Quick Eats: Teochew at Havelock

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DC and I ducked into Mu Liang Zai Liang Kee Restaurant for a quick lunch one hot day. We needed something quick and not too heaty, ordering an oyster omelette and stir-fried baby spinach to accompany some porridge. The oyster omelette was perfectly cooked, crisp at the edges and very fluffy on the inside. The oysters were lightly cooked and coated with a very moreish sambal sauce. It was ambrosial with the porridge, I’d eat that in a flash anytime!

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The stir-fried baby spinach was expertly done with just the right tenderness and a light touch of wok hei. We asked for less oil to make it a slightly healthier meal and they obliged. It’s not the kind of place where food only tastes good if done with too much oil. The only issue was that the porridge was a bit too mushy, definitely not the clean tasting Teochew style porridge with intact rice grains. This was just run-of-the-mill. Maybe we’ll order rice next time.

Mu Liang Zai Liang Kee Restaurant
719 Havelock Road
Tel: 6272 3182

Traditional Teochew

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We went out with family for the famous Teochew food at Ah Orh, mainly because DC’s grandma wanted to have braised goose. I have no objections whatsoever to one of my favourite types of fowl and happily joined in. The star dish of goose was excellent, where the slightly gamey taste of goose was very well set off by the flavourful spices. I liked how mellow the dish was. We made some halfhearted comments about taking some back for those at home, but ended up polishing off the whole dish instead. There were some other bits to the dish as well: tau kwa, braised pork belly and cucumber. I liked the soft, yet rather dense texture of the very fresh and creamy tau kwa and also the cucumber chunks that very nicely soaked up the goose gravy. It’s well worth coming here just for the goose I think.

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But won’t you miss out if you only eat the goose here? The hae cho (prawn rolls) here are pretty good. They’re made with yam, so a little different from the norm. I’m not sure how much prawn really goes into this but I think the stuffing is prawn, minced pork, yam and maybe chestnuts. All that is wrapped in tau kee (beancurd skin), deep fried and then eaten with a burnt caramel sauce. I quite liked this version although the yam made it rather heavy after a couple. I had to go easy on this to make room for the rest of the meal.

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They made a decent rendition of oyster omelette, with barely cooked oysters atop a nicely executed omelette. DC’s mum wasn’t too keen on the fact that the two had obviously been cooked separately. I guess she’s far more discerning than me on this! For me, oyster and egg make such a magical combination that as long as they’re decently cooked, I’m happy.

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The weakest link in the meal was the braised fish head with bitter gourd. The taste was all over the place and not harmonised at all. There was bitter and salty and chilli-hot, and that didn’t enhance the slightly over-fried fish pieces. It didn’t help that the fish was rather bony and we were spitting out bits of bone more than chewing and enjoying. This was a dish I wouldn’t re-order.

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Special mention must be made of their sambal kang kong. I liked how there was plenty of wok hei and a very flavourful sambal with bright flavours that really stood out. It was quite a spicy dish too, so beware!

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We weren’t really going to order this because we’d stuffed ourselves silly. But how to go to a Teochew restaurant and not order orh nee for dessert? I am a huge fan of yam paste and while this version looked rather disgusting (pardon the photo), I was surprised by how much I slurped it up and even fought DC for seconds! This yam paste found that sweet spot of silky yet with the occasional little chunk of yam to remind you that it’s made from real yam and not powder. It wasn’t overly oily or lemak either and while I was sceptical that there wasn’t pumpkin (and very little gingko nut, to DC’s dismay) but mainly red date, the paste did fine on its own. You have to save some space in your stomach for this dessert!

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Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant
Blk 115, Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-1627
Tel: 6275 7575

August in China: Modern-Day Chaozhou

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I wasn’t sure what to expect in Chaozhou. In my mind, Chaozhou has an almost mythical quality, more so than Xiamen. For the Hokkiens have the entire Fujian province as a spiritual home while the Teochews have only the city Chaozhou for theirs. Sure, nearby Shantou speaks Teochew as well but to the overseas Chinese in me, it doesn’t really count. (For those unfamiliar with the local terms, Chaozhou is pronounced Teochew in the local dialect of the same name and Fujian is said Hokkien, again in their local dialect Hokkien.)

There wasn’t much on Chaozhou in my guidebook, so I contented myself with a quick four-hour pitstop in between Hakka country and Guangzhou. I spent most of my time exploring the crumbling streets around the Anping Lu area. Here the houses set along zigzagging alleys dated to the Ming dynasty. It was fun to spot little details yet untouched by restoration for the tourists. As usual, the old seedy area was much more interesting than the prettier but less characterful area under restoration just streets away.

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I wandered the backalleys which often turned into people’s backyards, surreptitiously taking shots of, well, everyday life.

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Here, it didn’t seem like time passed very fast at all. This scene of the crumbling tile and rusty bicycle to me fits fine even a hundred years back.

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I liked how traditions still ran strong here, with freshly calligraphed couplets adorning the courtyard door.

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Here’s another surreptitious shot, this time of old-timers at their usual practice session. Two of them are playing the erhu (a two-stringed instrument vaguely similar to a violin) and a yangqing (conceptually somewhat like a piano). It was great standing at a respectful distance just watching and listening.

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The bridge was the last stop before I turned back to the bus station to catch my coach. I think this could be Xiangzi Qiao which was apparently built in the 12th century. Too bad it was crumbling and not particularly attractive, plus had some kind of exorbitant entrance fee (as usual). I turned around and strolled back past the atmospheric streets I’d just finished exploring, slowly savouring the sights and sounds (for free!) all the way back to the bus station.

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August in China: Guangzhou Goose Galore

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I started August in China by crashing at Tortoise’s pad in Guangzhou. She wasn’t too impressed with the food there compared to her native Hong Kong, so I didn’t get many recommendations for where to go for good food. All I knew was that bird flu warnings or not, I was going to get my fill of goose.

And boy did I get my fill. One evening I walked down Beijing Street, a crowded shopping street crammed with tiny shops. Turning into one of the garrets, I found a little eating place like those pseudo-coffeeshops in Far East Plaza. This one had roast goose and I happily tucked into the soft kway tiao and msg-laden soup.

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In my last few days in Guangzhou, I was caught by Typhoon Nuri which was given a typhoon warning of 10! Tortoise had already evacuated back to Hong Kong but I had to stay put because of visa issues. I spent two days haunting her apartment, doing nothing but braving the occasional trip out to get food and then watching the Olympics on cable.

Tortoise had the good sense to stay nearby some decent food. There was this Teochew place that had braised goose. Ducking into the shop during lunch time, I asked for just a goose drumstick, but they only sold it by weight. I ended up ordering a jin (500 g) of goose, which worked out to beĀ  about a third of the bird. I went the faux-Atkins route and had it accompanied only by vegetables. Boy was it heavenly.

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I ate the rest of it for dinner. And for breakfast the next morning, both in front of the TV watching Typhoon Nuri’s progress.

Another time, I made it to the Chinese fast food chain Zhen Gong Fu (literally: real kungfu), complete with Bruce Lee cartoon image. I’m guessing that they probably just lifted his image from some website and didn’t bother with copyrighting. The restaurant itself, if you can call it that, looked exactly like a McDonalds or KFC. You’ll have to look closely at the picture below to realise that they actually sold steamed dishes.

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A typical set meal consisted of a double-boiled soup, some kind of steamed meat and steamed vegetables. The Cantonese in me expected to have something vaguely wholesome and at the very least not too oily, but fast food is fast food and China is China. I had some kind of pork herbal soup covered with a layer of oil, chicken in black bean paste and too much oil, and steamed iceberg lettuce with (no prizes here) way too much oil. I suppose it’s still better in the nutritional scale than McDonalds anyway. Great concept though. I wonder if it’ll fly in Singapore.

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Nuri soon fizzled out and it was back to my regular programming of pulling up a stool at a roadside stall.

Self-Discipline at Amoy Street Hawker Centre

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A friend came back on holiday and we went to Amoy Street Hawker Centre to satisfy her cravings for Teochew porridge and kway chap. We made it there just before the lunch crowd, so it wasn’t too bad finding seats. To our amusement, the practice of using tissue paper to chope seats is still going strong.

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Our first stop was at Teo Heng Teochew Porridge (1st floor). It’s quite different from other Teochew porridge stalls which are also chap chye beng stalls in disguise. The choice here is limited to pork and innards, braised duck, squid, fishball products and tofu products. We didn’t see any steamed fish nor stir-fried dishes. Seems like the only vegetable you can get is giam chye.

That certainly didn’t faze us because what my friend really wanted was her giam chye fix. We ordered braised duck, stuffed tau pok, tau kwa and of course giam chye.

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Each bit of the dish was good. The classic Teochew braised duck dipped in chilli vinegar was as it should be, slightly chewy and taking in the flavour of the soya sauce it was cooked in. The stuffed tau pok had a satisfying mix of textures: crisp cucumber shreds, firm bits of pork and that unique spongy-crisp feel of tau pok. The best of the lot were the giam chye and tau kwa. The tau kwa was creamy and soft while the giam chye was stewed till just right. It was salty, slightly sweet and slightly tangy, almost melting into the porridge. Needless to say, the friend was very satisfied. We spent slightly over $8 for the stuff in the picture and two bowls of porridge.

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We moved on to Ah Hing Kway Chap upstairs where we ordered a single portion (about $4) to share: small intestine, tau kwa again and of course giam chye. You can tell that we aren’t big eaters at all. We both liked the soft, slippery kway. The small intestine was pretty decent, though not the best I’ve had. It was a tad rubbery from cooking too long in the hot soy broth. I liked the tau kwa, though it came in second to Teo Heng’s far superior version. My friend didn’t like it, she found it too mushy. The most disappointing part was the giam chye. It was FAIL in so many ways, not cooked till soft, too sour, too sweet. In a word, FAIL.

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By then we only had room for teh halia at Rafee’s Corner. This is one of the best teh halias I’ve ever had. There’s enough ginger to give a throat-tingling kick, the tea is strong enough, it’s just the right sweetness, just the right amount of condensed was added. If there’s any detested evaporated milk in there, I can’t tell. And the best part is that they tarik it for you at no extra charge. 80 cents a cup in the CBD is just an amazing price.

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Because of our great restraint at lunch, I got hungry early in the evening. Luckily I had the foresight to takeaway some bak chang from Hoo Kee on Level 1. I’ve seen rave reviews of it on both Makansutra and ieatishootipost. After steaming to reheat, this pretty sight beckoned.

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It was good! I enjoyed it so much that I forgot about adding the accompanying chilli sauce. The glutinous rice was firm, the pork tender, the chestnuts sweet and floury and the egg yolk perfectly crumbly and fragrant.

I’m not a bak chang fan. I used to hate having to eat it for breakfast when the season came round, but this I’ll willingly have any time of the day! The only complaint I have is that it’s the most expensive bak chang ever. This one with salted egg and chestnut costs $2.80. Madness considering that the same amount could get you a decent bowl of noodles.

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