Unilever Food Solutions is out on a mission to help Singapore’s favourite Zhi Char get a makeover and I am thrilled to be invited for one of their unique makeover cum food tasting session at Kian Seng Seafood Restaurant! Zhi Char (煮炒) is a convenient term used to describe a Chinese stall which offers diners a wide range of economical, home style cooking ala-carte dishes and they are mostly located in a non-restaurant setting like a coffee shop or a hawker centre. Unilever Food Solutions is working closely with Zhi Char Chefs in Singapore to experiment with innovative products to whip up mouthwatering new dishes!
For a neighbourhood zhi char restaurant, I must applaud Kian Seng for their dish presentation. Curious to find out what’s inside this giant white porcelain pot!
My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the numerous floating abalones. This is the mini version of the legendary Buddha Jump Over the Wall ($85). Created during the Qing Dynasty, this dish has been regarded as one of the top Chinese delicacies. The soup requires 1 to 2 full days to prepare and contains expensive Chinese ingredients such as abalone, shark fin, ginseng, scallops, sea cucumber, quail eggs, bamboo shoots, chicken, Jinhua ham, pork tendon, mushrooms and taro.
Each of our personal soup bowls were brimming with rich, exotic ingredients that can take centre stage on their own. I have a soft spot for abalones…
Our next dish is fast becoming a rare sight in Singapore. The Charcoal Roasted Suckling Pig (S$180) used to be commonly seen during wedding banquets but in recent years, the fast escalating cost of whole suckling pig in Singapore has forced this delicacy out of the menu. Our pig has been roasted till perfection and neatly sliced into manageable portions for picking.
Here’s the side profile of this heavenly delight. Topped with a thin and extremely crispy layer, followed by an acceptable (for me) layer of visible fats before ending off with a thin layer of lean meat that’s laced with Kian Seng secret marinate sauce. The smooth mild sweetness of marinate sauce was tinted with a slight spiciness. The marinate sauce was so good that I will recommend skipping the usual accompanying dipping sauce altogether.
After our appetisers, we got to go behind the scene to witness how Chef Yap use Unilever Food Solutions’ to create 2 of Kian Seng’s latest menu dishes. That’s Chef Yap waiting in anticipation.
With slippery oily floors, hot giant stoves and lots of heavy lifting of the woks, the Zhi Char Kitchen is not a place for the faint hearted. I think even my mom who cook our daily meals at home would feel pretty out of place here.
After a few quick strokes with his ladle (my apologies, the action was really too fast to be captured on camera), Tom Yam Potato Flakes Prawns (S – S$18, M – S$24, L – S$30) was ready to be served!
Chef Yap explained that potato flakes does not have strong distinctive flavour compared to the usual oats used in cereal prawns plus they are better able absorb flavours from other accompanying ingredients. These 2 factors gave chefs’ lots of room to play with when it comes to toying with new cuisine ideas. For this dish, the potato flakes allowed for the inclusion of a faint tom yam paste on the prawns coating.
Chef Yap dipped his ladle into our second highlight – Knorr Italiana Herb Paste and tada, presented his Italiana Herb Paste Pork Ribs (S – S$12, M – S$18, L – S$24).
After some cajoling, we finally got Chef Yap to pose for the camera with his latest creation.
We adore the light scent of Italian herbs on these succulent pork ribs. The impracticality of patenting a new dish within the local Zhi Char arena offers little lead time for Kian Seng to bask and reap the benefits of their innovation. Grace, Restaurant Manager & daughter of owner Lee Huay Chang lamented that there is no way they can prevent other chefs from coming over to try the dish and emulate the dish for their menu. Hopefully diners will remember them as the pioneers behind the dish.
With that, we head back to our seats for a fiery delight. Thai-Style Prawns (S – S$20, M – S$30, L – S$40) are not soaked in our typical clear tom yam soup. While we were happily slurping up the thick creamy broth, Grace told us that no coconut milk was used. They opted for the healthier fresh milk instead.
According to Grace, Kampung Salted Chicken (Half – S$16, Whole – S$28) is one of their best seller. You must be told that this is no normal fowl. Kian Seng brings in a special breed of organic, local kampung chicken for the optimal meat quality and texture. True to her words, the chicken was juicy, tender, not overly salty and I swear I could taste the presence of Chinese herbs.
Prawn Fritters (S – S$12, L – S$24) was served with pumpkin slices on the side. The fritters tasted more like fish fillets than prawns for me. I enjoyed the pumpkin but I still do not understand why they are placed beside the prawn fritters.
My cousin Hui Ping loved Celery with Macadamia Nuts (S – S$12, L – S$20). It offered a refreshing crunch of healthy greens in the face of sheer sinful indulgence. Yes, it’s a must order if you want to feel better.
Hui Ping and I were full of admiration for Grace. You can see the sparkle from her eyes when she passionately bring us through Kian Seng’s history and their various dishes. She knows the business inside out and loves what she is doing. Kian Seng despite having a rather Hokkien sounding name is actually a Teochew restaurant and Steamed Vegetables with Dried Scallops (S$30) is a traditional Teochew dish that they are particularly proud of. Grace explained that the original dish was supposed to come with mustard green instead of the current Chinese cabbage. But mustard green is an acquired taste that does not go too well with the current generation thus cabbage was used instead.
In order to let us leave the restaurant without any regrets, Grace was determined to let us try their signature Braised Pork with Bun (S$20). The meat was so soft and tender that it was practically breaking up while I was lifting a piece up to snap a photo.
The meeting of the bun was absolutely divine. Together, it looked as though they were smiling back at me.
No matter how full we claim we are, there’s always room for desserts. How can we possibly resist Yam Paste with Gingko Nuts & Coconut Milk (S – S$10, M – S$14, L – S$18)? I even took a second helping of the smooth, silky textured yam swimming in coconut milk. There goes my diet out of the window.
Hui Ping took a photo with Grace before we leave. We really appreciate her sincere hospitality and generosity. There were so many dishes that were not previously included within the food tasting session. The food is amazing and we will definitely be ordering from Kian Seng for our next extended family gathering!
If you will like to get your hands on what we have eat, here are the full details of the restaurant:
Kian Seng Seafood Restaurant
Address: Blk 4013 (Ang Mo Kio Ave 10) #01-450 Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 1 S(569629)
Operating Hours : 11am to 2.30pm & 5pm to 11.45pm Daily (Only closed on 1st & 2nd Day of Chinese New Year)
Tel : 6458 2552 / 6481 3783
Fax : 6458 2070
Website: Kian Seng Seafood Restaurant
You may also like to check out my posts on other delicious food places here