Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Roast Duck with Kway Chap

So what exactly is this Kway Chap thing anyways? It took a good while, and several frantic queries to bystanders, to elicit an answer. I was standing in queue at the Adam Road Food Centre, in front of a stall that specialised in poultry. And it sure looked the part. Fat, juicy skinned ducks hanging from hooks, brown hard-boiled eggs on the counter, a fair-sized crowd waiting outside.

The first person I approached said he was not sure, but it had something to do with pig's guts. Not a good idea, what? Then again, there was a picture stuck up there, and it didn't look anything remotely porcine or intestinal. It was a blameless white in colour, swimming in a similarly tranquil-looking soup.

I approached the stall owner, a crusty old Chinese. His response: "You don't know what Kway Chap is? Then I'm not going to tell you!" Recoiling from that spot of gentleness, I almost physically bumped into the Chinese lady standing behind me. She kindly told me what it was, sheet-noodles made of rice, usually served in a soya soup. It is eaten with a variety of things, including piggy entrails. So I guess the first guy was not entirely off the mark.

The shop I was at serves it with roast duck, chicken and pork, and all of them respectable cuts of meat. I wanted duck; never had it in Chinese surroundings. I got a huge steaming bowl of the Kway Chap in soup, and a decent-sized helping of sliced duck meat in sticky, rich brown gravy. For this I paid Singapore $3.50.

The lady behind me then asked me if I knew how to eat Kway Chap. Strange question, given that till a minute ago I didn't even know what it meant. Stranger still was her response to my professed ignorance: "You're very clever!"

I mean, excuse me! A little bit of attitude was OK, but this was quite uncalled for. I suppose she realised it herself, because she thawed down almost miraculously. She was thrilled when I told her I can handle chopsticks, and said I could eat it with a fork and spoon if I wanted, no problem. She also told me to try out the other Chinese stuff on offer at the food court; most stalls served pretty good stuff.

After the big buildup, I was somewhat disappointed to find the Kway Chap tasted more or less as it looked - white, soft and essentially flavourless. The hot soya soup was very nice. Even though the weather was hot and humid, I found myself enjoying it.

The duck was possibly the most fantastic piece of poultry I've ever had. Its skin was crispy, and the meat soft as no chicken could equal. The meat flaked easily, one could actually break it into bite-sized pieces using just chopsticks. (I didn't try; my skills on them are but rudimentary.)

And what flavour! The meat had a strong, livery taste. Not to everyone's liking, admittedly. But once you get used to it, you're hooked. It contains several very strong flavours that somehow manage not to clash with one another. Instead, they combine to create some very complex harmonies. An entirely new experience for me, and a totally addictive one.

I was pretty hungry that day, though. So after finishing every scrap of the duck, I began looking for the next course.