When it comes to comfort food, a bowl of plain or sweet potato porridge accompanied by the humblest of dishes like chye poh omelette, ranks high up there as one of the most soothing dishes. For those who grew up eating the dish at home, savouring it now could spark off an Anton Ego moment, zapping us back to our childhood when simple meals were satisfying and memorable.
Eateries serving plain porridge with an array of side dishes range from coffee shops to hotel establishments. Quite a few places also offer a Taiwan porridge buffet spread (Taiwan because they also serve porridge with sweet potato, which is the way the Taiwanese cook it). The standard ranges from mediocre – you’ll be better off opening your own can of black bean dace fish and making your own porridge – to close to a five-star feast. We single out five of the best here to cater to different budgets.
Available: 12pm-2:30pm (lunch); 6pm-10:30pm (dinner)
The buzz: A signature Goodwood Park restaurant, the Coffee Lounge has been serving Taiwan porridge since it opened in 1984. It offers, for both lunch and dinner, porridge a la carte buffet ($38) with unlimited servings of over 20 items including appetisers and hot dishes.
What’s special: Dishes are cooked a la minute, so they arrive piping hot at your table. Order the appetiser, beancurd in Japanese soya sauce & pork floss – it opens up your palate as you enjoy it with the first few mouthfuls of the sweet potato porridge. All the staples of any porridge meal – braised pork belly, mui choy (preserved mustard) with pork, salted egg and braised peanuts – are also on the menu. Among the traditional side dishes, our favourite is the fried omelette with chye poh (preserved radish). It's perfectly round and crisp around the edges with a light, fluffy centre.
There are also the must-try tze char-style dishes that go surprisingly well with porridge. We are hooked to the crispy baby squids in sweet oyster sauce and deep-fried pomfret swathed in black soya sauce. There's even wok-fried beef with black pepper and an impressive selection of vegetable dishes. Go for the stir-fried kang kong with its piquant sambal sauce. If you prefer non-spicy, there’s lettuce with fermented bean paste and eggplant with minced pork. Another big draw of this porridge feast is the decadent desserts from the buffet table tempting you (even after a full meal) with Movenpick ice cream, bread & butter pudding and an array of pastries.
Available: 6pm-10pm dinner; 10:30pm-12:30am supper
The buzz: Its wallet-friendly supper porridge buffet makes this hotel cafe a popular late-night dining spot. At $10.80 per person (Mon to Thurs) and $11.80 (Fri to Sun), it's really value-for-money for a pretty impressive spread. The Taiwan porridge is also available daily for dinner ($16.80 Mon to Thurs; $17.80 Fri to Sun), which also includes local delights as part of the spread.
What’s special: The dinner porridge buffet has a live station featuring laksa, popiah and chicken curry. The popiah is made on the spot and well stuffed with juicy turnips. It’s also laced with the right balance of garlic and sweet sauce. The laksa and curry are as authentic as they get.
Special mention must be made of its sweet potato porridge. It's thick, silky-smooth and wins hands down for having the best texture among all the sweet potato porridge we slurped up for this story.
The spread of porridge condiments is attractively presented on the buffet table and will entice you to pick a little bit of everything from fermented beancurd to preserved olive vegetables and fried peanuts. You can also find all things braised on the buffet table – braised duck, chicken feet, eggs and tau pok, you name it.
Had your fill of the Taiwan porridge? There's century egg congee plus a seafood section where you can find dishes like Singapore chilli crabs, prawns and squids with Thai chilli dip. To add some kick to the side dishes, there’s the cafe’s homemade sambal chilli and Szechuan dried chilli oil. The buffet also has a small dessert spread consisting of D-I-Y ice kachang, nonya kueh and bread & butter pudding.
Available: 12pm-2:30pm; 6pm-10pm
The buzz: Another hot spot for a value-for-money Taiwan porridge spread. Lunchtime on weekdays sees an office crowd; on weekends, the place is incredibly popular with families, hence booking is highly recommended.
What’s special: The spread here is nothing fancy, but you can look forward to a pocket-friendly Taiwan porridge buffet for both lunch and dinner ($11.80 Mon to Thurs lunch & dinner; Fri lunch) and ($13.80 Fri dinner, Sat & Sun lunch & dinner). Now, who says you can’t find cheap eats in the heart of town?
Dig into standard braised items such as pork trotters, pork belly, chicken wings, chicken feet, tau pok and tau kee (beancurd skin). The dishes have a down-to-earth homemade flavour – just the way grandma used to make it. The omelette dish comes with different fillings all the time. You get chye poh one day, and long beans on another. If you’re a fan of fermented beancurd, the version here is a must-try. It’s intense and full of flavour with an addictive chilli kick.
The kitchen team also attempts to add variety to the sweets section by having different local desserts such as red bean soup flavoured with orange peel, tau suan and tang yuan on rotation. Crystal Cafe’s local a la carte menu is also worth a look if you’re still hungry. We recommend the chicken rice, satay and nasi lemak, and the best part is they are all priced below $10!
Available: 7pm-11pm (Fri & Sat); 7pm-10pm (Thurs & Sun)
The buzz: Located above the lobby level, La Terrasse is the quieter side of the constantly buzzing Orchard Hotel. It’s an ideal spot to wind down and tuck into a porridge spread ($32), which makes a “lighter” buffet affair than Orchard Café.
What’s special: There’s a live station where chefs dish up “healthy” fare like Teochew fish porridge and blanched vegetables flavoured with onion oil and oyster sauce. The fish porridge has a clear, flavourful fish stock and chunky cuts of fresh snakehead fish, seaweed and tomatoes. Think a more elaborate version of the Teochew fish porridge found in hawker centres.
The Taiwan porridge spread has the usual condiments and mains with some “unique” offerings like the Teochew drunken chicken flavoured in rice wine. The meat is tender but could do more with a stronger wine flavour. Popular mains to accompany your porridge are the braised preserved mustard with assorted roasted meat, braised chicken feet, Ah Huat’s braised pork belly (Ah Huat is a long-time chef with the hotel) and nonya chap chye. If you are still not stuffed from the porridge section, you can dig into “heavier” dishes like fried kway teow and sweet & sour pork ribs.
The buzz: This popular steamboat eatery occupies a sprawling corner space (180 indoors; 120 outdoors) at Marina Square’s Centrestage, which is where a clutch of famous eateries is sited. At lunchtime, it offers what is probably the cheapest Taiwan porridge buffet in town ($7.90 Mon to Fri; $8.80 on weekends)!
What’s special: There's a huge variety (about 27 dishes), but don’t expect any standout dishes – it’s a simple spread that fills up your tummy for just less than $10 a person. On the buffet table are the usual porridge condiments like preserved olive vegetables, salted egg and ikan bilis with peanuts, and standard mains such as braised pork belly and beancurd. That said, there are some rather tasty homestyle dishes like the ma po tofu, brinjal with minced meat, and black fungus with egg. There are also plain buns to go with the kong bak (pork belly).
Besides porridge, you also get at least two types of carbs: fried beehoon and fried rice, both decent enough but nothing much to shout about. The buffet also includes local desserts like red bean or green bean soup and pulau hitam.
Click here for other buffets.