Singapore was the first country I visited outside the Philippines. Since then, memories of hawker food, specifically chicken rice, burned in my mind. That made me one of the people who queued for hours when Wee Nam Kee first opened in Ayala Triangle Gardens many years ago. That also made me one of the people who regularly visited Tao Yuan, Boon Tong Kee, and the now-defunct Makansutra Hawker Center in Megamall.
I was hoping to experience something similar to what I felt in Singapore when I dined in Shiok Shiok. Already knowing what I wanted even before I entered the restaurant, I barely looked at the menu before ordering. Chicken Rice (P135), Katong Laksa (P230), and Chili Crabmeat with Fried Mantou (P280) were the obvious choices.
While waiting for any of the food to arrive, I recommend you look around the place first. Chinese-style awnings, bare cement flooring, and signs that represent major roads in Singapore give you a more immersive hawker experience. Visually, it was impressive. My dining companion even noted that it looked like a restaurant from old kung fu flicks. Not the cleanest place around, but it does have charm.
Shiok Shiok serves the same curry laksa as Eat Fresh! Delicious Kitchen, a popular restaurant that specializes in Hong Kong street food. And I’m happy to confirm that the rumors are true: it really is one of the best you can find in the Metro. The serving’s big enough for four people, the noodles are firm and full of life, the soup is loaded with a lot of toppings, and the spicy broth is divine. Each slurp will bring you to a higher place.
What’s even better about Shiok Shiok’s laksa is that they serve it in a hot pot with a burner at the bottom, so it won’t get cold even after half an hour or so. This may be one of the reasons people complain about the restaurant’s weak air conditioning, though. The steaming broth can really give you a warm facial and make you sweat bullets, if you let it. Then again, who eats laksa and doesn’t expect to get sweaty?
The Chicken Rice was ordinary–quite a disappointment considering this is what I came for. I’m glad they used yellow chicken, but I would’ve wanted ginger to have a greater presence in the background. The rice, on the other hand, was sufficiently flavorful, but not spectacular. The same goes for the Char Kway Teow (P190), which had pleasantly bouncy noodles and bountiful ingredients, but became unmemorable due to its ordinariness. Meanwhile, the Chili Crab sauce was a little too tomatoey for my taste, and lacked the punch and heat I was looking for. The slivers of crab were also too thin to make an impression.
But there are other things that will make me want to travel to Shiok Shiok, like the plump and juicy Salted Egg Prawns (P360). It actually broke my heart that I didn’t order this on my second visit because I was saving my money for other dishes, but damn. Those prawns were fat and sweet, and their flavor complemented the thick and gooey salted egg sauce perfectly. It would’ve been a bit more enjoyable with a bit more heat, but that’s just nitpicking. Finally, no matter how ashamed I am to admit it, I’ve bought into the salted egg trend.
Shiok Shiok must have the best supplier for prawns since the same fat and succulent ones can be found in their Cereal Prawns (P330). You can choose to have this with or without the shell, but honestly, life’s too short to spend peeling prawns. I liked this over the other versions I’ve tried. It was buttery, crunchy, savory and sweet, like your cute but naughty little niece. Again, I wouldn’t mind a little more heat, but overall it was a memorable and enjoyable dish.
After making a few anonymous visits to the restaurant, I can say that dining at Shiok Shiok is like parachuting to Singapore. You can almost believe that you’re eating at one of the country’s famed hawker centers, but then if you order some of the weaker items on the menu, it’s like your parachute fails to open and you hit reality hard on the head.
But putting everything into context, Singapore hawker stalls normally specialize in a single type of dish (or a few varieties of it) then perfect the execution of that dish over time, through countless repetition. Some of the people who own hawker stations are even part of a third or fourth generation in their family to be running the business, so expecting the best versions of each dish in a single restaurant is a tall order to make. But I’ll do it anyway. If, over time, Shiok Shiok can make all the items in their varied yet focused menu as strong as their laksa, then it will save everyone a costly plane ticket to Singapore. I’ll then call it my hero.
Shiok Shiok is located at 81-A Nicanor Roxas, Quezon City, Philippines