RELIVING 1930 AT CHENG HOO THIAN TEOCHEW RESTAURANT

Do not doubt the empty restaurant when you turn up at Cheng Hoo Thian. All three times I went, there was just one or two other tables filled. Embrace the lack of patrons; it certainly doesn’t depict anything less of this unassuming eatery. As a matter of fact, I kinda enjoy the extra personalized attention from both service staff and Boss Jimmy!

Teochew Cuisine originated from the region called Chaoshan in the eastern part of Guangdong province. Although it is vaguely influenced by the Cantonese style of cooking, most Teochew dishes unmistakably scream TEOCHEW at first sight or mention. Cheng Hoo Thian is where you get some hard core Teochew Cuisine that any Teochew comrade will approve!

Top on the list of unambiguous Teochew dishes is Steamed Chinese Pomfret.

Not just any old fish! This is the creme de la creme when it comes to Teochew fish.

The Chinese Pomfret or Dou Chang is an expensive fish typically used at every Teochew kitchen. The diamond shaped fish is flattish but fleshy. The meat is firm, sweet and tender. Basic ingredients like ginger, tomatoes, mushrooms and salted prunes are steamed together with the fish. A prized clear soup is produced in the process. It has a clean flavor laced with a sweet-sour aftertaste from the prunes. There’s never any soup left! Every drop is savored!

Clockwise from left: Prawn balls; Pork Trotter Aspic; Liver Rolls; Shark Meat Aspic. There’s no stopping at just one starter!

This 4-combination platter includes some of the most iconic Teochew appetizers. Springy Prawn Balls, Pork Trotter Aspic, Liver Rolls and Shark Meat Aspic. Who doesn’t love a freshly fried prawn ball that’s bouncy and full of prawny flavor! Some liver rolls have a funky smell and powdery aftertaste. But not CHT’s. Their homemade liver rolls eek none of the funkiness. They are fresh and savory; and aromatic from the Chinese spice seasoning. One of the best I’ve had!

A rare find these days… Shark meat Aspic.

It’s hard to find aspics these days. Just too much of a hassle to make, I suppose. CHT makes not one but both the signature Teochew Jelly Pig Trotter and Jelly Shark Meat aspics in house. And both were so, so, so good! The jelly, which is made from broth and gelatin holds pieces of shark meat, cartilage and skin while the pork version has chunks of tender trotter meat and springy pigs skin! The flavor is savory with a tinge of tartness. Very refreshing and unique. I absolutely love these. And they are so hard to come by!

Crispy Goose
Braised Goose

CHT specializes in both Braised and Crispy Goose. I’ve eaten lots of braised goose but crispy? This was a first for me. The sliced goose meat was very lean and flavorful. The first time we had them, they were a tad dry. But on our next visit, it was soft and tender. I’d recommend the crispy goose for a change from the common braised type.

Oyster Omelette, or Orh Luak… this one’s a winner!

Just one bite and I declared CHT’s Oyster Omelette THE BEST in Singapore! It’s crispy and smokey, not overly starchy; the egg was fluffy and the oysters were fat and juicy. Unlike other oyster omelettes, it wasn’t greasy and the wok hei was fantastic! It was so good we had 2 portions!

The limited handmade Beef Balls…
The rough surface of these limited Beef Balls goes to show they didn’t come from a machine.

Only 30 Beef Balls are handmade each day due to the tedious process. How could one not give these limited edition balls a go?! Cooked in a clear consommé with shredded salted mustard leaves and bean sprouts. It had a firm and toothsome bite to it. None of the starchy floury texture found in processed meatballs. Careful when you take that bite… they’re also piping hot and juicy!

Make sure to order this seasonal yellow chives!

Yellow Chives with Prawns– For the mandatory vegetable dish, you can’t do without this classic. I always order it with these big juicy prawns! If prawns aren’t your thing, you could have it with squid too! The young tender garlicky chives are stir fried with crispy flat fish and mushrooms. It looks rather plain but trust me, its full of flavor!

Not a pancake but some flat rice noodles!
Tear open the eggy ‘skin’ to reveal glossy kway teow rice noodles.

Chye Poh Kway Teow is my must eat at any Teochew restaurant. The crunchy bits of salty preserved radish against chewy flat rice noodles against crisp charred egg! The smokiness from the fiery heat of the wok. This humble dish proves you could make it rain with very cheap and basic ingredients; and that’s exactly what CHT’s done!

The most famous Teochew dessert has got to be Orh Nee, aka Yam Paste.

The most famous dessert in Teochew Cuisine must be the Orh Nee. Basically yam mashed into a smooth paste, sweetened with syrup and flavored with shallot oil, topped with gingko nuts and sometimes pumpkin. Even if you’re weary about the gooey, sticky at first sight, it takes just a teeny mouthful to change your mind! I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like this dessert. Here at CHT, they’ve upped their game and added shredded water chestnuts. So you get a refreshing crunch in every mouthful of fragrant yummy goop!

Fried Yam Sticks in Icing Sugar

These other 2 sweets were a first for me and I was totally blown away! Especially with the Fried Yam Sticks in Icing Sugar. Crispy on the outside with the extra crunch from the sugar crystals, and fluffy soft on the inside. You could taste the subtle scent of shallot oil which teases with each bite. It is terribly addictive, and with each bite, you’d wanna go for another!

Gold and Silver Jewelry

Gold & Silver Jewelry – The pumpkin and yam sticks are first steamed til tender, then dressed in sugar syrup and aromatic shallot oil, accompanied with gingko nuts and fried shallots. This obsession with shallots in their desserts! Unthinkable, if you ask me, but brilliant!

The very first menu.
Jimmy with one of his imported geese.
The unassuming facade of Cheng Hoo Thian.
Jimmy sharing the Madarins handpicked for a special Lunar New Year Orh Nee.

Stick around and spend some time with Boss Jimmy. He’s eager to share the history of his family restaurants and recipes! In between jokes and stories, Jimmy explains the preparation of handpicked mandarins for a special Orh Nee; then he scooted into the kitchen and reappeared cradling a frozen goose! We saw the very first menu, preserved beautifully behind frame and glass, now an antique piece of art on the wall. Jimmy recited dozens of authentic Teochew dishes that they used to make and dozens more that aren’t on their daily menu but available for special orders. It was fun just listening to Jimmy. His passion is admirable!

I love the old school, traditional, no frills feel at Cheng Hoo Thian. There’s no fancy plating nor fanfare. The unpretentious and no-nonsense restaurant is just there doing what they do best. To cook for you the only way they know for the past many decades, classics passed on through generations. And you can be assured of quality and authenticity in every dish.

Cheng Hoo Thian Teochew Restaurant @ Blk 34 Whampoa West, #01-27 Singapore 330034. Phone (+65) 6297 7789

Disclaimer- This is not a sponsored post!

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