Any foodie worth his/her weight in salt would have eaten here at least once in their life. This venerable purveyor of Teochew-styled braised duck attracted pilgrims from all over the island, and made fans out of nearby residents and university students. For those of us broke students at the nearby NUS, this was one place that guaranteed a thoroughly satisfying meal for less than $10.
Now that they've announced that they were closing down for good sometime in June, we've been dabao-ing their duck rice every other weekend ever since we moved to the area. The unabating perpetually long queue and lack of air-conditioning put us off dining at this still-stuck-in-the-60's coffeeshop eatery. But, since Cho is back from his homebase of Hongkong for the weekend, we braved the scorching weather, long queue of devotees and actually sat down to lunch. Cho made the observation that an announcement like that has made this place popular all over again, and I quite agree. I don't quite remember Lim Seng Lee being this crowded all the time back when we used to eat here during my university days. It truly is going out with a bang indeed.
A short aside: the closure of Lim Seng Lee really does mark the sunset of yet another amazing hawker legacy. I wonder if our future generations get to eat the same awesome food that we currently enjoy in our era. Which reminds me of this article that's making its rounds on our local fb newsfeeds, questioning if our hawker food heritage can survive past this generation. Most hawkers aren't willing to pass on their trade to their sons/daughters because they don't want their kids to live the hard life of a hawker. But, these hawkers don't want to share their secrets with "outsiders" either. Really, it's a real quandary. And even if they sell their guarded-with-an-iron-fist secrets to an investor, these investors are usually financially driven and will want to recoup their investment, which will inevitably result in some crappy franchise and run what was once a successful business into the ground by using substandard ingredients and shortcuts because they're more concerned with money than about dishing up a really awesome plate of food. It's just such a depressing thought, and I'm just thankful I won't be around to see the inevitable death of our hawker heritage. *end of aside*
So, we plonked ourselves onto the first table that opened up and quickly placed our orders. A tip is to dine here really early, like at 11 am before the lunch crowd comes barging in. Otherwise, be prepared to do a lot of waiting. You'll wait to get a seat. Wait to place your order for your drinks. Wait to get your drinks. Wait to place your order for your food because the food and drinks are owned by different proprietors. Wait to get your food. And wait some more to pay the bill. Oh, 6 dishes (a 5-person portion of duck meat, 2 large portions of beancurd, 2 large portions of veggies, 3 eggs, 4 bowls of rice and 1 bowl of porridge) for 4 persons came up to a paltry $53.90. How worthwhile is that???
The Braised Duck here is devoid of skin, so if you want that yummy fatty skin, you gotta specifically ask for it. The duck here is soft and tender, and super fresh, with nary a scent of game at all. A velvety dark brown gravy blankets the duck, complementing the fresh duck with its complex herby flavours. An amazing plate of duck, this is.
The Braised Beancurd here is another must-try, mostly because of that luscious garlicky eggy gravy. It's not so much about its simple, plain-ish flavours, but rather the way the smooth beancurd and silky egg slides down the throat like a dream.
The Braised Egg is quite a standard, run-of-the-mill side dish. It goes hand-in-hand with the braised duck, like Bert & Ernie. Not great on its own but wonderful matched with the duck.
The Kangkong, blanched quickly to retain a light crunch, then tossed with spicy dried shrimp paste for an aromatic finish, completes the limited selection of dishes here.The liberal use of hae bee (dried shrimp) gives this an extremely fragrant and umami taste.
Update August 2013: The Lim Seng Lee heritage carries on! The bro-in-law of the founder has opened a stall called 'South Buona Vista Road Famous Teochew Boneless Duck Rice' at Kim San Leng Eating House, 16 Sam Leong Road, a 5-minute walk from Farrer Park MRT station. Opening hours are from 9am to 7.30pm daily
Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice & Porridge
38 South Buona Vista Road
Tel: 6475 9908
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10.30am to 8.30pm (it closes as soon as it sells out just after the lunch peak hours)