A Hokkien (Southern Chinese dialect) expression that directly translates to “cook and fry”, zi char is a term used to describe dishes influenced by home-cooked Chinese food, meant for sharing.
From iconic seafood dishes like chilli crab to hearty noodles and savoury pork ribs, the choices are endless when it comes to zi char-style dining. Whether you’re looking for a wallet-friendly group dining option or hankering for a local feast, zi char will certainly prove to be up your alley. Here’s a list of establishments we’d recommend.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood (Bukit Merah)
Experience a taste of tradition at Keng Eng Kee Seafood. Founded in the 1950s by Hainanese couple Low Peck Yah and Koh Yok Jong, this family-run restaurant has been in the business of cooking up delicious zi char dishes for more than five decades.
Don’t let the name fool you: While seafood is definitely on the menu, the restaurant also boasts a variety of meat and vegetable dishes, including venison (deer meat) in ginger and onions and claypot beancurd with sea cucumber. First-time visitors should also try the Moonlight Hor Fun, a dish consisting of velvety, wok-fried thin rice cake strips and a raw egg yolk.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood. 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-136, Singapore 150124. +65 6272 1038.
Daily noon-2.30pm, 5-10pm.
Two Chefs Eating Place (Commonwealth)
A word of advice: This gem of an eatery in the Commonwealth neighbourhood tends to attract long queues during peak hour mealtimes, so you may want to visit at either 11.30am or 5.30pm on a weekday to beat the queue.
The stall’s menu features an eclectic spread of tasty dishes, but adventurous eaters craving unique tastes should try the butter pork ribs in condensed milk powder. The meat is fried to crispy perfection, and the condensed milk powder lends the dish a perfect balance of sweet and savoury flavours.
Two Chefs Eating Place. 116 Commonwealth Crescent #01-129, Singapore 140116. +65 6472 5361.
Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 5-11.30pm.
Segar Village (Kallang)
A halal food chain with eateries all over the island, Segar Village serves up a diverse range of vegetable, seafood and meat dishes. Segar means ‘fresh’ in Malay, and the restaurant delivers exactly what its name suggests, with zi char classics created from the freshest produce.
If you’re looking for a seafood feast, Segar Village in the Kallang neighbourhood offers various sets that cater to groups of four to six, with dishes such as barbeque tilapia, salted egg sotong (squid) and steamed seabass.
Segar Village. 19 Sims Way, Singapore 388831. +65 6547 1031.
Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-11.30pm.
New Ubin Seafood (City Hall)
From its humble beginnings as a small eatery on the offshore island sanctuary of Pulau Ubin, New Ubin Seafood has expanded over the years to become a reputed local restaurant chain, with several outlets across the island. It’s a great place to visit if you’d like to acquaint your taste buds with authentic, kampong (traditional village)-style seafood.
Besides locally well-loved seafood dishes like chilli crab and curry fish head, the establishment also serves Western comfort food with a local twist, including US ribeye steak, barbeque baby back ribs and french fries with luncheon meat. New Ubin Seafood’s most centrally located outlet is situated at CHIJMES, in Singapore’s Civic District.
New Ubin Seafood at CHIJMES. 30 Victoria Street #02-01B/01C, Singapore 187996. +65 9740 6870.
Daily 11am-3pm, 5.30-10pm.
Hua Yu Wee Seafood (East Coast Road)
Discover Singaporean-style communal dining at Hua Yu Wee, an eatery along East Coast Road that’s been serving up traditional seafood since the 1970s. This Chinese restaurant is set in a charming colonial bungalow, with a cosy indoor dining area and outdoor seating sheltered by awnings.
Chef Teo Ah Chye’s 10-men kitchen team is famous for whipping up an extensive menu of classic zi char dishes, such as lala clam hor fun (thin rice cake strips) and black pepper beef cubes.
Hua Yu Wee Seafood. 462 Upper East Coast Road, Singapore 466508. +65 6442 9313.
JB Ah Meng Restaurant (Geylang)
Ever wondered where chefs dine after working hours? You’ll be able to sate your curiosity and fill your belly at JB Ah Meng. This restaurant is a local institution, and the favourite supper spot of some of Singapore’s top local chefs, including Jason Tan of Corner House, Han Li Guang of Labyrinth and Andrew Walsh of Cure.
The establishment is run by owner and veteran chef Wang Feng, whose 30-year-long career started at the young age of 14, as a culinary apprentice in Kuala Lumpur. Chef Wang’s signature dish—white pepper crab—consists of meaty Sri Lanka crustaceans flavoured with a blend of ginger, spring onions and Sarawak white pepper.
JB Ah Meng Restaurant. 534 Geylang Road, Singapore 389490. +65 6741 2418.
Kok Sen Restaurant (Keong Saik Road)
With its old-school décor, 37-year-long history and sterling reputation among local foodies, Kok Sen is the perfect pitstop for foodies hoping to expand their horizons with authentic dining experiences.
This Cantonese-style, Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant is famous for its Big Prawn Bee Hoon (rice vermicelli noodles) Soup, which comes in a rich, savoury broth. Other recommended dishes are written on traditional strips of paper in Mandarin and pasted on walls for foodies to browse before ordering.
For those who aren’t conversant in Mandarin, we recommend the stir-fried kai lan (leafy Chinese vegetable), prawn paste chicken and claypot yong tau foo (Hakka Chinese cuisine consisting primarily of tofu filled with ground meat mixture or fish paste).
Kok Sen Restaurant. 30 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089137. +65 6223 2005.
Mon-Sun noon-2pm, 5-11pm.