Teochew cuisine, unlike Cantonese and Hokkien food, is a less-represented facet of Chinese gastronomy in Singapore. While high-end restaurants do try to preserve the many dishes that have travelled here from China to Singapore nearly a century ago, it is the humble Teochew porridge (or Teochew muey) that sets a familiar stage for home-cooked fare.
Whether it is at a restaurant or a hawker stall, this meal always revolves around a simple bowl of rice porridge — which resembles more of a ‘soup’ with full rice grains. Diners then build around it and feast from a myriad of small dishes. There’s nothing fancy of this set-up. Yet what it offers is an eye-opening discovery of what Teochew cuisine is all about. Braised meats are a must-have on the menus, along with steamed fish, minced meats and preserved vegetables. Keeping the natural flavours of ingredients is the one rule that ties all these dishes together.
The versatility of this communal affair is what keeps it strong in a country where heritage foods are facing a slow, painful extinction. One can have Teochew porridge at any moment: for lunch, dinner or even supper whenever there’s a craving. Lone diners, or a group of hungry customers, are all welcomed. Whether one is dining at an air-conditioned restaurant or an outdoor eatery, it is the same comforting bowl of Teochew porridge that keeps everyone satisfied.
When it comes to Teochew cuisine, this 170-year-old restaurant is one of the few local institutions that continue to preserve traditional recipes and dishes. The large menus here are perfect for family gatherings. But at noon-time on weekdays, the restaurant offers a more compact Teochew porridge menu which is extremely popular with the office lunch crowd. There are three kinds of rice porridge to choose from, from the usual plain version with condiments or a more indulgent one with pomfret, dried shrimp and crispy rice. Despite the smaller menu, lunchtime diners can still indulge in the restaurant’s signatures. Highly recommended items include braised goose, oyster omelette, steamed threadfin and ‘Puning’ chicken. It’s also best to have this lunch treat with a group of hungry lunch-goers.
Joo Chiat Teochew Porridge was formerly a hawker stall along Joo Chiat Road (and thus, its name), later moving around Singapore several times. Now, it has settled for a bigger restaurant space at Bukit Batok. Despite moving so often, the restaurant remains a pit stop for taxi drivers for dinner and late-night supper. Joo Chiat Teochew Porridge offers both a mix of Teochew delights and zichar fare, so diners get to enjoy curry chicken, soups and stir-frys — dishes not typically had with porridge. But the stars here are the braised meat dishes and traditional sides. The restaurant shows what ‘nose-to-tail’ dining is all about. Nearly every bit of pig, from the head to offal to trotter, is dutifully braised in five-spice and soya sauce.
Since 1845, the area around Havelock Road and Boat Quay was home to many Teochew immigrants from China. Today, this historical enclave has been reduced to a small, yet fascinating stretch of traditional Teochew restaurants along Havelock Road. Lim Joo Hin is relatively young, with a history of just over 60 years, but is still dedicated to authentic home-style Teochew cooking. The old-school eatery is split in two ways. The first half sees a wide array of braised dishes and preserved vegetables. Diners order dishes here first, then tuck into their meal at the dining room next door. Lim Joo Hin has proven to be popular amongst visiting celebrities too, counting actors Andy Lau and Chow Yuen Fatt as fans. Must-orders here are the mustard greens and braised pork belly. The restaurant is open from 11am to 5am, covering lunch hours to suppertime.
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Sin Hock Heng is another supper spot for those craving Teochew porridge in the middle of the night. This Geylang eatery offers over 50 dishes every day, from the usual salted egg and braised pork to steamed fish and baby squid. Some of the popular dishes, such as steamed fish, do run out after midnight so it is best to come by for lunch. Even then, one can still expect intestines, hae bee hiam and omelettes to be regularly stocked by the counter. Besides Teochew porridge, Sin Hock Heng also offers a pretty decent bak kut teh till 2am for those who prefer something different.
This humble hawker stall may not be able to serve up a large range of dishes to choose from, but one will find that each of the 10-over dishes here well-executed and surprising. Take for instance taupok stuffed with vegetables and minced meat, homemade fishcakes and braised eggs with a luscious centre of molten yolk. While the braised pig intestines and duck are good, the steamed fish offerings are the star dishes here. The stall offers three different types of fish, first steamed then left in a warm vat of preserved vegetables. The result is tender flesh, delicately infused with the sweet and sour flavours of chye bueh. It is best to come by early for lunch. Teo Heng sells out early and closes up just as quickly.