5 best Chinese restaurants in Singapore
If you’ve grown up in Singapore, it’s likely that you have a Chinese restaurant for each one of your staple cravings whatever your dialect (or non-dialect) group.
It could be that plate of glistening greased-up fried rice with pearl-like prawns; the sizzling clay pot of bean curd tossed up in sticky oyster sauce; or that simple but painstakingly-cooked bowl of soup.
Here is a list of Singapore’s best Chinese restaurants where we’ve been getting nourishment year after year.
Best Cantonese: Wing Seong Fatty’s
This is the original Fatty Weng, not the one at the Singapore Badminton Hall.
“I would know, I grew up here,” muses a longtime customer.
Until 1981, Fatty’s was still located at the open-air food-laden Albert Street, and this was a simple non-air-conditioned tze-char restaurant that was known far and wide as one of Singapore's best Chinese restaurants.
“Locals and tourists used to arrive in throngs,” he recalls, “the big boss made so much money.”
Fatty’s eventually moved to the nearby Albert Court in 1986 because of redevelopment in its area, and then to its present location in Bencoolen Street.
Signature dishes like the har cheong kai (prawn paste fried chicken) and the shell-less cereal prawns are still the best sellers, as is the venison stir-fried with black pepper, ginger and scallions.
Like most good Cantonese dishes, these use sauces and condiments with restraint to achieve balance -- the venison is not too spicy and very tender; crisp pieces of prawn paste fried chicken coats your fingers with just the right amount of grease; and the cereal prawns are not overly sweet.
What we like most about Fatty’s though is that we uncover a different story whenever we dine here, be it from dad or from one of the longtime servers.
01-31 Burlington Square, 175 Bencoolen St.; +65 6338 1087. Daily noon–2:30 p.m., 5:15 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Best Hokkien: Beng Hiang Hokkien Restaurant
Behind the curtained, red-and-black-framed facade is a polished red-striped-carpeted banquet-style restaurant sectioned up by display cabinets of Chinese decorations and antiques.
This popular Chinese wedding venue on Amoy Street has been dishing up Hokkien staples for over 30 years. While Hokkien cuisine is very much about the techniques of cooking as it is about the balance in the overall flavors, at Beng Hiang it begins with fresh ingredients and ends with generous portions.
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The kong ba pao (braised pork belly in steamed bun) is a glistening dish of dark-sauced slices of pork belly that is eaten with fluffy mantou buns. Good proportions of lean and fat meats render every bite soft yet still retaining the meaty depth of texture.
The ngoh hiang (deep-fried five-spice pork spring rolls) is thick and plump filled with fresh pork that acts as a canvas to carry the well-defined aromas of the spices; and the oyster omelette -- much crisper than the versions in the hawker centers -- is studded with plump clams.
No Hokkien meal is complete without soup, so don’t leave without slurping down a bowl of the thick fish maw soup with crab meat.
112-116 Amoy St.; +65 6221 6695. Daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Best Szechuan: Min Jiang
Anyone looking to satisfy cravings of hot and sour soup can settle happily at Min Jiang.
Bowls of the thick, fiery and tart soup may be a dime a dozen in Singapore, but none are quite as good as theirs. Here it is smooth, yet unapologetically robust with the spice and tartness.
Named after the Yangtze River tributary ("Min Jiang" stands for "Min river" in Mandarin) that runs through the Szechuan province, this 29-year-old Szechuan restaurant is one of Singapore's best Chinese restaurants, and the only eatery located right by the pool of the historic Goodwood Park hotel.
Try the classics, sautéed big prawns with dried red chili, crispy eel strips coated with sesame and vinegar sauce, and the camphor tea smoked duck.
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Each dish owns its own intense flavors, and each hit the profile Szechuan food is known for: sour, salty, hot, bitter, aromatic and a little sweet and bitter.
With such character-filled dishes, it’s no wonder UNESCO has declared the province’s capital city, Chengdu, to be one of its Cities of Gastronomy in 2011.
Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road, +65 6737 7411. Daily 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Best Teochew: Swa Garden
Teochew (also popularly referred to as Chiuchow or Chaozhou) is actually a prefecture in the Guangdong (Canton) province of the Republic of China.
Thus, Teochew cuisine bears many similarities to Cantonese fare. And as this prefecture lies close to the sea, seafood is one of their strongest suits.
Still, it is their simplest dishes that are often heralded as its best.
The pre-order signature cold crabs are steamed and then chilled, the freshness of these sweet-meat crustaceans intensifies as the texture firms up.
The white pomfret steamed with tomatoes, carrots, coriander, sour plums and mild chili is also a fine classic example; Swa Garden’s version retains the seawater fish’s saline qualities while leaving behind a little tartness.
The duck with salted vegetable soup is a sour and salty one-pot boil of duck meat, preserved vegetables and tomatoes -- a long simmer produces a sharp, pronounced cloudy soup.
As you slink into the steel-framed red banquet chairs from all that nourishment, allow yourself one more indulgence: the orh nee (yam paste with pumpkin in a water chestnut broth).
This labor-intensive dessert involves the constant stirring of lard into pounded yam to create a thick, gruel-like sweet paste. Swa Garden uses a water chestnut base and adds gingko nuts to keep it (relatively) light.
540-542 Macpherson Road; +65 6744 5009. Daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Best Vegetarian: LingZhi
No mock meats and gluten-heavy additives here, it is mushrooms that take center stage at LingZhi.
From traditional dishes like braised ee-fu noodles and braised (mock) shark’s fin melon with bird’s nest, lily bulbs and golden mushrooms to fried Japanese-inspired monkey head mushrooms with wasabi and fusion-tinged crisp-fried broccoflower with mustard, this is Chinese vegetarian cuisine done to suit modern tastes.
We love the monkey head mushrooms with dried chili; the surprisingly authentic vegetarian roast duck; and sweet and tangy pineapple fried rice.
Alcohol is not allowed at either outlet, not that you’ll need any with the motley of flavors and textures that come out of the kitchen.
05-01 Liat Towers, 541 Orchard Road; 03-09/10 Velocity @ Novena Square, 238 Thomson Road; +65 6734 3788/+65 6538 2992. Daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m.