I was wandering through the maze that is Chinatown Complex’s hawker centre when I saw the following sign:
I was amused and confused. What is cow car water? Cow water could mean beef broth, but where does the car come from? More importantly, why would you cook pork in this? It really doesn’t sound very appetizing.
Asking if I could take a picture of the sign led to asking if I could interview the stall holder, who thankfully agreed. However, when I came back a few days later for the interview, I completely forgot to ask about the meaning behind “cow car water.” I did learn other interesting things, though; for example, the stall owner used to work as a hotel restaurant manager and served President Nixon when he visited Singapore.
The interview also included a peek into the “kitchen” – i.e. the stall next door. Here’s the chef who makes the best roast pork in cow car water:
So what’s the deal with the cow car water? My friend Lauryn solved the mystery. Chinatown’s water was pretty bad back in the day, so water had to get transported in from other areas via cows. Consequently, the Chinese name for Singapore’s Chinatown became “niu che shui”, which translates to cow car water. So “the best roast pork in cow car water” really just means “the best roast pork in Chinatown” and has nothing to do with cooking liquids or methods.