Ocean Curry Fish head may seem like your run-of-the-mill economic rice stall, but its snaking queues that begin as early as 5pm suggest otherwise.
For the most affordable eats in the nation, look no further than Toa Payoh. The humble housing estate remains one of oldest standing neighbourhoods in Singapore and is famed for its abundance of the finest hawker food (that and, well, bubble tea).
And among the dozens of contenders in the area clamouring to impress with local delights, Ocean Curry Fish Head makes waves.
Established by Tay Cheng Toon in 1983, the cai png (economic rice) stall stands proudly as one of the most voted eateries in Singapore for its prized Claypot Curry Fish Head. Everyday without fail, Ocean Curry Fish Head delivers a plethora of Peranakan-inspired dishes to its snaking processions of lunch and dinner crowds – and where there is a queue, you know good food is bound.
We insist on the signature Claypot Curry Fish Head, which is served bubbling hot in a ceramic crock. The curry’s distinctly sweet tang and mildly spicy kick is attributed to years of expert curation of its top-secret homemade spice blend.
“Our recipe has been perfected over many years. It is inspired by the Indonesian method of cooking.” says Tay.
“The spices themselves are more expensive than the actual fish head, it’s the most important part. We use a mix Chinese and Indian masala spices.”
According to Tay, the key to creating authentic curry is to do so one step at a time. Ocean Curry Fish Head’s specialty spice blend is ground and fried, which induces an intoxicating aroma and unmistakable depth of flavour to the dish. The rempah (spice paste) is then stewed with tomatoes, brinjal, onions, ladies’ fingers, and a generous portion of coconut milk in a vat large enough to fill at least 20 claypots.
“Everything is more fragrant when the fish is marinated with the curry in the claypot itself,” explains Tay.
“The Angoli fish is perfect for this dish because it holds its shape while cooking and disintegrates once in your mouth.”
True to Tay’s word, the supple meat of the Angoli slides off its bones with ease, its sweetness melding together with the zest of the spices in an explosion of flavour. More adventurous palates may choose to sample the eyeball for a doughy delicacy; but undoubtably, nothing beats a liberal helping of white rice to complete this majestic meal.
Although prices are slightly steep (at $40 for a head, $26 for half and $22 for a tail), the curry’s worth is guaranteed in the stall’s freshly procured and high-quality ingredients.
If seafood doesn’t quite float your boat, we suggest indulging in other dishes like their Braised Pork Belly, Rendang Mutton and Black Pepper Chicken ($4 per plate). Whatever your fancy, Claypot Curry Fish Head is sure to excite with their array of choices. One thing is for sure, we will be coming back for more.
Ocean Curry Fish Head is located at 92 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310092. Opening hours are 11am to 2:30pm and 4.30pm to 9pm from Monday to Sunday.