Chang Ji Gourmet: Long queues for cheap fried beehoon!
Out of all the stalls that open early in the morning for the breakfast crowd in Chinatown Complex, Chang Ji Gourmet is one of a handful that draw long queues.
In business for about 50 years, the stall is now run by second-generation owners — two sisters and one brother, who are now in their 50s.
They sell fried beehoon, fried yellow noodles, porridge and that’s it. You can’t buy any of the sides that one normally associates with economic beehoon like luncheon meat, fried eggs or fried fishcake
Each dish costs $1.20 but you’ll see many patrons order both a fried staple as well as a porridge for their breakfast. Longtime patrons will remember that they used to charge 50 cents a dish until the early 2000s which was when they upped their prices.
There are other economic beehoon stalls which are open elsewhere in the food centre and they have the usual options but they have far less crowds, even though the price of the fried beehoon/noodles is the same.
Once you taste the food at Chang Ji Gourmet, you’ll understand why.
The stall has a stripped down, less-is-more philosophy when it comes to taste. And it’s a taste which is almost impossible to buy in any economic beehoon stall in Singapore.
The fried beehoon ($1.20) is as simple as it gets. Fried with soy sauce, oil and some bean sprouts, it holds back on the dark soy sauce so that there is almost no sweetness in the taste.
Sample fried beehoon from any typical economic beehoon stall in Singapore and you’ll find that the opposite is often true — there is either a lack of flavour or an over-sweetness in the flavour due to too much dark, sweet soy sauce added.
The same is true of the fried yellow noodles ($1.20). Many patrons would opt for it as it has a richer egg noodle flavour but again the taste is stripped down — enough savouriness, fried richness, a bit of towgay and that’s it. The texture of the noodles is softer but still with a bit of bite.
They will ask if you want chilli and again there is that less-is-more approach — with spiciness, a hint of sourness and absolutely no sweet or savoury notes. The chilli sauce just adds….chilli and that’s it.
Contrast that to other chilli sauce offerings from other economic beehoon stalls. The flavour is usually power packed with a lot of oil and dried shrimp flavour or very very sweet, both of which will dominate the inherently basic fried staple taste.
The Fish & Peanut Porridge ($1.20) is equally simple. A traditional Cantonese dish, it’s flavoured with just dried salted fish and peanuts and the taste has a very straightforward savouriness, with hints of oil-richness coming from the peanuts.
It’s definitely different from how good Cantonese porridge is supposed to be — thick, creamy and rich. The porridge rice grains here are smooth but the consistency is more watery, with the salted fish bits and soft peanuts give the dish a nice texture.
Observe some of the patrons and you’ll see them mixing fried beehoon with their porridge, which is why you’ll hear the nickname “shark’s fin porridge”. It has a similar look to the real thing and the fried beehoon gives the porridge more texture and adds oil-richness to the taste.
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