I was food spotting around Taman Daya at about 2:00pm when a full house at Top Chance 聚品鲜 restaurant caught my attention. Top Chance looked like any other run of the mill family run seafood and zhe char restaurant ubiquitous in Johor and Malaysia.
As usual, I scanned the assembly of dishes on the tables and saw that almost all the tables had that claypot with a gooey dark gravy with lumpy chunks inside. I stopped and asked one of the staff what that claypot dish was and was told that it was their popular claypot catfish.
Bingo! My suspicions confirmed. Catfish braised in sweet, sour and savoury sauce is one of favourite dishes :) So I sat down and ordered one to try out.
The claypot catfish arrived still popping hot bubbles, releasing a pleasant aroma from the dark steaming concoction.
The next thing that struck me was the catfish head because so far, I have not had claypot catfish served with the head.
The catfish flesh was fresh, tender and fatty. The smooth scaleless skin added to the texture of the dish. The soft flesh was naturally sweet and I didn't notice any of that muddy smell associated with catfish (which is basically a scavenging bottom feeder).
The key to a good claypot braised catfish is its sauce. Top Chance's sauce was thick like a syrup and its flavour was robust and pungent. In the gooey tacky dark soy based gravy, I found stalks of lemon grass, chunks of ginger, chili padi, dried chili peppers, peeled onions, whole garlics, and curry leaf. All these ingredients and more, blended together to create a tangy, sweet, spicy and savoury gravy.
The flavourful gravy combined well with chunks of tender, smooth, fatty catfish flesh and skin resulting in a creamy, tasty treat.
The catfish meat came with bone on and was a little bony, so be careful there.
The catfish liver was softer and smoother than chicken liver and tasted similar. This was the first time I ate a catfish liver - not sure if it is a healthy thing to eat :P
The robustly flavoured gravy and sweet catfish flesh complemented the light and fresh tasting steamed white rice perfectly.
After my sumptuous meal which came to RM28 together with two plates of steamed rice and drinks, I spoke with the owner MR Fong to understand more about his restaurant. MR Fong had been running Top Chance with his family for over twenty years.
MR Fong then told me that the catfish I just ate was live and was cut only when an order was made. This was the first time that I had claypot catfish with live fish. In other places, the catfish was already cut into chunky cubes ready for cooking.
This explained the catfish head and also the slightly longer waiting time.
I love Top Chance's braised claypot catfish and I shall be back for their braised belly pork with preserved vegetables which MR Fong highly recommended.
Address: 11, Jalan Sagu 4, Taman Daya, Johor Bahru
Hours: 11:30am to 11:30pm
Date visited: 9 Nov 2012