Kim’s Curry Hainan: Shiok mala Hainan-style curry rice sets from $3.50 at Toa Payoh

I love Hainanese-style curry rice. There’s just something about a sloppy, messy plate of curry-drenched rice that makes me instantly salivate. Add mala to the mix and you’ve converted me into an instant fan— case in point: Kim’s Curry Hainan.

I found this humble curry rice stall at J99 Eating House at 186 Toa Payoh Central— the very same coffee shop I used to frequent on a daily basis when the SethLui.com office was around the corner.  

Kim’s Curry Hainan is a recent phenomenon, as its first outlet only opened at Admiralty in Jul 2022. In a span of a few months, it quickly expanded to Bedok and Toa Payoh, and its fan base grew thanks to its affordable curry rice sets that come with the most addictive mala gravy.

Despite the brand’s relative newness in the F&B industry, Kim’s Curry Hainan comes with a ton of history. Not only does the secret family recipe for its Hainanese curry date back to 1974, the family behind Kim’s Curry Hainan originally started out as a tingkat and catering business in 1999.

As with most Hainanese-style curry rice shops, Kim’s Curry Hainan offers a select few set meals. The cheapest is its Curry Chicken Wing Set (S$3.50), while its priciest is the Signature Kim’s Curry Combo Set (S$6.80). Other popular sets include the Crispy Pork Chop Set (S$5) and Braised Pork Belly Set (S$5.50).

You can also choose to order à la carte style, just like your regular caifan stall. However, the difference between Kim’s Curry Hainan and other shops is the choice of curry that will drench your rice afterwards.

In an almost ingenious manner that makes me go “why didn’t I think of that sooner”, Kim’s Curry Hainan offers unique gravies, such as mala and chicken collagen, which you can select on top of the usual lor bak and curry gravy.

What I tried at Kim’s Curry Hainan

Oh, glorious curry rice! The sight of my Crispy Pork Chop Set (S$5) made me wish I could’ve dug in immediately, but alas, the camera needed to feast first.

Each curry rice set came with your usual suspects: a sunny-side up, soft cabbage, a bed of white rice, your choice of curry gravies, and your choice of protein.

For this particular set, I decided to get the mala gravy. It might be worth noting that the mala gravy is doused on top of the regular curry gravy, so you’ve got to give it a good mix to ensure the spicy flavours are distributed evenly.

What I loved about Kim’s Curry Hainan was how its base curry gravy was delicious on its own, with a well-balanced saltiness, heat and savouriness, and a texture that was satisfyingly creamy yet not too thick. 

The addition of mala to an already rich gravy only made the entire experience 10 times better, as the tell-tale numbing spice crept up slowly yet surely, tickling my taste buds and causing me to sweat halfway through the meal. 

When paired with the lor bak sauce, which leaned towards the sweeter end, everything became heavenly addictive. I simply couldn’t put my spoon down!

I had a love-hate relationship with Kim’s Curry Hainan’s pork chops. While I loved the breading, which was tangy and reminded me of Hakka-style fried pork belly in fermented beancurd, it wasn’t crispy enough. It also wasn’t freshly deep-fried and had been sitting in a pile on the counter, ready to be served to the impending lunch crowd.

I moved on to my second plate of Hainanese-style curry rice: Braised Pork Belly Set (S$5.50).

If Kim’s Curry Hainan’s pork chops had disappointed me earlier, its glistening chunks of braised pork belly more than made up for it. These were large, rectangular cubes of soft and jiggly braised pork belly that were so tender that I had problems picking them up with my spoon!

This must be one of the best braised pork bellies I’ve eaten in my entire life, and in a single heartbeat, I knew I’d easily make the trip back to Toa Payoh again just for this. Each delectable piece of braised pork belly melted in my mouth, leaving behind a distinctive meaty and savoury taste that could only come from a stellar lor bak gravy.

One word just kept repeating in my head over and over again: Shiok.

While the soft cabbage and sunny-side up weren’t particularly a stand-out item, they complemented the rest of the delicious elements of the dish perfectly (just like Robin is to Batman). The cabbage added a textural contrast to the curry-laden rice, while the sunny-side up, though a little overcooked, made each bite creamier.

Final thoughts

Marrying mala and Hainanese-style curry rice is an ingenious combination that definitely paid off. Seriously, why was mala curry rice not a thing until now? Plus points definitely go for Kim’s Curry Hainan’s affordability as well as generous portion sizes.

While the pork chop wasn’t my favourite as I wished it had been crisper, I think I’ve found the most ideal combination: braised pork belly with mala curry. The way that the tender braised pork belly melted in my mouth could easily rival those of other popular Hainanese curry rice stalls. The next time I’m back for Kim’s Curry Hainan, I might even just ask for more curry for that extra shiokness.

Expected damage: S$3.50 – S$6.80 per pax

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