Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What is a bowl of Yong Tow Foo?

Indeed, what is a bowl of Yong Tow Foo? One might like it, others might not. So what is it that one so likes it whereas the other might not?

I was in this long queue for this, what I call the 1pm Yong Tow Foo as they only open for business at 1pm or thereafter, sometimes, 5 to 10 minutes late, when an lady rushed up to queue behind me. More out of curiosity as this was her first time! She said that her hairdresser told her about it. Being curious, she decided to see it is was really that good. Being something like 60 people behind (and chances are each person is not going to order just one bowl), there must be something to it. She asked how was it. I said, "very good", almost in unison with another lady who was sitting by the table near by who said, "not so good." She quickly added, to each his/her taste, in Mandarin.

I asked the lady some 60 people later how was it. She said, "OK lah, the soup is less oily,"probably indicating the positive part. :)

A couple of weeks ago, a friend called to say that she was in Chinatown and if I would like to go for lunch. She mentioned one Yong Tow Foo stall that she has been trying to eat from, but each time she was too late. "OK, I queue first," I volunteered while she went to do her errand. Being away from Singapore for the past 30 years, she has become a stranger in Singapore, or Singapore has become a strange place to her. She couldn't find me! Ah, there's the handphone to guide her.

And why this Yong Tow Foo? Well, when she was 9 years old, her late mother brought her here to have the Yong Tow Foo. Since then, it has remained in her mind, and each time when she came back, she would try to come to eat again. But she was not to be until this day. The queue was long, but it was good for us because we could chat about old times. That was how I learnt why she wanted to have this Yong Tow Foo. It brought back many memories of the times when she was with her Mum. Ah, the taste, the smell and even the chilli made a difference. Does it taste as good? It depends on your first time, I suppose. And subsequent times.

This stall would start early in the morning to prepare the pieces of Yong Tow Foo, putting the minced fish meat as fillings into the respective items such as tofu or the beancurd skins. It is laborious work. And then, there was the soup to be prepared. So, unless, all the various aspects of this somewhat simple looking dish are in place, they will not start selling. Queues would form before 1pm. By the time they open for business, there would be a swell of easily 50-60 people. Some passer-bys would look in disbelief, probably wondering if it was worth the queue in this humid and warm place. Ah, there are probably two areas where Singaporeans would queue patiently - FOOD and 4D. :)

Once the operation starts, it is very efficient. There are like 4-5 persons taking orders and serving them. If you are going to tabao (take away), the person serving you will ask you to stand in another queue for takeaway. But if you want to eat and tabao, well, they will take your orders and serve you first. In some cases, like you are going to tabao for 2, they have it pre-packed! If you are going to eat, they will ask you to give your table number, pay them, and they will serve you. If you are alone, you will have to try to find a spot nearby. Unless, you have a tissue pack or umbrella to "chope" (reserve) a place. Usually, there is always a place for singles. At S$4 per bowl (standard for 10 pieces), it is just nice for afternoon meal.

My friend who has missed this so many times became kiasu. She ordered 3 bowls to be shared by us, meaning each of us would have something like 15 pieces, and tabao another 2 bowls to bring back! I am certainly, it was a fulfilling meal. I must ask her what memories came flooding back.

For those who came to tabao, some not within Chinatown (I found an ex-colleague who came all the way her to buy), they would also bring their pots (the typical enamel pots) for the soup. This Yong Tow Foo must be eaten with the super hot soup! :)

So, a bowl of Yong Tow Foo, or for that matter, any simple dish or bowl of food, is more than what it looks or tastes. It contains a reflection of one's past - especially the spider-web of experiences of joy and pain. Ah well, it could be just a bowl of wonderful food to fill the tummy. :)