There is just something about “Zi Char” (or Tze Char 煮炒) that is very comforting, especially when the dishes come served piping hot with that strong wok-hei (wok-heat).
Zi Char places are great for family and friends gathering, mostly at affordable pricing (except when you order seafood and just anyhow order).
Some of my personal favourite dishes to order include Beef Horfun, Sweet & Sour Pork, Sambal Kang Kong and Har Cheong Chicken, though there are many eateries that come out with their own specialty dishes.
These are some of the 12 Best Zi Char Places in Singapore, which are favourite ‘zhu chao’ places along with stand-out signature dishes.
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)
Big Prawn Bee Hoon And Claypot Yong Tau Foo
With a history of more than 37 years, it is known to serve different-from-usual wok-fried zhi char, with some dishes unique to this restaurant.
The regulars know the restaurant as “Kau Kee” – the name of the founder, while “Kok Sen” is his son. It is currently helmed by the third generation in the family.
The signature dishes include Big Prawns Horfun ($16, $32, $48), Big Prawns Bee Hoon Soup ($16, $32, $48), Crispy Noodles with Shrimp Omelette ($12, $18 $36), Kung Pao Frogs Stir Fried with Dried Chilli ($20), Cereal Butter Squid ($14, $21, $28), Sambal Kangkong ($10, $14, $18), Black Pepper Beef ($14, $18, $24), and Thai Style Fried Rice ($6.50, $13, $19).
These are not your ordinary coffeeshop prices.
This Cantonese-style restaurant most famous dish is its Big Prawns Bee Hoon Soup, costing a pricey $16 for the smallest portion in a seemingly humble zi char place.
Yes, 16 bucks for hae mee!
But quoting a beauty brand, it is worth it. I have been ordering it almost every single time I come. My tip is to share the bowl with a friend, though as it is quite heavy and rich in taste. Kok Sen Restaurant (Keong Siak)
Keng Eng Kee Seafood 瓊榮記海鲜
Blk 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-136, Singapore 150124
Tel: +65 6272 1038
Opening Hours: 12pm – 2:30pm, 5pm – 10pm
Moonlight Horfun And Coffee Ribs
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.
There are a number of dishes that regulars order. The most talked-about dish is the Moonlight Horfun ($6, $9, $16), along with Mingzhu Roll ($12 for 6 pieces), Prawn Roll ($8 for 8 pieces), Yam Basket ($20), Coffee Pork Ris ($15, $20, $28), Claypot Pig Liver ($15, $20), Marmite Chicken ($12, $18, $25) and Salted Egg Sotong ($18, $28, $38).
The Mingzhu Roll ($12 for 6 pieces) is a dish unique to Keng Eng Kee, that looked elaborate and creative for a zi-char dish.
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. Keng Eng Kee Seafood (Alexandra)
New Ubin Seafood – Tampines
18 Tampines Industrial Crescent, Singapore 528605
US Ribeye and Heart Attack Fried Rice
What I like about this place: The breath of its variety, even Masala Chicken, which reflects our unique Singapore culture.
You won’t find just the typical zi char dishes, but US Ribeye, Chocolate Alexander, Fish Roe Masala, BBQ Baby Back Ribs, Satay Foie Gras, and BBQ Pork Collar among the top selling dishes.
How I look out for dishes to order is the floor-to-ceiling chalkboard where they would indicate their most popular dishes – Heart Attack Fried Rice, Chilli Crab, Crispy Pork Knuckles, Boss Style Bee Hoon, Great Shovel Nose Ray, and Hei Chor.
Some customers call this the ‘ang moh’ zi char restaurant, and order the US Black Angus Ribeye Steak ($14 for 100 grams, we paid $84), served together with caramelised onions, Idaho potato wedges, sea salt flakes, and my favourite… fried rice cooked with beef drippings.
(Note: New Ubin Seafood moved from Hillview to Tampines.)
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 (Mon – Sun)
Champagne Pork Ribs and Homemade Beancurd
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.
An underrated dish that I enjoyed is the Fried Beef Hor Fun with Black Bean Sauce. Ask for the chili sauce to go along – great combi.
87 Science Park Dr #01-01 Oasis Singapore 118260
Tel: +65 6464 0410
Opening Hours: 11am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 11pm (Mon-Sun)
Main outlet:5000F Marine Parade Road, Laguna Park (Condominium), #01-22/23, Singapore 449289
For Sauna Prawns and Salted Egg Sotong
There are some reasons for its success: positive reviews from critics and bloggers, and a fairly interesting variety of Singapore meets Malaysian zhi char dishes.
For those who have yet to try their food, their recommended dishes include Sauna Prawns, Three Eggs Chinese Spinach, Champagne Pork Ribs, Superior Chicken Soup, Gan Xiang Fried Rice, Pumpkin Beancurd, Diamond Gan Xiang Crab, Garlic Steamed Bamboo Clams, Salted Egg Sotong, and Hong Kong Steamed Fish.
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: 6pm – 3am (closed on every first Wed of the month)
Chao Tar Bee Hoon
Every table orders the chao tar bee hoon (burnt vermicelli) at Yong Kee.
This crispy vermicelli 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.
Customers also order the prawn salad served in a honeydew. However, do note that the prawn batter would likely turn soggy after being soaked in the mayonnaise-based gravy. 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
Butter Pork Ribs
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.
7 Tanjong Pagar Plaza #01-105 Singapore 081007
Tel: +65 6220 5512
Opening Hours: 10:30am – 10:15pm (Mon – Fri), 12pm – 10:15pm (Sat), 5pm – 10:15pm (Sun)
Salted Egg Crab and Prawns
Mellben has always been attracting crowds for their crabs, but this is the first time I had their Salted Egg Yolk Crabs (seasonal pricing).
I was expecting a wetter sauce, but the mighty crustacean came in a drier form such that the fleshly crabs had already absorbed some of the flavours.
The outer coating was grainy with a moderate touch of sweetness, added with fragrance from the curry leaves and butter. You will find yourself licking your fingers pretty soon.
Tip: You can request for extra sauce at $4 to go with the crispy mantou.
You can also consider the Salted Egg Prawns. Somehow the drier sauce worked well with the fresh sea prawns, good enough that you can actually have them with the shells on.
JB Ah Meng
2 Lor 23 Geylang, Singapore 388353
Tel: +65 6741 2418
Opening Hours: 5pm – 3am (Mon – Sun)
White Pepper Crab and Salted Egg Prawn Roll
Accordingly, the chefs from JB Ah Meng are from across the causeway, and cook in feisty Malaysian style with wok-hei.
JB Ah Meng has a number of ‘star’ signature dishes – JB San Lou Meehoon, White Pepper Crab, Salted Egg Prawn Roll, Fried Fish Head, and 3 Delicacy Beancurd.
If you are a first timer here, you should order at least one of the above.
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, I 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. JB Ah Meng (Geylang)
Alumni Medical Centre 2 College Road, Singapore 169850
Tel: +65 6473 6686
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5:30pm – 9:30pm (Mon – Sun)
96 Amoy Street Singapore 069916
Tel: +65 6224 9920
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:45am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5:30pm – 10:45pm (Mon – Sun)
Sliced Fish Soup And Prawn Paste Chicken
If you find yourself at Ka-Soh Restaurant, also known as Swee Kee Fish Head Noodle House at College Road, you may find yourself walking back in time.
Some of the signatures include the Sliced Fish Noodle Soup ($7.50++ for a single serving, $24++ for 3-4 persons, $38++ for 5-6 persons), Prawn Paste Chicken ($15.50++), Spare Pork Ribs (18.5++), Deep Fried Frog with Ginger (22++), Sambal Cuttlefish (18++), Beef and Fresh Crab Meat Hor Fun with Black Bean Sauce and Egg (18++), Fried Yam (8++).
The restaurant still cooks its signature Fish Noodle Soup in a traditional style.
The kitchen would first deep fry the snake-head fish bones, cook the stock for hours till it forms a white, almost-milky base.
Many fish soup stalls now use the short cut by adding evaporated milk to give that creamy mouth feel, but Ka-Soh still use the labour-intensive way.
The soup is paired with simple ingredients of white rice noodles and crunchy vegetables, and you could taste traces of wine that made it more uplifting. Ka-Soh Restaurant (College Road)
Long Ji Zi Char
251, 253 Outram Road Singapore 169049
Tel: +65 9790 5682
Opening Hours: 5:00pm – 10:30pm (Mon – Sun)
Crab Bee Hoon
The environment is like an old-school Chinese restaurant of the 80s, the type you would celebrate Ah-gong’s and Ah-ma’s birthday at.
The star dish of Long Ji is unquestionably the Crab Bee Hoon (seasonal price).
Its appeal is partly the robustly appealing gravy, cooked with crabs, cabbage and oyster sauce with a peppery aroma. Plus point, no MSG or chicken powder are used in the stock.
If you like your Crab Bee Hoon semi-wet (okay, more wet than dry), this is for you.
You would notice that both the beehoon and gravy are in a light brown colour. That is because Chef would fry the vermicelli all the way till almost to a point of getting burnt. Full of wok hei. Long Ji Zi Char (Outram Road)
Sik Bao Sin (Desmond’s Creation)
592 Geylang Road, Singapore 389531 (Between Lor 34 & 36)
Tel: +65 6744 3757
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:45am – 2:30pm, Dinner 5:45pm – 9:30pm (Tue – Sun), Closed Mon
13 Dishes Offered, Famous For Steamed Fish Head
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.
You won’t find fried rice or horfun, but only dishes that go with rice. Just a note: the menu here doesn’t indicate any pricing. That may make a new diner slightly anxious, enquire and you would find out that prices are mostly either $19 or $26 per dish. (Prices here are indicative, so do ask.)
Among the 13 items, 10 are listed as all-time favourites, with 4 named as main stars: Steamed Fish Head, Tofu Prawns, Ginger Chicken, and Steamed Pork with Salted Fish.
One of my personal favourites was the Steamed Pork with Salted Fish ($17), neither overpoweringly salty nor oil, and went well with steamed white rice.
Although the younger generation now probably have less contact with salted fish type dishes, it was so comforting-good. Sik Bao Sin (Geylang)
So what are some of your favourite zi char places and must-have signature dish?
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