Monday, October 17, 2016
Traditional Hokkien Dishes at Quan Xin Yuan Restaurant 老字号福建菜馆 - 泉馨园
I met traditional Hokkien restaurant owner Mr Tho Cheng Kia of Quan Xing Yuan (泉馨园) in year 2014 when I bought two tickets to attend an event held at his restaurant. His sincerity, humility and generosity made a deep impression on me.
He not only served his signature dishes to 40 of us at a good price, he even gave extra 3 dishes to each of the 4 tables. The most unforgettable dish I had that night was a scrumptious Sweet Potato Rice Cake (蕃薯粉粿) fried with sambal chilli. The translucent cake was tedious to make and required 3 days' advance notice. It was not on the menu but he prepared it for us.
We truly enjoyed the food and our group was boisterous that night. Mr Tho was extremely happy. He ordered the kitchen to serve us his famous kong bak bao (braised pork with steamed buns) as a parting gift, ignoring the groaning from all of us because we were so stuffed from devouring the eleven delicious dishes he had already served.
The pork sandwiched bun was so delicious that I went back to the restaurant on a few occasions for takeaways. And Mr Tho remembered me, always finding time to chat with me while I waited for the food.
My husband and I returned to Quan Xing Yuan for a taste of authentic Hokkien dishes after a long period of time. We are grateful to Mr Fong WK of Tong Heng Confectionery who arranged the dinner and recommended the dishes. We were glad to meet Mr Tho Cheng Kia together with his successor and head chef Mr Alfred Ow again.
For our first course, we ordered the combination of Wu Xiang Fen Ti (Five-spice Trotter) and Crispy Prawn Rolls. The prawn rolls are coated in a crispy batter, the stuffing of prawn meat, minced pork and chestnuts were chewy and very delicious.
This handmade five-spice trotter is the restaurant's specialty and a rare Hokkien dish. Mr Tho describes it as a 'kungfu dish', as it requires a skilful technique to remove the meat and bones from the pig’s skin, at the same time ensuring minimal cuts to the skin as the prepared meat ingredients will be stuffed back to the hollowed cavity. It requires long, tedious hours of preparation and cooking.
The huge roll of trotter is steamed in a steamer for two hours and a char siew seasoning is applied to it after it is cooked. This appetiser is then kept in a chiller for 8 hours before it is sliced thinly and served together with a chilli sauce and a sweet sauce. It was my first time tasting this unique delicacy.
The second course was a must-eat dish of the restaurant - Hokkien style fried noodles. We have to eat it while it was steaming hot or else it would turn into a gooey lump of starch. Using broad yellow noodles (we could still find a trace of the distinctive alkaline taste) which is different from the noodles of the other dialect group, they use a dark soy sauce based gravy to braise it.
And buried beneath the noodles, prawns, slices of squid and vegetables was this tasty meat ball. I think there was only one and I got lucky. haha....
We were served by a shy Ah Fong who is in her seventies. One of the longest serving staff in the restaurant with almost 30 years of service. She knows the dishes at the back of her hand. She was attentive to our needs and our cups were always filled with hot tea and our plates changed when dirtied.
Throughout our stay at the restaurant, I observed she was always busy, taking orders, serving dishes, cleaning up, filling up condiment jars and bottles...etc. I chatted with her at every opportunity because she never stopped what she was doing to carry on the conversation.
She used to work split shifts but ever since she moved to a place quite far from her work place, she will come in later in the morning to help out at the kitchen. She would serve the lunch and dinner time crowds and whatever that is required of her. Nowadays, it is hard to find a staff who is loyal, committed and has initiative.
My much awaited braised pork with steam buns were finally served and I got to eat two pieces. I was feeling quite full by then as the noodles and buns are quite filling.
It was at this time that Mr Tho came to our table and we started asking about the history of Quan Xin Yuan. It was founded in the 1930s by his grandfather who emigrated here from his hometown of Quan Zhou in China. Mr Tho's father learnt to cook the dishes from grandpa Tho and then passed it to Mr Tho Cheng Kia who came to Singapore when he was 12 years old.
During the late 1970s, Mr Tho moved into outdoor catering and is now the biggest event caterer for some of the community centres in Singapore. I remember eating his food at many People's Association dinners. Many grassroots leaders and members of Parliament know him too.
Mr Tho describes his dishes as "food that fill the stomach". People in the olden days were very frugal, they seldom eat out. If they did, they would order starchy dishes that would keep their stomachs full.
For example, they would order a plate of Hokkien style fried noodles and the braised pork with steam buns. Both dishes contain large amounts of carbohydrates that will keep one full for a longer period of time. And ordering these two dishes were already a luxury in those days, normally they would just order a plate of fried noodles to share.
Mr Tho is so friendly that we were chatting and laughing as if we were long time friends. Suddenly he asked his cook to fry a plate of his signature Sweet Potato Rice Cake although we politely declined his kind gesture. Mr Tho was not taking 'No' for an answer, so the dish was served. haha....
Quan Xin Yuan's in-house speciality dish, Sweet Potato Rice Cake is a VERY traditional Hokkien dish which is commonly found in Mr Tho's hometown. It is hardly seen in Singapore these days because of the tedious preparation steps and a long time involved in the process. The chef also must be skilful in order to prepare this tasty dish well.
The Sweet Potato Fried Rice Cakes stir fried with sambal chilli is a creation of Mr Tho Cheng Kia. Love the texture of the chewy rice cakes which was stir fried with freshly made roast pork, dried shrimps, garlic leek, sliced mushrooms and cabbage in a fragrant sambal chilli sauce.
It was a joyous and heartwarming evening with the 3rd and 4th generation of Quan Xin Yuan. Sincerely hope they will stay healthy and happy feeding us traditional Hokkien dishes for many more years.
Quan Xin Yuan 泉馨园 (清记) 海鲜菜馆
252 Jalan Besar S208925.
Nearest MRT station is Farrer Park.
寻找古早味的福建菜, 我们找上了已传承四代的老字号福建菜馆 - 泉馨园。