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.
KEK Zi Char Burgers: Introducing the Sotong BLurger!
Behold the "Sotong BLurger! -- Eat oredi sure blur like sotong!"
The Sotong BLurger is basically deep fried calamari rings bathed in a creamy salted egg sauce between two toasted buns!
But wait, I hear you say, sotong in a burger?! You siao (crazy) or what?
Discovering places like Chui Xiang Kitchen is really what this blog is all about. I really like these small eateries where the owner is also the chef. Chef owner restaurants are more common with cafes and Western eateries, but when it comes to Zi Char and local cuisine, you often find hired hands in the kitchen. Sometimes the owner doesn't even know how to cook! But when you find a small restaurant where the owner happens to be the chef, chances are that the food is going to be a little more special.
I am sure that readers who grew up during the time when sang meen was really popular would have a pavlovian response to the photo of the crispy plate of thin egg noodles with a mound of slice beef on top. I mean who wouldn't like noodles that are fried to a crispy crunchy texture? It's like eating "Mamee" except much better!
This week's recommendation came from Francis Andre who wrote in to alert me to this hidden gem in Sims Drive serving cheap and good food. After our makan session, our kakis also agreed this is certainly one of the better neighbourhood Zi Chars around!
Ponggol Seafood was founded by Mr Ting Chong Teng in 1969. At the time, he was working as a foreman at a sauce factory and driving taxi part time. One day he drove all the way to Ponggol point and saw a place for rent and decided to go into the restaurant business. With the knowledge gleaned from his experience working at the sauce factory, he managed to come up with different sauce recipes for his seafood dishes. In the beginning, it was quite difficult and one by one, his partners all exited the business. But Mr Ting persevered and the rest, as they say, is history!