Sunday, October 14, 2007

Super Tanker Food Court

Finger–licking good

Is it any wonder one’s diet is in perpetual danger when the best belacan fried chicken is just two minutes away from one’s apartment?


Lengkuk Nipah
Taman Lip Sin, Penang
Tel: (016) 400 8337 (Ms Tan)


All in place: Owner of Belacan Fried Chicken stall.

Don’t ever invite me to eat fast food. I consider fast food outlets at the bottom of the food chain, next to hyper-sweetened franchised coffee. Buy me a can of evaporated milk, and let me fix you a coffee, and I guarantee you’ll never look at an ice-blended the same way again.

But I digress; back to fast food. There’s one, just one, fast food chain that I would concede to. Here’s a clue: its stock-in trade is finger– licking good chicken.

I suspect this aberration has got something to do with my childhood. During secondary school, after mind– numbing additional maths tuition every Saturday, dad would unfailingly drive me to the nearest outlet outside Lido cinema and I would take away a snack plate.

Hence, fried chicken was forever ingrained in my mind as a reward for a hard day’s work.

That was the case when I trudged downstairs for dinner after finishing some work for a client. I was dying for the latest addition to its stable of products – chicken poppers – except I didn’t have my car around, so driving to the nearest outlet was out of the question.

There was, however, a belacan fried chicken stall in the food court, but it was usually closed on Sundays. Or so I thought.

There was light coming from what looked suspiciously like the belacan chicken stall’s bain-marie. Was I seeing things? Had I worked so hard that I was mixing up my dates?

I checked my handphone’s calendar hurriedly. Yes, it was Sunday.

I quickened my footsteps. My eyes weren’t deceiving me. It was open. Just as quickly, my heart sank. The stallholder wasn’t the dour-faced auntie I had been buying from for the last four years I stayed here. Some upstart had usurped her place.

I asked tremulously, “Where is auntie?”

“Oh, she has retired,” the young woman answered cheerily, while entrapping a few pieces of chicken with her tongs. “But before she left, she made sure we learnt the recipe well.”

“I see.”

That little titbit didn’t allay my suspicions. I don’t give my loyalty easily, and it would certainly take more than a crash course in chicken frying to instil any confidence.

I scrutinised the wares warily. Deep-fried chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks, gizzards and tofu jockeyed for space on the crammed metal rack.

“What’s this?” I pointed to a handful of chicken nibbles strewn over polystyrene cut-out.

“Oh, that’s breast meat,” she replied.

I flicked a longing glance at the deep-fried drumstick on the upper rack. I could still remember my gym guru’s ominous last words. “Only chicken breast for the next three months,” he had intoned severely.

“Yeah right,” I had retorted. “No skin, no fat, and no taste.”

Sighing, I made my choice and waited for her to scoop my order into the plastic bag. While bridging the short distance between food court and condo, I sneaked a peek into package. The chicken had been meticulously diced into small cubes no bigger than grapes.

This was a good sign. Even the best restaurants have tripped up when it comes to chicken breast. Making superb fried drumsticks is no rocket science, but breast meat – ah, this was a different kettle of fish altogether (pardon the mixed metaphor).

Many cooks make the cardinal mistake of slicing the meat too big. Ergo, when you roll the chicken cubes in the frying powder, they don’t absorb enough of the seasoning, the flavouring doesn’t penetrate sufficiently deep, and the meat ends up tough, rough and tasteless.

I eyed the plastic bag hungrily as the chicken cubes rolled around inside. There is something irresistible about street food, hot off the wok or wherever it came from. Throwing caution to the winds – I was, after all, crossing the street – I popped one piece into my mouth.

The cook hadn’t been stingy with the seasoning. Strong overtones of belacan cut right through to the centre of the piece. The smoky shrimp paste made a flavourful counterpoint to the sweet juices that oozed out as I bit into the tender boneless meat. Auntie had obviously taught her students very well.

I put my hand in for another piece.

By the time I made it to my front door, I was bursting at the seams to share this epiphanous discovery with my housemate.

“Poi Sun!” I yelled. “Quick, quick, open the door. Got khang thau (Hokkien vernacular for “good stuff”).”

“What, what?”

I eagerly proffered the plastic bag to her. She peeked inside, before looking up at me in bewilderment. Oops. It was all gone. Apparently, I had polished off more than I realised, on the two-minute walk back to the apartment.

“Oh well. There’s always some other time,” I said soothingly.

After all, it was just downstairs, and not like I had to drive all the way to the nearest fast food chain.

Then again, would I still want to?

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