Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau fu (秀记江鱼仔釀豆腐) is one of the must eat hawker hunts in Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre. It is a nostalgic dish that many of us ate growing up in Chinatown, including myself. Its signature dish is a bowl of warm hearty yong tau fu soup with a simple set of poached noodles that comes with a crimson saucer of chilli dip. Besides that they also have two choices of add-ons such as deep fried bitter gourd and eggplant.
This yong tau fu differentiates themselves from the mainstream ones with gooey sweet sauce and red chilli by holding on to the good old tradition of serving the noodles in simple cooked oil (熟油), soya sauce and seasoning for the noodle dressing. The meaning of cooked oil simply means the oil has been sautéed with some ingredient before using and thus has a deeper flavour.
The noodle selection comes in 3 choices, bee hoon (thin rice noodle), kuey teow (flat rice noodle) and yellow mee (round and fat noodle) or a combination of either two types of noodle. Usually, the go-to combo for me is kuey teow and yellow mee. The reason being the kuey tiao soaks up the dressing with its silky texture and the yellow mee gives the combo a chewy bite. The noodle and yellow mee are fresh supplies from the wet market within the same Chinatown complex. It has that very clean yellow mee taste that has a mild bitterness from it which many secretly enjoyed and the kuey teow has a nutty rice flavour to it. These yellow noodles are poached quickly in the boiling hot pot and served al dente. This is one of the reasons why many keep coming back for more at Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Foo.
This dry noodle is characterised by the signature crispy ikan billis served atop the noodles in a disposable soup spoon. The ikan billis together with it crunchy texture is best eaten with the noodles. Enjoy the umaminess of the ikan billis with the chewy but firm noodles. Here’s a little history about the evolution of these ikan billis at least 40 over years back.
History of Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu
It used to be run by their parents and now held by the 3rd generation of the family with some of the traditional preparation still intact. More than 40 years ago, they were situated in a dark dimmed recessed niche of Chinatown Complex Market and Food center. It was fondly known by the elder as “幽灵山庄” which simply translate as the spirits mansion. The reason being the place is kind of hidden deep in the food centre and kind of dimly lit. Back then this hidden gem is already operating a brisk business despite its “ULU” location. They were in constant production of frying the ikan billis and sugar coating the ikan billis. The sugar caramelised ikan billis are a rich deep brown colour and often clumps together.
These were served free-flow atop table top in white plastic containers with neon red top together with the signature red chilli sauce. However in recent times, due to raising food cost, these practices have to be halted. The place was filled with the aroma of caramelised fishy aroma. While the frying of the ikan billis takes place on the left side of the stall, the right side of the store are busy preparing freshly handmade yong tau fu pieces to satisfy the hungry crowd. Served by the boss in white cotton t-shirt with his combed back slick clean hair style. The steam from the soup is ballooning non-stop into the air; it is the natural air aromatics used for that area. Back by some strong backlit windows at that area, it enacts almost a heavenly scene of misty clouds floating in the air, serving up some godly delights.
For extra kick to the noodle, drizzle some chilli dips and mix them well with the noodles. The chilli is not overpowering and has a tangy tone to it.
Many of the regulars prefer to eat the noodles with the old school way with just the oil and soya sauce combination. Check out how the kuey teow picks up every little bit of the chilli sauce, the fine texture of the sauce is perfect for the noodles.
The four items in this yong tau fu soup are fish ball, tau kee (bean curd skin), tau fu (bean curd) and tau pok (bean curd puffs) all stuffed with some hand beaten fish paste. The tau pok (bean curd puffs) is soft cloud of umami fish paste with tender bean curd puff bursting with soup.
The fish ball is made using hand scrapped fish meat from yellow tail fish and parang fish. The duo fish paste is processed, whipped and “beaten” into a bouncy and sticky fish paste. The preparation of the fish paste for the next day starts after the stall shuts for the day. It is a tedious production from filleting of the fishes, to scrapping the fish meat off the bones and whipping the fish meat to a pulp. They produce at least 1000 fish balls daily to satisfy the hungry regulars. Not to mention, the numbers of handcrafted stuffed tau fu, bean curd puff, bean curd skin, bitter gourd and egg plant, it is really a labour of love. Be nice to them, the next time you buy this bowl of yong tau foo.
The bean curd used in this bowl seems extra ordinary also. You can literally taste the soya bean used to make this bean curd. My guess is that these are hand crafted bean curd from (a supplier) the tell tale signs of the imprints made by the cheese cloth that is used to compress and remove the excess liquid from the curds. A closer look at the bean curd, these are probably made using traditional tray with the imprints of the tray on the side of the bean curd. It cannot get more complex with this handmade bean curd. A down to earth piece of bean curd that is so old school. The texture of the bean curd is firm enough to be held with a pair of chopsticks but fragile enough to break and melt down once in your mouth. You can taste the difference from the store bought ones definitely.
The tau kee (stuffed bean curd skin) is a lightly fried bean curd skin cradling a roll of fish paste. The skin is chewy and has a bite to it. It is a stark contrast and offers a nice balance to the fluffy, soft, bouncy texture of the other 3 items in the soup.
This clear unassuming soup base is actually a broth made from ikan billis and fish bones. It has light and clean taste to it.
These are add-on items in the menu and many regulars’ favourite. These are deep fried stuffed bitter gourd and egg plant. The bitter gourd as implied by its name is bitter and could be an acquired taste to some. The seeds in the center of the bitter gourd are removed, stuffed a disc of fish paste and smoothen with some salted water to form a unified flower-like bittergourd yong tau foo. Strangely the bitter gourd does not taste as bitter as expected; this could be in their selection of the bitter gourd. Their secret to select a less bitter one, choose one with larger ridges, wider grooves and lighter in colour.
The egg plant is a soft slimy pudding like texture held together by the wrinkled skin of the fruit. These add-ons are on the greasy side since they are deep fried.
Price of Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu
Here are the prices for a bowl of pre-selected yong tau foo with noodles of your choice. For 4 pieces with noodles or 6 pieces without noodles is $3. The add-ons are priced at 70 cents for bitter gourd, eggplant or ikan billis.
Do go over to show your support if you are craving for some old school yong tau foo. The signature yong tau fu set consist of 2 steamed items (the bean curd and the bean curd puff) on traditional bamboo tray, boiled fish ball and deep fried bean curd skin in a fish based broth. It also comes with a bowl of noodle topped with crispy ikan billis and a chicken rice style chilli sauce. This is the most popular Chinatown Complex Yong Tau Foo.
Lunch hours: 5.45am till 3pm or whichever earlier when the items are sold out.
Xiu Ji Ikan Billis Yong Tau Fu (秀记江鱼仔釀豆腐)
335 Smith Street, #02-88,
Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu number:
Unfortunately, they are purely walk-in with no reservations.
Chinatown Complex Food Centre