We catch up with Tony Boey of joHoR kAki over the semi-buffet at Bistro 1855. The jovial true-blue Singaporean retiree (former Singapore Air Force) has discovered his calling as a not-so-secret food anthropologist.
Blogging since: Dec 2011. Often day-tripping in Johor (“I got time, energy, but not much money.” ), he would search for places to eat but there was hardly any info online. Started the blog to “put every good Johor hawker on the world wide web” .
What’s in a name? Kaki means ’friend’, and the blog aims to help those who can’t find information on our neighbour. Initially wanted to include tips on where to wash one’s car, find a good haircut or a decent massage, but focused on food.
Secretly a: Food anthropologist. Tony is on a quest to seek out artisanal hawkers who do things from scratch, as they did 50 years ago, and their stories. He also wants to give them due validation, because “when I talk to them and they realise what I’m trying to do, they’re very happy.”
Labour of love: Driving into Johor thrice a week is intense. Tony spends about three hours commuting and waiting in traffic; and about three hours at each location (“I try to speak to the boss as far as possible; thus I’ve to wait till he knocks off” ). Back home, it’s another 5-6 hours crafting each post, editing photos and inserting links. “There is no money involved and I pay my own way, but it is very meaningful. And I don’t need to be a wealthy man, I am just an ordinary man.”
Food for thought: “Hawkers need to face commercial realities such as manpower, rental etc. Thus home cooking is where our food heritage will be saved. What we do at home, we do out of love. As bloggers, what role can we play and what can we do about this instead of complaining about hawkers not doing things the right way?”
Ultimate comfort food: Wanton mee. Fei Fei Roasted Noodle from Yuhua Village (Jurong East Street 24 – No relation to the Fei Fei of Joo Chiat though!).
Don’t offer him: Food made without care or love (“some places, the staff look like they hate the food themselves” ). Seal meat and water beetles–“to me bad things always smell like cockroach!” He tried the former as an undergrad in Canada (a fibrous paw for $5) and the latter while in Guangzhou (“the thorax is like a peanut but the belly has that chemical stench with a texture of warm butter” ).
The buffet: Bistro 1855 at #01-643 Suntec City Tower 4, 3 Temasek Boulevard ($12.90++ for salad buffet, add $6++ for main; Mon-Thu 11am-12am, Fri 11am-1am, Sat 11am-12am)
Time of visit: 11 March, 2.30pm
The vibe: “I like this place, it’s accessible, easy to find, spacious and welcoming. It’s got a big bar and quite a good selection of drinks. The no-frills decor makes me feel comfortable. The music’s easy listening and the live band (Wed-Fri nights) seems to take requests. Good for big gatherings but not for a ’food hunting’ day (as we’ll be hopping from eatery to eatery).”
On salad: Loves veggies but won’t specifically go to get a salad, especially if it involves self-assembly. A salad is an appetiser to him, not a main.
Strategy: “Just take what I like to eat then see if it meets my expectations.” Veggies partly for colour, some nuts. “Splash it with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Looks very messy but that’s me.” As a fish person, fish and chips is his main: the dory is juicy, buttery and tender but not mushy, and the batter is not too thick.
Not on his mind: The creamy salad dressing.
Good pick: Bangers and mash. Not greasy nor fatty, and no rubbery skin. Not too salty or overly-seasoned and not much gristle.
Shouldn’t have ordered: The breaded pork loin: thin, dry and fibrous.
Most memorable: The chef. “I feel that I should return and try more of the stuff on his menu ’cause he looks like an experienced old hand.”
How many BiTES?
Value for money: 3.5/5