(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

Mui Kee, a popular hawker stall in Hong Kong known for its fish broth congee, is set to make its debut here. Its Singapore partner is the Les Amis Group, which runs the luxe, two Michelin-starred Les Amis in Shaw Centre.

On June 30, the Hong Kong institution will start a six month-long pop-up stint in Les Amis’ Casa Verde restaurant, which serves Western and local food in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The congee will be available only for breakfast and lunch.

By the end of the year, there should be a proper restaurant here serving the congee.

At the pop-up, diners can choose from eight types of congee that are popular among Mui Kee’s Hong Kong customers. They feature ingredients such as dace fish belly sauteed with rice wine, meatballs, pig’s innards and sliced beef.

The Cantonese-style porridge is available only in sets here, priced between $12.50 and $14.50. Apart from the congee main dish, the sets come with dough fritters and sliced century eggs topped with preserved ginger. Diners can also choose other side dishes, including drunken chicken ($10) and blanched kailan ($7).

The Les Amis Group runs more than 20 restaurants here, including Jinzakaya yakitori and sake bar in Farrer Park, the seven-outlet Peperoni Pizzeria chain and the NamNam Noodle Bar chain.

It also runs three restaurants in Hong Kong, including Bistro Du Vin, Piccolo Pizzeria & Bar and seafood bistro Le Port Parfume.

The group’s chairman, Mr Desmond Lim, approached Mui Kee to open in Singapore after he tried the congee, which his staff in Hong Kong recommended.

A spokesman says: “Although the Les Amis Group is often associated with fine dining, we want to bring in good food, regardless of the cuisine and price point.”

She adds that the team was “blown away by the unique taste and texture of the congee and by the stall’s rich heritage”.

It also helps that the 26-year-old stall in Fa Yuen Street Market in Mong Kok attracts a steady stream of tourists.

Mui Kee’s third-generation owner, Pierre Choi, 34, says for the past seven years, tourists from Singapore have made up about half of his stall’s overseas visitors.

The stall offers more than 30 varieties of congee and sells 300 to 400 bowls a day.

Mr Choi, who was in town earlier this week, says in Cantonese: “I am happy to get a chance to step out of my comfort zone and let more people try my family’s congee.”

It was his late grandmother, Madam Mak Mui, who started Mui Kee in Mong Kok in 1979 as a tai pai tong (street stall).

She was from Shunde in Guangdong, China, which is famed for dace fish dishes. After learning to make congee from working at other stalls, she struck out on her own with Mui Kee, which she named after herself. The stall moved to its current location in 1991.

What sets Mui Kee’s congee apart from the rest?

Choi says it is the aromatic and flavourful congee base. The rice grains are mixed with mashed century eggs before being cooked with beancurd skin to accentuate the silky smooth texture of the rice grains. The mixture is then simmered with fish and pork bones for five hours. Upon order, the porridge is cooked in smaller copper pots with other ingredients.

Choi, who has been working at the stall for 12 years, says: “The texture of porridge in Singapore tends to be gruel-like and more starchy, whereas our congee is easier to swallow.”

At the resturant, prices of the congee will be similar to Mui Kee in Hong Kong, where a bowl of congee costs HK$34 (S$6) to HK$65.

Over the past two years, he has been experimenting with ingredients here to replicate the taste of his congee, and has done taste tests with the Singapore team to ensure that the congee is up to his standards. A chef from the Les Amis Group also worked at Mui Kee for a month last year to learn the ropes.

To ensure a consistent quality, he will be based here for the first two to three weeks of the pop-up and visit once or twice a month thereafter.

Mr Eugene Neo, 52, a Singaporean investment manager who works in Hong Kong and goes to Mui Kee once a week, is excited that the hawker stall is opening here.

He says: “I love the wok hei of the fish belly porridge, which has a comforting taste. I am glad that my relatives here will get to know what I have been raving about.”

More Info: www.straitstimes.com

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