Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Xing Hua Vegetarian Restaurant

One of the questions that often pop up among us Chinese is “What is your dialect group?”. The most common answer is Hokkien, followed by a tie between Teochew and Cantonese. Just when I thought Hainanese, my dialect, was rare enough, an ex-school mate of mine changed my mind by revealing that she was a “Xing Hua Ren”. To make things easier for us, she said that we could think them as a subset of the Hokkiens, since their original homeland at Putian, is located on the eastern coastline of Fujian (Chinese translation of Hokkien) province, China.

In recent years, the rise of Putien Restaurant in Singapore has raised the profile of the Xing Hua dialect group, particularly its cuisine. Xing Hua cuisine is characterized by its simple and unadulterated flavor through major use of fresh produce. Due to the coastal location of Putian, seafood is highly utilized in their cooking, either as an ala carte dish or as ingredients in one-dish meals. Speaking of one-dish meals, we have to make a special mention of Xing Hua Bee Hoon (Rice Noodle), a specialty of Putian. It is famous for being extra fine and white, when compared to the local version.



Since Putien Restaurant serves meat, vegetarians are left out of this trend. Fortunately, Xing Hua Vegetarian Restaurant is set up so that vegetarians get to sample the craze behind Xing Hua cuisine. Located inside Fortune Center, Bugis, it is owned by Lin Mei, a China-born immigrant, and her family. To ensure authenticity in their cooking, the establishment hires mainly PRC people. The use of processed mock meat, especially konjac jelly “seafood”, is inevitable. However the restaurant tries to minimize its usage by introducing mushrooms, soy and nuts for proteins, so as to stay true to the virtue of using fresh produce in Xing Hua cooking. Apart from Xing Hua dishes, they also offer local fares, such as fried mee goreng and standard economic rice.

The Food

Xing Hua Soya Bean Fried Bee Hoon, S$ 3.50

Initially, I was quite hesitant to order this dish because I generally did not like the greasiness of fried food. On the other hand this was the signature dish of Xing Hua cuisine, and if I did not feature it, this review would feel like it’s missing something. The relatively light and homely nature of Xing Hua cooking further reassured me to give this dish a shot. Since I preferred dishes with a little twist, I chose the Xing Hua soya bean fried bee hoon over Xing Hua fried bee hoon.

Just as promised by the PRC stall assistant, Xing Hua bee hoon was different from the local ones. I was so intrigued by the fineness of each thread that I devoured a soup spoonful of bee hoon alone, without the rest of the ingredients. The bee hoon was as soft as it looked. Being a fried dish, there was definitely some oiliness but the heavy feeling was thankfully absent. Instead all I tasted was that simple home cooking flavor.

Another plus point of this dish was the wide variety of accompanying ingredients added. Just the greens alone, I could spot about three distinct types, namely bok choy, choy sum and Chinese cabbage. Although I normally preferred softer vegetable, I actually appreciated the crunchiness of the veges in this case. Each crunch of the vegetable stalk provided some moisture that nicely balanced out the dryness of the bee hoon, when eaten together. There were even more types of protein ingredients, ranging from whole food like mushrooms and peanuts, to the processed mock meats and seafood. All of them, including the mock items, were very lightly seasoned so as to maintain their natural flavor. Occasionally, I could detect that refreshing ginger aroma. This was definitely true blue Xing Hua cooking.

I would have considered this dish perfect if I wasn’t distracted by the thought of what value had the soy milk added to it. It felt as if the stall assistant had mistook my order for the normal Xing Hua fried bee hoon. After I finished my food, I verified with him again and he confirmed that this was indeed Xing Hua soya bean fried bee hoon. He even added that the soy milk was made in house, fresh and preservative free. Nonetheless, my thumb went up for this one. I highly recommend this dish to those with a light palate like me.

Yong Tau Fu Soup (7 items), S$ 3.50

When I saw the yong tau fu section, the first thing that crossed my mind was if there’s a Xing Hua version of this dish. I examined the selection of items, hoping to find a clue. First of all, I noticed that there were very few stuffed items, and if there were any at all, they were stuffed with fish paste. The signboard above also featured this dish as “yong tau fu”, not “Xing Hua yong tau fu”. Hence I deduced that this was just one of the local dishes they included in their menu.

Despite the lack of stuffed items, the ingredients available was quite diverse. I was pleased to see a good variety of mushrooms, including the less common ones like oyster mushroom and straw mushroom. They also offered more types of greens, apart from the usual bok choy, water spinach and Chinese cabbage. The unfortunate victims that would end up in my stomach later were Chinese spinach, oyster mushroom, shiitake mushroom, baby sweetcorn, eggplant with stuffing and silken tofu. I requested for shredded carrots as my seventh item, and the chef was cool enough to allow that.

The soup was clear with a mild herbal taste that tended towards savory instead of medicinal. It was good that I had chosen a couple of fresh mushrooms as they went very well with this type of soup. The sweetness of the baby sweetcorn provided something different for my taste bud to relish. I deliberately ate the tofu last so as to gave it an opportunity to soak up the flavor of the soup and lets just say it worked really well. As with most things in life, perfection seldom exists. The fish paste stuffing was so tasteless that it had to borrow some from the pre-fried eggplant, that was thankfully delicious. If I had known that the carrots would be served served raw, I would have asked the chef to cook it along with the rest of the ingredients (Okay I admit this was more of my fault).

Although the yong tau fu at Xing Hua was decent enough, I personally still leaned towards the one by Luo Han Group. However, if I was in a mood for fresh mushrooms, I might opt for Xing Hua Vegetarian instead.

Brown Rice Porridge (Ordered with Yong Tau Fu), S$ 0.50

This was the first time I saw brown rice porridge being served plain. Normally, it was sold as flavored congee. Anyway the brown rice porridge, a healthier substitute for white rice porridge, was meant to be eaten with the side dishes from the economic rice section. Being someone who loved to play around with different combinations of order, and getting weird looks from the stall assistant in return, I ordered it as an accompaniment to the yong tau fu soup.

Unlike plain white rice porridge, the whole grain version tasted less plain. Its reddish brown color told me that Thai red cargo rice was used, which explained its nutty and subtly sweet taste. The broth was thick and creamy. I certainly did not mind eating this on its own.

Most places usually charged more for ordering brown rice. However I paid the same price of 50 cents regardless of what I chose to go with my yong tau fu soup. Another reason for me to like this side order.

Conclusion

Chinese vegetarian food has a notorious reputation for being unhealthy, due to its excess use of oil, MSG and seasonings. Xing Hua Vegetarian Restaurant has just proved that it is possible to whip up delicious vegetarian dishes without going overboard on the seasonings. Then again it is impossible to please everyone. For those who prefer rich flavor, well, you have plenty of local vegetarian eateries to choose from.

Address:190 Middle Rd, Fortune Centre #01-11
Opening Hours:Mon - Sun, 7.00 am - 10.00 pm
Bus Service:56, 64, 65, 131, 131A, 139, 147, 147A, 166
MRT Station:Bugis
Website:-

4 comments:

  1. I like how detailed your reviewers are.

    I myself learnt a lot about Xing Hua cuisine from this review! Good job!

    Luke

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  2. Once again, thank you for your kind comments, which tell me that my efforts spent on this particular post are worth all the while. Hope the information is accurate enough. I myself learn a lot about Xing Hua cuisine too while doing a mini research for this review.

    Speaking about research, I realize I have forgotten to include a reference section. Got to think of a way to present it without cluttering up my post.

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  3. Nice review. I went last week to Xing Hua Veg Restaurant and fall in love with the flavors. Back in Melbourne I will go on a hunt now for a Xing Hua style restaurant : )

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  4. Hi Micha

    Melbourne? So you are an Australian? Welcome to Singapore (And to my blog as well :D). I hope you have enjoyed your stay here.

    It might not be easy to find Xing Hua style restaurant outside of China as they are usually the minorities among the overseas Chinese. Nonetheless, all the best to you in finding Xing Hua style restaurant there. It would be worth all the while since you enjoy the food.

    ReplyDelete