Chinese Charmers

Chinese Charmers

Even though the other countries of the world have so many tasty offerings, nothing hits the spot quite like sublime Chinese cuisine for this boy.
Russell Leong
Russell Leong

As odd as it may sound, I preferred Chuan Wei Xuan’s stellar Sichuan Fish with Pickled Mustard Greens ($24.90++) to the more popular mala fish. While the Mala fish is nice & spicy, I find the complexity of the pickled mustard greens far more intriguing.⠀

As you might expect of pickled mustard, it’s equally sour & salty, almost like a more intense pickle. The sour & salty mix thoroughly flavours the soup, as well as the mild tasting fish fillets. Sour & fish might not sound like the best combo, but balance that out with a good hit of salinity and it’s perfect. There’s something about a dish that’s salty & sour that compels you to devour it, and this Sichuan Fish definitely will compel you to finish it with relish.⠀

The soft, delicate slices of fish are backed up by sliced mushrooms and chunks of mustard greens, and the best way to savour this is to have everything all at once. Fish, broth, pickled mustard greens and shrooms combine excellently to form a savoury symphony of fab flavours. Sichuan may be known for its spice, but its tangy elements rightfully deserve some love too.

Popcorn chicken is good, but it can be better. That’s right, Chuan Wei Xuan has taken the bite sized deep fried chicken snack and made it even better. The Sichuan Spicy Popcorn Chicken ($18.90++) turns the heat up to eleven, along with your satisfaction.⠀

Little shreds of chicken are battered and deep fried along with a whole lotta Sichuan chili peppers. Surprisingly, it isn’t overwhelmingly spicy, instead possessing a mild yet insistent heat. Most of the chili is expressed through its pungent & peppery aroma, meaning that you smell the heat as opposed to having it burn your tongue. Just as well, as you’re able to taste & appreciate the mastery required to avoid overcooking the tiny bits of chicken, and to savour the chicken, groundnuts, Sichuan chilies & garlic all coming together in the hot oil.⠀

While your money could arguably be better spent on larger, more substantial dishes, there’s no denying that this hot little number is straight poppin’.

If you didn’t have fish while dining at a Sichuan restaurant, did you even have any Sichuan food? Fish in a spicy and sour broth is a cornerstone of Sichuan cuisine, and Chuan Wei Xuan’s Fish Filet in Hot Chili Oil ($24.90++) is a solid ass cornerstone.⠀

The chili oil isn’t purely chili oil. Instead, it’s a chili oil powered sour broth similar to a tom yum, but oilier and spicier. The supple boneless fish filets floating in the spicy broth have hoovered up an incredible amount of spice & sapidity from the chili broth, and each bite of fish is absolutely bursting with spicy, feisty peppery notes. The inexplicably addictive spicy soup is bulked up by the inclusion of tofu slices & glass noodles, giving you more excuses to experience pain & pleasure from this savoury soup.⠀

Spicy, peppery, tongue numbing and supremely satisfying, Chuan Wei Xuan’s Fish Filet in Chili Oil is simply irresistible.

The Sichuan Spicy Garlic Sauce With Boiled Pork ($13.90) seems to be utilising the same chili at first glance. However, the spicy sauce is notably less violent than the chicken, and seems to be more sour. I reckon they took that same chili and added more vinegar to it, and served it with the poached pork belly slices. The pork belly had most of the porky odours boiled out of it, and as expected of boiled meat, it’s kinda tasteless. Thus, thoroughly bathing each slice in the chili is a must before consumption. ⠀

While the pork is decent it its own right, I much preferred the stellar chicken with its painfully addictive chili sauce/oil. Now, thanks to this restaurant, I’m starting to understand how some people feel pleasure with pain.

I’m not big on Sichuan cuisine, but I always look forward to a visit to Chuan Wei Xuan. Their absurdly appetising 口水鸡 (Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce, $13.90++) ignited my desire for spicy Sichuan cuisine, and it’s always on my table along with a bowl of rice every single time.⠀

This 口水鸡 lives up to its literal translation of saliva chicken, as this poached chicken dish is guaranteed to get your mouth waterworks going. The chili oil scintillatingly spicy, and it hurts so good. The chili oil is gloriously garlicky and stunningly sapid, slightly sour and numbing, thanks to the abundance of Sichuan peppers used in the cooking of this dish. The chilled chicken is remarkably tender, with porcelain, supple skin, and the chicken acts as a sponge to soak up the violently spicy yet supremely savoury chili sauce. It’ll hurt you and you will love it, believe me.

Of course, I could not just walk away from Chili Padi without a screaming hot claypot of their signature Ikan Assam Pedas. Translated as ‘sour spicy’ from Malay, this fish stew was all that and more. We wanted to order the fish head portion, but alas, they were out of that so we settled for a fillet instead ($16.80++).⠀

The fish used in the Ikan Assam Pedas is barramundi, which tends to be drier than most other fish. That works out perfectly, as you automatically spoon on more of that irresistible sour & spicy broth onto the fresh fish flesh. While the barramundi was commendably fresh, the only reason this is worth of being a signature dish is that bubbling broth.⠀

The tartness of the tamarind juice is the first thing to invade your palate, followed by the spicy heat of the chilies & spices in the broth. It’s almost like tom yum, but better, as there is a deeper and more fulfilling depth of flavour to this assam pedas. Salty, spicy, sour and utterly scintillating, the assam pedas compels you to keep going back for sips of that sapid broth amidst bites of fish. Plus, brinjal, ladyfingers and tomatoes are cooked in the brilliant broth as well, so it really is a complete, nutritious meal in a pot.⠀

While I’m sure that the assam pedas would be utterly world-beating with a fish head, the fish fillet portion was already undeniably sublime in its own right. While the assam pedas bubbles, get down to Chili Padi on the double and you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your troubles.

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Sotong (aka squid) is a Peranakan staple, but instead of ordering something traditionally Peranakan like Sotong Hitam, I couldn’t resist the allure of the BBQ Sambal Sotong ($13.80++ for a small serving). Barbecue sambal sotong is a dime a dozen in Singapore, but Chili Paid have absolutely knocked this one outta the park.⠀

Squid that’s been slathered in Chili Padi’s sambal chili is grilled and ready to wow any tastebuds. The squid is so unbelievably fresh that you’d need to harpoon the squid yourself if you wanted it any fresher. The firm, perfectly textured squid adopts the feisty, fiery flavours of the sambal effortlessly. Chili Padi’s sambal skews toward the salty side, so there is a huge hit of savouriness and spiciness that is supported by undertones of sourness & sweetness from the sambal.⠀

What makes Chili Padi’s squid exquisite is the smokiness from the grilling. The char acquired from the grilling deepens the sapidity of the sambal, and injects a sensual smokiness that heightens all of the flavour attributes there. All you need is a heaping big plate of rice with a full dish of this sambal sotong, and you’re good to go. Absolutely scintillating sambal sotong, and if you like it, put these sotong rings on it.

Chili Padi’s been in business for a long time, and with absolute screamers like their Ngoh Hiang ($10.80++ per roll), it’s obvious as to how they’ve stayed in the game. Chili Padi’s Ngoh Hiang is probably the best I’ve had in Singapore, so paying more than ten bucks was an easy ask for me. Plus, each roll is an utter behemoth, and each slice is about the same size as the cucumber.⠀

At it’s core, ngoh hiang is simply a mix of minced pork, prawns & water chestnuts wrapped in a beancurd skin and deep fried. However, Chili Padi does it sensationally thanks to the sublimely seasoned mince & prawn mixture. A generous amount of five spice powder provides most of the aromatics & flavours for this roll along with some oyster sauce. ⠀

The texture is also spot on, with the minced pork retaining a nice coarseness to it, while the gargantuan chunks of chopped water chestnuts supply an irresistible crunch to the soft roll. The prawns were chopped up so finely they essentially disappeared, which is a bit of a bummer. Still, that did little to detract from the fact that this Ngoh Hiang was nothing short of scrumptious.

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The final dish we got to enjoy at @enjoyeatinghouse was the Hakka Claypot Hong Zhao Ji, aka red wine chicken ($28++). Red wine chicken isn’t actually cooked with red wine like merlot or cab sav, but it’s chicken cuts cooked in red glutinous rice wine which explains the notable red hue. According to the menu description, it’s known its potent flavour and health benefits that include better blood circulation and metabolism.⠀

I can’t testify to the health benefits part, but I can corroborate the potent flavour part. I prefer my food strongly flavoured, and even I found this to be excessively salty. It might be less overbearing when paired with a bowl of plain, unseasoned white rice, but eating it on its own may cause hypertension. However, this had the effect of impregnating the chicken with a truckload of sapid, delicious flavours right down to the bone. Bonus points for tremendously tender chicken. Even the normally dry chicken breasts were astonishingly juicy, and I had no problems polishing them off without any beverage assistance .⠀

I don’t remember if there was anything else in the claypot, but this Hong Zhao Ji urgently needs more ingredients in there. The easiest fix I can think of would be to add radish cubes into it while braising, which would leech out some of the sodium and exchange it for some sweetness. As it stands, the Hong Zhao Ji at Enjoy Eating House is a dish that needs more complexity to realise its incredible potential.⠀

For the last time for now, thank you for inviting me, @enjoyeatinghouse & @burpple!

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Plum Village’s Salt Baked Chicken definitely didn’t miss, even though I eventually found out that the chicken isn’t actually baked in salt anymore. To be fair to Plum Village, baking every chicken in salt just isn’t practical considering how many of these birds fly out of their kitchen on the daily.⠀

Instead, it’s generously seasoned with sand ginger powder and salt before being steamed, and this simple yet strangely sapid dish is superbly satisfying. The chicken is acceptably moist even at the breasts, and the sand ginger powder and salt have penetrated so deeply that every last meaty morsel is remarkably flavoursome. Heck, even the drippings rendered from the chicken are so savoury that it functions as a sauce of sorts.⠀

Sand ginger is actually dried & ground Kaempferia galangal, and it has a distinctly peppery flavour with only a mild note of ginger. This makes Plum Village’s (not) Salt Baked Chicken even more unique, as the sand ginger infuses the poultry with a distinct & unforgettably ambrosial flavour. It’s a simple dish, but it’s quite unbeatable especially with lots of rice on standby.

My experience with Hakka cuisine is limited to yong tau foo & thunder tea rice, so when I got an opportunity to sample authentic & traditional Hakka cuisine I couldn’t pass it up. Plum Village is reputed to be the oldest Hakka restaurant in Singapore, so they must be doing the cuisine justice. And if this plate of 算盘仔 (abacus seeds) is anything to go by, justice has been served.⠀

Of course, ‘abacus seeds’ are NOT the seeds of an abacus (bruh), but they are balls of rice flour & yam kneaded & rolled into the shape of one of those moving thingies on an abacus, which are known as seeds. These are rather rare in Singapore, and as such I will readily admit to this being the first time in my life that I’ve eaten abacus seeds. The most accurate way to describe this Hakka delicacy is to liken it to mochi but less gummy and slightly more dense.⠀

It’s steamed, so it’s healthy but on the bland side by itself. However, Plum Village take the steamed 算盘仔 and stir-fries it with garlic, seasoned minced pork, chunks of yam and what seem to be dried shrimp. The mince adds a satisfying bulkiness to the dish with the meatiness, and the seasoning rubs off excellently on the abacus seeds. The garlic adds its mustard-y, almost nutty & subtly sweet qualities, while the dried shrimp are there for that final touch of deep umami. The yam adds even more sweetness and a slight textural variance to the dish.⠀

For $9++, this deceptively simple sounding dish is dazzlingly delicious, and is ludicrously easy to eat too much of. No, eating these won’t improve your math, but they will multiply your happiness.

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My most awe-inspiring food discovery last year happened on the very last day of 2021. Yep, of course the most memorable meal of 2021 happens in the last few hours of the year. @milkfishsg ain’t particularly new, but it’s definitely impressive.⠀

Since it was New Year’s Eve, it was only right that I ball out and get the Premium Soup Set($32.80++) to close out the year. I subbed the usual milky fish soup for a tomato broth which turned out to be an outstanding move. The tomato broth hits every tastebud just right with its tangy sweet & sour flavour and its unbelievable umami, and every other sip of sapid soup elicited a thoroughly impressed ‘wow’ from me.⠀

The seafood and the lone square of minced pork were almost equally impressive too. All of the seafood was fantastically fresh, from the sweet solitary scallop to the fat fish chunks (red snapper, I believe), the sprightly single shrimp, and the charming clams. The abalone was a perfect match with the tangy soup, and even though the honest to god lobster was remarkably fresh, it was a touch overcooked & a little rubbery. Still, it wasn’t even close to being a deal breaker.⠀

I chose flour vermicelli (mian xian) as my carb of choice, and I recommend skipping it. There was too much flour, and it tasted chalky and generally pretty unpleasant. The accompanying Oriental Salad, on the other hand, was perfection. I wasn’t expecting to finish all of it, but I hoovered it all up without hesitation. I know there’s seaweed & bamboo shoots in there, but someone more experienced with Northern China cuisine is gonna have to tell me what else is in that irresistibly appetising salad.⠀

With seafood soup this good, Milkfish is gonna milk every last penny out of me. That, and the sterling service from the crew running the show.

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Alcohol may not be good for my body, but my body is good for alcohol.

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