One weekday, Camemberu and I played tai-tais for an afternoon. We went for buffet lunch at a hotel, then shopping at ION Orchard – the newest upscale mall in town!
Sounds luxurious? The reality: Buffet was hawker fare, and the shopping was just wistful browsing. “Ooh, look! So gorgeous! Wah, so ex!”
We are, after all, merely HDB tai-tais. Still, it was fun!
Back to the food, which is the main reason for the outing. Ever since my Penang trip, I’d been unable to forget the delicious street food. Besides, I’d been wanting to try York Hotel’s legendary Penang hawkers’ buffet. Ongoing since 1986, the hotel flies in hawkers from Penang 3 times a year (in March, September, and December) for this theme buffet.
Compared to usual hotel buffets, this one has considerably less variety. The focus is on hawker food. Each dish is prepared a la minute at live stations. The whole set-up is like a food court!
Let’s start with my favorite item of the spread. Lor bak = Singapore’s ngoh hiang. Served with other deep-fried items like prawn fritters, beancurd, battered taro and sweet potato.
The batter was very light and crispy, and nearly grease-free. Even the prawn shell was crispy enough to be devoured. This was really addictive!
Penang Hokkien mee = Singapore prawn mee. The prawn and pork broth was flavorful and tasty, and the pork ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender. But why did they use such small prawns? Crunchy they were, but not particularly sweet.
Not a terribly exciting dish, but this was well-executed. The soup was very clear, and tasty but light at the same time. The dry-tossed version is also available.
I actually enjoyed this version more than the one I had in Penang, probably because the broth here is less fishy and sour. I liked the balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors. Very appetizing!
Another “hot” stall was the pancake station. The apom balik is a new addition. There’s a small piece of banana hidden in the fold of the soft pancake. We were pleasantly surprised by coconut shreds in the batter, which gave the pancake a wonderful fragrance and texture. The apom balik was so popular that there was no more when we went back for seconds!
The peanut pancake was just as more-ish! Filled with crushed peanut and sugar, the wafer-thin pancake was very light and crispy. There’s a slight drizzle of melted Planta margarine inside, which gave a subtle kick!
Without doubt Penang’s most famous dish, the fried koay teow station had the longest queue! According to Camemberu who did the queueing, there were two chefs, each frying a wok of koay teow. One is the master and the other is the disciple. She got a plate from each of them.
The difference in taste was heaven and earth! The disciple’s version tasted flat, and the noodles were broken and looked unappetizing. But the master’s fried koay teow was full of wok breath, and the flavors were robust and complex. So now you know whose koay teow you should queue for!
Penang fried oyster egg is more “wet” in style. I’m not crazy about oysters, so this was just ok for me. The eggs were very tasty.
Penang rojak is fruit-based. The thick hae ko (shrimp paste) was delicious, but I’d have preferred it to be more piquant.
Ok, I’m not a fan of ju her eng chye, so no comments. 🙂
The cendol was sorely disappointing! I was so looking forward to it, but it isn’t authentic. The green bean jelly isn’t the soft, pale green type, and there’s no distinctive gula Melaka taste. Even the ice kachang was lacklustre. I really miss the awesome cendol we had in Penang.
So, did this satisfy the Penang food craving? Well, I was very happy up to the point of the cendol, which shaved many points off the overall grade! I was also hoping to see more items, like satay, curry mee, or even curry chee cheong fun, but no such luck. Some might say 30 bucks is too much to pay for hawker fare, but hey, it’s still cheaper than the price of a plane ticket to Penang! 🙂
The buffet also includes free-flow bandung (rose syrup and milk drink).
Penang Hawkers’ Fare (4 to 20 September 2009)
White Rose Cafe, York Hotel Singapore
21 Mount Elizabeth
Tel: (65) 6737 0511
Lunch: 12 noon – 2:30pm
Dinner: 6:30pm – 10pm
Price: S$25.80++ (adult), S$18.80++ (child below 12 years)
No table reservations.