Features 2 minutes 07 January 2017

Behind The Bib: J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff

Curry puffs with a Bib Gourmand? When it's as deftly put together as Lee Meng Li's version, it's easy to see why.

It might not look like much at first glance, but the humble curry puff is a ubiquitous Malay snack that can be counted on to always hit the spot. The thin flaky pastry usually encases a generous filling of curried potatoes or sardine fish, complete with a hard-boiled egg, though recent years have seen creative combinations like black pepper chicken and yam make an appearance.

J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff
Address: 7 Maxwell Rd, #01-21 Amoy Street Food Centre
Operation Hours: 8am – 4pm,Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Stall owner: Lee Meng Li
From Baking Bread to Frying Curry Puffs
Few know that Lee Meng Li, 47, owner of J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff, used to run a bakery with his wife Wu Jing Hua, 39. But that business soon shuttered as the spike in production costs saw every decreasing profit margins.

After a short break, both husband and wife decided not to give up. Together, they learnt the art of making a good curry puff from a relative in the restaurant industry. In 2007, Lee and his wife opened J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff at Amoy Street Food Centre, selling crispy puffs generously stuffed with a variety of fillings, from curried potatoes and sardines to yam and black pepper chicken.

It was challenging in the beginning, as the lunch crowd that usually patronises the hawker centre would often bypass their snack stall in search for heartier fare. Business wasn’t ideal in the first two years but Lee persevered. Today, the long queue at his stall and recognition from the Michelin Guide is a sure sign that his grit has paid off.

SEE ALSO: Behind The Bib: Ka Soh
The Art of a Good Crust
A single curry puff might only be priced from S$1.20 to $1.50, but it is labour-intensive work. Both husband and wife arrive at their stall to set up at 5am in the morning, where they start by preparing the dough and ingredients for the fillings.

First, the dough is rolled out before the fillings are piped in. The pastry is then folded in half and the edge deftly moulded into the familiar twirl that many love nibbling on. It might sound simple, but it takes nimble fingers and a lot of practise to work magic on the dough. Even the deep-frying process requires meticulous care – the curry puffs have to be laid out in neat rows on a tray before the entire batch is immersed in the piping hot oil and fried until crispy.

“The temperature of the oil must be just right to be able to create that perfect golden crust. The curry puffs also cannot be left in the oil for too long, or the fillings might leak. If that happens, the entire vat of oil cannot be used anymore,” shares Lee.

SEE ALSO: Behind The Bib: A Noodle Story
What to Order
A lot of thought goes into the ingredients he uses for the fillings, too. The sardines, for instance, are carefully picked out from the tin and seasoned with a special blend before cooking. Lee shares that he uses only the larger fish from the tin: “The big sardines have thicker flesh, so there’s a firmer bite. Some customers have even asked me if we use tuna fish.”

The couple also take time to prepare the curried potato filling by hand, though he demurs that there are many out there whose curry potato puffs are better than his, and is constantly working to improve his own recipe.

Lee also shares that the addictive combination of savoury and sweet make his taro yam puff a hot favourite among customers.

Limited to 500 a day
According to Lee, he and his wife have spent years mastering the art of making a good curry puff, and that it would be hard to replicate their puffs using a machine. Thus, the quantity they produce daily is limited. After receiving the Bib Gourmand award, he shares that they’ve been unable to cope with the massive crowds that have flocked to their stall.

“My wife and I have just two pairs of hands, and can only make 500 curry puffs a day as we don’t want to compromise on quality,” says Lee. Finding manpower is also a challenge in this trade, and Lee is not certain that even if he can hire someone, they would be able to match his standards or even stay with the couple for long.

Recommended reading: View more Behind The Bib stories here.


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