[Updated July 2016] Zi Char (or Cze Char) is the kind of food that can warm your heart, especially when you dine with your entire family and friends over dinner, each ordering their favourite dish of hor fun, kang kong and har cheong kai.
My family used to order zi char only during special occasions, and we usually frequent Hillman and Pok Kee in the past.
Fatty Weng, Lai Huat, Sum Kee, Hong Kong Street Chun Kee, Ka-Soh, Hong Sheng, JB Ah Meng, Le Chasseur, Joo Hing and Sin Hoi Sai are some of those that continue to be the choice of many Singaporeans – many of which have decades of history and stand through the test of time. (Read: What Is Your Must Have Zi Char Dish?)
Rather than call this the 10 Best Zi Char in Singapore, these are some of my favourite ‘zhu chao’ places – each already very popular for their wok-fried dishes.
Most have a stand-out signature dish, quite unseen anywhere or where others fail to replicate as well.
Several of these places on this list, are also recently included into the Singapore Michelin Bib Gourmand Guide 2016, such as Kok Sen, JB Ah Meng, and New Ubin Seafood.
New Ubin Seafood
Block 27 Sin Ming Road (behind Block 26), #01-174 Sin Ming Industrial Estate Sector A, Singapore 575680
Opening Hours: 11am – 2pm, 5:30pm – 10:30pm (Tue-Fri), 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 10:30pm (Sat, Sun), 5:30pm – 10:30pm, Closed for lunch on Mon.
Though New Ubin Seafood has its beginnings from a restaurant Pulau Ubin’s north shore, they really made its name when it moved to the rustic Sin Ming area, where the décor is still quite kampong-style.
Not the typical zi char dishes, you would find US Ribeye, Chocolate Alexander, Fish Roe Masala, BBQ Baby Back Ribs, Satay Foie Gras, and BBQ Pork Collar among the top selling dishes
Some customers call this the ‘ang moh’ zi char restaurant, and order the US Black Angus Ribeye Steak ($12 for 100 grams), served together with caramelised onions, Idaho potato wedges, sea salt flakes, and my favourite… fried rice cooked with beef drippings. Super flavoursome.
Por Kee Eating House
#01-02 69 Seng Poh Lane Singapore (10-15 min walk from Tiong Bahru MRT)
Opening Hours: 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 11:30pm Daily
They closed, and they reopened. Yeah. Say hello back to Por Kee’s signature dishes like the Champagne Pork Ribs, Homemade Beancurd ($16), Cereal Prawns ($22), Crispy Butter Prawns ($22), and Yam Basket with Chicken and Shrimp ($16).
My favourite dish is easily the Homemade Beancurd with mushrooms ($16). While deep fried, the inside remains very smooth and silky, poured over by a flavourful sauce with super-power wok-hei. I swear you can feel the wok-hei breathing in your body after taking a bite.
Kok Sen Restaurant
No 30-32 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089137
Opening Hours: Lunch: 11.30am – 2.30pm, Dinner: 6.00pm – 10.30pm (Closed on Mon)
This Cantonese-style restaurant’s most famous dish is its Big Prawn Bee Hoon, costing a pricey $15 for a seemingly humble zi char place. Yes, 15 bucks for hae mee! But quoting L’Oreal, it is worth it, and I have been ordering it almost every single time I come.
My tip is to share the bowl with a friend as it is quite heavy in taste (actually most of the other dishes tend to be richer and saltier as well). Plus, you should leave some space for other dishes like the awesome Claypot Yong Tau Fu, which is quickly sold out by the evening. (Read: Kok Sen Restaurant (Keong Siak Street))
87 Science Park Dr #01-01 Oasis Singapore 118260
Tel: +65 6464 0410
Opening Hours: 11am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 11pm (Mon-Sun)
5000F Marine Parade Road, Laguna Park (Condominium), #01-22/23, Singapore 449289
Many calamari dishes tried elsewhere failed big time, usually tasting rubbery and overpowered by salted egg yolk sauce. Singaporeans may love salted-egg-anything, but let us not drown our food in it.
Diamond Kitchen’s Salted Egg Sotong ($14) was spot on – crispy deep fried, dusted with some spicy powder, evenly tossed in salted yolk mix, and did not taste overly chewy.
Yong Kee Seafood Restaurant
Boon Hwa Food Centre, 43 Jalan Besar (opposite Sim Lim Tower)
Opening Hours: 5:30pm-3am (closed on every first Wed of the month)
Every table orders the chao tar bee hoon (burnt vermicelli) at Yong Kee. This crispy vermicelli ($5) is a must try at Yong Kee located within a coffeeshop along Jalan Besar Road. You might have seen this dish before in Malaysia, but it is definitely uncommon here. The wait of 20 minutes was long, but it was worth every minute.
Arriving like a round pancake, the beehoon was crusty on the outside layer, yet moist and flavoursome on the inside where the bee hoon had soaked up the rich stock. (Read: Yong Kee Seafood (Jalan Besar))
Two Chefs Eating Place
Blk 116 Commonwealth Crescent, #01-129 Singapore 140116, Tel: +65 6472 5361
Opening Hours: 5pm-11:30pm (Mon), 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5pm- 11:30pm (Tues-Sun), Closed last Mon of the month
Two Chefs describes themselves as “high class dishes at zi char prices”. Hmmm. The dish that everyone talks about is the Butter Pork Ribs ($8/$12/$16) which is pork chop (no ribs) covered with a specially made powdery butter.
The pork cubes are indeed quite tender (can’t complain because I always get tough pork in Singapore), covered in this snowy white textured, sweet tasting butter power which takes four hours to prepare. It tastes like dried up condensed milk, while the traces of curry leave add a hint of fragrance. The dish used to be much better though, recently the power got clumpy.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood
124 Bukit Merah Lane 1 (next to Alexandra Food Village) Singapore 150124, Tel: +65 6272 1038
Opening Hours: 11:00am-2:00pm, 5:00pm-11:00pm Daily
Keng Eng Kee is one of those Zi Char places that actually have good service (no grumpy aunties) – prompt (in fact too prompt my dishes arrived in minutes) and friendly. The originality of the dishes is quite mixed. Owner Mr Liew is Malaysian who learnt his craft from his Hainanese father-in-law, and serves mainly Cantonese styled dishes.
The eatery frequently introduce new dishes such as Thai style Claypot Chicken, and Royal Stew Pork Ribs, but it is the Mingzhu Roll ($9 for 6 pieces) that look overly elaborate and creative. It is fried tau pork stuffed with a variety of ingredients – salted egg yolk, prawn, ham, mushrooms and parsley served with a sweet cream sauce. Customers like to order the ‘Moonlight Horfun’ where an egg yolk is crack in the middle of wok-fried rice noodles.
232 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, Singapore 560233 Tel: +65 6285 6762
Opening Hours: 4:30pm – 11:30pm (Reservations needed, except weekends when you have to queue)
Service is almost atrocious but people still come in droves to queue during the weekends. After about an hour wait, we finally got a table. Quickly order the crabs because they may run out (yah, that sounds ridiculous for a crab place).
For their Crab Bee Hoon served in claypot, I am prepared to overlook all the trouble. The soup is richly flavoursome with a multi-layered creamy taste, and that is also when you can savour the sweetness of the crab meat. If you want more, just request to ‘jia tang’ – add beehoon with soup for a price without the crabs.
JB Ah Meng
2 Lor 23 Geylang, Singapore 388353
Tel: +65 6741 2418
Opening Hours: 5pm – 3am
Accordingly, the chefs from JB Ah Meng are from across the causeway, and cook in feisty Malaysian style with wok-hei.
The recommended dishes: JB San Lou Meehoon, White Pepper Crab, Salted Egg Prawn Roll, 3 Delicacy Beancurd.
We heard a statement that “If JB Ah Meng’s White Pepper Crab is 2nd best nobody will claim to be the 1st.” Is that even true? But after chomping down those sweet fleshy chunks on meat tossed in piquant kick of white pepper, we think there is some truth in that statement.
The Mee Hoon looked like a plate of flat mess, but you know, the taste is quite the opposite. The darker the colour, the more flavours it had absorbed.
Sik Bao Sin
592 Geylang Road (Between Lor 34 and 36), Singapore 389531
Tel: +65 6733 3757
Opening Hours: 11:45am – 2:30pm, 5:45pm – 9:30pm (Tues – Sun), Closed Mon
Sik Bao Sin is a zhi char restaurant of a different kind, featuring old school Cantonese dishes that has a ‘home-cooked’ feel (in a good way). The food items here are called “Desmond’s creations”, as it is headed by Chef Desmond Chia who was formally from the famous Sik Wai Sin near Geylang Lor 15. (Note: There was no menu when we visited, which got us quite worried about prices initially.)
Most tables were ordering the Steamed Fish Head ($25), a simple pleasure of fresh carp head covered in fried LARD and bean paste, reposing on fragrant soy sauce.
My personal must-have item ($14) is the Salted Fish Pork Patty, where the pork is hand-chopped with fats, and thus has a springy texture unless the mushy versions we would sometimes get. The topping of a small slice of salted fish is like the gem on a ring.
So what are some of your favourite zi char places and must-have signature dish?
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Kok Sen Restaurant (Keong Siak Street)