Anyone tailing me over the past few days might come to this conclusion: That Cheryl, she’s just a big whore.
It’s these red-light districts. I just can’t stay away from them.
Not that I’m dissing the world’s oldest profession, but it’s actually other afternoon delights that have been the draw for me in these neighborhoods.
In yesterday’s case, it was Kok Sen Coffee Shop‘s crispy harjeong gai, a Singaporean dish of chicken marinated in prawn paste and then deep fried. (A particularly apropos lure considering “gai,” or chicken, is local slang for “prostitute.” As is “fishball girl” in some corners, for that matter. I’m not even going to speculate why.)
These dear friends of mine, they are keen to corrupt me.
We’ll be meandering along Keong Saik Road, a lane short and narrow, in search of dinner in a cool spot. And we’ll notice the sprinkling of unmarked doors, well-kept and clean, with the fluorescent-white numbered boxes above them a coded beacon for the lonely.
“Oh,” Jeanette will say. “I can’t believe we took you to a red-light district again.”
But morality is something I’ll gladly trifle with in the quest for good food.
And while the non-air-conditioned Kok Sen offered us no break from the humidity, the restaurant’s perfectly fried harjeong gai with its light-enough, salty coating of prawn paste, made the trek worth it.
I could recite odes my stomach instantly started dreaming up when the braised bittergourd with peppery pork ribs landed on the table. (Sadly, I can’t say the same for the dry fish kway teow, a broad rice noodle dish, which was so greasy I felt I probably had the mustache to star in a “Got Grease?” ad after just a few bites.)
But the dish that made all the leering stares worth the shady walk to the restaurant was the Ampang yong tau foo, a heady stew of tofu and vegetables such as eggplant and peppers that were hollowed out, stuffed with minced prawn paste and then simmered in a dense, peppery gravy.
The walk back to the car was slow and languorous. In the darkness, we waddled, passing lecherous old men sitting in coffee shops, silently contemplating us over the tips of their mugs.
It was early enough. And the street was still populated enough. And we felt bold enough, buttressed by the meal we had had.
So, we simply stared back.