Singapore is a food paradise. With a wide range of food choices, every price point from Michelin star restaurants to humble hawker fare is available to suit every whim and fancy.
Yet, from time to time, a huge segment of the local Chinese population still craves for good old comfort food at family-styled heritage restaurants. This explains why one such establishment survived close to a century in the food business.
“We have a mixed crowd of businessmen and Teochew families. They have grown up eating Teochew food, and are now bringing the younger generation out for family meals,” says Goh Chiew Buay.
Established by Grandfather Ah Orh (“blackie”) in 1919, the Teochew-style family restaurant began as a simple pushcart store in the Boat Quay area. Originating from the Guangzhou province of China, authentic Teochew food is known for their deft handling of seafood and poultry, which brings out the natural taste of ingredients.
“As compared to the complexity of Cantonese cuisine, traditional Teochew food is typically simpler to prepare. We really focus on freshness to bring out the best taste in the cooking,” explains Chiew Buay.
Characterised by a lighter and more delicate taste through poaching, steaming and braising, popular Teochew hawker fares include bak kut teh, braised duck and kway chap, fish soup, minced meat noodles, and porridge with some side dishes. There is also less usage of sauces and oil, which makes high-quality ingredients an important aspect of the preparation process.
Hundred years on, the star dishes of Arh Orh are fresh seafood cooked in the most classic Teochew ways possible. A cold platter of crabs and prawns is humbly plated with cilantro for garnish and a sweet plum sauce for dipping. This is best shared amongst a multi-generational family of six or more. Usually, everyone jostles for their favourite bits – creamy crab roe, succulent crab meat, juicy prawn heads and such. It is a boisterous family affair, which is the main joy when dining at a heritage restaurant.
Another dish to go for is the steamed pomfret. Depending on the number of diners, a larger fish can be ordered. Teochew ingredients like sour plums, preserved vegetables and cut chillies are added for flavouring.
When served, the pomfret goes well with fragrant white rice. It is easy to separate the flesh from the bones. Peel it gently with a serving spoon and a fresh slice of this butterfish is best savoured with the fish essence that the fish is immersed in. Out of respect, the patriarch usually gets the head for himself. This includes the fish eyes, cheeks, and fins.
For Teochews, these healthy, nourishing traditions date back to the early 1900s. Ah Orh intends to preserve the heritage for the next 50 years, but Chiew Buay sighs when she talks about how competitive it is in Singapore: “Customers are well-travelled and are spoilt for choice everyday. Some Teochew dishes are very labour-intensive and ingredient costs are increasing too. We have to do a lot more to preserve our heritage and family recipes.”
Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant is currently under the management of their third generation grandchildren, Goh Chiew Buay and siblings. Visit their Facebook page for the latest on opening times.
Photo credits: Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant