Loo Hainanese Curry Rice: A legend still going strong after 70 years

The queue during peak lunch hours can extend beyond the sidewalk and streets; some customers prefer to take away and eat at the food centre opposite — Pictures by James Tan
The queue during peak lunch hours can extend beyond the sidewalk and streets; some customers prefer to take away and eat at the food centre opposite — Pictures by James Tan

SINGAPORE, Feb 8 — As much as I would like to move on and cover more ground with my Singapore food journey, I can’t help but share yet another Hainanese curry rice story with you.

Blame it on the genes. The Hainanese streak within me craved for another bite of succulent Hainanese chicken or pork chop, a glass of rich creamy milk tea, or even a plate heaped with plenty of steamed white rice smothered in a mess of curries and braised sauce.

Following my recent excursion to Beo Crescent’s Hainanese curry rice, I discovered this stall hidden within another nameless coffee shop that lies in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood. Here, it’s less than $5 (RM13) per person price tag was well justified by their crispy, thinly-sliced pork chops, soft stewed cabbage and braised eggs.

I guess Tiong Bahru folks must have all the luck. Just around the corner, opposite the Tiong Bahru market (where the food centre is another space packed with great street food gems at rock bottom prices) is this Hainanese curry rice specialist that has been around since 1946.

The stall is known as Loo Hainanese Curry Rice. Apparently they just moved to this new location at the junction of Seng Poh Road and Eng Watt Street not too long back.

Finding this place is not that hard really. All you need to do is look for Block 71, Seng Poh Road (all the other blocks at Tiong Bahru, be it residential or commercial are tagged with numbers and clearly stating the road’s name) and you are good to go.

The large sea water prawns cooked in a sweetish curry were really impressive, I wished I had space for seconds! (left). One of the must try dishes at any Hainanese curry rice stall is the pork chop or the cream cracker crumbs-coated deep fried pork cutlet similar to the Japanese tonkatsu (right)
The large sea water prawns cooked in a sweetish curry were really impressive, I wished I had space for seconds! (left). One of the must try dishes at any Hainanese curry rice stall is the pork chop or the cream cracker crumbs-coated deep fried pork cutlet similar to the Japanese tonkatsu (right)

I quickly did my research prior to my visit, mainly to avoid disappointment of seeing closed doors on an off day, or visiting at the wrong hours. And so, I was pleased that they open from 8am onwards, operating until everything is sold out after lunch.

Armed with that knowledge, I had confidently told my dining companion with a deadpan expression and a smirk on the face, that not many people would go for a Hainanese curry rice breakfast.

But boy, was I wrong.

We reached there around 9.30 am and the line was extended to the sidewalk and the streets. There were at least a dozen patient customers in the line, and more than a few dozen others happily tucking in to their curry rice ensemble, or the mushroom noodles from the adjacent stall, which is another highlight of the coffee shop.

Nevertheless, we immediately sprang into action. One of us went to grab seats, while the other waited in line. The wait was not unbearable. About 10 minutes later, it was my turn to place my order.

Hainanese curry rice lesson #101 — if you are lost and this is your first time, don’t get your knees all-jelly and wondering what to pick from the array of dishes in front of you.

Unlike most conventional economy rice stalls, where you see more of quantity than quality, Hainanese curry rice stalls (the good ones at least) focus only on a few key items, which you should not have any trouble identifying from one another.

The proof of the mettle lies in the curry-drenched rice; at Loo Hainanese Curry Rice stall, the combination of curries and braised gravy make it a lip-smacking experience on its own
The proof of the mettle lies in the curry-drenched rice; at Loo Hainanese Curry Rice stall, the combination of curries and braised gravy make it a lip-smacking experience on its own

The pork chop, stewed cabbage (chap chye) and braised pork, for example. These are generally “safe” dishes that are widely accepted as part of the Hainanese curry rice experience.

The more adventurous (and you really should) eaters would go for the recommended signature dishes at this curry rice stall: curry prawns, curry squid and minced pork patties.

The curries at Loo’s have long been hailed as one of the most traditional and the best amongst its peers. The spices are painstakingly ground from scratch, fried till fragrant and cooked in the curry, a process that takes a good 3 days (!) prior to the curry being served. I concur after the first spoonful of rice drenched in the mix of curry and braised sauce. The taste was definitely more intense (though not spicy) with a sweet undertone, and a sumptuous savoury finish from the braised gravy.

The curry prawns exceeded all my expectations; fresh sea water prawns (large-sized, no less) cooked in a creamy, coconut milk based curry that’s more sweet than spicy. The succulent crustaceans and the flavourful curry were a match made in heaven.

The crispy pork chop was thicker, coated in crumbs (I was told these were from cream crackers) and served with a ladle of tangy tomato gravy possibly with a hint of Worcestershire sauce, just like how an authentic Hainanese pork chop should be.

Although comparing this to Beo Crescent’s paper thin, crispy version, my preference still lies with the latter. But Loo’s pork chop has garnered rave reviews, and really should be on top of your priority list to try.

The chap chye or stewed cabbage with finely cut glass vermicelli noodles was the perfect foil to the otherwise super rich feast with curries and braised meats. And to complete your selection, try their fried-on-the-spot egg omelette.

A meal for two came up to $13.50 (RM35). We definitely thought that the prawns (4 large pieces were served) and the pork chop were reasons enough to return.

If you have tried or heard about another place worth visiting for the Hainanese curry rice, why don’t you share it with me? You can email me at ipohm[email protected]

Loo Hainanese Curry Rice
G/F, Block 71 Seng Poh Road,
Corner of Seng Poh Road and Eng Watt Street,
Tiong Bahru, Singapore

James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)

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