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Zi Char Choice Picks

Zi Char Choice Picks

Featuring Kok Sen Restaurant, JB Ah Meng, Penang Seafood Restaurant, Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup (Kembangan), Two Chefs Eating Place (Commonwealth), Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup (Kaki Bukit 511 Market & Food Centre), Xin Yuan Ji (Bugis), Two Chefs Eating Place (Sin Ming), Tian Wai Tian Fishhead Steamboat (Serangoon)
Veronica Phua
Veronica Phua
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Within the corner coffeeshop that faces the big carpark in Joo Chiat are three stalls selling food I like very much. In the morning, I go there for “Da Dong Prawn Noodles” on a regular basis and of late, have also grown fond of the “ban mian” (the dry version is shiok) from the stall next to it.
Come evening time, it’s the “zi char” dishes by “Mellvin Seafood Restaurant” that draw my return visits. I feel their cooking leans towards the Malaysian style, with dishes seasoned slightly heavier for a more intense flavour profile - something I find more enjoyable.
Shown above it their Assam Fish Head which has a gravy sour enough to make your mouth pucker a little but there’s no denying it will also have you reaching out for more. They don’t stinge on the “rempah” so there is a nice body to the gravy too. As you can see, the amount of vegetables and pineapple is pretty generous as well. And for the record, every time we have ordered fish here, they have never not tasted fresh either.

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Wet hair and sand everywhere. That’s my earliest memory associated with eating this dish of “Pig’s Trotter Beehoon”. And one of my happiest too because it was during the time when I a kid (yes, dinosaurs roamed the earth then 😆), and an activity we use to do as a family was to drive to Changi Point to have a splash-around in the sea followed by a picnic.
Now, our picnic was by no means anything like the red-checkered cloth and wicker basket filled with neat triangles of sandwiches seen in picture books. Instead, my brothers and I would be standing or squatting on the sandy shore, wrapped in towels, dripping wet in our swimsuits as we wolfed down the still-hot noodles my grandmother or mum had cooked just before leaving home. I recall tightly clutching my flimsy paper plate, heaped with beehoon forked from the pot we lugged along because I didn’t want the sea breeze to carry off the divine deliciousness.
Every strand of the fragrant, slightly sticky-with-collagen goodness was precious, and whenever I found a big piece of pigskin, it felt like I hit the jackpot (fun fact: our family only used the “Ma Ling” brand of pig’s trotter that came in a yellow can). Eating the dish with sliced red chillies in soya sauce was mandatory because well, it tasted great. Moreover during that decade, the whole “eat less sodium” message hadn’t reached us yet. Ah... those were such carefree days.
Back to the present. When I tucked into the “Pig’s Trotter Beehoon” at #twochefseatingplace, I had a major flashback. As tasty as their rendition was, I couldn’t help but think of how having a sky above, sand below and being wet and slightly cold made this simple dish all the more amazing. #noshtalgia

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Yes, the popular fish skin snacks that come in packets are very convenient but having the fish skin deepfried on-the-spot still wins.
This plate we had at this air-conditioned casual eatery specialising in fish steamboat and “zi char” dishes, was freshly cooked with some salted egg yolk and curry leaves. So it arrived very hot and smelling like a million bucks. Every bite was also audibly shattering!
Everyone around the table loved it and I swear, if we had ordered a second serving, that would have been disappeared as fast as the first.

By the way, do note this place is located at the bottom of the HDB block. Please don’t confuse it with the similarly-named eatery located in the rundown-looking corner coffeeshop just across the traffic light junction from it.

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Unless you enjoy trawling through lots of mostly empty shells (the little clams have all but fallen out), I wouldn’t suggest ordering this. Which is a pity as the way they fry them with tiny dried shrimp, ginger strips and pork lard is actually very appetising.

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You know a “zi char” place is totally legit when even a simple dish of kangkong stirfried with garlic in their hands, can be so fragrant with “wok hei”.
The other plus point is there’s pork lard oil used in the cooking as well. And we all know how tasty that instantly makes any dish, right? 😋😋

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When my brothers and I were kids, fish roe was something my grandmother forbade us to eat, saying it would make us “buay thak chek” (that’s Teochew for “cannot study”). I believe she just wanted to hog it for herself because it tastes so good 😂😂😂.
Fast forward to the present. Now, the moment I spot fish roe/eggs on a menu, it has to be ordered. Just like what happened at a recent lunch here with my Burpple teammates.
This “Fried Fish Roe in Cincalok Sambal with Petai Beans” (I insisted on the large portion) has a lipsmackingly tasty sambal that’s umami and savoury (thanks to the fermented tiny shrimps) balanced by a light lift of tangyness (I’m guessing it’s from assam?). It‘s so shiok with the petai I actually felt the fish roe got overshadowed. Maybe because the latter, being fried till a little hard, behaved rather anti-socially and didn’t want to mingle even though the sambal and petai were all over them 😆😆.
Having said that, I would order this dish again if I return but it would be the small serving. Flavours this appetising will always call out to me. Plus, it’s fish roe after all 😄.

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This place is synonymous with frog leg porridge but here is a dish that is a good alternative for those squeamish about consuming Kermit.
The signature “Seafood and Chicken Gizzard Hor Fun” would undoubtedly strike you first with what it comes in. Formed by “opeh” leaves, the receptacle resembles a deep-bottomed boat and it certainly catches the eye when placed on a table.
Portions here are made for sharing and start at $12 for the smallest. That’s what we got, and to be sure, the serving is big. Three people could have easily gotten stuffed on it.
I found the “hor fun” to be really tasty as it was fragrant with a pronounced “wok hei”. The amount of ingredients was pretty generous too. You can expect to find prawns, thinly sliced fish, chicken gizzard, chicken liver (my fave of the lot because it softens to be a bit creamy when simmered in the gravy), “chye sim” and an egg mixed in with the broad rice noodles in the slippery gravy.

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M E D I A T O U R
From “Quan Ji”, stall #01-57 at Amoy Street Hawker Centre that specialises in “zichar” dishes, comes the utterly sinful and unbelievably tasty “Wong Po Lou Meen” (literal translation: Yellow Cloth Noodles).
The thin egg noodles and “chye sim” are first blanched then tossed in a criminal amount of pork lard oil and oyster sauce. Over this fragrant heap goes a freshly-cooked prawn omelette that is thick, silky-soft and perfumed with a maddening amount of “wok hei”.
There is only one portion size for this dish and it costs $20 but it is big enough to be shared among 3 to 4 people. I can’t wait to return for this soon - it is just too delicious.
Thank you Dr. Leslie Tay (@ieatishootipost) for introducing this stall to us as part of Singapore Tourism Board and City Gas’ “Heritage Hawker Spotlight 2018” for the Singapore Food Festival’s media tour.

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When you come here for their charcoal-fired steamboat as most people do, be sure to also order their Crispy Beancurd. We got a medium portion ($16) based on our waitress’ recommendation, and well, every bit of it disappeared into our bellies all too swiftly.
Prepared in big blocks, the tofu is deepfried to an addictive crisp but the main reason for its popularity is how flavourful it is. Obviously the beancurd must have some very finely-minced ingredients mixed in (am guessing vegetables, maybe even seafood, but I could be wrong) which gives it that tasty sweetness. Enjoyed it most dipped in the sourish chilli sauce.

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I have found a “Har Jeong Gai” (deepfried prawn paste chicken) to rival my favourite at “881 X.O. Fish Head Beehoon” on Balestier Road. This one is from “Nan Hua Chang Seafood Restaurant” at the ground level of Blk. 462 Lavender Lane, the lone, long, curved HDB block facing the traffic light junction.
At this air-conditioned “zi char” place, only the mid-joint of the chicken wing is used (sorry drumlet eaters) but each piece is really big and cooked to perfection. Sealed within a fabulously fragrant coating of crunchiness is chicken meat that’s extraordinary juicy and tender. Freshness is apparent as their chicken has none of the gross odour you find in those that have been frozen for too long.
The charcoal-fired steamboat here is another winner. Whenever we visit, my family would order one each of pomfret and grouper because we can’t get enough. Whichever the fish, it always tastes very fresh and comes simmered with plenty of yam, Chinese cabbage and seaweed in a flavourful soup rendered deeply umami by ”ti poh” (sun-dried flat fish).
Pricing is very affordable too (shown above is the medium portion that costs $14) and I feel the food here tastes better than the longer-established and popular place selling very similar dishes, diagonally across the road from it.

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A big reason why I prefer the Bedok food centre branch of “Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup” is that their steamed fish never fails.
Whatever type of fish my dad and I pick, it’s always covered in leeks, “kiam chye”, “tau cheo” and tomatoes, heat-boosted with a splash of chilli sauce (you can ask for it to be left out) and steamed to perfection. And yet even with all that seasoning, the freshness of the fish is still apparent.
My parents and I use to have dinner here very regularly for years before the hawker centre closed for renovations. Am so glad it’s reopened - we can get back into our happy little routine again.

The force is strong in the little green bean of Petai (kind of like the little green being who’s a legendary Jedi master). Its ability to have its pungent scent enter and leave your body with equal measures of equanimity is something to be reckoned with.
But I can’t resist petai in any form. Be it stirfried in a sea of crispy ikan bilis and sambal which you can get at “zichar” stalls dotting our little red dot of Singapore, or blanched and cut into tiny pieces to be eaten with miso creme fraiche and kaffir lime-sprinkled rice crackers, a dish dreamed up by a young Singaporean chef at “田 Magic Square”.
Always good either way and all ways.

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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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