Tze Char, communal dining Singapore style – wrapping up the Singapore Food Challenge

I set myself a food challenge since I had a few days back in Singapore. Try tasty food from as wide a spectrum as possible, all of which must come from new stalls, eateries, cafes or restaurants to me. Today I wrap it up.

It was going to be my last main meal in Singapore before leaving Malaysia and we went for an extended family meal at a Tze Char shop. If Lok Lok is considered uniquely Malaysian, than Tze Char is sort of a uniquely Singaporean experience. The name comes from the Hokkien dialect and translates into english as “cook and fry”. These stalls are ubiquitous in Singapore and serve a wide selection of home cooked food.

The food is placed at the centre and dined from communally. It is a communal dining experience.

While some stalls have specialist dishes, the best stalls are rated as those that also have an all-round high standard where almost every dish tastes good. A Tze Char stall tends to be the place where aspiring young Malaysian chefs make their start in a culinary career. Not a few Singaporeans even say that Tze Char stalls are only good when it is prepared by Malaysians or Singaporeans because of our shared palate. The culinary scene in Singapore is tough and competition with Tze Char stalls is also stiff, prompting many chefs to invent and create new dishes. One stall for example is popular for being the only one to prepare a burnt rice vermicelli dish. Then there is this stall, that is the only one left in Singapore that does fried porridge.

Both head chefs of these Tze Char stalls, are incidentally Malaysian Chinese.

There’s so many Tze Char stalls in Singapore, I’m almost worried to talk about any specific one except for the fact that we went there to try that dish, fried porridge. Porridge here is not eaten as sick people food or as a sweet breakfast, but as a savoury meal and this twist makes the soft porridge go to a thick gruel of sorts.

When at a Tze Char stall however, you don’t order one dish, you order a collection of dishes that are then shared around a table and eaten communally and that was we did.

There was vegetables, tofu, ginger-fried chicken, vinegared pork knuckles, thai sour octopus and thai curried fish, or at least that’s what I recalled them to be. They tasted good overall, I will say its a rather good Tze Char stall – the beauty of which, there are so many in Singapore, its an experience going around to try them all!

The stall was also serving a Chinese New Year favourite in Singapore (and Malaysia) – Yu Sheng.

A salad with all sorts of goodies that is mixed and prepared by you the foodie. Every ingredient has an auspicious meaning to it and it drizzled over the dish. Then, everyone gathers around the table and tosses the Yu Sheng – the higher the toss the better your fortune for the coming year, simultaneously mixing the dish.

And that’s it from the Tze Char stall and the food challenge. The aim was to find new things that were generally wallet friendly, and it wasn’t hard. That to me is perhaps the greatest sign of Food Haven that I belief Singapore to be, or maybe its a food heaven.

Dining in Singapore – this I strongly strongly recommend.


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