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Zi Char Choice Picks

Zi Char Choice Picks

Featuring Kok Sen Restaurant, KEK Keng Eng Kee Seafood (Alexandra), JB Ah Meng, Penang Seafood Restaurant, Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup (Kembangan), Two Chefs Eating Place (Commonwealth), Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, Xin Yuan Ji (Bugis), Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup (Kaki Bukit 511 Market & Food Centre), Two Chefs Eating Place (Sin Ming)
Veronica Phua
Veronica Phua

M E D I A S H O O T
I had accompanied Alicia for a video shoot for Burpple at this “zi char” place tucked away in the light industrial estate in Upper Thomson area and concluded it to be a place I would return as a paying customer with my parents in tow.
Opened for business earlier this year, “Tian Wei Seafood” is a spacious eatery that is well-ventilated and cool.
In terms of whether they are the first in Singapore to come up with the “Mala Crab”, it is hard to verify but frankly, I don’t think it matters. What’s more important is whether the dish tastes good and I think theirs does. They prepared our portion with a medium level of spiciness and it turned out to really shiok. There was sufficient fragrance and hotness in the sauce, but at the same time, it didn’t overpower the inherent sweetness of the meaty Sri Lankan crab. I like that they cooked the dish pretty “wet” so there was a lot of “mala” liquid to sip on.

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S P O N S O R E D
If you want to escape the haze, are in the Eastern end of Singapore on a weekday and feel like having “zi char” in cool comfort, Tiger Street Lab is a destination you can check out.
Located on level five of Jewel at Changi Airport, they have collaborated with MICHELIN-plated Keng Eng Kee on a “street food” menu for this season (it is available until end October). Part of this menu includes a selection of thoughtfully-designed quick-lunch options for weekdays. At the tasting, I picked the rice bowl with Sweet & Sour Pork and found it decent for what it is - a simple meal. The sauce coating the bonesless strips of meat was well balanced and appetising.
If you can get away with drinking alcohol during lunch, perhaps a bottle of the newly launched Tiger Crystal might interest you.

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In 7 out of 10 discussions with my parents on where to eat, the name of this eatery is brought up.
Sprawling across a few units in the basement of the Golden Mile Tower, “Golden Mile Thien Kee Steamboat” is the perfect place to tackle cravings for Hainanese chicken rice, steamboat, “zi char” and freshly-grilled satay in one fell swoop. A family-run establishment, the friendly and vigilant bosses can always be seen hovering, ready to lend a hand where needed.
The chicken of their chicken rice is decent but it is the rice that I really like. It is on the oily side but it sure is tasty. In fact, I’m happy to spam it with their lip-smacking, slightly salty chilli sauce and have it just like that.
They do their steamboat the traditional way. So forget about selecting a broth because there is only a standard clear one. As for the ingredients, there is no choice involved. Only elimination. Unless you tell them what to leave out, the standard mixed plate of prawns, sliced fish, sea cucumber, fish maw, sliced pork, pig’s liver and cockles will land on your table. Ditto a plate piled with Chinese cabbage and a small bowl with a raw egg still in its shell. One such set is suitable for two, so a party of four should double it. Of course, nothing complements the ingredients cooked in the steamboat better than the chicken rice chilli dip.
We like to supplement our meal by getting on a stirfried vegetable from the “zi char” menu. Sometimes, an omelette too.
Although we didn’t order on our recent visit, this eatery also serves satay that we find tasty. Their grilled meats are consistently well-marinated and tender.

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Having enjoyed this eatery’s famous Moonlight Hor Fun on a previous visit, I wanted to try something else for our meal-closing noodles, which is how the Fried Mee Sua ended up on our table.
Light and a little fluffy, the strands of noodles were suffused with “wok hei” and a rich flavour. Obviously, whatever stock Chef Wayne splashes on during the cooking process was of a superior kind. The amount of “liao” (ingredients: prawns, pork, squid and egg) thrown in was also impressive. It hit the ideal noodle-to-“liao” ratio for me, which means I never had a bite where it was mee sua and mee sua only.

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On my third visit here in the space of a few weeks, this time with friends visiting from Hongkong, we ordered the “Black Pepper Crab” as they had a craving for it.
The sauce here departs a little from the norm. Unlike the typical black pepper sauce I’ve had at most restaurants and other “zi char” eateries which tends to differ in terms of how peppery it is, this tasted more complex and leaned towards the savoury. I found out from chatting with co-owner Paul that his brother, Head Chef Wayne adds fried curry leaves and “hae bee” (dried shrimp) to theirs. No wonder it’s so unique. It had us licking our fingers after we were done licking it off the crab shells. #toogoodtowaste.

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After seeing @kengengkee post about their Steamed Crab on Instagram, my parents and I decided to give it a try when we were there for dinner last Sunday. Well, we loved how its natural sweetness shone through in this style of cooking. There was nothing too rich or overpowering because the crustacean was topped simply with egg white and finished with a splash of Chinese wine. For freshness of crab, there is hardly a better litmus test either, and KEK Seafood Alexandra passed with flying colours.

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It’s clear KEK Seafood has a very good supplier because their liver tastes really fresh. And based on what I heard from co-owner Paul Liew, Chef Wayne and the kitchen team treat the cooking of the liver like a science to ensure it arrives nice and soft on the customer’s table. So if the customer is seated in the air-conditioned area, which happens to be twice as far from the kitchen as a customer seated in the al fresco section, cooking time is halved. This is because they take into consideration that the liver will continue to cook in the claypot as it’s being carried all the way there by the wait staff. Honestly, I was so impressed when I heard this.

Paul has a great tip to share as well. He recommends ordering a bowl of rice to add into the claypot. Give everything a good stir to allow the rice grains to soaks up the tasty gravy while helping to absorb some of the heat so the liver doesn’t become overcooked. Isn’t that a smart idea? And more importantly, the result is shiok!

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Revisited the original Mellben Seafood at Ang Mo Kio last week after a long, long lull and besides ordering their signature Crab in Claypot Beehoon Soup, we also had to have the ever-popular Chilli Crab.
The crustaceans we got that evening were extremely fresh and superb in quality, with firm and springy flesh that was easy to remove from the shell. Striking an ideal balance between spiciness, tang and sweetness, the exuberantly tasty, thick and slightly gooey gravy made sure things got finger-licking good very fast. The mini fried “mantou” buns were dunked in it quicker than you can say “jacuzzi party”.
Here’s a tip: Do inform your server to bring your fried “mantou” at the same time as your Chilli Crab. Ours had arrived too early and were a little hard when we ate them. Trust me, they are not as shiok as when they’re piping hot and soft within.

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My niece had a craving for crab which is how I found myself at the original @mellbensignature at Ang Mo Kio again after so many years. It was nice to not have to queue since we were there before 6pm on a Thursday.
After her dad selected our crabs from the line-up of “Small”, “Big” and “Big Big” arranged on three chairs, we chose to have our two “Big” crabs prepared in different styles. The above videos show the signature Claypot Crab Beehoon Soup, which was the first to arrive.
The crustacean in our second dish of Chilli Crab featured the better specimen but this was nonetheless, still satisfying. What I loved most was the soup. It’s extremely tasty as the sweetness of the crab-rich broth had been heightened, and given just the right amount of body by some evaporated milk.
This is a great one-dish meal to order as there’s a generous amount of thick beehoon in the claypot too. On top of that, you can always add on extra soup and/or noodles for a few dollars more.
Our bill for 4 pax came to about $350 in total. That’s for two “Big” crabs, an additional serving each of the soup and noodles, a plate of fried “mantou”, one tofu dish as well as drinks.

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When one of my cousins suggested this place for our meet-up, I immediately agreed as I have always liked the food there very much.
The six of us covered the table with our combined favourites of clams stir-fried in garlic and chilli, the restaurant’s signatures of fried beehoon and white pepper, steamed fish head and crunchy fish skin with achar. Besides these, we also ordered a couple of stirfried vegetables because another of my cousins Gwen sure loves her greens.
Every dish arrived in a timely manner, was cooked perfectly and tasted very good. There was no over or under of seasoning at all. It is quite a feat considering how rushed off their feet all the staff are on a Sunday night with a perpetual queue outside JB Ah Meng’s entrance.
For your reference, the bill for the six of us came to about $260 in total, inclusive of a few beers and non-alcoholic drinks.

This fish head curry had the most “tau kee” (beancurd skin) I had ever seen. And they were truly the crispiest as well. But once they got pushed into the curry, those crinkly deepfried sheets collapsed in a heap as they started to soak up the gravy - something I found really shiok personally!
The style of curry at this stall suits me well as it’s not too thick or overly rich with coconut milk. There’s a nice touch of assam as well, which made slurping a lot of it all too easy.
I reckon the dish is worth the $25 price tag as the fish head we got was fresh and decent in size (three of us shared this along with two other dishes of stir-fried sweet potato leaves and steamed tofu with minced pork). Furthermore, the helping of lady’s fingers, brinjal and long beans was respectable. Although the few pieces of “tau pok” included were a little dryish, they improved a tad after I allowed them to soak a little longer in the curry.

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Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention but I don’t think many seafood eateries, regardless of price point, serve fresh #turbot. And I am referring to swimming-in-a-tank kind of fresh. My dad who is Teochew and really knows his fishes, ordered one straightaway. Although it’s not cheap (our perfectly steamed 700gm specimen cost $84), we were very pleased with its medium-firm, springy and flavourful flesh and gelatinous skin.
We are sure to return to try more dishes at “Tian Tian Seafood Restaurant” because the food we had turned out to be really tasty and well executed. Plus I like the old-school vibes of the place (they even have tables spilling out into the back alley of their shophouse unit). And for those of you who work late or are on the lookout for a supper spot that serves proper hearty fare, the good news is they operate from 5pm to 3.30am.

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Can't cook to save my life but boy, can I eat! 😄 (I pay for all my meals unless otherwise stated)

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