Text and images by Tiantianchi @ Makansutra
This massive food centre with more than 200 food stalls is divided into four zones, yellow, blue, red and green. The green zone is probably the least prominent among the four. It is hidden from the others and unless you venture around or seek it out deliberately, you are likely to miss it. Due to its obscure location, not all the stalls are taken up but it is home to some of the shiniest gems of this food centre. For those in the know, this secret enclave is like a Paradise Garden, a quiet, cooling and tranquil corner in this busy, noisy and hot food centre. The Paradise Corner, a nickname given by hawkers and regulars there, is now proudly displayed along the pathway.
Paradise Garden (Green zone) 335 Smith Street 2nd floor, Chinatown Complex Food Centre
Fatty Ox HK Kitchen, #02-84, 7.30am-3pm
Chef Cheung gave up his Cantonese roast and cze cha restaurant at Murray Terrace some years back due to ill health. He is back to the delight of his fans. Instead of the Cantonese roast he was so famous for, noodle is now the focus here, especially the version with soy sauce chicken. He blanches the chicken several times in hot boiling water then soaked in a light sweetish, savoury soy sauce stock to completely cook it over low fire. The light and delicate tasting chicken is chopped in bigger chunks for a more satisfying bite. It is served separately from the noodle and topped with a fragrant yet sharp tasting ginger scallion sauce which goes so well with the well blanched and springy noodle. There is no need for other condiments, even though their homemade Gui Lin style chilli (rustic, robust and bean-y) is excellent. He also serves very good and plump prawn dumplings and soft tender and flavorful beef brisket to go with the noodle.
Joe Pork Porridge, Raw Fish, #02-81/82, 7am-1pm (Closed Mon)
The owner comes in at around 2am to cook a big pot of base porridge over charcoal fire for at least 4-5 hours. He watches over the fire diligently, stirring constantly to ensure smoothness and consistency in texture. Each order is cooked individually in small steel pot patiently, which explains the long wait. The most popular version here is the mixed pork porridge that includes thin shreds of cuttlefish, pork meat, thin sliced of pig liver and diced very tiny small intestines. The star factor here is the porridge, not the ingredients. It is softly grainy, yet is smooth enough and almost creamy. There is also an alluring smokiness to the porridge. Although many will order a plate of very fresh raw fish to go with the porridge, someactually buy them from other raw fish stalls around. Portions at Joe are tiny and quite expensive comparatively.
Woo Ji Cooked Food, #02-58, 7am-12.30pm (Closed Mon)
They are the second generation of this stall’s founders that started back in a 1965 street side stall. Since they sell prawn noodle too, they naturally use that prawn stock for laksa. It comes gentler as very little coconut is used and is not heavy. This allows the prawn stock flavour to shine, and that topping of dried shrimps enhances it further. The reasonable price is also the reason why this is a favourite of older folks on a budget. A $2 version comes with four pieces of yong tau fu items that includesa large deep fried wanton, stuffed chilli, fish ball and stuffed bean curd. It is interesting to notice some people ordering a plate of plain chicken from other stalls go pair with this laksa.
Xiang Xiang Cooked Food, #02-68, 7am-12.30pm or till sold out (Closed Mon)
The shelf always looks empty, because almost everything flies off right after the moment they are ready. Everyone comes here for their snacks, from the addictive tiny marble size sweet potato ball to the almost extinct deep fried rice dumpling. The mother and son team handmake them each day fresh and on the spot but they are unable to keep up with the demand. Our favourite is their unique tapioca sandwich. A thick layer of coconut paste with gula melaka is sandwiched between two slices of firm grainy tapioca cake. It gives a satisfying bite and the filling is not too sweet and is nicely gritty and tastes rich. It goes great with a cup of coffee which is exactly what many customers do.
Xiu Ji IkanBilis Yong Tau Fu, #02-88, 6am-3pm
They are prominent because of the long queue that extends to another zone. Fortunately they work fast, so the line moves fast. There are only four offerings (fish ball, soft and deep fried stuffed bean curd, fish paste in tou fu skin) and they come as a standard set and that helps move the line too. You can taste the freshness in the ingredients as they are handmade on the spot. It is tasty enough and they only offer a garlicky and slightly sour chilli sauce that is similar to those served at chicken rice stalls. The signature ikan bilis is well fried and added lots of flavor and texture. Very thoughtfully, they pack the yong tau fu and soup separately for takeaway orders. It is priced reasonably at $3 for seven pieces of yong tau fu with noodle or nine pieces sans the noodle.