Friday, February 23, 2007

Singapore Food Series: Curry Rice: A Poor Man's Feast

Singapore is a gourmet's paradise, for everyone and not just for the well-to-do. Despite the cost of living being generally higher than in the neighboring countries, one can still eat well for US$2 if one knows where to go. One such place, frequented by the working class and older workers is in the district of Jalan Besar. This shop opens round-the-clock, every day of the year [except for 2 or 3 days off during Chinese new year]. All day and all night you can see a queue that overflows into the street outside the shop, hungrily waiting for the Curry Rice. I took these pictures before I left Singapore in 2005, and the sight of a plate of curry rice makes me long to go back.
Pictures from top left clockwise: (1) The Curry Rice in all it's splendor [see description below for what's in it. (2) A working-class Singaporean tucking heartily into his curry rice. (3) The sign outside the Curry Rice shop, reminding patrons of it's proud history.
It may look like a mess, but one spoonful of the famous Scissors Curry Rice will make you come back for more. This curry rice stall at the corner of Jalan Besar Rd and Kitchener Rd has been around for 40 years. It was originally at the corner of Garden St and Beach Rd, and after moving all over the place, finally settled here. Throughout the years, there have been many imitators, but none have managed to capture the unique flavours of its curry gravy, its pork chops, and its braised belly pork. It's called scissors curry rice, because they use scissors to snip the pork and the fried egg. In the old days, they scooped the rice out of a wooden barrel with their bare hands, and pounded the pork chop with a wooden mallet. The boiled cabbage was said to be scraps discarded by the vegetable sellers at the old Beach Rd market, and a plateful like the picture above, cost US$0.70
Its, not that cheap anymore, but my meal above still cost me only $US2.00, and consists of rice, one piece belly pork braised in soya sauce, garlic, shallots, cinnamon, cloves, and I know not what other secret ingredients. Also, a piece of breaded porkchop,, and then some cabbages and an egg. All these topped by that wonderful goo of three types of gravy- a brown soya-sauce based gravy, a curry gravy with coconut, and a chilli oil gravy.
After eating you can proceed to The 'Thieves Market' a stone's throw away at Weld Rd to view the assortment of second hand goods there, anything from electronic parts, to antiques, clothes, hardware and just junk which you wonder why anyone would want to buy. But thousands of foreign workers come here to browse for cheap goods. I asked one of the stallholders where they get their goods from, and he said many were brought by people who wanted to get rid of the belongings of relatives who passed away. Many poorer travellers from the neighbouring countries especially the Riau islands, Cambodia, Myanmar and China, also brought goods to sell to them.

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