite interesting:
Here you will find many Malay Mat-Rocks (Malay heavymetal types) who
work as despatch riders in the day and go biking with their Minahs
(dolly birds,girlfriends) at night. They come here for the Soup
Tulang (literally Bone Soup) served at various stalls in the basement.
This a a dish of mutton bones, in a tomato and chilli-based sauce eaten
with slices of French loaves. The interesting part of a Soup Tulang meal
is when you take the piece of bone in your hands and knock-knock-knock
gently on the table to ease out the marrow. Some people dig it out with
small forks, some suck it out with plenty of noise. 

   Then there are the Thai workers and Thai girls who cross over from
Little Thailand across the road (the Woh Hup Golden Mile Shopping
centre is, to Thais, what Lucky Plaza is to the Filipinos, and Serangoon
Rd is to the Indians.) Because they buy their bus tickets from here,
and this is the point of their arrival and departure to/from Thailand
by road, you will find many Thai workers and Thai girls here. You
will also find many locals with Thai girlfriends. They bring their
homesick girlfriends or wives here, to eat and shop. Unlike the locals, 
and in contrast to the locals, the Thai workers and Thai girls will spend 
lavishly at the cooked food stalls, ordering full-scale meals of crabs and
prawns, fried chicken and pork ribs. This they polish off with beer or 
mekong whisky bought from the stalls across the road. For the men it could
be a week's wages on the construction site, or a day's winning at the
gambling table. For the girls it could be some easy money they earned.
What is interesting is that in addition to the dishes they ordered, they
will also bring along some of their own exotic food to add to the dinner.
You can see smoked catfish, salted Gouramis (a kind of fresh water fish),
spicy Chiang Mai sausages, prawn crackers, and naam, a dish of raw pork
wrapped in leaves.

   And if after dinner you need a walk, climb the stairs to the 3rd level
where you will find Singapore's largest collection of stalls catering to
military people and their need from uniforms to shoes, badges, camping
equipment, rifle-cleaning flannel and oil etc. If you are the outdoor
sort, poke around and you will almost certainly find something you need
at bargain prices.

   So go along to the Golden Mile Food Center and enjoy the multi-cultural
sights,sounds and taste.

- brought to you by our feature writer Ng Tian Khean

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