I love pen cai. For me, Chinese New Year doesn't start proper without a serving of this one-pot dish.
If yusheng were human, it would be that excitable, overly-sweet cousin you meet (or try to avoid) during Chinese New Year gatherings.
Pen cai is that loveable auntie who puts you at ease with her easy-going warmth.
Who would you rather hang out with?
The dish accepts almost any ingredient.
Just drop all of it - from canned abalones to leftover chicken - into the pot, add a bit more water or oyster sauce, and voila, you have one version of the pen cai.
Add more ingredients the next day and you have a different take on the popular dish.
It doesn't even have to be expensive - although the ingredients are usually luxe - and it's almost impossible to make this dish taste bad.
The only prerequisite for a good pen cai is that it has to be full-flavoured and served warm, savoured with rice. Here are some that I enjoyed eating.
1. SILK ROAD
Silk Road at Amara Singapore is offering the Prosperity Treasure Pen Cai at $428 (serves up to 15).
They also serve a vegetarian pen cai (from $188). Call 6789-2607 to order.
New seafood restaurant Cove99 has a pen cai that turned out to be very good.
Its Premium Treasure Pot Pencai ($388 for a large portion) has a sauce that is pale in colour, resembling an auspicious shade of gold, thanks to a collagen-rich golden broth. The ingredients, however, remain traditional.
It is available till March 5.
Call 6224-0991 to order.
Cove99 is located at 72 Peck Seah Street.
3. XIN CUISINE CHINESE RESTAURANT
One of the best pen cai I've tasted comes from the woefully underrated Xin Cuisine Chinese Restaurant (Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium).
The Xin traditional pen cai ($368 for 10) has the right mix of ingredients, with a sauce that isn't too salty, and liberal amounts of cabbage and yam.
Call 6731-7173 to order.
You're eligible for a 15 per cent discount if you order the pen cai to go and use a Citibank, DBS, UOB or OCBC credit card to pay.
This is valid till March 5.
4. WAH LOCK CANTONESE RESTAURANT
Carlton Hotel's Wah Lock Cantonese Restaurant serves the Prosperity Poon Choy, a three-layer dish that features ingredients such as whole abalone, sea cucumber and scallops.
It'll set you back $688 for a 10-person portion and will be available from Sunday to March 5.
Call 6311-8170 to order.
5. HAI TIEN LO
Hai Tien Lo at Pan Pacific Singapore has two pen cais for you to choose from: The Blossoming Prosperity Pen Cai is at $368 (for six, with a dozen ingredients such as abalone, pork knuckles and deer tendon) while The Golden Opulence Pen Cai feeds 10 for $628. It comes with 15 ingredients, such as fish maw, goose web and black moss.
Each order comes with a complimentary Koi Fish Nian Gao.
To order, call 6826- 8240.
It's available till March 5.
6. SHANG PALACE
Shang Palace's (Shangri- La Hotel, Singapore) Abundance Treasure Pot ($338, feeds eight) starts with a base of pork bones, duck, dried scallops and chicken.
Premium ingredients such as top shell, sea clam and stewed duck are then added, creating impressive flavours.
Call 6213-4448 to order.
7. PEONY JADE
While Peony Jade also has a pen cai on offer, you might want to consider its Prosperity Wealth Braised Duck ($108.88).
The duck is braised with lotus seeds and fresh chestnuts.
It's savoury with pops of sweetness from the chestnuts. Serve this with rice and it'll be the perfect Chinese New Year meal.
To order, call any of Peony Jade's two outlets at 6375-5562 (Keppel Club) or 6338-0305 (Clarke Quay).
This article was first published on February 4, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.