An easily missed stall with no fancy signages and food award posters, Jin Ji Mei Shi sells some of the best handmade Teochew kuehs that you can buy even though the stallholder is not actually Teochew.
Run by 60-year-old Irene Wang, a second-generation Hainanese hawker, the stall has been in business roughly 40 years but they actually started off selling chicken rice before switching over to Teochew kuehs as business wasn’t doing well.
Based at Maxwell Food Centre, all the kuehs are handmade everyday by Irene herself and many of the popular items are sold out if you arrive there any later than 11am.
Easily the most popular is the steamed yam cake (orh kueh; $2/3/6). Dried prawn bits and yam pieces are mixed with fried yam and shaped into a cake, then steamed. As it is priced on the lowish side, they don’t add more expensive ingredients like dried mushrooms, or coriander or sliced chilli as toppings.
It doesn’t really matter as the base cake has a beautiful concentrated, thick, melting texture and the flavour is savoury and rich. The cake has just enough moisture such that it isn’t dry.
The pumpkin cake ($2/3/6) isn’t as popular but will appeal to those who want lighter, more complex textures as the flour-based cake has shredded pumpkin, dried prawns and sliced black mushrooms in it. The added ingredients makes the cake a little lighter but still with a similar amount of oil-richness.
Fried glutinous rice ($2) is also something they offer and It has a bouncy texture and the taste lightly savoury so that the flavours of the added ingredients of fried onions, black mushrooms and dried prawns comes through. More expensive versions of the dish come with added peanuts and spring onions.
The soon kueh ($0.80; dumpling with a filling of shredded turnips, black mushrooms and dried prawns) is good but less in demand as good soon kueh sellers are more common. The skins are nicely thin but resilient and the filling has a nice concentrated stock flavour, the turnips cooked through but still firm.
The accompanying sauces are a highlight on their own. The sweet sauce on the side has a smooth texture with hints of soybean and sesame seed flavour and a light sweetness — a breath of fresh air when compared to factory-made sweet sauces that come very sweet and over-flavoured. The potent spicy chilli is very oil-rich and has just a tinge of sourness to balance out the richness.
Irene also sells suan pan zi ($2; Hakka abacus seeds) which is incredibly hard to get hold off as it is very often the first item to sell out at around 8am. It used to come traditionally shaped like an abacus semi-domed ball with the characteristic dip in the middle but now it comes in a basic cylindrical shape.
The taste, however, isn’t compromised. With lots of thick, crunchy black fungus strips and large chunks of minced meat, the abacus seeds have a firm, chewy bite (less yam, more flour) and there is a big savoury fried garlic flavour to the dish. It used to come with black mushrooms but they have since omitted that from the dish.