Dynasty Ipoh Seafood: Fried Porridge Chef finally opens his own place!
It’s been a rocky road for Chef John, our fried porridge maestro. Barely a few months after he opened Royal J’s premium, it was shut down due to some disagreements with his business partner. I have been following John on his stall hopping trip since Dec 2015 when he first left Ipoh to set up shop at Macpherson, then he moved to bigger premises in Lavender before moving to the last location at Bishan. Now he has finally ventured out on his own, so hopefully he will stay put at his present location for some time.
We might be worried about the disappearance of certain hawker dishes like char kway teow or satay beehoon, but not zi char. Zi char is alive and well and it is easy to understand why. Whereas Singaporeans would complain about a plate of char kway teow which costs $6, no one blinks an eye at a plate of fried vegetables with oyster sauce that costs $8 at the zi char. Zi char is good business, which is why there are a lot of zi char out there. The real challenge with zi char operators is how to come up with a few signature dishes which will help them stand out from the crowd.
I am sure most Singaporeans will be familiar with the Yaowarat district in Bangkok. It is popularly known as the Chinatown of Bangkok and it is where you go for Thai-Chinese food. I haven't really explored the food at Yaowarat much even when I was living in Bangkok in the early 2000's. The place is a traffic nightmare and I remembered it for its numerous shark's fins restaurants!
JB Ah Meng burst into our Zi Char scene in 2009 with their white pepper crabs going for $20 for 3 . I still remember reading about them in the forums and promptly made my way down to sample the food. They have made great strides since then and even gotten themselves listed in the […]
It is hard to write about an eatery when expectations are so high. Firstly, Ka Soh has been around for a long time and is regarded by many as a Singaporean institution. Mention fish head beehoon and har cheong gai and its name would invariably turn up! And then, there is the fact that they are on the listed in the Michelin guide as a Bib Gourmand restaurant! With these two accolades, you won't be blamed for expecting the food to be stellar.
It's not everyday that you find an adventurous cook like chef John. Our mid week makan group has been on the zi char trail for the last two years and our experience has been that most zi char places will offer the usual, tried and tested selection of dishes like fish head curry, salted egg sotong, cereal prawns, sambal kangkong, etc. Not many are willing to take a risk by offering something a little out of the box.
Once upon a time, there was a man who ran a very successful restaurant serving traditional Cantonese style food. This man, Mr Chai Kok Hoong, had two sons and he brought them up in the kitchen. He taught one son how to use the wok and the other how to steam the food. Each son was to specialise in his own area of the kitchen and wasn't allowed to encroach on the other's territory.
I think the challenge for anyone entering the zi char business is to be able to come up with one or two signature dishes with the ability to capture people’s attention. You Huak managed to do it with their seafood white bee hoon, New Ubin with their beef fried rice and Royal J with their fried porridge. Just being competent in the usual compendium of zi char dishes will only get you so far.
Hong Kong Style Kitchen (港式小炒): Cheap and Good Zi Char
Cheap and reasonably good zi char food. You can't really complain when the steamed grouper costs only $15 and the fish handpicked by the chef from the wet market every day. The food may not be the tastiest we have come across but it is good quality and you will be more than happy with the portion size and the price.
This version of white beehoon is quite different from the wet version we are all familiar with in a similar way that wet hokkien mee is different from the dry type. I liked the texture of the thin beehoon and how it had absorbed the flavour of the stock.
I remember my first encounter with the BBQ Stingray. It was in a little coffee-shop in Teban Gardens in 1987. Before that, I don’t think I have ever eaten stingray. In fact, I don’t think I have ever eaten stingray in any other form since. Stingray, it seems has been created only for this one particular dish, just like no one really eats kohada in any other way other than as a sushi topping.