Makansutra: Zi char heaven at Chef Lam
Chef Lam's stall serves top-draw zi char dishes
The definitive mass market family eatery in Singapore is the zi char stall.
This is where busy families gravitate to when they want to bond over decent local restaurant dishes at budget prices.
They serve way more than the "meat, soup and vegetable" combination meals, and it takes skill and experience to master such small kitchens.
There have been attempts to open up little zi char chain stalls, and the cooks are taught to handle each dish like how fast-food burger flippers learn their craft - by rote.
Then there are hawker kitchens, where I can tell with just a glance that a wok master resides there.
The prepping and wok stations, utensils and ingredient space, storage and layout, plus the logic in the menu all make sense, like at seven-month-old Chef Lam at Golden Mile Food Centre.
Chef Lam Loon Tuck and his partner, chef Tay Boon Aik, have over 40 years of experience, and chef Lam had gigs at hotels such as Shangri-La and Traders and was last seen as the head Chinese chef at Hotel Jen.
I took one look at the dishes served and realised that for a hawker to put that much effort into a towering Crispy Noodle seafood dish (from $6), it showed respect for his craft and his customers.
The seafood sauce was smoothed with eggs, and the ingredients were restaurant-class fresh.
I demolished it with gusto and let the crispy thin noodles soak just enough of the sauce to retain its texture, and it was majestic.
The Dragon Chives or Ching Loong Choy ($10, off menu), wok-tossed with crunchy bean sprouts and flavoured with black bean dace fish, was so easy to hoover up, especially when topped with crispy fried shallots.
His signature is the Fish Steamboat (from $25). There is a choice of fish types and cuts, from slices to fish head.
The magic mojo was of course the soup. The distinct aroma of dried flat sole fish bone (teepo) was evident and the use of two types of ginger, old and blue, did me in.
The six of us ordered the large red snapper version ($35) and the portion was more than we needed.
The Sambal Petai Prawns ($12) feature younger stink beans which are less bitter and crunchier and go so well with the fresh, plump and sweet prawns.
The sambal was rich but not overly spicy.
Ditto the Sambal Clams ($8) - sweet fresh clams tossed in a high-fire wok and plated simply.
The other dish I respect here is the fried hor fun (rice sheet noodles).
The real deal is to pre-sear the noodles in a high-heat wok to brown and inject wok hei (wok aroma), and that is how they do it here.
#01-65, Golden Mile Food Centre,
Closed twice a month
K.F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.