Family recipes never change
In most cases Singapore’s delicious hawker food is best enjoyed at open-air hawker centres, but there are rare exceptions to this rule. One of them is Kway Guan Huat, a simple shop in eastern Singapore that has been following the same family recipe to make their popiah for more than 70 years.
Kway Guan Huat Popiah occupies a simple shophouse in Joo Chiat, a neighbourhood historically home to Singapore’s Peranakan community but now better known as one of the city’s best foodie haunts (the excellent Betel Box Food Walk takes place in this neighbourhood too). It is here that the Quek family has been preparing popiah since 1938, passing the recipe from generation to generation and continuing to make the popiah skins by hand.
To the uninitiated, popiah is best described as the Singaporean version of a fresh springroll. Inside the chewy wrapper is mixture of diced veggies (typically turnip, jicama, lettuce and bean sprouts), meat, crunchy peanuts and chili sauce. Popiah are never fried, which makes them one of the healthier hawker foods.
Popiah aren’t just the star of the menu at Kway Guan Huat – it’s pretty much all they sell. Their famous popiah come in two varieties – a seafood popiah with egg and crab meat and a vegetarian popiah with mushrooms. At S$2 per roll you can afford to try both kinds, plus they’re served cut into pieces for easy sharing. The one other offering is kueh pie tee, another Peranakan specialty where the popiah filling is served in a crispy pastry cup – they’re especially delicious when served piping hot from the fryer.
With so much focus on making the best popiah in Singapore, the ambiance and service have been neglected. Most of Kway Guan Huat’s customers get their popiah to go, but there are a handful of streetside tables and chairs where you can sit and pop down a popiah or two. Cold canned beverages are available and payment is in cash only.
For the ultimate foodie experience, come between 08:30 and 10:00 in the morning to watch the staff prepare the day’s supply of fresh popiah wrappers – the method hasn’t changed since the shop opened in 1938. After the demonstration, feast on fresh popiah appreciating how much work goes into these little bundles of flavour.
Tanya Procyshyn is a freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea.
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