Yi Liu Xiang, Hougang: Snaking queues at nasi lemak stall even without chicken wings on menu

If you could pick only three essential ingredients that make up a typical nasi lemak, it’ll probably be rice, sambal chilli and chicken wingsCrispy, juicy chicken wings are must-haves for a plate of nasi lemak to qualify for my top 10 list.

Yi Liu Xiang Nasi Lemak stall

Yet, Yi Liu Xiang Nasi Lemak at Hougang Hainanese Village Centre (affectionately known as ‘purple market’) has attracted snaking queues since it started operations in 1983 with just their best-seller kuning fish.

Yi Liu Xiang Nasi Lemak 3

That’s right; you won’t find chicken wings on the menu. Instead, their simple three-set menu features only fish as the main accompaniment. Having enjoyed the extremely affordable price of S$2.50 all these years, I was sad to find out that prices have increased to S$3.

What I tried

close-up of kuning fish

On any other occasion, it’d be a real waste to choose fish over chicken wings. After all, kuning fish are notoriously known not to be very fleshy. Yet, the kuning fish is the star of this nasi lemak. Being freshly supplied daily by the fishmonger from the market below, the fish is fried to crisp perfection.

In fact, like soft-shell crabs, their fried kuning fish can almost be eaten whole. You’ll think that like most deep-fried foods, the resulting texture would be tough and dry. Quite unlike any other, the kuning fish is not only fleshy but remains moist and tender even after deep-frying.

Yi Liu Xiang Nasi Lemak 7

It’s easy for most to pick out a good plate of nasi lemak. Accompanying toppings aside, the quality of the rice remains the crux of the dish. The fragrant waft of the rice as I approached the stall was a promising sign.

Each mouthful of rice carried the richness and creaminess of coconut. Apparently, apart from the usual pandan leaves, coconut and salt used to cook the rice, a secret ingredient is added to give their rice a special fragrance. Together with their sambal, it gave each spoonful an extra kick. I dare say you wouldn’t be able to keep to your low-carb diet once you start digging in; the combination of the sweet and spicy sambal with the fragrant nasi is sure to make the whole plate irresistible.

close-up of silverfish

Defying another convention of nasi lemak, the stall does not offer the usual side of peanuts. The founder of the stall, Mdm Liang, reasons that it is difficult to ensure that the peanuts are consistently fried to perfection since they burn very easily.

Instead, she decided to focus on perfecting the other ingredients. In place of deep-fried ikan bilis that usually came with peanuts, Yi Liu Xiang prefers using another anchovy alternative of premium Japanese silverfish.

Unlike the rock-hard crunch of deep-fried ikan bilis, the salty crisp-like crunch of silverfish makes for a good substitute, almost like an afternoon snack on its own. In fact, it’s such a crowd-pleaser that you can buy a packet separately from the stall for S$7.

close-up of crispy fish fillet

I was quite disappointed when I realised another change to the stall. Each set no longer came with its unique floppy omelettes. While some enjoy the burst of yolk from their sunny-side-up, I liked the crisp golden brown edges and delicate centre of their thin eggs previously.

I found out the reason for the discontinuation of the unique topping was the laborious effort required to prepare the eggs from the early AM, which Mdm Liang was unable to do due to her old age. In its place for every set ordered is a crispy fish fillet with a crumbly batter. Standing out against other stores, the biscuit batter allowed the fillet to be crispier than many others I’ve had.

Final thoughts

If you still can’t reconcile not having chicken wings with your nasi lemak, Yi Liu Xiang gives you the perfect opportunity to skip the wings and have a go at a different rendition of a local favourite. Be in line early though, they’re known to close early and even sold out even before their stipulated closing time of 12pm when I was there!

Expected damage: S$3 – S$5 per pax

Price: $

Our Rating: 4 / 5

Yi Liu Xiang

105 Hougang Avenue 1, Hainanese Village, #02-30, Singapore 530105

Our Rating 4/5

Yi Liu Xiang

105 Hougang Avenue 1, Hainanese Village, #02-30, Singapore 530105

Operating Hours: 6.30am - 12pm (Fri to Tue), Closed on Wed & Thu

Operating Hours: 6.30am - 12pm (Fri to Tue), Closed on Wed & Thu