One of the stewards of Teochew food in Singapore, Ah Orh was famous for the expensive cars that used to park here in the evenings for their supper services. These were automobiles owned by Teochew towkays that gathered often for their late night fixes.
History of Ah Orh
Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant is a family run restaurant that has been in business since 1919. They started out as a push cart store at Ellenborough Market at High Street and moved to their current address in 1996. However they only introduced a printed menu in 2014 at the suggestion of the eatery’s third-generation owner, Ms Goh Chiew Buay, who felt a menu was necessary so that diners would have a more pleasant dining experience. Prior to that, diners would place orders by pointing at pictures of signature items displayed around the restaurant or simply pick what was recommended by the staff. Others, unfortunately, would just walk away.
With input from her father and two brothers, she spent a week preparing the menu, which features more than 30 traditional Teochew dishes such as steamed pomfret, braised duck and chilled pig’s jelly that have been served at the restaurant for the last 50 years. But lest one thinks Ms Goh has more changes in the pipeline, she assured that Ah Orh will remain rooted in tradition, in both the dishes it serves and the way it does business. That means no jazzed-up zi char dishes such as salted egg yolk crabs or coffee pork ribs.
And no women in the kitchen.
Ms Goh’s grandfather Ah Orh did all the cooking, as did her father Goh Leng Chia when he took over. Mr Goh no longer cooks – instead her brothers Goh Maih Woo, 37, and Goh Maih How, 40, are the restaurant’s chefs. Most of the recipes still used today have been passed down from Ms Goh’s grandfather, who died in 1975.
Another twist to the Ah Orh Story.
Goh Senior’s younger brother, Wu Ling Wu, set up another Ah Orh at Sin Ming Road which was closed in 2015. Citing retirement with no successors and rising rental (the landlord at Sin Ming decided to raise rentals by 200%), Wu decided to close the shop. Rumours flew in the months leading to the close of the store, even rumours that Ah Orh Bukit Merah has been sold to a consortium. Is there a family feud in play? Is there a failed takeover? What’s the backstory?
What is lucky for us, the Bukit Merah shop remained.
Teochew is a very frugal group of people. However, due to the proximity to the sea, Teochew eats very well, blessed with the freshest seafood. Like any classic old school Teochew restaurants (even back in Chaozhou, China), they confidently display their best ingredients for the day out front of the stall. It’s a signature tradition that speak volumes about their pride.
For me, ordering meant going up to the 頭手 and ordering what I want. Looking at a menu to me is an insult to my Teochew heritage and Ah Orh’s long tradition. Also, it would be the golden mark test as to whether they had kept the traditional dishes.
Called “Nek Puay Dang” in Teochew, Pig Skin Jelly is made by boiling pig trotters and belly fats to a gelatinous reduction that is placed in the fridge to cool and solidify into the gelatin jelly. Here at Ah Orh, it retained the original taste that we grew up with (unlike the ones in Swatow Restaurant that was too strong with five spices).
Teochew Lesson #1: “Nek” is the traditional way we called Pork. （豬）肉 = Nek.
Teochew Cold Crabs are made with crabs filled with “Gor”. “Gor” has been mixed up with “Neng” or crab roes, which are the eggs of crabs found in both male and female, or “Bau”, which is the semen of male crabs. “Gor” is the liver of moulting crabs, which are storing the extra fats to help them moult. So think of it like foie gras of crab. You can only eat this in restaurants as they pay the best prices for these and then you pay the premium.
Here at Ah Orh, you are guaranteed that the crabs were filled with “Gor”. The natural sweetness of the crab was beautiful to each mouthful, the natural umami and creaminess. This made the crab meat became second-class, even though it was firm and sweet as well.
Teochew Lesson #2 : 膏 = “Gor”，蛋 = ‘Neng”，卯 = “Bau”.
Braising is another traditional Teochew technique. Braising is the way to stretch the land food to their maximum to minimise food wastage. And the same pot of braise can be reused over and over again. You can braise anything – beancurd, peanuts, duck, goose, etc. Nothing is wasted.
Teochew Braised Duck at Ah Orh was tender and flavourful, but it lacked the old braise taste. As Singapore develops, I don’t think anyone would really keep 老滷 old braise for hygiene purpose. NEA would not approve it.
Teochew Lesson #3 : 滷汁 = “Lou Chap”. Many pronounced it with a “r” as in “Lor”, that’s Hokkien.
Yellow chives are chives that deprived of sunlight during germination and growth, resulting in the yellow appearance due to the lack of photosynthesis. They also lacked the nutrition of chives, so would be considered a reject. Nevertheless, the prudent Teochew uses this as a vegetable for seafood, given the same texture as chives but not as pungent.
Chives with Squid was a variation of the famous dish that featured prawns. Mom had this in Hong Kong many years (more than 50 years) ago and had said she missed this dish ever since. This was order in memory of her. For me, I preferred it with prawns.
Teochew Lesson #4 : 韭菜白 = “Gu Cai Peh”, 吊片 = “Diao Piang”
We have a family recipe for Prawn Rolls. So everyone’s critical about prawn roll that we ate outside. Of course, this prawn roll was different from Mom’s. Even my daughter thought it was not as good as my Second Sister-in-law’s However, prawn rolls are comfort food. It evokes childhood memories, of simple times, of simple food.
Ah Orh’s version was very finely chopped and bonded by prawn paste and starch. My family’s uses shredded ingredients and bonded by prawn and fish paste, no starch. While the ingredients are similar, the results are starkly different. Ah Orh’s won because of the deep frying that we do not do at home. Too much oil. Taste wise, we would have won, no doubt.
Teochew Lesson #5 : 蝦棗 = “Hea Zor”, this is not the same as “Ngoh Hiang” 五香.
Chinese white pomfret has been under-rapped for being an “unhealthy” fish. There was reports about cholesterol level of scaleless fish being higher than even red meat. That’s totally groundless, the scaleless part. But because pomfret is not a deep sea fish, it is more susceptible to surface pollution. However, this fish has been on the family table for every occasion, happy or sad. Teochew Steamed Pomfret is the only way to eat this.
Teochew style of steaming fish is a technique where the ingredients are steamed with the fish, as opposed to Cantonese steamed fish, the sauce is added after the fish is steamed separately. This resulted in a very soupy steamed fish that we can pour the sauce onto rice. Grew up eating it. Ah Orh did a great job with the pomfret as he added pork rind and mushrooms to steam the fish. Plus a very fresh and firm pomfret, it was worth every dollar we paid for. (FYI, it was SGD 70 per fish)
Teochew Lesson #6 : 斗鯧 = “Tao Chiou”
Winter melon soup is a misnomer – the winter melon is the container for whatever soup that they put in there to steam. So essentially this was a double-boiled soup. The melon imparted and absorbed some of the flavour of the soup and could be eaten in the end as well. Today’s soup was a dried squid with pork ribs soup.
Teochew Lesson #7 : 冬瓜盅 = “Dang Kway Zheng”
Teochew Fried Kway Teow is unlike the hawker fried kway teow – it is usually whiter and the ingredients are chopped Kailan and savoury dried radish 菜脯 . This kway teow was full of wok hei and flavourful. Each piece of kway teow was distinct, which is very important litmus for good char kway teow.
Teochew Lesson #8 : 炒粿條 = “Char2 Kway2 Teow1”, 菜脯 = “Chai4 Boh”, not “Bor” which is again Hokkien.
The only disappointment for the evening was the Oyster Omelette. They fried the omelette, which was burnt, and then smothered an oyster-laden sauce over the eggs. The oysters were plump and juicy, and cooked just right. We were disappointed by the egg, which was burnt and did not have any oyster taste.
Teochew Lesson #9 : 煎蠔蛋 = “Lua Orh Neng”, different from “Orh Luat” which oyster omelette with potato starch.
And finale to any Teochew dinner is always Sweetened Yam Paste or “Oh Nee”. The texture was quite rough, which is a good sign that they made it in-house. Many places now used canned or factory-processed yam paste which tended to be too sweet. Ah Orh’s version was just right, but we sure missed the presence of lard. If only they stuck to their original recipe of using pork lard.
Teochew Lession #10 : 芋 = “Oh”, nor “Or”. Again “Or” is Hokkien.
This was a family Tze Char restaurant that has endured the test of time. Unlike other “restaurants”, Ah Orh is rustic and is quite expensive for a HDB eating place. It is slight more value for money these days, but it wasn’t so in the past. I guess they are under pressure of competition from posher and better dining environment at around the same price. Service was so-so. But the Goh family was there the whole evening, so the service staff was alright. The food came out in Tze Char speed, i.e. lightning speed. So if you want to entertain, this is not the place.
But for nostalgia, this is it. Reservation essential for popular timings.
Ah Orh Seafood Restaurant
115 Jalan Bukit Merah, Singapore 160115
Date Visited : Mar 2018
PS (25 Jul 2020) : They now have a website!! Continue to support them and if you can’t go to their store, order delivery.