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5 traditional Chinese restaurants to visit for satisfying comfort food

5 traditional Chinese restaurants to visit for satisfying comfort food
PHOTO: Unsplash

Great for reunion dinners or birthdays, these restaurants have seen us through the years from puberty to adulthood. Still standing strong, these five establishments are frequented by intergenerational families who return for consistently good traditional nosh hard to find elsewhere. Here are our top five picks.

Spring Court

Singapore’s oldest family-run restaurant, founded in 1929, continues to serve traditional Singaporean Chinese food to legions of fans. After several relocations, the restaurant formerly known as Wing Choon Yuen, takes pride of place in a four-storey shophouse on 52-56 Upper Cross Street. 

Third generation owner, Mike Ho, ensures that dishes are always well-executed even though many of them are laborious to prepare. Recommended signatures include deep-fried ‘wafer’ of deboned chicken with prawn paste, and homemade popiah loaded with fresh ingredients.

Another speciality that’s hard to find these days is the traditional crab meat roll with chicken liver and salted egg, wrapped in delicate pig’s caul and fried till golden. For Chinese New Year, reunion set menus for five persons are available. Alternatively, you can order a la carte items like steamed fortune herbal chicken, and braised dried oyster with fatt choy.

Por Kee Eating House

This unpretentious yet ultra-popular eatery at 69 Seng Poh Lane, Tiong Bahru, appeals to people of all walks of life with its consistently good Chinese dishes. Founded in 1996, Por Kee is known for its range of boldly-flavoured zi char dishes. You can’t go wrong with meaty creations like the glistening sweet and sour pork, large slabs of champagne pork ribs, and crispy deep-fried chicken.

Other popular items include the yam basket, homemade tofu with mushrooms and vegetables, and Teochew style steamed fish. It’s recommended to book a table in advance as it tends to get crowded especially for dinner. The make-shift al fresco dining at the carpark no longer exist how – no thanks to the pandemic. 

Hua Yu Wee

The fiery chilli crab and black pepper crab from Hua Yu Wee lures diners from near and far.

This 1950s restaurant housed in an old bungalow along Upper East Coast Road (No. 462) feels like a time warp, yet has a charming, atmospheric vibe.

After land reclamation in the 1970s, other eateries such as Red House, Spring Court and Palm Beach, which once fronted the shore, relocated to other parts of Singapore.  Hua Yu Wee is the only restaurant still standing – thanks to its permanent permission license to continue operating here.

Today, Hua Yu Wee’s annex houses a huge kitchen in which a brigade of cooks fires up your dishes. Signatures include the olive fried rice topped with crispy rice, golden feng sha chicken, and hor fun with lala (clams) and fresh prawns. Chinese New Year set menus are great for reunion meals.  If the air-conditioned dining area is full, you can sit at the backyard under the huge awning.

Plum Village

Established in 1983, Plum Village is the oldest and possibly the only Hakka restaurant in Singapore. It’s like time stood still in this small family restaurant located on 16 Jln Leban (off Upper Thomson Road). The interiors, lanterns and the wallpaper have not been changed since day one.  But regulars don’t mind, and keep coming for its hearty, traditional fare that have withstood the test of time.

Owner Lai Fak Nian independently runs this business which he inherited from his father. All the dishes are painstakingly prepared from scratch. Robust specialities to feast on include Hakka yong tau fu brimming with mince pork, pork belly with preserved vegetables, salt baked chicken, and the quintessential suan pan zi or abacus seeds made with yam, and partnered with minced pork and mushrooms.  

For Chinese New Year, order the substantial Hakka pen cai laden with hearty ingredients like pork belly, yam, cabbage and more. 

Tel: 6458 9005  

Lai Wah Restaurant

Founded in 1963, this is one of the oldest Cantonese restaurants in Singapore. In 1970s, it moved to a row of shophouses at 44 Bendemeer Rd, #01-1436, and has been there since. Opened by the late Wong Kok Lum, and two of Singapore’s Four Heavenly Kings – Tham Yui Kai and Lau Yoke Pui, this stalwart is unassuming, yet going strong. Today it is run by Wong’s eldest son, Kah Onn. 

Lai Wah is a pioneer of local favourites like chilli crabs, deep-fried yam basket teeming with prawns and cashew nuts, as well as yusheng – the vibrant festive speciality that we all know so well. Another unique specialty to tuck into is the Eight Treasure Celestial Duck stuffed with lotus seeds, water lily and mushrooms, and Kyoto pork chops.

If you have a party of five, order the Chinese New Year Poon Choi Treasure Pot, layered with abalone, Japanese conpoy, sea cucumbers, Japanese shitake mushrooms, fish maw, pork belly, black moss and many other auspicious ingredients.

This article was first published in The Peak.

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