Chef Neil Perry is an expert at uncovering delicious eats around the world and Kok Sen's prawn paste chicken has earned its position as one of his absolute favourite meals in Singapore. Here's why.
Why I love it
A mixture of Cantonese and Hokkien cuisines, prawn paste chicken is such a Singaporean dish. The chicken is deboned and a prawn paste, almost like fishcake purée, is stuffed under the skin, leaving the flesh juicy and flavoursome underneath. It’s laid out as a whole chicken shape, cut into portions, to serve. The skin is crisp and the prawn mousse succulent and bouncy at the same time. It’s a sheer marvel how they do it – I love the taste and presentation and never go to Singapore without having it. It’s all about the flavours and textures coming together to make an umami bomb.
Kok Sen is a classic Singaporean Chinese restaurant, called zi char, which serves a mix of food with local Hokkien and Malay flavours. Expect to see sambal turn up on a few dishes. It’s simple and open to the street, with plastic chairs and lots of tables, hot (no air-con!) and the menu is plastered all over the walls. These Chinese coffee-shop restaurants are unique and although the comforts are pretty basic, it’s difficult to eat better – well, tastier, at least.
What else is on the menu?
I go to Kok Sen for specialties such as yong tau foo, a hotpot of tofu, eggplant and chilli stuffed with fish paste, cooked in a delicious brown sauce; it arrives at the table bubbling away. It’s hard not to burn your mouth as it’s impossible not to dive straight in! Kai lan stir-fried with roast pork – the vegetable melting and deep green with super-crisp crackling pork and tender meat – is so simple but it’s one of the best versions I’ve had. The fish head curry is a favourite and here you can get the rest of the fish as well. Sambal French beans stir-fried with prawn balls is a cracker, too.
Goes well with...
It’s hot and sweaty in a good way and I always drink lots of cold beer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wine list – there may be one but it’s never on my radar.
Where to get it
Kok Sen has been at the same location, amid a clutch of restaurants, for more than 35 years. It’s popular and busy so booking is recommended. 30 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6223 2005.