The Buzz among our Kakis
Lately, this particular Zi Char establishment has been generating a lot of buzz and catching the attention of our kakis. Intrigued by the enthusiastic recommendations, we decided to organize one of our regular makan sessions there in order to understand what all the excitement is about.
From Real Estate to Wok Warrior
What sets Rainbow Rice House apart from other Zi Char restaurants is the fact that the boss, Louis Tay, is actively involved in the kitchen, unlike most Zi Char establishments where the owners typically play only a hosting role. Louis had a background in various retail businesses before he made a significant career change, driven by his passion for food. In the year 2000, he ventured into the culinary world by operating the canteen at Changi Naval Base. During this period, Louis honed his skills in preparing typical canteen dishes such as Nasi Padang and Bak Chor Mee.
In 2008, they transitioned to a Zi Char establishment at Fook Hai Building, where Louis further enriched his culinary expertise by learning the art of Zi Char cooking from his Malaysian chefs. They relocated to their present location in 2019 after a brief respite during which the couple considered retirement. However, their passion for food pulled them back into the kitchen.
Louis remains deeply involved in the day-to-day operations, commencing each day by sourcing fresh seafood from the markets and ensuring the quality of ingredients. He spends the rest of the day in the kitchen wrestling with the wok.
It’s worth noting that Rainbow Rice House also caters to lunchtime diners with their chap chye png where customers wanting a quick lunch can simply choose dishes to go with rice. Or they can opt for something freshly prepared from the kitchen. The Zi Char dishes featured at the restaurant are primarily available in the evenings, providing a diverse dining experience throughout the day.
Review of the food
Must Try Dishes
The one dish that really stood out for me was the ngor hiang. The flavour of the yam was quite distinct in the Teochew style ngor hiang and the crust was incredibly crunchy! 4.5/5
There is no doubt that Louis is a master of the deep fry. I enjoy his crunchy batter, which he tells me is made from almost all the conceivable types of flour available in the market! Their eggplant is crunchy on the outside with just a sliver of creaminess on the inside. It’s tossed with fried curry leaves, curry powder, and topped with pork floss. Quite addictive. 4.5/5
Can Try Dishes
The fried Hokkien Mee is one of their signature dishes that most people order when visiting. Louis uses thin bee hoon but manages to fry it in a way that keeps the noodles quite moist, although it isn’t swimming in gravy. Most of my friends gave it a nod of approval, but I felt that it could have more ‘wok hei,’ and the prawn stock could have packed more of a punch. 4/5
One thing I really appreciate about Rainbow House is the quality of the seafood. Louis still takes the time to personally visit the market to buy the seafood every day, and it makes a noticeable difference in the dishes he serves. For the fish head curry, he uses a very generous Ang Koli (gold banded jobfish) head, which is not so commonly seen nowadays. Most run-of-the-mill curry fish head places now use smaller farmed Ang Koi (red snapper). The fish was very fresh. The curry was a fusion of Nonya and Indian styles, rich with a bit of tang. It was good but just failed to cross the threshold into the realm of addictiveness. 4/5
The omelet was skillfully fried, resulting in crispy edges and a moist and fluffy centre. However, I found the chili a bit too sweet and it didn’t quite complement the flavor of the oysters. 4/5
The quality of the pork ribs was very good. They were meaty and had a nice bite and the marmite sauce was well balanced. It was just slightly dry and some of our friends wanted the meat to be falling off the bone tender. It didn’t bother me since I still have all of my teeth. 4/5
Try If You Must Dishes
The market prawns were fresh and juicy but the assam sauce just failed to hit the spot for me. It could have been a little more tangy and punchy. 3.5/5
Louis recently introduced a series of Nonya dishes because of his passion for cooking. At the of our visit, we felt that he was just a little light-handed with the sauce. The flavors were good but needed to be more robust in order to be eaten with rice. In the case of the ayam buah keluak, instead of serving whole nuts, he blends the buah keluak with minced pork and cooks it in the gravy. This makes it easier to eat as you don’t have to scoop out the nuts, but again, the buah keluak lacked that earthy, slightly bitter aftertaste which is what buah keluak enthusiasts look for in the dish. It’s still early days, and I am confident that with a bit more time, Louis will refine the Nonya dishes to make them more enticing
It’s clear why our kakis have been drawn to Rainbow Rice House. Louis and his wife are exceptional hosts, the ingredients are carefully sourced, and it is not common to find a zi char chef you can talk to make personal requests. It’s the kind of place that can easily become a regular hangout. While most of the Zi Char dishes are excellent, the newly introduced Nonya dishes will need more fine-tuning, but I’m optimistic they’ll reach their full potential in due time.