There are some restaurants and cafes that I go to specifically for one dish. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the food served at these places isn’t up to snuff, it simply means that that one dish has become one of my favourite things to eat. A meal in one of these establishments just isn’t complete without an order of, well, for example, double-boiled chicken soup with shark’s fin at Noble House in Singapore, the charcoal-grilled Tuscan steak for two at Harlan’s in Hong Kong, a croque monsieur at Harry’s Bar in Venice, the truffled egg pasta at Buon Ricordo in Sydney, or the tempura mentaiko shiso at Torisho Taka, also in Singapore. These are dishes that I have, over time, come to associate with these specific restaurants. I can’t, for example, think of places like Billy Kwong’s without dreaming of Kylie’s crispy duck or imagine visiting Sadaharu Aoki’s pastry parlors in Japan without a taste of his green tea eclair.
Recently, I have discovered another such dish that I have become slightly obsessed with and that I have been snacking on at least once every week or two. When chef Chris Millar first told me he was opening a Thai cafe in Upper Bukit Timah, I have to admit that while I was excited for him, I wondered if it was the right thing for him to do. After all, his training was very much in classical European cuisine, and Rail Mall — where he had decided to open Sweet Salty Spicy — while accessible by car, wasn’t exactly central. Over the weeks leading up to Sweet Salty Spicy’s opening, Chef Millar told me more about his enterprise. He surprised me with the news that his business partner in this venture was Victor Chia, the “vegetable stud” of Tekka Market. My loving wife S has been a loyal customer of Victor’s for years. If you’ve been to Tekka, you’ll recognize him as the muscled vegetable stall owner that blasts bossa nova tunes and who stocks the best Western and Asian greens in the market. Chris also let on that he wasn’t doing the cooking. His young and superbly talented chef was going to be training under the guys from the famous Sailors Thai in Sydney in order to prepare for Sweet Salty Spicy’s opening.
Sweet Salty Spicy is a cool, casual cafe cum deli. There’s a corner devoted to selling some of Victor’s best produce. The cake counter is bursting with delicious Western pastries. And shelves are stocked with homemade spice mixes and Thai sauces. The dining area is bright and relaxed. This is very much the kind of place you head to for a long weekend lunch, to kill a few bottles of wine and hang out with good friends.
Overall, the food is good. S adores the papaya salad that is served with roasted pork, raw cabbage and coconut rice. My favourite dish, and the one that keeps me coming back, is the deep fried silken tofu with fresh crab, coriander and stuffed with minced pork. Yum. It has three of my favourite elements: pork, crab, and it’s deep-fried. What more could an unhealthy boy want? Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who has discovered just how good this dish is. The waiters tell me if often sells out (boy, I really rue the day I go there to find out it’s not available). Eaten with a little sweet Thai chilli sauce, this is a super-savory and satisfying snack. And one that I could happily eat daily (of course, I’d also probably die of high cholesterol).
I’ve pestered chef Millar into sharing the recipe for this with us. But since I can jump in my car, and be tucking into the dish within 30 minutes, I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to making it myself. I hope, though, that some of you try it and that you’ll be wowed by the results.
DEEP FRIED SILKEN TOFU WITH FRESH CRAB, CORIANDER AND MINCED PORK STUFFING
Recipe by David Thompson
50G MINCED FATTY PORK
1 TBSP LIGHT SOY SAUCE
DRIZZLE OF OYSTER SAUCE
PINCH PALM SUGAR
50G COOKED CRAB MEAT
2 TBSP CHOPPED CORIANDER LEAVES
2 SPRING ONIONS, CHOPPED
300G SILKEN TOFU
PINCH OF SALT
PINCH OF GROUND WHITE PEPPER
DRIZZLE OF SESAME OIL
½ CUP PLAIN FLOUR, SEASONED WITH SALT AND PEPPER
OIL FOR DEEP FRYING
1 CORIANDER ROOT, SCRAPPED AND CHOPPED
PINCH OF SALT
2 GARLIC CLOVES, PEELED
2 SLICES OF GINGER
LARGE PINCH OF GROUND WHITE PEPPER
Using a mortar and pestle, pound together the paste ingredients until fine. Combine with pork and season with light soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar. Slap the mixture- pick it up and throw back in the bowl- until it becomes firmer and stickier. Work in the crab meat and two thirds of the coriander and spring onions.
Drain the tofu and slice in half crosswise. Gently separate the curd and place one half on a piece of banana leaf. Shape the stuffing into the equivalent rectangular shape of the tofu. Place the stuffing onto the bean curd and top with the other half of tofu.
Refrigerate for at least an hour, then gently steam on the banana leaf for 25 minutes- it should feel firm. Remove and refrigerate for at least one hour. When required cut the tofu sandwich into 6 pieces. Beat the egg whites with salt, pepper and sesame oil. Dip the tofu into the egg whites then roll in flour. Deep-fry in plenty of clean oil until golden. Drain, and served sprinkled with reserved spring onions and coriander.
CONDIMENT: SSS sweet chili sauce
Sweet Salty Spicy
392/394 Upper Bukit Timah Road
The Rail Mall
(opposite the railway bridge, near hillview)
Tel: +65 6877 2544