Zi Char Zingers

Zi Char Zingers

Zi char eateries are quite literally operating in every corner in sunny Singapore, so it is quite the task to weed out the stellar stalls from the subpar ones. Here are a few of the superb standouts.
Russell Leong
Russell Leong

Considering how tremendous @tuckkeeson noodle offerings were, the fact that their side dishes were worthy of being side pieces to them is quite impressive. The fried items included the superbly seasoned Homemade Fried Chicken Wings ($5 for 4 wings). They were simply seasoned, but they were simply sumptuous, succulent and meaty. Flying without wings? No, fly with THESE wings my friend. As for the indulgent Ipoh Spicy Fried Meat ($7 nett), it’s addictive, delicious, sumptuous and rich in the way that only deep fried pork belly can be. However, due to the fact that it’s deep fried pork belly, it does get quite surfeiting after a while. You’re definitely going to have to share this one, unfortunately.⠀

Thank you so much for letting us sample your fantastic food @tuckkeeson, and thank you to @shiokafoodie for organising this tasting!⠀

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I’m starting to notice a trend where many of my best food finds in a year tend to come in December. @tuckkeeson follows this trend, as they thrilled me with their Yu Kong Hor, or 月亮河粉 as it is known everywhere else. At just $9.30 flat for this big plate, not only are you loading up on quantity, you’re also getting a plate loaded with quality.⠀

My number one for 月亮河粉 has been KEK for many years, and Tuck Kee Son is the only one that can go toe to toe with them. Pitting Tuck Kee Son against KEK is the culinary equivalent of having prime Mike Tyson fighting prime Muhammad Ali. Two superstar heavyweights with punch, and both are legends in their own right.⠀

Tuck Kee Son’s Yu Kong Hor is incredibly delicious, with oodles of kway teow fried together with lots of sliced pork, prawns and some veggies in a stellar soy sauce mix that turns all the components into a sapid superstar. Additionally, there is a fair amount of wok hei in the dish that’s been imparted during cooking, resulting in a sensually smoky plate of flat rice noodles. But wait, it gets even better! Mix in the raw egg that inspired the name of this dish of extra creamy, rich and silky noodles, and savour every sublime slurp of smoky, savoury & slick hor fun.⠀

Oh man, I’ve just given myself an intractable craving for this marvellous Yu Kong Hor. Thank you so much for the invite, @shiokafoodie & @tuckkeeson!

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@wanhelou isn’t just all lobster porridge, they’ve got a bevy of zi char classics to complement you lush lobster porridge. Nothing screams zi char more than the iconic Prawn Paste Chicken ($11.90++ for a small portion), and Wan He Lou’s chicken smells stellar. They put a whole lotta prawn paste and love into the marinade of these chicken wings, and it sure smells & tastes like it. ⠀

The heady aroma of har jeong gai constantly wafts into your nostrils, goading you to munch on another wing. The sapid prawn paste marinade has penetrated deeply into the chicken, and each bite is a supremely savoury one. The batter encasing the chicken is moderately thick and exceptionally crunchy. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of maximum crunchiness, Wan He Lou has sacrificed the juiciness & tenderness of the wings. The meat was a tad dry and notably hard in some spots.⠀

I will be mad with my iPhone until the day it dies, as it completely failed to take a picture of my favourite dish of the night, the Crispy Shrimp Roll ($11.90++ for a small portion). The shrimp rolls were crispy, chunky and jumbo sized in both flavour and satisfaction. The prawn paste that went into these rolls were chunky and divinely delicious, and the savouriness was enhanced by the sweet mango sauce drizzled on the rolls. The little tobiko (flying fish roe) carefully spooned over each roll added brilliant briny umami pops with each earth shatteringly crunchy bite of shrimp roll.⠀

Even if you don’t feel baller enough for a lobster porridge, do come to Wan He Lou for their zi char zingers. It’s reasonably priced, and superbly sumptuous. Many thanks for having us @wanhelou , and thank you to @thestephaniebenedetti for organising!

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The third of five wines to be paired with zi char zingers at @newubinseafood was Brigaldara’s 2017 vintage Cavolo Amarone which can best be likened to a Cabernet Merlot blend from Australia. The Cavolo possesses a heavy & silky body, and delicate flavours of ripe cherries & plums, cocoa and vanilla. I would’ve paired this indulgent wine with a succulent ribeye, but New Ubin were thinking outside the box and paired it with two unexpected dishes instead.⠀

The other dish selected to pair with the stellar Cavolo was the Crispy Egg Noodles with Egg Sauce. The squid & clams were fantastically fresh with the texture to prove it. Unfortunately prawns were a little soft & limp, but the crispy noodles held their crunch well in spite of the egg sauce drenching it. Speaking of the egg sauce, it’s what made this otherwise ordinary noodle dish into a sublime one. It’s deeply umami, almost as if the thick egg enriched sauce was made with a base of seafood stock. It’s a supremely slurp-able sauce that will satisfy every last tastebud on your tongue, and it was the luscious lifeblood of this noodle dish.⠀

Despite these pairings coming slightly out of left field, the cracking Cavolo brought out the best of both dishes, and added a touch of luxury to both.⠀

Thank you for the warm hospitality, @newubinseafood!

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Pairing red wine with non meat dishes feels like sacrilege, but @newubinseafood has pulled it off perfectly. Pairing this Brigaldara Valpolicella with Lup Cheong Egg Fuyong & Popiah Chai was an inspired decision. This light bodied red wine was an excellent palate cleanser with its notes of cherry, oak, and a bit of pepper, making it suited for sipping between bites of food.⠀

First up was the ethereal egg fuyong, which was imbued with a stunning sapidity and a wondrous wok hei that few, if any, other egg fuyongs possess. The lup cheong’s salty smoky qualities further emphasised the unbelievable umami of this egg, and added an enjoyable chewy & meaty texture. Speaking of textures, the egg fuyong was more of a scramble than an omelette, and had a very interesting texture that was a cross between scrambled eggs & pork floss. Load this eggs-quisite fuyong into the lettuce leaves on the side for extra crunch & freshness, and you get an egg-ceptional lettuce wrap.⠀

Thank you for hosting us, @newubinseafood!

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My first time dining at @newubinseafood was a craft beer pairing collab with Rye & Pint about eight or so years ago, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that New Ubin is still pairing their mouthwatering modern Singaporean zi char with a bevy of booze. On this particular Saturday, we were treated to a nine(!) course wine pairing experience with some incredible Italian wines.⠀

We started out with the Brigaldara Soave, which can best be described as the love child of chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc. Soave is an Italian white wine made from Garganega grapes, and possesses a light body like sav blanc, but carries a delightful rich silkiness that feels like a good chardonnay. The Brigaldara has alluring aromas of peach, citrus zest and honey melon with the light body and dry, short finish. It’s a perfect pair with seafood, or just by its lonesome on a sweltering afternoon.⠀

The takoyaki balls with salted egg that was selected to go with the stellar Soave were terrific. The springy octopus were encased in a batter layer that was thick enough to satisfy, and cooked expertly. However, the real stunner here was the salted egg paste that truly thrilled me, and I haven’t been wowed by anything salted egg since 2016 at the latest. It’s DUMMY THICC, it’s unbelievably umami thanks to the abundance of salted duck egg yolks that went into this paste/sauce, and has the graininess to prove it. Needless to say, we gobbled down these balls real quick and washed our palates clean with a swig of the brilliant Brigaldara.⠀

Thank you so much for the invite, @newubinseafood!

While the title for the best dish of the night was hotly contested, the Crispy Fish With Chef Joel’s Red Curry Sauce emerged victorious. At $38++ for a whole barramundi, this is a great trade deal in the history of trade deals. Plus, you get sick shots for the ‘gram. @enjoyeatinghouse has actually taken the effort to fillet the fish, and then make the skeleton presentable enough to be the centrepiece of dinner tables.

However, the presentation is only merely the tip of the iceberg of impressiveness when it comes to this Crispy Fish. Like all the other fish served, it is delivered to the restaurant daily for maximal freshness, and the texture of the flesh was proof positive. It’s firm and pleasantly flaky, breaking apart with minimal effort from either your fork or your teeth. The batter was of optimal thickness, but was otherwise as expected of a decent batter coating.

Chef Joel’s Red Curry Sauce is stunningly sublime, and that sauce was what curried favour in our hearts & our tongues. The nyonya inspired curry possessed everything expected of an excellent rendition: spice, lemongrass notes, and a whole lotta coconut milk for that all important richness. Chef Joel’s Red Curry turned that redolent richness up to eleven, and every marvellous mouthful was creamy, spicy, herby & and about as rich as Elon Musk. The curry doesn’t really flow due to the weight & thickness of it, and it’s a thick gravy that coats everything. The only downside of this was that there wasn’t enough of that curry for our liking, and we were scraping the plate clean for just another bit of the red curry.

With fish dishes this good at Enjoy Eating House, the only fishy business here is good business. And business is a boomin’ with sensational offerings like this. Thank you for your hospitality, @enjoyeatinghouse & @burpple!

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The carb of the night was @enjoyeatinghouse Silky Egg Seafood Crispy Hor Fun ($38++ for a large portion), and it was so utterly unctuous that they could’ve served up the hor fun alone and I would’ve been a satisfied man. Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that I got to sample their other dishes, but the hor fun was a whole lotta fun.⠀

Each flat rice noodle is fried till it turns crispy like a cracker, and that’s the claim to fame of this dish. Other places just garnish their rendition with a few ribbons of crispy hor fun, but Enjoy goes through the painstaking process of frying it all. Said crispy noodles are then drowned in a deluge of dummy thicc egg sauce, and absolutely decked out with an abundance of pork slices, prawns, fish, squid & shiitake mushrooms for a whopper of a meal.⠀

The simple egg sauce was supremely sapid, and it flavoured every component of this dish more than adequately. However, the sauce does make the crispy hor fun go soggy pretty quickly, so you gotta hurry with those photos. I still enjoyed the softened hor fun though, as there was still a little bit of crisp that made for an engaging textural contrast. The fresh & well cooked pork & seafood were simply the icing on the cake, or in this case, the proteins on the carbs.⠀

Once again, thank you for hosting us @enjoyeatinghouse & @burpple!

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And now we get to @sambaesg signature: rice bowls. Sambae’s Sotong Rice Bowl is very affordably priced at $7.50 a serve, and the utter deliciousness bowled me right over.⠀

All the delectable & desirable qualities of the sambal chili that I expounded upon in my previous review is turned up to eleven here. I recall Chef Noel informing me that he does tweak the sambal slightly to differentiate the sotong from the stingray, and this one is different alright. It’s thicker in consistency, and I’m dead certain its sweeter than the one on the stingray.⠀

That additional sweetness is perfect on the felicitously fresh squid rings, complementing the mild brininess & sweetness of the ocean fresh squid. Each & every ring had the trademark perfect bite of a stunningly fresh squid: bouncy & snappy at first bite before turning tender upon further mastication. The combo of spicy, salty & sweet from the scintillating sambal and the delightful chew from the squid was a marriage made in food heaven.⠀

The steamed Japanese short grain rice was completely undressed, but the onsen egg did help to lubricate it a little despite lacking a runny yolk. The shaved pickles on the side were perfect as a palate cleanser, but it might be for the best if those zesty pickles were swapped for a serving of sambal kangkong. That way, the rice would be adequately saucy due to the salty, runny sauce that naturally accompanies the stirfried veggie.⠀

In all honesty, the rice being under-sauced is a bit of a nitpick, because this sensational sambal sotong rice bowl is worthy of being anybody’s bae.⠀

Thanks for having us, @sambaesg!

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@sambaesg is the hot new thing on the block with Chef Noel at the helm (and the grill). He’s another member of the young hawker generation, and he’s dishing out hot stuff in the form of his homemade sambal chili. The twist here is that he’s taken classic bbq sharing staples like sambal stingray, sambal sotong (squid) and sambal clams and turned it into individual serve ricebowls.⠀

Of course, Sambae still does sharing portions of these classics, and this hefty nineteen dollar portion of Sambae Stingray is quite the stunner. Two fat fillets of stingray are utterly smothered in Sambae’s signature sambal and grilled on banana leaves. That’s it, it’s as simple as ABC. Despite the process being incredibly simple, this spicy stingray is rather complex.⠀

While the sambal was a little more watery than I was expecting, it was still undeniably umami. I’m convinced that seafood stock & lots of fish bones went into the making of this scintillating sambal along with the usual suspects of chili padi & belachan paste. The slightly spicy sambal was intensely savoury, with a delectable depth to the saltiness. There’s also a little sweetness to it, an unusual but very welcome variation to the normal sambal.⠀

Grilling the slabs of stingray on the banana leaf imparts a stronger smokiness to the fish, in addition to the sweet, heady aroma of banana leaf perfuming the fantastic fish. The flesh was, as expected, marvellously moist and every chunk of stingray was positively glistening with all that moisture. The perfectly grilled stingray is slightly briny, and is the perfect canvas for the sambal to turn into an edible work of art. This one’s for you, Steve Irwin. That’s right, the streets don’t forget.⠀

I’d like to thank @sambaesg for setting up this tasting for my friend & I, this was truly a culinary gem to enjoy!⠀

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@jiayueneatinghse is more well known for their creamy salted egg zichar dishes, but their stellar sweet & sour pork deserves just as much acclaim. While it’s exorbitantly expensive for a single portion of a zichar staple at $12 a plate, the quantity & quality justify the precious price tag.

First, let’s talk quality. The cut of pork used is lusciously layered with fat, and some pieces did get overwhelming fatty. As we all know very well by now, fat equals flavour, and this was no exception. The pork was seasoned simply, but it was enough, and it was coated in an immensely light batter that gave this sweet & sour pork its cracking crunchiness.⠀

The sweet & sour sauce does get cloyingly saccharine after the halfway mark, but mix it up with that perfectly piquant pork and the plain rice and you’ll be fine. The tastefully thick sweet & sour sauce doesn’t look like it’s out in force, but a little goes a real long way here, as the overpowering sweetness of the sauce gets moderated by the rice. The egg, while perfectly fried with an egg-splosively liquid yolk, felt unnecessary with an unneeded creaminess. I would’ve far preferred a small serving of plain fried vegetables, or even spicy sambal kangkong, to combat the hedonistic richness of this dish.⠀

At Jia Yuen, you do get what you pay for. Top dollar gets you top quality zichar, and I could foresee myself dropping in every now and then for a serving of zichar zingers.

The biggest reason why I’ve come to rely on @fuleegroup for a fuss free zichar dinner is this dish: their sweet & sour pork ($10 nett for a regular serving). Arguably the best sweet & sour pork in Singapore, change my mind. No seriously, if you’re a restaurant serving sweet & sour pork feel free to change my mind anytime. Just send it, bro.⠀

So, why am I so infatuated with this particular rendition of my all time favourite dish? Firstly, the cuts of pork used are felicitously fatty, with the perfect ratio of fat to meat in every porky piece. Secondly, it’s tremendously tender & tasty thanks to a marvellous marination process, and it doesn’t offer much resistance when you assault it with your teeth. Thirdly, the batter coating the meat is thin and delightfully crispy, maintaining said crispiness even when doused with that tastefully tangy sweet & sour sauce.⠀

Finally, the stellar, sapid & sumptuous sweet & sour sauce. It’s tantalisingly sweet, subtly yet mouthwateringly sour, tastefully thick, and stunningly savoury. The pork is perfect as it is, but this sauce boosts it into utterly unforgettable territory. For just ten bucks, you’d be extremely hard pressed to find a better, more piquant plate of pork than this in Singapore.

Alcohol may not be good for my body, but my body is good for alcohol. Insta: @okwhotookmyusername

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