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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

This plate of sinfulness at “Tian Tian Seafood Restaurant” became a blip on my radar thanks to Caecilia (Instagram: @singaporeliciouz) who had posted about it some time ago.
I got around to trying it when my dad and I visited the seafood “zichar” spot along Outram Road this evening. To be frank, the dish is super simple - instant noodles stirfried with minced pork in a bit of sambal chilli and pork lard, then topped with a fried egg and luncheon meat. Anyone can probably rustle this up at home but it doesn’t change the fact that hoovering up those curly strands and chomping on the thick pieces of fried luncheon meat sparked joy in me.

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Not many places serve both pig’s liver and kidneys in a dish, let alone get it so right.
Even though I am useless in the kitchen, I know these organs are damn tricky to cook. Get the timing wrong and they can give rubber bands a run for their money. If the supplier doesn’t clean them properly, then you can be sure that complicates matters further.
Over at Joo Heng, the liver and kidneys are prepared so faultlessly, we cleaned up the plateful in a jiffy.
Poached till optimal softness then stir-fried very quickly with spring onions and ginger in a dark sauce with a dash of sesame oil, the thinly-sliced organs smell and taste very clean. They are also very tender to the bite.
Do make sure to order this signature dish when you dine at Joo Heng as it is a rare treat.

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How awesome it was to catch up with my ex colleagues (and a couple of their present colleagues) over lunch at Joo Heng restaurant, a “zi char” place In Joo Chiat. Oddly enough, although I have been in that area dozens of times, I have somehow overlooked visiting it in the last couple of years. The eatery has since been renovated, boasting an air-conditioned environment now for a more comfortable dining experience.
One of the signature dishes we ordered was this platter of steamed baby squid. When I was flipping through the menu, it had caught my eye and I knew we had to get it. Everyone else seemed pleased enough with how good it turned out to be - very fresh, springy and delicately sweet.

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Ordered the Oyster Omelette at “Maddie’s Kitchen” (level 5 of Far East Plaza) to share. It did not disappoint.
A serving costs $10.80 nett but comes with about half a dozen huge, creamy oysters. Honestly though, it’s the eggy parts of this dish that impressed me the most because I usually tend to zero in on those. Somehow, the way they fry the blend of egg with flour batter here gets amazingly fragrant and crispy results.
There was a very smartly-dressed elderly uncle (I’m guessing he is the boss / one of the bosses / related to the boss) hanging around the eatery and he kindly gave me a tip to mix the tangy chilli dip with the belachan chilli dip. That would make the best combo for dunking the oyster omelette in, he said. He’s right.

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It will be downhill after this point but at least my first meal of the first weekend of 2019 is a healthy bowl of sliced fish beehoon soup.
This $8 portion is big enough to be shared by two but if you’re famished, having it all to yourself won’t leave you feeling guilty at all. The dish has enough flavour so it tastes good in a “clean” way by itself but I prefer it with the housemade sambal belachan.

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To steam a fish perfectly is an art and at “Zai Shun Curry Fish Head”, they are pretty much a Jedi Master at it.
Browse around social media and you’ll see multiple posts praising their flawlessly steamed fish, regardless of the species. And they do seem to have many.
It starts with you choosing from the catch of the day packed with ice in a row of styrofoam boxes arranged in front of the stall. Somehow, big or small, firm or soft of flesh, the result is unerringly delicious.
I guess that’s what you get when you combine unbelievable freshness with what I suspect is steaming durations that are timed to the nanosecond.

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Journeyed to the West for a family event earlier today, after which a few of us adjoined to “Zai Shun Curry Fish Head”, a Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded eatery, for an early lunch.
Whilst waiting for our Red Grouper to be steamed, we dived straight into this spread that included bittergourd stirfried with eggs and salted egg (my personal favourite), “hae bee hiam” (fragrant fried minced dried shrimp), fishcake, an omelette with “chye por” (preserved radish), braised pig’s trotter, steamed stuffed squid in black pepper sauce and stewed “kim cham” (golden needles). All of the dishes were just as impressively fresh and appetising as when I was first brought here by my friends Iggy and Janice.
I’m glad to report that everyone else who joined me today for the first time, thought very highly of the food too.

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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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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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