Even the best gourmand in all of us likes to return to comfort food every now and then... in my definition, food that featured largely in our formative years. Especially in a place like Singapore, when a meal out used to mean "cze char" (Fujianese for 煮炒) in the good ole days. Cze char is locally used in Singapore to refer to home-style Chinese cuisine and literally puts together 2 words which take 2 common styles in Chinese cooking - boiling and stir-frying.
The art of cze char is definitely dying, at least if you equate it with good quality home-style cooking. The ability to keep consistent quality in a cze char kitchen is no mean feat, especially in a high heat industrial kitchen in hot and humid Singapore (most of the good cze char places have no airconditioning in the kitchen!) and should almost be an Olympic sport. In this arena, my gold medal in Singapore goes to Joo Heng. After patronising it regularly for 10 years, the quality is no different from when I first tried it - Great!
I always start with the soup of the day, which more often than not, is the ever popular lotus root with pork ribs soup. Coming from a Cantonese background, this is not soup at its best, but Joo Heng manages a commercially viable version which has enoguh taste even if lacking in what Grandma terms as "火炉" (or Chinese for furnace - charcoal was used in the old days and lent itself to the rich and almost but not quite smoky taste of a soup which has been simmering for about 4 hours).
If you are a first-timer or creature of habit, the must-orders are:
Sharks' fin and Crab meat scramble. Perfect combination of textures to deliver a unique taste, especially when eaten in the accompanying letture leaves, laced with the in-house belacan chilli paste, with a tang from fresh lime. Perfect appetiser.
Smooth home-made tofu wtih medium sized shrimps． The rich gravy is so good that I would not even attempt to try and describe it but suffice to say that the prawn stock is definitely evident. If you are a rice fiend, you may go into carbo overload.
The steamed fish head with yellow bean paste is the piece de resistance. Steamed with a fragrant yellow bean paste, and garnished generously with spring onions and deep-fried pork lard cubes, it makes for a complex but outrageously tasty dish. Only caution: the fish head they use has loads of bones, especially hidden ones so try not to multi-task when you eat this!
Other dishes that are worth trying include:
Steamed minced pork patties, stir-fried potato leaves, and most everybody's favourite prawn paste chicken (photo below).
Good ole fashioned goodness!!