Arguably the oldest stall at Clementi Central’s food centre, Soon Lee is a family-run hawker business that has been in existence for more than 80 years. They specialise in Hainanese porridge, a style which is increasingly hard to find in current times.
Started by the family’s grandmother who migrated from Hainan, China, she ply-ed her wares as a street hawker along Upper Bukit Timah before the government shifted her business to Clementi Central’s food centre when it began in 1980. It was a family-run affair at Clementi with five of her eight children running the stall. Third-generation owner Mervin Tan, 38, currently helms the store with the help of a stable of family members and friends.
The consistency of the porridge is what makes it unique at Soon Lee. It is not an entirely smooth paste like how it is with Cantonese porridge, nor does it have watery soft whole grains like it is with Teochew porridge. It is instead a middle ground texture with broken up grains and gravy-like gruel. The porridge-making process starts at 3am daily, with the porridge itself being ready by 6am and stirred continuously over a low flame to maintain its texture.
When an order is placed, plain-tasting porridge is quickly cooked with a secret savoury sauce and whatever ingredients the customer wants.
There are three options on offer — pork, fish and chicken ($3/4) but like all hawker stalls, you can customise the ingredients to your liking.
The pork option has sliced pork, pork liver and the handmade pork balls which are very well-seasoned and wonderfully soft and fatty. Some customers will request for just the pork balls only for their order because it is that good.
The fish porridge is also commendable as it contains very fresh batting fish slices. The added fish flavour and the customary ginger slices add a nice dimension to the dish.
All porridge options are topped off with chopped spring onions, tang chai (salted cabbage), fried onions and pork lard.
The addition of a raw egg costs $0.30. Soya sauce and white pepper are provided on the side if you wish to add more flavour to your bowl.
Be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes on average, on a typical weekday morning.
Longtime customers will remember that they used to add in you tiao pieces with every serving but the practice was stopped in 2013 as the freshness of dough fritters could not be maintained throughout the day.