Commonwealth Duck

Update Nov 2011 – This stall has disappeared. I will update its new location if it reopens somewhere else.
Eng Kee Teochew Braised Duck
Block 118
Commonwealth Crescent
Singapore 140118

In keeping with my last blog entry about things new and old and how life goes in circles, I thought it’d be nice to continue that string of thought by casting our gaze into my past… towards the familiar, much-loved, easy to crave for hawker dishes that I’d eat with my family in Singapore.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to eat here at least twice a month, so very typical of Singaporeans to keep coming back to just a few (reliable) places to get our specific food fix. It goes like this: we’d be home and one of us would start by saying “what shall we eat?”. Then dad would eagerly pour forth a string of suggestions, all of them old die-hard places, “Let’s have siew gnap (roast duck)… or bak kut teh? Or you want chicken rice?… Turtle soup? Or hey, how about Commonwealth Duck?”. Dad would say it with such foodie enthusiasm that I’d almost instantly feel hungry from the mention of the dishes.
I know Singapore is small, but getting to Commonwealth Crescent from home is still a little out of the way from where we live. It is also very Singaporean to describe a dish and/or a specific hawker stall by the district or street it’s located in. Eg: Macpherson lor ak (braised duck), Katong laksa, Braddell roti prata, Maude Rd gubak (beef noodles)… It’s like calling Collingwood’s Old Kingdom Restaurant “Smith St Peking Duck” or “Collingwood Duck”.
So Commonwealth Duck isn’t a dish per se, it’s just how our family calls the stall that sells it, both the place and the dishes itself. And all the super deliciousness that gushes forth from the mention those words “Commonwealth Duck” is a by product of all the yummy memories I’ve had from eating what should rightfully be called Teochew braised duck at Eng Kee in Commonwealth District.
Fresh, piquant chilli sauce
Anyway so there I was, on my second visit to Singapore after I’d migrated to Oz. Feeling like a foreigner these days, yet I’m still eating at our old favourite stall. And the standard hasn’t dropped. When I eat at these old haunts, memories of my adolescent and young adult life really do haunt me.
As I spoon the light braising sauce over my rice, I’m once again in my army uniform, eating this beloved meal before reporting back to camp. As I tear into the succulent duck flesh, I’m once again a thick-haired and pimply junior college student, having Saturday lunch with my family before we go visit the cemetery to pay our respects to Grandpa. Most touching of all are the memories eating here with dad, mum, Grandma and my then partner… I’m ceaselessly amazed at how they can accept their gay son’s partner as part of the family…
Always my favourite drink, barley water. So good and cooling.
Dad, spooning the sauce over his rice.
I tried making Teochew braised duck recently hoping to copy this stall’s style (see picture below). It was okay, but simply did not taste the same. At Eng Kee, the sauce is just sooo light and tasty and the duck’s all juicy and succulent. There subtle hints of spices in the gravy along with a very light, aromatic oil. Makes you want to keep eating more and more without feeling over oiled-up or jerlak (full from richness). That’s a big thing to say, cos duck is almost always very rich and fatty.
My attempt at homecooked Teochew braised duck (above). Sauce proportion featured too much dark soy and think I overcooked the flesh, but still not bad. Also made pigs ears on the left, now that was pretty nommy.
Also, I think most duck rice stalls in Singapore don’t seem to cook braised duck the same way as Eng Kee’s. The duck’s darker and the sauce is a lot thicker and gooey, and served with dark yam rice. You can read a blog post I’d previously written about the gooey version of lor ak fun here.
Back to Commonwealth Duck. I even love the soft cucumber slices below the duck pieces, it’s the token vegetable component to the centrepiece duck here. Still, it’s really delicious when all soaked up with the sauce. To give us a healthier meal, dad would also order a vegetable-laden bowl of yong tau foo soup from a nearby hawker stall to accompany our meat-heavy meal.
Accompanying dishes to give variety. Firm tofu, hard-boiled eggs and gizzards.
The eggs taste great with the sauce.
More excitingly, dad would order duck wings and feet. These extras taste really great, with lots of sauce-clinging corners for you to nibble, lick and suck.
Duck’s feet. Scary, no?
To me, it’s YUMMM!!!!
I’m unabashedly proud of my pile of duck bones. Look at the beautifully empty plates in the background! And yes, I don’t nibble everything off cleanly. please don’t judge. :D
On a final note, the picture above evokes in me a feeling of bittersweetness. Dad, sitting there waiting for the food eagerly, looking a little lost. Mum, looking above her glasses, keying in things into her PDA. While I was eating that meal with them, this picture I took of just the two of them makes me think of how they dine these days. As retirees… just the two of them, without their son…
I love my parents dearly. But sometimes, I can sense a paradoxical conflict between living in the country I want to live in, Australia, and living away from my dad and mum in Singapore.
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