With the recent discussion in Singapore about whether race matters and the current headlines relating to racial tensions in the United States, perhaps it is appropriate to mull over the line from Michael Jackson’s Black or White that goes – “I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother, It don’t matter if you’re black or white“. However, this is a blog about food and not about politics. So the rest of this post is about the food we enjoyed at our “Michael Jackson Dinner” at Zion Riverside Food Centre.
If you are in Penang and you say that you like to have a “Michael Jackson” no one will think that you are strange. We are not sure how it started, but in Penang soya bean milk mixed with grass jelly (chin chow) is referred to us “Michael Jackson”. Quite witty and appropriate when you think about it.
Although soya bean milk with grass jelly is quite common in Singapore, we have not heard anyone refer to it as Michael Jackson yet. Instead, “Michael Jackson” has been used to refer to a dish in Zion Riverside Food Centre; so we headed to Zion Road to try it out.
Zion Riverside Food Centre, or sometimes called Zion Road Food Centre, is quite a unique old style food centre. Located opposite Great World City, it actually sits on the North Bank of the Singapore River, although that part of the Singapore River is really a narrow canal. The food centre is airy with tables rather well spaced out. There is even a wooden deck al fresco dining area right by the river. We do not know of any other food centre in Singapore which is so close to the water that it is equipped with public safety life buoys.
The “Michael Jackson’ dish is served by Lau Goh Teochew Chye Thow Kway. This carrot cake stall is now run by Peter Goh, the son of the original Lau Goh. Peter is partially deaf. He can read lips but generally customers communicate with him by pointing and gesturing.
When it comes to carrot cake, there are those who love the black version and there are those who love the white version and then there are those who cannot decide or love both. To cater to the last group, Peter came up with the brilliantly simple idea of serving both versions on the same plate – the Black & White.
We had a plate of the Black & White Carrot Cake ($5). The carrot cake was carefully prepared in an unhurried manner – both versions were fried in the same pan.
The white version of the chye thow kway was coated with quite a lot of eggs. It was well fried to produce a crispy outer layer. The carrot cake had nice soft but firm texture. It was good but we thought it was a tad bland when eaten on its own. When eaten with the bits of preserved radish (chye poh) added to the dish, it was delicious. However, the amount of chye poh provided was low.
The black version was well coated with sweet black soy sauce. It was fried slightly longer than the white carrot cake; hence there were some charred edges and a slight smokiness. It was not too sweet – good and enjoyable.
If we have to choose, we would rank the black version higher. On the whole, the “Michael Jackson” dish did not disappoint. If we are eating at Zion Road Food Centre, we would order the Black & White Carrot Cake again.
Lau Goh Teochew Chye Thow Kway
Stall 26, Zion Riverside Food Centre
Mention Zion Road and more often than not someone will say Char Kway Teow. So as we were in Zion Riverside Food Centre, we ordered Char Kway Teow ($4) from No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow.
There is no Black or White at No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow. They use plenty of black sauce. Other ingredients include fish cake, Chinese sausages, bean sprouts, cockles, eggs and lar pok (fried pork lard). They all combined to infuse the simple rice noodles with the layers of flavours.
The debate can go on as to whether the No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow is among the best char kway teows in Singapore; and there can be no way to settle the issue. For us, the little pieces of crispy pork lard added interesting texture and taste to the dish and certainly made the No.18 Zion Road version quite special and enjoyable. It might be sinful but it was lip smacking good.
No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow
Stall 17, Zion Riverside Food Centre
To restore some balance after the heavy fried stuff, we ordered a bowl of hot Cheng Tng ($1.50) from the Mohamed Sultan Road Hot and Cold Cheng Tng Stall.
This stall is quite well known to the regular patrons of Zion Road food centre – for the nice desserts it sells and for the uncle who runs the stall. The man operating the stall must be one of the most grouchy and grungy food stall operator we have seen in recent memory. You feel like you are interrupting him from his rest or introspection when you go up to the store to place your order. He asks for your orders by a flick of his head.
Perhaps the cheng tng uncle is a good living proof that it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. As far as his many customers are concerned, it doesn’t matter how he looks and it doesn’t matter if he shows you a black face – what really matters is that he serves a good bowl of cheng tng. And he does.
The Mohamed Sultan Road Cheng Tng is the basic traditional version. The ingredients are longans, barley, sago balls, gingko nuts, red dates and pong tai hai (Scaphium macropodum). No fanciful addition. The soup is longan tea – rich in flavour and not excessively sweet. We found the cheng tng to be a really refreshing and enjoyable dessert.
When we visit Zion Riverside Food Centre again, we would impose on the uncle to sell us another bowl of cheng tng.
Mohamed Sultan Road Hot and Cold Cheng Tng
Stall 32, Zion Riverside Food Centre
Zion Riverside Food Centre
70 Zion Road
Here is the Michael Jackson Black or White video – to bring back some memories or set you thinking.