What I Eat In My Hood: Long-Time Toa Payoh Resident
It’s easy to get fat in Toa Payoh.
This mature estate is home to so many long-time and new hipster food businesses that, like my wise, cheem mother likes to say, “not scared no food here, only scared no money!”.
For starters, there are Creamier (which single-handedly made Toa Payoh popular with a generation aged 20 and below), Kelly Jie Seafood (famous for their crab noodle soup), Lucky Goreng Pisang (which has been around since I first learnt to spell “bananas”), the very simply named Teochew Handmade Pau (they specialise in miniature buns) and Hong Yun Seafood (which whips up woks and woks of white beehoon by the minute).
Even the usually-boring food courts here house queue-worthy stalls like Hougang Muah Chee and Soon Heng Rojak. And for those into anything remotely Michelin, there are Chef Kang’s Noodle House and Chef Kang’s Prawn Noodles for payday.
We could go on and on forever but even online stories have word limit, okay, (or else you can scroll until 2030). So, these are just a few of our neighbourhood faves.
Oishi Pan bakery
Location: #01-572, Blk 190, Lorong 6, Toa Payoh
Those born and bread in Toa Payoh will know that there is an a-bun-dance of bakeries in the area – from famous chains like Duke Bakery and BreadTalk to the mom-and-pop outlets churning out old-school buttercream cakes, kaya buns and chicken pies from the back of their dim, humble shops.
Our fave? Oishi Pan bakery which is like a suburban DonQ or Johan Paris to me.
The service is always warm and friendly – the staff sometimes gives “how to warm up” pointers to puzzled elderly customers who want to try ciabatta or rye bread for the first time – the merch display neat, clean and minimalist (you could easily transplant it to a Japanese food hall), and the baked goods freshly made, delicious and affordable.
What to stock up on or order online at https://oishipan.sg: soft, fluffy castella cake, whole fruit tarts, banana walnut loaf, curry donut and Margarina French – the last is stocked with salty-tangy sundried tomatoes, spinach and cheddar.
Hua Fong Kee Roasted Duck
Location: Blk 128, Lorong 1, Toa Payoh
We’re getting hangry just thinking about the char siew noodles we had from here last weekend. If you like charred, brownish char siew over a mound of moreish, gravy-soaked noodles, make your way here but be prepared to encounter a grouchy server who makes little annoyed sighing and tsk-tsk noises when he asks you if you want chilli over your noodles or not.
For better service, Hiang Ji Roasted Meat Noodle House is our other go-to for when we want to sin (but at a higher price). Their roast duck rice comes with an unusual and appetising side serving of pickled vegetables. If you prefer noodles – and your doctor won’t like this – they are served with loads of fried lard.
Ocean Curry Fish Head
Location: #01-264, Blk 92, Lorong 4, Toa Payoh
With so many chye png stalls in the Toa Payoh hood, one that always attracts snaking queues (sorry, social distancing) must be in a league of its own.
Fans drool while telling me about the signature curry fish head here from the zi char side of the kopi tiam.
The front end offers a large, mouth-watering spread of chye png dishes, ranging from the more common ones like sweet and sour pork and stir-fried vegetables to unique ones like Hakka yong tau foo, salted egg fried chicken and fried pork balls. There are also more curry and spicy dishes here, compared to what you can find at other chye png places. So, if you like it hot, here definitely got.
Happiness Nonya Cakes and Confectionary
Location: #01-282, Blk 92, Lorong 4, Toa Payoh
The reason why we had to use a photo of plated kueh that we snapped at home?
Despite its name, the guy running this retro bakery is not always very happy and does not take warmly to kaypoh customers who whip out their phones for the ’gram. And if you ask him what’s available, his curt, deadpan reply is: “If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not there, it means it’s not there.” Uh, okay, Yoda.
Nevertheless, this shop in an older part of Toa Payoh does a buzzing trade among elderly regulars who pre-order all kinds of kueh for temple offerings or special occasions. We’re talking about huat kueh, ang ku kueh, png kueh and soon kueh. Even on weekday mornings, if you swing by only after 9am, there are very few items left.
So, we always feel happiness when we get our hands on freshly made ondeh ondeh and steamed brown sugar cake.
Location: #01-833, Blk 128, Lorong 1, Toa Payoh
We are always a little nervous when calling them up because we are very cheena and can’t pronounce the latter part of their name, even after so many years of dining here.
But we persevere because we want to pre-order the perfectly done Norwegian Salmon Aglio Olio (they have limited servings every day). The pasta is served just right with a generous slab of wonderfully moist fish topped with a sliver of crispy skin – and at a very heartlands price. The rest of their warm food menu is small but well curated and includes lasagne and Croque Monsieur.
Niche used to be overshadowed by their iconic neighbour Creamier (which has since moved across the road) but for those not into waffles and ice cream, Niche has many homemade breads, buns and pies, and on weekends, the lady at the counter tells us she wakes up at 6am to make her purple sweet potato ondeh ondeh at the front counter.