Zichar meals can placate the fussiest of diners as they can pick and choose from a staggering range of dishes. (Some of them don’t even have menus and what is available depends on the ingredients that chefs have that day).
We compile eight zichar eateries that have made the cut in the MICHELIN Guide Singapore’s Bib Gourmand list this year.
1. Eminent Frog Porridge & Seafood (Geylang)
What the inspectors say: It serves zichar dishes like Kung Pao frog, sweet and sour pork, and fried crab with pepper.
Editor's notes: Also look out for frog legs that are cooked with other seasonings such as Chinese herbs, garlic and white pepper, and chilli sauce that is made in-house. Pair the scrummy amphibian with porridge that is cooked and served in earthen pots. Other zichar dishes include chill crab, sambal chicken and salted egg prawn.
What the inspectors say: Upgraded and reopened in 2006, this is considered by many as the best hawker centre in the city and is popular with both locals and tourists. There are many signature dishes in the centre, such as BBQ seafood and black pepper crab, so it can be challenging getting a seat during busy periods. Don’t miss the chilli crab or the black pepper crab made using live crabs.3. Kok Sen
What the inspectors say: There’s always a queue outside this simple coffee shop — join it and hope those who are already inside are quick eaters. The Wong family has been serving classic zichar dishes like seafood, eggplant and tofu claypot or curry fish tail at various addresses for nearly 50 years — hopefully the third generation of the family will keep things going here for many more years to come. It's run with impressive efficiency, the food is tasty and the prices are friendly. Reservation is available for tables of six or above.
What the inspectors say: The second-generation owner-chef of this restaurant makes every dish according to traditional recipes for an authentic taste. The menu features only 13 items, but he also cooks other seasonal dishes not on the menu. His recommendation, sweet and sour pork, takes 90 minutes to make. As he cooks every dish himself, expect to wait for up to 60 minutes for your food. Reservations are only accepted for groups of 10 people or more. The authentic home-style zichar is worth the wait.5. Ka Soh (Outram Park)
What the inspectors say: The location is a little unusual but then there’s nothing like being surrounded by hospital buildings to remind you of the importance of a good diet. Order the famous speciality here of milky white fish soup with noodles — made by cooking fresh snakehead fish and fish bones for over four hours — and you’ll feel instantly invigorated. The fried shrimp paste chicken is also worth trying. Ka Soh also has branches in Malaysia and Indonesia.
6. Whole Earth
What the inspectors say: “Vegetarian cuisine for non-vegetarians” is how Phyllis and Wood describe the fare at their long-standing Thai and Peranakan restaurant. They want diners to feel they are eating meat even though they are not and this they achieve through an understanding of textures and flavours, and the clever use of soy products and tofu. With dishes like Tom Yam soup and classic assam pedas, the food is full of flavour as well as being good for you — and it’s great value too.7. New Ubin Seafood (Bukit Batok)
What the inspectors say: Look for the sign saying “canteen” or you’ll never find this zichar kitchen. It's a simple spot, albeit slightly bigger than its last premises — the photos on the wall record the development of the restaurant over the years. The butter crab is well worth ordering but don't ignore the charcoal-grilled American rib-eye. At lunch, the space is shared with two other food stalls so it might be better to come for dinner.
8. Sin Huat Eating House
What the inspectors say: Rice noodles with crab and fishcakes are the signature dishes.
Editor’s notes: The late American celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain included this Geylang seafood restaurant as one of eateries in his “13 Places To Eat Before You Die” list. While there is no menu, crowd favourites by chef Danny include scallops with black bean sauce and frog legs with essence of chicken.