Heng Hwa Cuisine (兴化)

Putien Restaurant
#02-18-19 NEX,
23 Serangoon Central
Singapore 556083
+65 6634 7833
www.putien.com

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So far, I’ve touched on Teochew food, Indian food, Peranakan food, Cantonese food and Hokkien food in my Singapore posts. But have any of you heard about Heng Hwa 兴化 cuisine? I certainly haven’t. Every time I ate at Putien (YUMMY!!!) in the past decade, I sort of assumed it’s just a Hokkien restaurant. And my assumption was half correct. The Heng Hwas originally came from Fujian province in China (same as the Hokkiens), but they’re a minority dialect group.

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Putien in Serangoon Central’s NEX mall

Before I migrated to Oz, Putien only had one restaurant in Kitchener Rd. It was always packed and it probably was the only restaurant serving Heng Hwa cuisine in Singapore. My family would dine there pretty often. But in the past 4 years, they’ve expanded explosively and now there are branches everywhere, even in Sentosa island!

I was quite thrilled to find a Putien branch in my local heartland mall, NEX. Mmm hmm… when I’m visiting Singapore, I like to be a pretend heart-lander. Picture me as a Serangoon boy… traipsing up and down NEX mall… cut hair, eat peanut pancake, drink liang teh… go NTUC, browse browse… buy SIM card, cheap slippers, facial products… walk here, walk there… and whaddya know? I’ve found a Putien!!

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Dad and mom were a little unsure about eating at the NEX branch. But we soon learnt that food quality was as good as the main branch in Kitchener Rd. This is because Putien uses a centralised kitchen that prepares all the ingredients and sauces before delivering it to the branches for the final cooking of the dishes. Excellent concept. Very Singapore. : )

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The drunken cockle $9.90 is dad’s favourite dish and one we can never pass up. Love the garlic and chilli action surrounding the fresh and lightly cooked see hum (cockles) in a lovely citrusy ponzu-like sauce. The dish had a perfect balance of chilli, salt, sweet and sour.

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These days I’m getting less and less keen about eating intestines. But the braised pigs intestines $13.90 was really fresh and cleaned so thoroughly that it didn’t have a smell. It almost looked like they’ve telescoped the innards into itself multiple times to get many layers. The intestines were springy yet tender and it sat in a soy broth that cradled gentle hints of smoked tea. Delicious.

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Do not be deceived by the humble looking stir-fried yam $10.90. They are amazingly soft inside with wonderful honey soy caramelisation on the outsides. So simple and so so so good!

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You know how I like my flavours light? The bamboo herbal prawns $4.90 trumps it completely. I’ve never been disappointed with this dish, the fresh prawns are simmered in a light and lovely ginseng broth that’s so gently flavoursome that I’d slurp up every last drop. The prawns look so cute and blushy in the bamboo bath.

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Next up is mum’s favourite dish, the humble deep-fried Tenggiri fish $12.90. So clean and tasty, and even though its deep-fried, it somehow doesn’t taste oily. Great tangy dipping sauce too. I love how all the dishes at Putien are so uncomplicated but so delicious.

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Another family favourite, the lotus leaf steam crab with vermicelli $5.90/100g. I liked how the crab’s cut into small easy pieces for us to eat. As the saying goes, fresh crab is best served steamed, where you can actually taste the sweetness of its flesh. I have no complaints with this dish, and the tang hoon (glass noodles) underneath had the cleansing flavour of Chinese tea.

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Love the chilli sauce!

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Because I am such a fan of Asian desserts, I ended the meal with a bowl of 龜苓膏 (guī líng gāo) herbal jelly with honey $5.90. It was satisfyingly herby, probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it!

There are many more dishes that are family favourites which have not been covered here. I foresee a visit two when I’m back in Singapore. Meanwhile, please be patient. :)

VISIT TWO

Yup, a mere 6 months later, I’m back in Singapore and yes, back in Putien! So predictable, my eating habits. The portions have gone slightly smaller now but the food is still pretty good, we had many of the same dishes, but here are a few dishes that weren’t covered earlier. Meanwhile check out the yummy fresh chilli sauce!

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The fried “Hing Wa” bee hoon $7.90 always satisfies our family. Simple, yet delicious. It’s a cleaner take on Singaporean char bee hoon, and the vermicelli noodles used here are also much finer.

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We tried the braised bitter gourd $10.90 for the first time, and it was surprisingly quite good!

Part of the seasonal menu for autumn features hairy crab $38. From Taihu Lake in Eastern China.  I saw the picture of the crab on the menu and quickly said “uhh… no thanks!”. It looked like a big fat red tarantula! But dad was really keen on letting me try such a rare delicacy, so I relented. The dipping sauce consisted of strips of fresh ginger and chinese vinegar, and the dish was paired with a small cup of ginger tea (see below).

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So yes… *koff* definitely an acquired taste, or should I say – look. It was steamed, but served coldish. The flesh was fresh enough and the roe quite creamy. But it was a tiny crab, with not much flesh, hairy arms, and a thick mop of seaweedy scummy-looking ‘fur’ over its pincers. Ewwwwww!!! The waitress said we shouldn’t be eating that hair over its arms, but it’s quite difficult to not end up getting your lips over some of it as you try to get into nooks and crannies.

Dad valiantly struggled with the crab while I stopped after my 2nd piece. But I’ll have everyone know that the mainland Chinese enjoy eating hairy crabs this way. The waitress later told us that some of them would even order 2-3 per person and tear these delicacies apart with such delight! So it seems I’ve finally found another thing that I can’t eat which other people seem to enjoy.

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