In case you haven’t already realised, I am interspersing my Melbourne-based food posts with retrospective Singapore food posts from my trip back home at the end of last year. I created fodder for 30+ posts during the 4 week trip home, and a proud blog-belly as physical proof.
Living in such a hot, tropical country, you’d almost wonder why we’d have steamboat dinners in Singapore. Steamboat (hot pot) is meant to be an affair reserved for cooler weather, where the family gets together and warms themselves up with wonderful simmered food. But of course, being the innovative Singaporeans that we are, we have circumvented the problem of warm temperatures by having our steamboat dinners indoors with the air-conditioner going at full blast. Ha ha!
But where’s the beef??
There is one thing about steamboat that sticks in my memory. And that is how dad, mum, grandma and I would hold a reunion steamboat dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year. The four of us, under one roof, together, having a communal meal to usher in the coming of another year. Because of that, whenever I attend a hot pot dinner that is done at home, I’d quietly notice a celebratory mood of bliss bubbling inside me. I remember dad being in charge of cutting the beef, while mum prepares the stock and all the other ingredients with dad as sous chef. And myself, the grumpy lazy teenager, upstairs playing video games. Aaaah Singapore life!
Steamboat at commercial establishments tends to serve substandard soup stock and poor quality ingredients. That’s why we prefer having it at home. Plus, why are we paying people so much money to serve us raw food? There is only one place where our family goes for classic steamboat outside of home, and that’s at Hua Yu Wee (華友園) Seafood Restaurant. Good stock, good beef. The restaurant’s name translates loosely to “Garden of Chinese Friends”. I must agree it does have garden-like surroundings, and the patrons are mainly Chinese.
We’ve been eating here waay back when I could barely mouth words. Decades ago, right here in this front porch of the restaurant, I remembered there was a raggedy parrot in a cage hanging from the far right corner, and a fish tank against the wall at the back with a large, elegant dragon fish in it. I was 3-5 years old then and whenever we ate here, I’d be pulling at mum’s hand to get to this exciting porch to see the “pawwot and the peesh!”. So for many many years since, Hua Yu has always been known as the “Parrot And The Fish” place to me. Of course both sentient beings are long gone now. The only link between that memory and my current life is my chosen career.
We always have this steamboat meal with hot gok fa cha (chrysanthemum tea)
Hua Yu is more a family seafood restaurant than a steamboat specific place. In fact, they only serve steamboat on weekdays. Very nice setting, it’s really a bungalow with a large compound next to a ‘jungle’. I like how the tropical trees practically tower over everything behind the restaurant. You can either dine indoors in the bungalow or outdoors in this large courtyard. We always prefer being outdoors, you can listen to the crickets as the sun sets.
It’s funny how we are dining in a seafood restaurant, and we don’t even order a single seafood dish. We’d have steamboat and order just the beef because that’s what the family really likes at this place! We think the secret ingredient is the tau joo (fermented beancurd) that they use to marinate the beef. Try that next time you have a hot pot party at home. The beef also isn’t over tenderised to death with bicarb, I don’t like the texture of bicarb-meat. The chilli sauce here also has tau joo in it – very nice.
I should buy these type of slotted spoons for hot pot in Melbourne. Easier to clean than the golden wire-weave ones.
One plate of beef costs SGD$6. For the 4 of us, we’d order 5 plates.
Because beef cooks quickly, you only dip it into the hot pot with the slotted spoon for 10 seconds or so, giving it a jiggle with your chopsticks, before taking it out to eat with a little dipped chilli sauce.
You should know by now how my family can be quite shameless with BYO things at restaurants. Dad pre-bought this bag of tang-oh (茼蒿 – garland chrysanthemum) from the wet market before we ate here. The restaurant does not serve tang-oh, they only have chinese cabbage and boring lettuce. A true steamboat must have tang-oh. Because we are such regulars here, the waitresses let us secretly bring in our own tang-oh and pretend not to notice when dad tactically grabs a big handful of tang-oh from under the table and throoows it into the boiling stock. I kept feeling a little ashamed whenever we did that.
That day, dad bought 1kg of tang-oh…! Thats why every picture of the steamboat had tons of veggies in it. As a gesture of goodwill, we left a bigger tip at the end of the meal for letting us BYO our favourite steamboat veggie.
We also had some crispy skin spring chicken to go along with this meal. My folks liked it, but I thought it was on the dry side. Incidentally, the seafood hor fun is also good here.
And what’s the best part of a steamboat meal? That would have to be the drinking of the stock at the end of the meal. Full of goodness after simmering so much ingredients for so long. Grandma would always ladle out a bowl for us grandkids to drink because the body-rich soup is supposed help us grow. The stock here starts off with a light and simple flavour and turns very tasty by the end of the meal. I don’t like steamboat stocks that already start off salty because it becomes undrinkable at the end.
Hua Yu Wee, at night.
Marina Bay Sands
One thing about this Hua Yu Parrot-and-the-Fish place. We always have a meal here just before I depart home to go off to somewhere. I remember eating here, in uniform, just before going to camp for my military training. I also remember eating here the night before I fly back to Australia for my studies. So in my later years, Hua Yu somehow became a place that brings poignance into my heart, because the meal was always a precursor to a departure.
This time round, I was determined not to have this pattern happen again. I made us eat here 2 weeks before I left Singapore. But still, I felt pensive during that meal. I think it is the comparatively quiet outdoor atmosphere of the place. As we drove back towards home, Marina Bay Sands loomed into view along the expressway. It’s the latest mega-structure in Singapore, very iconic. Ugly to some, but quite awesome to me actually. It sprouted up during the two years I was away. Things change so quickly in Singapore. Sometimes I feel I am losing my grounding with my country of birth… .
Hwa Yu Wee (華友園) Seafood Restaurant
462 Upper East Coast Rd
65 6442 9313
No steamboat on friday, weekends & eve of public holidays