Some would probably be familiar with Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine especially if you love Teochew food. The restaurant which is located at the 169-year-old Chui Huay Lim Club along Keng Lee Road, serves up some of the most authentic Teochew dishes that epitomise traditional Teochew cooking at its best with homely fare like Teochew muay (porridge) to the more elaborate jiat dot (banquet) dinner.
I was invited to a media tasting at CHL to sample some of their new dishes from their Chef’s Specialties and Teochew Muay menus. It had been more than 2 years since I last visited CHL and I could still remember some of the stunning dishes I had like the Teochew Style Steamed Pomfret, Cold Crabs and Deep Fried Ngoh Hiang Rolls.
We were hosted lunch in one of their private rooms.
And this was the menu for our tasting session. What was missing from here was the ‘tau suan’ that we had for dessert.
To start off, service staff at CHL gave a kung fu tea demonstration, conducted in Teochew. I may be a Teochew Ah Muay but my grasp of the dialect is rubbish so I probably only understood 50% of what she said, lol. I wasn’t alone so the Chinese translation was much appreciated.
I’ve always been a big fan of kung fu tea and I like to frequent Tea Chapter for similar chinese tea appreciation. That’s the delicate part about Teochew or Chinese cuisine in general because over here, we were recommended to first have the Gui Fei Tie Guan Yin (贵妃铁观音) before lunch and then finish off with the Ren Shen Oolong (人参乌龙) after our meal. We were also told to sip the tea in 3 parts instead of gulping it down in one shot. Truly the art of tea at its finest. With the first sip, I felt as though my palates got cleansed as the tea hit my tongue. With the second sip, the tea began to reveal its true character. And the third was just pure enjoyment. It had a hint of floral aroma and was slightly fruity and sweet.
Standard grade Chinese Tea is charged at $1.20/pax. For these Gourmet Teas, $3.00/pax. You can also purchase these tea sachets home at $3.00/pack should you wish to enjoy them at home. I highly recommend the Gourmet Teas because they make a great accompaniment to the meal.
First to be served up was the beautifully presented Chilled Hand Peeled Lobster 手撕龙虾 with Calamansi Citrus & Fresh Fruits served with Chef’s Special Salad Dressing (seasonal price, approx. $138).
Accordingly to Chef Chan Ka Cheong, CHL’s Teochew Cuisine Consultant who was there with us, he said the lobster meat was first poached and then hand-pulled (instead up knife-chopped) to maintain its natural fibres and crunch which indeed worked as the lobster was fresh and crisp. Nicely coupled with rock melon, dragon fruit and cucumber that really brought different textures together. The dressing which we had to mix in ourselves was nutty (slightly similar to the Japanese style sesame dressing) and I just loved the fresh calamansi juice that simply lifted the whole dish with this refreshing scent. The aroma from the sesame seeds was equally captivating. Just like any jiat dot dinner, this was a marvellous cold dish to start with.
The Double Boiled Chicken Soup with Morel Mushrooms 羊肚菌炖鸡汤 ($14/person) was a nourishing concoction of a rich chicken broth with exquisite ingredients like the juicy morel mushrooms and crunchy wild bamboo fungus. Overall, the soup was light, sweet and not overly salty or greasy. The chicken meat was extremely tender too. This soup is apparently good for the spleen and stomach and due to the scarcity of wild bamboo fungus, it would be replaced by pig’s stomach from now on.
When the Salted Baked Prosperity Chicken with Whole Abalone 醉花林富贵鸡 ($118, advance order only) was brought in, we were impressed by the presentation. Looked kinda cute too, lol.
The gentlemen from our table had the honour to crack open the crust with a mallet and reveal what was underneath the thick layer of salt. It was like a treasure box within a box.
This salt-baked chicken was first marinated in pu er tea and stuffed with baby abalones, mushrooms and dried scallops. It was then wrapped in fresh lotus leaf and encrusted with salt before it was baked in the oven.
And the result was superbly tender chicken meat infused with an aromatic tea flavour (just like eating tea eggs!). When you cut the chicken into half, you’d see the rest of the delicacies which had also fully absorbed the flavours of the broth. Abalones in general are quite bland and chewy and though the texture was the same in this, it was so flavoursome that I thought it was pretty tasty. What I loved was the juicy mushrooms as they were almost squirting broth with every bite.
Most of us are likely to be familiar with pickled mustard green (the same vegetable that’s used to cook Salted Vegetable & Duck Soup) but probably have not tried its fresh version. This Braised Mustard Green with Shiitake & Bamboo Shoots served in Claypot 花菇鲜笋芥菜煲 ($16) was a slow-braised dish that allowed the vegetables to fully absorb the flavours of the broth used. While I liked that the broth wasn’t overly starchy and that the mushrooms were plump and juicy, I didn’t quite enjoy the mustard green as it had a bitter aftertaste and the bamboo shoots were tasteless. The dish was nicely executed as the mustard green melted in the mouth yet it wasn’t soggy. But it was still an acquired taste which I couldn’t get used to. Maybe the older folks would like this – in bitter, there’s sweet.
The Steamed Crab with Aged 20 years Hua Diao 陈年花雕(20年)蒸蟹 (seasonal price, approx. $136) was an absolute delight. I wasn’t swooning over the crab but rather the hua diao wine which Chef Chan had to travel to Swatow, China personally to find. I love cooking with hua diao at home as it enhances the aroma and flavour of food that general seasonings can’t achieve. The aged hua diao in this dish brought out the natural sweetness of the crustacean without it being overpowering while the addition of chicken oil made the flesh smoother. The overall light & clean flavours of this dish left me with no doubt indeed.
The Teochew Oyster Omelette “Gooey Style” 潮州蚝烙 ($14) was freakingly addictive! I thought Ah Hock @ Whampoa Market already had the best oyster omelette in Singapore but this was on par and the best part was, it wasn’t that greasy at all! It was crispy on the outside and only slightly gooey on the inside which I thought was the perfect consistency because it didn’t feel too cloying for me. My only gripe was the shrivelled oysters that seemed to be overcooked. I wished they were plumper and juicier. The chilli sauce that came with this was made of chilli, vinegar & sugar and had a good balance of sweet, sour and spicy flavours. It went really well with the omelette. This is a must-order!
The Steamed Minced Meat with Aged Radish 老菜脯蒸肉饼 ($12) was nothing like the common ones we could get elsewhere. This radish used had been aged for at least 10 years and again was sourced directly from Swatow, China. It had a balanced flavour of salty and sweet that really complemented the meat patty without the need for additional seasoning. A very good dish to go with muay.
The yellow croaker is an uncommon fish here. It is native to the waters of Tsingtao and is usually pickled. Over here, the chefs had turned the conventional preparation method to something different by either steaming the fish with ginger or pan-frying it. This Pan Fried Yellow Croaker 香煎黄花鱼 (seasonal price, approx. $24) was lightly pan-fried to a golden brown on the outside. It wasn’t exactly crispy so the inside maintained that tenderness and sweetness at the same time. Except that the fish was hard to find here, I didn’t think it was any spectacular. It tasted like a less salty version of salted fish.
Teochew muay, my love. For some reasons, I even thought the plain porridge was divine because every rice grain was in whole and it was in the right ratio of rice and water, exactly the way I like it. The side condiments of salted vegetable, whitebait and pickled olive were excellent choices. Sometimes, we just need simple ingredients like these to make a comforting good meal.
And to end off the meal, we had a very interesting tau suan in which Chef Chan said fresh orange peel was used. Fresh orange peels had to be candied and then cooked for 4 days before they were ready for use. Can you imagine that much work was required just to make this humble looking dessert? But it was well worth it because this was really a good bowl of tau suan. Normally, the tau suan we get from elsewhere are starchy and unexciting but because there was orange peel in this, it really brought this to a whole new level with its citrusy flavour. The consistency was perfect, not too starchy and it wasn’t overly sweet too.
The above dishes reviewed are ‘limited edition’ and are only available from now till 30 November 2014 in celebration of Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine’s 3rd Anniversary. Besides the Muay dishes and Chef’s Specialties, a variety of Jiat Dot premium menus that feature CHL’s signature dishes will also be available.
Check out the menus below for more information:
Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine
190 Keng Lee Road
#01-02, Chui Huay Lim Club
Tel: 6732 3637
11.30am to 3.00pm, 6.00pm to 11.00pm daily
I had always thought while growing up in a Teochew family that Teochew cuisine was merely about braised meats, steamed pomfret, yam paste (orh nee) and Teochew kueh but obviously there were so much more beyond these. The exchange session with Chef Chan had made me cherish what I had eaten even more because it wasn’t just about the food that we put into our mouths but the painstaking preparation and laborious effort behind it that we often not pay attention to. Reminded me of my younger days when I saw my maternal Great Grandmother (a Swatow native) in the kitchen making those pink coloured png kuehs by hand. She was so meticulous with every step and could take a whole day to make png kuehs but her png kuehs were truly the best I ever had. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get to eat it again.
PS: Thank you Jo-Anne and Ann for the invite. And thank you Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine for your hospitality.