Has the standard of Zi Char in Singapore dropped?

On the onset, this looks like a very normal plate of hor fun (it is in fact a plate of hua dan hor fun – silky egg hor fun…but we’re not talking about that today)

 A plate of hor fun from a random coffee shop in Ipoh
A plate of hor fun from a random coffee shop in Ipoh

We just returned from a trip from Ipoh recently and this plate of hor fun was bought from a random coffeeshop which

1. Had only 2 stalls. A zi char stall (where we bought this hor fun from) and another stall (which we cant remember)
2. Had low business/human traffic. Which usually points to the fact that the food must be really normal or below par.

The truth is, this plate of hor fun tasted good.

The sauce was not too salty and the hor fun had a bit of wok hei (not too much which gives you that burnt taste). The hor fun itself was very Q, the kind that would usually be served in better zi char stalls such as at Hong Kong Street or even Chinese restaurants.

Has the standard of Zi Char and Local delights in Singapore dropped?

As I was enjoying (devouring is a more apt description really) this plate of hua dan hor fun, I thought to myself “Man, if every zi char stall was at least this standard…”. This prompted another thought…has the standard of zi char, or for that matter, local delights, in Singapore dropped?

I still recall fondly, chicken rice that was out of this world. Chicken rice where you would enjoy eating on its own (sounds so Gardenia). Even without the chicken that is. Rice where you’ll use (as a dish) to go with plain rice. Chicken where it was just so flavourful, you could have one mouth of the chicken and finish half a plate of the rice. Still remember the days where my grandma would hand me 10 cents and ask me to buy a piping hot bowl of chicken rice from the chicken rice uncle. I was skeptical at first (10 cents for a bowl of rice?!). But this was 20 years ago. I would bring the bowl from home to the chicken rice uncle, hand over the bowl together with my 10 cents and get in return, a piping shiok bowl of chicken rice which I would “juggle” home because of the heat from the rice. That taste made the trip well worth it.

Today, its no where to be found. Not even the likes of Boon Tong Kee or Wee Nam Kee could match it.

Likewise, for the hor fun, we have missed the taste of slight wok hei and Q texture that makes you want to come back for more. For us, a good plate of hor fun is not only a local delight but also a gauge of the “skills” of the zi char chef.

So really, this isnt about the plate of hor fun up there. It really is about standards. On the one hand, Im really sad that a random plate of hor fun somewhere in Ipoh can easily thrash many a zi char stall in SG. On the other hand, Im also heartened that we have initiated the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme that encourages and preserves hawker traditions.

Or maybe its just me.

Do you also think that the zi char standards in Singapore has dipped as well? Tell us in the comments section below!

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