fantastic seafood and zi char at this casual chinese restaurant nearish the singapore expo – really, it’s rather out of the way (for us), but it’s now become my family’s go-to place for crabs and the like, and well-worth travelling to. the place has been packed to the rafters even by early evening (we popped here on two consecutive sundays because it was so good) – but the prices are reasonable, the food is absolutely commendably executed, and service is both sincere and quick.
if you’re not from around here – then zi char refers to a rather casual style of dining-out, where you get local home-style chinese cooking spanning nearly anything you could want – meat, seafood and veg – with some stalls so expert as to provide restaurant-quality cooking at more accessible prices.
let’s start with their simpler dishes – we’ve spanned quite a bit of the menu on both visits, and there hasn’t been a dish we didn’t like. bright greens stir-fried simply with garlic, a deeply dark and appetising rendition of dark KL-style fried hokkien noodles, and piping-hot claypot tofu with ground meat. our favourite dishes are two of their recommended specialties: a fried tofu swamped with a golden pumpkin sauce (so much that the waitress accidentally upended a little on the table – not a bad problem at all) and topped with fried enoki – how have we never seen fried enoki before! (I discount tempura renditions that don’t serve the same purpose) – smooth, silky tofu and crunchy prawns; as well as a flatish pancake of beancurd skin wrapped around some seafood paste. the latter is a typical offering, but not at this quality – I don’t really enjoy fried foods but this had discernably large prawns that made it worth eating, even if I think it could have been a little better-drained.
but their seafood is the reason we come – we do have pretty good zi char options near home – their crabs are always cooked perfectly, and I think their many customers help turn over their produce regularly – so it’s all fresh and the crabmeat isn’t mushy or sticks to the shell. the chilli crab comes in a flavourful viscous sauce with large bits of barely cooked egg and a satisfying punch of heat; my favourite is steamed crab – I rather like its clean purity – with moist flesh and lots of ginger for fragrance. maybe it could be improved if it came with steamed egg at the bottom, but that’s a minor quibble.
we’ve also had prawns two ways: spliced open and stuffed with garlic, steamed in a sweet soy sauce, and more simply boiled in broth with lots of ginger and cilantro. both are good – the first is a little salty without rice, but the garlic isn’t pungent and very easy to eat.
having spent a few years away, I’ve gained newfound appreciation for places like this one – where you can viably decide not to cook and pay a little more for a balanced meal: this isn’t really an option you often get in london – not such variety at equivalent prices, anyway.
the food here is great – and it draws large crowds despite occupying two shop spaces in an obscure location, so I recommend reservations, and also that you head down for a spot of great seafood no matter where you are. it beats those too-crowded options at the east coast – you know which ones I mean – in price, service and quality.
Big Eater Restaurant (Upper Changi)
34 Jalan Pari Burong
tel +65 6245 7268
p.s. on a tangential drift, is anyone else watching the taste, starring the lovely nigella? I caught a bit of an episode last night and while I truly have an aversion for reality telly – I love how polite and gorgeous she is (and how eloquent and down to earth!).
she’s GORGEOUS. drop dead really. reminds me that beauty is packaged in every which shape and size. i look to her for reassurance whenever i’m contemplating whether to reach for another piece of cake.
indeed – I’ve got the cake thing down pat, got to work at honing the wit and skill!
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