Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Singapore blog of true stories by johorkaki@gmail about best food, people & places around the world

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Poon Choi 盆菜 is a Hakka tradition that has become synonymous with Chinese New Year celebrations of Chinese communities around the world.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

I had the privilege of Mr. Lai Fak Nian 赖发源, owner of Plum Village 梅村酒家 hosting us to traditional poon choi.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Plum Village is a small simple restaurant with decor that may seem a bit obiang to Ang Moh Pai but I like the warm homely vibes. Plum Village was founded by Mr. Lai's father more than 50 years ago. It was a joint venture with a Hakka master chef from Hong Kong. Their first location was in Blk 94 in old Toa Payoh before they moved here off Upper Thomson Road (in 1984, 35 years ago). Today, Plum Village is the only Hakka restaurant in Singapore, and perhaps even the last one.

That's sad as Plum Village's food is delicious, but even more important, Hakka cuisine is a vital part of Singapore's culinary tradition.

Hakka people originated from the Henan 河南 area in north China and migrated southwards from around 200 BC due to wars. They settled in many areas in south China and Taiwan (and from there, the world). Hakka cuisine has many variations depending on where they settled. Plum Village's cuisine represent Meizhou 梅州. The familiar lei cha 擂茶 is from Hoppo (Hepu 合浦). Abacus seed 算盤子 (yam & starch gnocchi) is from Taipo 大埔. Hakkas from different regions may not find all Hakka dishes familiar.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

The menu book at Plum Village was a weathered clear folder. The typewritten menu and handwritten prices were slipped into the worn transparent pockets. No photos but the written descriptions in Chinese and English were clear enough. Mr. Lai developed the menu from his father's time and also from his own field trips to Hakka villages in China. It had a cross section of various streams of Hakka dishes with the core dishes from Meizhou (Mr. Lai's ancestral home).

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

It's a small comfort that Mr. Lai has put his recipes into a book (first published in 2009, now in its 6th reprint). Meanwhile, if you love traditional Hakka food, I highly recommend visiting Plum Restaurant before it closes.

Now, let's get back to poon choi (peng cai in Mandarin Chinese).

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Modern day poon choi has an image of ultra lux extravagance (with some restaurants competing to see who can throw the most exclusive, expensive atas ingredients into the pot).

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

But, original poon choi is a humble Hakka dish for communal dining and bonding. Its ingredients are everyday dishes like carp fish, pork trotter, chicken, pork balls, fish balls, tofu, yam, beef balls, dried oysters and other easily available dishes stewed in a large pot with pork bone stock. The rich blend of flavours from all the ingredients is further enriched by the fellowship and bonding around the table. Camaraderie is perhaps the most important ingredient of all.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Gentrified versions of poon choi started emerging in 1980s Hong Kong with the economic boom. Lux ingredients like sun dried scallops, sun dried abalone, fish maw, shark fin etc started popping up in poon choi to capitalise on the growing affluent HK clientele. At that time, the lux Chinese New Year dish of choice was Buddha Jump over the Wall 佛跳墙. Gentrified poon choi tapped into the luxury market and gradually edged out Buddha Jump over the Wall.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Plum Village offers both the original poon choi and also the lux versions.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Plum Village's poon choi tasted so wonderful I was lost for words. Just kept eating and eating.

Poon choi is the real melting pot. All the ingredients together in harmony, yet no single ingredient overpowers another. I could taste the natural flavours of the pork, fish, chicken etc. On top of that, all the flavours mell and blend together to form another layer of flavour that hold everything together (like the metaphoric social fabric that binds peoples together).

So, right there on the table is a dish that symbolises togetherness, mutual respect for everyone in the community. No wonder poon choi is today a favourite Chinese New Year celebration dish.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Just one piece from the pot to let you see what I mean.

Dried oyster wrapped with minced pork and then folded into lace pork fat (caul fat 猪网油). Where to find this in Singapore and Johor you tell me? Except in some lucky folks' grandma's house 😄

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

When you are at Plum Village, you must remember to order Hakka Radish Balls because they taste wonderful and nowhere else in Singapore or Johor sells these. Steamed shredded radish, minced pork, dried shrimp and dried cuttlefish held together with a bit of tapioca flour.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

The radish balls felt soft and gummy in the mouth. Every bite was rewarded with layered bursts of savoury sweetness from the dried cuttle fish, dried shrimps, minced pork and shredded radish - teasing your taste buds in that order.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Pork belly stewed with rice wine and red yeast rice. The red colour symbolises happiness.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Such fatty stuff is not for everyone, but I super love the layers of sweetness from the rice wine and the tender juicy fat 😋

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

The familiar comforting Red Rice Wine Chicken with Ginger. Fresh chicken briefly boiled in house made glutinous rice wine with bits of ginger till just done - winsome aromatic dish of sweet on sweet flavours with hints of ginger heat. I noticed it is very popular with ladies.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Prices look very reasonable at Plum Village.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Information for you 👉 The last, the best, the only authentic Hakka restaurant in Singapore now. If you are a Hakka food fan, buy a house nearby come here quick before Mr Lai retires (he is in his 70s now and had mulled about retiring since 2017 😱 ). If you want poon choi or a table for Chinese New Year, call now ☎ 6458 9005

👌 Pro-tip: If you are a cooking enthusiast, when you are in Plum Village, ask for Mr. Lai's cookbook. The gem costs only S$16.

Disclosure: Please note that this was an invited tasting. I will be back as a normal paying customer.

Plum Village. The Best Hakka Restaurant in Singapore (& Johor) 梅村酒家.新春盆菜

Restaurant name: Plum Village 梅村酒家
Address16 Jalan Leban, Singapore 577554 (steps from Sembawang Food Centre)
GPS1°22'18.4"N 103°49'45.1"E 🌐 1.371784, 103.829188
Waze: Jalan Leban
Tel6458 9005
Hours11:30am – 2:30pm | 6:00pm – 10:00pm

Non Halal



Date visited: 15 Jan 2019




Hakka poon choi at Singapore Eng Teng Association 新加坡永定会馆 in Singapore.

Johor Kaki Singapore food list 👈 click

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