Many say that Chicken Rice is Singapore’s national dish. I respectfully disagree. Instead, my vote goes to tze char, which I feel offers a more hearty and satisfying meal experience. And like Chicken Rice, you can pretty much find it at most hawker places, just like The Usual Place over at One Punggol Hawker Centre.
Having opened on 31 October last year, One Punggol Hawker Centre is the latest name to join Singapore’s iconic hawker scene. Despite being a new food establishment, the atmosphere is very much like an old-school hawker centre — from the layout of the stalls to the seats. It is also a massive establishment, with over 700 seats available to cater to the hungry Punggol crowd.
Tucked away in one of the hawker centre’s corners is The Usual Place. The stall is a collaboration between JIAO CAI Seafood from Yishun and the TIMBRE Group, aiming to deliver intimate home-style cooking for customers eating at One Punggol Hawker Centre. When we arrived, the kitchen was busy, with the various chefs tending to their flaming woks, undisturbed by the growing queue outside.
Among the menu, you have staples like Curry Fish Head and Chilli Crab, but The Usual Place also offers unique dishes that aren’t as common at other tze char stalls. For our visit, we tried a mixture of the familiar and some intriguing options from the menu.
Prawn Paste Chicken
A personal favourite of mine to order and a regular tze char menu item, though I prefer using its Cantonese name — Har Cheong Gai. Despite this dish’s popularity, I’ve found that ordering it can be hit or miss depending on where you get it from.
In The Usual Place’s case, their version of Prawn Paste Chicken (S$12) is of a good standard. The wing arrives with an enticing golden brown hue and is nice and crisp, with the batter soaking in much of the umami flavour from the prawn paste. More importantly, the chicken is not too oily but still remains juicy and moist inside.
Next up is their Sambal Stingray (S$16, M-size). Likewise, it is a complex dish to master and occasionally stalls get it wrong by serving them with a dry texture or mediocre sambal.
Luckily, this one gets the thumbs up. The flesh is incredibly soft and succulent, with the generous serving of sambal sauce nicely complementing the dish with its fragrant profile. My only nitpick is that, as a spice lover, I wish it could have brought more heat to the tongue.
Chinese Spinach in Superior Stock
How about some veggies then? The Chinese Spinach in Superior Stock (S$8) by The Usual Place proved to be a great palate cleanser during our dining session, especially considering how heavy some of the dishes we had were.
The spinach itself is tender but still has a satisfying crunch to it with every chew. However, what makes this dish great is the broth that the vegetables are stewed in. The stock is rich and flavourful, with the mixture of the different eggs adding a salty and savoury touch that is very satisfying to dig in.
You also can’t go wrong with picking up some Hotplate Tofu (S$10). It isn’t hard to mess up a dish such as this, and The Usual Place also does a decent variation of it.
What stands out about the dish is the generous serving of the sauce. Too often, stalls will give only a tiny amount of it, which reduces too quickly after a few minutes due to the residual heat of the hotplate. Here, the sauce is plentiful, and even after taking some time to take some photos, there was still a lot of it to go around.
The savoury sauce similarly isn’t stingy with the ingredients, providing a decent amount of minced meat and button mushrooms. I’m also a stickler for tofu, and the one found here gets no complaints from me — it is soft and bouncy, combining well with the sauce when you get a spoonful in.
Fish Head Steamboat
The Fish Head Steamboat (S$32) is a new addition to the menu at The Usual Place, and there is potential for this to be a new favourite for customers. Out of all the dishes that my group had tried, this was my favourite out of the lot.
We were given a massive pot of soup containing cabbage, yam, egg floss, and of course, chunks of the fish head. The soup was well-balanced — not overly salty and packed with lots of flavours. Such was the popularity of the broth that we had to continually ask for refills!
The iconic red chilli sauce is synonymous with crab, but only sometimes do you see it paired with other seafood items at tze char stalls. In addition to Chilli Crab, The Usual Place also serves Chilli Crayfish (S$26) on their menu.
I’ve never been a fan of trying to carve out the crab meat from the shell, so the crayfish is a good substitute. I can easily dig out big chunks of the meat to coat it with the sauce. You get that same sweet taste from the flesh, but it comes with more chew than crab meat. I think the crayfish works well with the sauce, but some may still prefer crab.
While we are on the topic of the chilli sauce, the one used here is good but can be a little better. It has the quintessential flavourful sweet and savoury taste, which makes it a great dipping sauce for crayfish meat. However, though our host warned us that the sauce was spicy, I found it needed improvement by my standards. Still, it is a decent version of The Usual Place, and many people will like what is presented here.
Chilli Crab Sauce Crayfish Hor Fun
More crayfish! This time, the store has combined the Chilli Crayfish with some flat rice noodles to create their Chilli Crab Sauce Crayfish Hor Fun (S$20) dish.
So instead of the egg gravy, you mix the chilli sauce with the hor fun. It surprisingly works, with the hor fun noodles soaking up the thick sauce nicely to enjoy its sweet, tangy taste. In this case, the milder spice level works in its favour to allow you to savour each spoonful more easily.
This definitely isn’t a dish for just one person as well. There is a decent helping of crayfish on the plate, and like the Chilli Crayfish dish, there was also the addition of crispy bits to enjoy dipping into the sauce.
If you are in the Punggol area or are a resident, The Usual Place is a nearby option that provides some great dishes to satiate your tze char cravings. It is affordable too, with generous portion sizes given even for the small-sized versions that we had.
The Usual Place
Location: One Punggol Hawker Centre, #02-23, 1 Punggol Dr., Singapore 828629
Opening hours: 11am to 8pm
Photos by Russell Loh and Hoo Yi of the DANAMIC Team.