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Dining Out 1 minute 16 September 2017

Behind the Bib: Zai Shun Curry Fish Head

The recipe to success is in perfecting the techniques for the simplest of steamed fish to the complex flavours of fish head curry.

Behind The Bib Singapore Hawker Chinese

Teochew porridge stalls and zi char places are ubiquitous in Singapore but Zai Shun Curry Fish Head combines the best of both and is the go-to place for west side residents and foodies in the know.

Humble beginnings

The owner of Zai Shun Curry Fish Head is 58-year-old Ong Cheng Kee, who began his career in the kitchen at the age of 14 while he was still schooling. At 20 years old, he decided to open his own stall selling curry fish head and moved into Yuhua Food Centre in Jurong East shortly after. 13 years ago, he relocated to a stall in a coffee shop at the foot of Block 253 where his delicious food soon drew crowds. Bolstered by his success, he expanded his business, renting over the whole coffee shop and introducing more dishes to his menu.
Owner of Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, 58-year-old Ong Cheng Kee
Owner of Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, 58-year-old Ong Cheng Kee
The simplicity of steaming

On any good day, you’ll see a wide array of farmed and wild-caught fish on offer, from the more common red grouper, barramundi cod and pomfret to rarer species of fish like giant grouper and Empurau. Take your pick and the fish are steamed in a variety of methods: Cantonese or Teochew style, with soy sauce or plain, with prices ranging upwards of $10 depending on the type and weight of fish.
Fresh fish steamed upon order, ranging upwards from $10
Fresh fish steamed upon order, ranging upwards from $10
Steaming may sound like a simple cooking technique, but it is a skill that requires finesse at each step, from choosing and cleaning the fish, preparing complementary sauces and condiments to the control of temperature while cooking. Ong is especially particular about selecting the freshest catch of the day and personally examines each delivery: “If the fish isn’t fresh, it will not taste good no matter how you steam it.”

The steaming sauce is a guarded family recipe carefully calibrated to bring out the natural sweetness and clean flavours of the fish. The fish is then steamed at a very high temperature so that the flesh cooks quickly, a method that ensures it remains smooth and tender.
Zai Shun's signature Curry Fish Head
Zai Shun's signature Curry Fish Head
Restaurant-style dishes

The stall is both a zi char place where you can get cooked-to-order food, as well as a Teochew porridge-style joint where you pick from about 20 ready-cooked dishes to go with your rice or porridge.

And other than the usual zi char offerings, Ong prides himself for serving up restaurant-style dishes. "Whether it's just a simple steamed fish, or a dish of sea cucumber and fish maw, I still want to present food that is restaurant-worthy. I want my customers to have restaurant-standard food at coffee shop prices," says Ong.

A lotus leaf-wrapped package opens up to reveal a steaming dish of pork ribs, gelatinous trotter, mushrooms and chestnut, while the luscious Braised Pork Trotter dish remains a popular choice. Wild-caught Red Snapper is used for Zai Shun’s namesake curry fish head (from $25) and the tangy tamarind-tinged gravy is the perfect foil for the fresh, meaty fish.
Zai Shun Curry Fish Head
Blk 253 Jurong East Street 24 #01-205

This article was written by Wu Xiao Jun and translated by Rachel Tan. Click here to read the original version of this story.

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