I have wanted but avoided coming to this restaurant. The queue was usually between 1~2 hours, and there’s only one dish on the menu. This is the crazy phenomenon called Chinese Sauerkraut Fish.
According to urban legend, the owner was so engrossed in developing the perfect sauerkraut fish that they forgot to open the door to their store when they finally got it right. Hence, the customers called the owner, “太二”, meaning silly because he was too sincere. You have to understand the Chinese psyche – the purpose of opening a store is to make money and not doing is silly (even moronic).
But the “real” owners of the franchise was not silly. Even inch of this store (right down to the backstory) cried out “FRANCHISE IT TO DEATH!”. The decor of the store was simple, effective and replicable. The recipe called for only one dish and one size with customisation options in terms of additional ingredients like vermicelli or tofu.
I really like the black and white simplicity, woodcarving illustrations that are placed around the store. At the entrance was a sign that listed the rules of the store:
- You cannot have more than 4 persons in the party (what?)
- You cannot add seats or combine tables (what?)
- No takeaway
- The service staff is very charming, beware!
So, here’s a business that would not want to serve large party. A bit like a hawker store in Singapore, there’s only a limited menu, and a really limited size option. And the Restaurant Nazi did not stop at that, there’s a sign on the table to remind you not to play with your mobile phone while eating the fish. Sound advice given that not all the bones may have been removed from the fish, so beware.
Drinks were limited again. Only a comprehensive list of liquor and beer was available. Other than that, soft drinks. So we sticked to the gratis drink. You pop a couple slices of dried mandarin peel 陈皮 and a handful of dried roselle 洛神花, pour in hot water and then you have a really nice and naturally sweet drink.
Starter choices were quite varied, and we chose only two – we weren’t too hungry.
红油脆鹅肠 Spicy Goose Intestine – we don’t get goose in Singapore anymore, even more so intestines. However, despite all the longing to have that crunchy bit to the intestine, this starter disappointed. It was chewy and didn’t do any justice.
没骨头的凤爪 Boneless Chicken Feet – this, however, was the piece de resistance. We were wondering how did they infuse the fragrance and taste of the Szechuan peppercorns as well as the rest of the spices into the chicken feet, yet retaining the crunch.
Noticed that I did not put a plural to the heading. Yes, there’s no other choices of main dish.
The highlight of the menu, and the only main dish on the menu, is 老坛子酸菜鱼 Chinese Sauerkraut Fish. There are two choices – with all the sides or plain. And there are only two sizes – for a couple, or for party of 4 (which I assumed it meant two portions of fish).
And then you can choose some sides – I picked enoki mushrooms and tofu, which in my opinion, are best suited to this kind of really potent soup base.
The fish they used was farm-raised sea bass. How I knew it was farm-raised? First of all they were uniform in size. Then, they were not that tasty and had to borrow the taste from the sauerkraut. Wild-caught sea bass has that sweetness that does not exist in the farm-raised variety. But if you are selling more than a 100 fish a day, it is definitely a better and more ecologically friendly choice.
How to eat Sauerkraut Fish
Here’s how you should enjoy Sauerkraut Fish. First you eat the fish. Then, you eat the sauerkraut with rice. And then you drink the soup. Seriously, I would not recommend the last step. The soup was clear, no doubt, but it was oily and spicy and sour. Just look at the spices I managed to scoop out in a single ladle – peppercorns, chilli, peppers, etc. Not for the faint hearted.
The Charm Factor
The service staff was polite, but not the charming level that the owners boasted. They were there when you needed, but they were not very helpful in explaining what the menu was about, so as a first timer, you have to figure it out on our own.
Everything was minimalist. You order using a WeChat account. You pay using WeChat. There was little interaction with the staff. It was designed to be replicated very quickly.
Pretty sure to come to a city near you soon.
Chinese Sauerkraut Fish
Date Visited : May 2018