Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Battle of the Popiah: Glory VS Kway Guan Huat

On a recent eating excursion I had the opportunity to sample two famous popiah eateries in the East, both of which made it to The Straits Times’ list of the Top 8 popiahs in Singapore. The two eateries were Glory Catering and Kway Guan Huat, the latter of which is ST’s reigning popiah champion.

For any readers who might not know what a popiah is, here is a government sanctioned definition: http://infopedia.nlb.gov.sg/articles/SIP_891_2005-01-10.html

Glory Catering’s popiah is nonya styled with an egg flour skin, which is relatively rare in popiah eateries here. As the name implies egg is added into the flour skin, providing a soft and chewy texture. This is something that I really enjoy. It also holds nostalgic value for me because it brings me back the days when I was a primary school lad in Serene Center (a popular hangout then), where I sampled my first egg-skin popiah from an eatery specializing in it. It was extremely memorable. Unfortunately I have never been able to find another stall selling the egg-skin rolls since the closure of that eatery, let alone an equal. That is until the helpful foodies of the Makansutra forum clued me into Glory Catering which has an eatery branch in the Katong. So how’s the popiah at Glory?

Glory Catering’s Popiah oozing sweetsauce onto the plate

On first inspection I was mildly disappointed as the skin did not look as wholesomely yellow and spongy as my first impression of the dish at Serene Center. Fortunately the visual discrepancy didn’t matter too much as the skin yielded a decent degree of chewy softness. This is one juicy popiah as you can see from the picture above and yet the skin was resilient enough to not go soggy despite the sauces in the roll.

The insides of a Glory Popiah

The main part of the filling consisted of the usual suspects like braised shredded turnip, shrimp, sliced omelette, and fresh ingredients such as bean sprouts and lettuce. Also wrapped were the condiments of chilli paste which provided a sharp spiciness, balanced off by the mellow tasting sweet flour sauce. Garlic paste rounded the whole thing off with a strong but pleasant piquancy. This is no weak-flavoured popiah as the combination of the condiments gave quite a punch. Everything is wrapped tightly together with the egg-flour skin and blends to form a very satisfying and wholesome chomp.

Following that pretty satisfying experience at Glory, my foodie friend and I walked down all the way down Joo Chiat Road to the next popiah location: Kway Guan Huat. This eatery started off as a popiah skin retailer as early as 1938 and has to be one of the oldest popiah stalls in Singapore. They are famous for making their popiah skins fresh on the premises, something that only a small handful of local popiah eateries can boast of nowadays. It is also as mentioned previously, The Straits Times’ food writer Teo Pau Lin’s no.1 choice.

After walking past about 400 units of old shop-houses and Joo Chiat’s red light stretch, we arrived at our destination. It was an hour before closing time and the place was nearly empty. We sat and ordered.

Kway Guan Huat’s popiah came in a flour skin, which is the more conventional style of popiahs you get in Singapore. Unfortunately the skin was a disappointment and did not stand out from the rest of the popiah selling crowd, despite having all that reputation. Whether this is a closing-time related lapse in quality or otherwise I’m not sure, but this cannot have been the same popiah skin that food writer Teo Pau Lin raved about.

Kway Guan Huat’s popiah as served in styrofoam box. Note breaking popiah skin, tsk tsk…

The filling was comparatively unremarkable too, being relatively bland and tasting much the same as any other popiah one might get on the island. There is, however, one factor that differentiated this popiah from the others and that is the usage of ti poh in the filling. Ti poh, or dried fish crisps were a traditional popiah ingredient but somehow its usage died off in most places. The crunchy bits of fish added another textural dimension to the popiah which was interesting.

Seeing that I was taking photos of the food, the lady who served me guessed that the photos were for my blog. She took that opportunity to recommend the kueh pie tee, which I agreed to try. Like the popiah, the filling for the kueh pie tee was nothing to be raved about since it is comprised mainly of the same batch of braised turnip. Apart from that, there was only a bit of lettuce, sweet flour sauce and chili paste. Lacking were the other kueh pie tee toppings such as egg, peanuts or shrimp. On the upside the pie tee shells came warm and very crispy which was good. These were obviously made on the premises, judging from the slightly irregular lips of these pie tee shells – nothing like the neat looking clones that come mass produced. It crumbled and mixed with the moist ingredients when bitten into, salvaging the morsel to an extent. However, it also left a slight aftertaste of oil which is unfortunate.

Now, it would be pretty obvious who the winner of this popiah battle is. Glory’s popiah is probably the best popiah I’ve had in a long while. They do charge a premium for their egg-skin popiah ($2.20) but for that chewy egg-flour skin and flavourful, juicy filling, it is well worth it.

139 East Coast Road
Singapore 428829
Tel: 63441749

95 Joo Chiat Road
Singapore 427389
Tel: 63442875


Thomas said...

Hi there, Kway Guan Huat actually has 3 chefs who wraps the popiah. And trust me, there is huge difference in the texture, the tightness of the popiah, the taste and overall feel. If you have the chance, do try asking all 3 to wrap individually for you. You will see the difference immediately! Of course, I do have my favorite chef =)

Eld said...

Hi Thomas, thanks for the information about Kway Guan Huat's 3 chefs, I might just give them another chance the next time I'm in the area, and see how that turns out.