Xiang Xiang Cooked Food: $1 sweet potato balls sold out by 9am in Chinatown Complex
Madam Hee and her son wake up at 10pm (yes, you read that correctly) to start preparing handmade snacks to be sold at their hawker stall, Xiang Xiang Cooked Food in Chinatown, in the wee hours of the morning from 6am.
Do note that despite the resemblance of the stall name boards, the neighbouring stall is not associated to Xiang Xiang Cooked Food.
For over 30 years, 74-year-old Madam Hee has adopted the sleep pattern of an owl in order to cater to the early crowds of the market. In a personal conversation with the boss behind one of the most popular stalls in Chinatown Complex, we learnt that the business was started when her husband was fired from his job.
Her humble and sincere personality shone throughout the conversation. It was truly a fun and heartwarming moment that I will cherish from the visit!
When asked on the reason behind the name of the shop — Xiang Xiang Cooked Food — Madam Hee smiled shyly and quickly mentioned that the food she made was xiang (香) which means that it smells fragrant.
In the early days of her business, she hoped that doing so would attract customers to purchase her items.
During those difficult times, the lady boss struggled to make an income for her family using the knowledge she had in hand-making traditional delicacies such as soon kueh. However, as the stall was initially located at the far end of the market, crowd traffic was slow.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of manpower, time and depreciating energy that she possesses today, she has reduced the number of items on her menu. She focuses on products that are simpler to craft. However, this has not impacted on sales at all, as regulars and youngsters alike are drawn to her offerings.
What I tried at Xiang Xiang Cooked Food
Although Madam Hee mentioned that all the handmade goodies are equally popular, we cannot help but notice that the multiple trays of Fried Sweet Potato Ball (S$1 for 6 pieces) needed constant refiling. If you are surprised at the cost of these treats, it can only be a testament to the honesty of the business.
Regulars would be aware of the small price hike as the same cost would get them 8 pieces previously. However, Madam Hee emphasised that she made the recent price adjustment to generate some profits.
Having eaten those sweet potato balls since I was young, I can confidently conclude that I prefer this variation much more than the Taiwanese-style ones bought from a pasar malam.
Firstly, the cooking method varies significantly. While the ones sold in night markets are often seen being forcefully pressed down into a heap of boiling oil, Madam Hee uses a more gentle approach.
The sweet potato dough is merely swirled within the oil to shape the fried dough into perfect balls. This results in a more chewy inside while the outer layer remains crunchy.
Secondly, since the dough isn’t pressed down, the resultant size of the balls are much smaller. While this may be a con for someone, I believe this is exactly what makes them so addictive! I would pop one after another until the bag is emptied.
Taking on a similar shape to the deep fried snack, the Ondeh Ondeh (S$2 for 5 pieces) is a family favourite. It is slightly larger than store bought ones and possesses a thicker outer layer. This is in no perspective a disadvantage as its structure meant that more gula melaka could be filled within the kueh.
Based on the accompanying image, I do not think further words are needed to describe the liquid gold.
There are 2 other tapioca-based creations on the list.
For those who prefer eating soft kueh with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, I would recommend the Tapioca Kuih (S$2 for 5 pieces). Portraying a striking yellow colour, the taste of desiccated coconut was most pronounced as the body of the construction literally disintegrates in one’s mouth.
The alternative would be the Tapioca Sandwich (S$1). Being the most dense of the lot, I was expecting the middle dark brown layer to be overly sweet but I was wrong. It also had a pull-like texture which I found unique.
The last item we tried was the Fried Sesame Ball (S$1) which was encased with either bean or peanut paste. The outer layer was fried to perfection which resulted in a crispy and fragrant profile, while the fillings were smooth and sweetened adequately.
The business halts around 9am after all its offerings are sold out. The cleaning process then begins until 12pm before the family team heads home to rest.
I encourage visitors hoping for a piece of their goods to not be overwhelmed with the constant snaking queue. Rest assured, the family’s quick hands will get to your order swiftly!
Expected damage: S$1 – S$5 per pax
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