Oyster omelette at Jurong East Avenue 1.
After hearing about a good zi char place in Jurong East Avenue 1, I hightail it halfway across the island to see what the fuss is about.
On a Monday night, the coffee shop where Kai Xiang Food Centre is located is fairly packed with families sitting around large tables, dunking seafood into a steamboat or feasting on multiple dishes.
There are two menus, the regular one and a shorter one with three specials on it. Two of these sound good and we order them. They turn out to be the best parts of the meal.
First to arrive is a claypot of braised pig tails with peanuts ($14). It is pure comfort food. Peanuts braised till soft and yielding are great with rice, especially with some of that gravy.
The larger pieces of pig tail are more meaty but they are a little tough on the teeth, so grab the smaller ones and relish the gelatinous parts, which are really the whole point of this dish.
Do order the braised pig tails with peanuts (left), "white chopped pork" (right)
Our second special, which has a bland Chinese name that translates to "white chopped pork" ($12) in English, is a knockout punch of a dish. My friends and I are still thinking about it weeks later.
Thick slices of steamed belly pork are covered in a pungent, tangy dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, chopped garlic, chilli padi and fresh coriander leaves.
At once fresh and savoury and tangy and just plain wicked, it makes our eyes pop. I will not say anything about what the garlic does to a person's breath but it is worth ordering even on date night.
Also good is an oyster omelette ($10), the molluscs plump and fresh, the egg with good wok hei.
Sambal kangkong ($6) comes topped with lots of dried shrimps, which makes it more interesting than a lot of limp versions of the dish I have tried in other places. The vegetables are crisp and there is no oil slick on the plate. Slices of bittergourd coated with salted egg yolk ($8) come topped with even more of those yolks, sliced and tempting the diner.
It is good but I prefer the creamier sauce at Zai Shun Curry Fish Head at Jurong East Street 24, a zi char place I reviewed in June.
As the day had been rainy, we order crab and fish maw soup ($12). Crab meat is scarce in this thick soup but for the price, it seems mean to quibble.
It is, after all, filled with strips of fish maw, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and slivers of Napa cabbage, still crunchy and sweet. For once, I do not add too much black vinegar to my bowl.
Handing us some business cards, our friendly server points to the telephone number and says we have to call ahead and book, especially on weekends.
"Otherwise, you will not be able to get a table," she says, twice. Looking at the generous portions of good food that Kai Xiang dishes up, that is no surprise.
KAI XIANG FOOD CENTRE
Block 349 Jurong East Avenue 1, 01-1215,
Open: 11am to 11pm daily
This story was first published on Oct 14, 2012 on StraitsTimes.com. To read more: http://sph.straitstimes.com/premium/lifestyle/story/comfort-food-claypot-20121014