SINGAPORE — In China, a term is used to describe second-generation children from affluent families who openly and defiantly live off their family’s wealth. This nouveau riche is often referred to as ‘Fu Er Dai’, a slang that first emerged with increasing media coverage referring to them as spoiled, pampered, and often, silver spoon-fed.
Fu Er Dai was also the original moniker of Nic & Tom Eatery when they first opened in 2019, according to an interview the pair did with Mothership that aired in January this year. Knowing full well what the slang referred to, I’m pretty sure 20-year old Nicholas and 23-year old Tommy meant it to be a tongue-in-cheek reference as cousins of the family behind the storied Yong Tau Fu institution, Bai Nian.
Two years on, and Nic & Tom Eatery has firmly established itself as masters of their own fates as evidenced by an unending crowd throughout the day, flocking to this Serangoon Gardens outpost in search for food that’s unpretentious, down-to-earth, and, given its locale, a massive bang for the buck. There are, after all, few places that will sell a bowl of Tuckshop Rice for an eye-popping S$1.90, complete with a sunny-side-up egg, crispy fried pork, and a secret sauce that could almost make this a meal in itself. It’s a great throwback to a time when simple comforts would placate me—this, of course, before the whole shtick as a food critic.
Such a menu choice is unsurprising. Nic and Tom take liberal inspiration from the food they grew up eating as a prodigal Singaporean child to parents that count themselves as expert purveyors of Yong Tau Fu. This expertise rubs off on the young bosses where they serve up light and flavourful bowl of traditional Hakka Yong Tau Fu (S$5.90) chock full of such goodies as prawn and pork paste, stuffed tofu, and bitter gourd.
Unlike other iterations that pride themselves on a heady broth, the soup is clean-tasting with just a touch of umami which works, especially when you need something to consume to recover from the fever from your second dose of COVID-19 vaccination.
This culinary refrain takes me slightly by surprise. I do, after all, live and die by vibrant flavours and seasoning that makes your eyes roll to the back of your head. It is a choice that is brave but at the same time begs disbelief, especially at a time when rich, colourful flavours are encouraged, almost to the point of being mandatory. Here, the executive decision has been made to practice restraint, resulting in a menu selection that is so easy to eat at any time of the day.
A great example of this signature refrain is in a hefty serving of Seafood Cheese Beehoon (S$9.90) that, for all intents and purposes, really sets itself up as being rich and creamy to a fault—at least from its outlook. Yet, what you get is a dish that starts with an intensely savoury seafood broth to which cheddar cheese is infused, not added. It results in a light play of umami and milky mouthfeel, made even better with the addition of prawns that are sweet beyond reproach. I now understand why almost every table has this.
Thus far, nothing is priced above S$10, which is such a welcome change for me. There’s a Pig Trotter Rice (S$4.90) which will set you back and, though simple, is great for when you hate being bogged down by silly things like choices. It comes with a smattering of salted vegetables, a nice touch of acidity to these chunks of fatty goodness: fats, carbs, salt. A sane person could hardly complain.
Usually, at this juncture, I’ll start waxing lyrical or bitterly complain about the praiseworthy or disappointing dessert selection of a restaurant. Fortunately, at Nic & Tom, dessert is a single option of Creme Brulee. And since I do not want to be disappointed by a pedantic iteration, I decided instead to get an appetiser of Pork Wrap (S$9.90) to round up this lunch. Savoury for dessert? This truly is a topsy turvy world we live in.
Although unexpected, the grilled pork belly is easily my favourite dish of the night. It’s meant to be eaten as a wrap with lettuce and a dollop of a cincalok-garlic chilli hybrid—bright with a pleasing vinegar kick to complement these sweet slices of pork belly boldly. It’s addictive is what it is, with a sweet sauce marinade that caramelises perfectly under an intense grill. I only wish all desserts give me the same level of satisfaction as these pan-grilled slices of heaven. Maybe then I’ll have fewer things to complain about.
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Daily: 10am – 10pm
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