Must-tries: steamed mullet, steamed minced pork with salted fish, braised platter and steamed fishcake
This is the case of the disappearing Teochew porridge place. Much loved by aficionados of the watery gruel, it kept moving from location to location until it settled for a time at a coffee shop at Joo Chiat Place.
There was a sigh of relief, and then it disappeared once more to everyone’s chagrin.
But relax, I found it and it is now just round the corner at Joo Chiat Road, this time in a spanking new outlet of its own – dedicated to, well, Teochew porridge. And hopefully it will not move for a while.
You could call it a porridge palace, except that it does not have the fancy trimmings of a Hong Kong congee restaurant with dark wood furniture and red and gilt touches. The décor here is at best described as functional, though there are now lots of space and many fans whirring above… and yes, you do not have to fight for tables.
Xu Jun Sheng won a faithful following for its old-fashioned Teochew porridge fare of soya braised pork and soya bean cakes, salted vegetables and eggs, omelettes fried with chye poh (salted radish) or oysters and such.
Soya braised pork
Traditional teochew fish cake with pork fat
I loved it especially for its extremely fresh cold seafood offerings – rich and oily mullet, tender squid, sweet crayfish and cold crab, chockfull of rich roe, all steamed. I also looked out for its occasional treat of white bait, appetisingly dressed with lime juice and chilli, a killer match, I must add.
And you eat these cold crustaceans with specific dips – garlic vinegar chilli sauce with the omelettes, fermented soya beans with the mullet or the sweet fragrant lemon/orange oil (tit yew) with the crayfish or crab as lovers of Teochew muay would know and demand for.
I am happy to report that all these old favourites are alive and well at this new location and some more.
I spotted stir-fried clams fried with chilli and garlic and garnished with lots of fresh Chinese celery (keng chye) and beautifully plump tua tow or local mussels, fried with sambal, so hard to find these days. You can also ask for various kinds of fish steamed or order just the tail of the ikan kurau or threadfin, if you prefer flesh closer to the bone.
Indeed this is a place where modern eating practices are thankfully kept at bay, as you can still find trotters, pig’s tendons, intestines, soy-braised till tender, and yes, pork fat studded within its innocent looking fish cakes, a traditional recipe. Its steamed minced pork patty, a classic, is moist and tasty, thanks to the fat found in the mince and it comes with a generous garnish of salted fish.
Steamed pork patty with salted fish
As this is a porridge place after all, salted foods are very much part of the offerings despite modern health concerns, for how else would you be able to feed large families?
Teochew porridge was long known as a poor man’s food for all you needed was a bit of salted food with lots of rice gruel to fill stomachs. At prices ranging from $2 (for the salted egg) to $13 (for the steamed mullet), it is indeed a throwback to yesteryear in more ways than one.
Today, we eat it because it reminds us of the time when eating was simple and yet so good. And thankfully, we now know where to find this bit of yesteryear.
Rating: Food: 4/5; Value for money: 5/5; Ambience: 4/5; Service: 3/5
121 Joo Chiat Road
Opening hours: Mon- Sat: 11am-3.30pm, 5.30pm-9pm; Sun: 10.30am-3.30pm; Closed on Wed