The first time I came was when I was working in Bukit Merah Central in the early 90s. They just moved over to Alexandra Village and had already gained a following. Every since, I have been hooked by their delicious tzechar.
Keng Eng Kee, affectionately known as KEK, is a local Chinese tzechar 煮炒 that had been dishing out fiery Cantonese cuisine with that wokhei for 3 generation. Started out from a small hawker stall in 1970s at Old Havelock Road, they moved to Alexandra Village in the late 90s and have been operating there since.
1/ Roast Chicken 脆皮烧鸡
Roast Chicken 脆皮烧鸡 is one of their signature dish. The flavour was what I remembered from my childhood when I attended wedding dinners with my parents. Crispy skin with moist and tender meat underneath, the roast chicken was served whole with both the head and butt intact.
2/ Chinese Spinach With Eggs Of 3 Kinds 三蛋芫菜
Amaranth 苋菜 is also known as Chinese spinach, although the two are of different species. It was one treated as a weed as it grew everywhere. Our forefathers were thrifty folks that made the best of what they could gather, and this turned out to be a wonderful superfood. Cooked with three types of eggs – fresh chicken egg, salted duck egg and century egg – the bland vegetable absorbed all the flavours the egg. Delicious.
3/ Marmite Chicken 妈味鸡
Marmite is a dark, thick yeast extract with high umami as the by-product of brewing beer. Marmite chicken 妈蜜鸡 is popular among the Chinese restaurants and the roadside tzechar stores. Chicken wings are usually used and marinated in marmite with other condiments. They are then deep fried and the coated with a sauce made with marmite, a bit like Chinese buffalo wings. An acquired taste, but so is durian. We grew up with these flavours, so it was very nostalgic and wonderful to me.
4/ Yam Basket 佛钵飘香
This was a dish that came from Chef Lau Tok Pui of Lai Wah Restaurant, but KEK has made it their own. Unlike the Lai Wah version, the KEK version was drier and crispier. I was surprised by one ingredient that they have included in the yam ring – the sotong (squid) rings. This item tends to become rubbery when overcooked, and it has definitely become that.
5/ Salted Egg Crab 咸蛋螃蟹
And now the star of the evening, Salted Egg Crab 咸蛋螃蟹. Rich, decadent and tasting like nothing else on earth, salted egg yolk has become a Singapore cult favourite over recent years, appearing in everything from desserts and fries to steamed buns and curry puffs. KEK was one of the first to introduce this crab dish in Singapore, and their version is very creamy and smooth. The richness from the salted egg paired with the sweetness from the flesh of the crab, once you start, it’s hard to stop.
6/ “Choy Hiang” Beancurd 菜香豆腐
A homely dish that is seldom found in tzechar stores anymore. Deep-fried Japanese tofu was smothered with a savoury sauce made from caipoh (dried radish bits), “Choy Hiang” Beancurd 菜香豆腐 is their signature dish that has survived the Havelock move.
7/ Minced Garlic Steam Bamboo Clams 蒜蓉蒸蛏子
This is not a regular menu item and is subjected to availability of the main ingredient. Minced Garlic Steam Bamboo Clams 蒜蓉蒸蛏子 require large bamboo clams that because of supply chain disruptions due to the Ukraine war were hard to come by.
I am not convinced by this reason, but it was a really good eat if it was available. They were not stingy on the amount of minced garlic they put on the bamboo clams that were steamed to perfection. The tunghoon (mung bean noodles) underneath the garlic soaked up all the flavours to make it the best part of the dish.
8/ Signature Moonlight Horfun 月光河粉
The wok-fried seafood horfun was full of wokhei. A bit more, it would be considered burnt. It had one raw egg “moonlight” thrown in for good measure. There used to be more. The idea was to mix it well before eating. For those in fear of salmonella contamination, let’s put it this way – we grew up with this method and had survived the ordeal with a really delicious bowl of noodles!
They have not change a bit despite all the media and Michelin attention. Perhaps, only the price has gone up by a lot. But their operations have expanded too, taking over the entire coffeeshop and hiring an army of staff to take care of the front service. In these days where everyone was complaining of lack of manpower in F&B, this staff strength was really rare.
And during the lockdowns, they pivoted well to delivery service with many dishes catered to the takeaway crowd. This has allowed them to retain most of their employees during the trying time.
Call to reserved the highly sought after air-con tables (very limited), or you would have to sit at the great outdoors.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood 瓊榮記海鲜
124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136, Singapore 150124
Tel : +65 6272 1038
Visited on May 2022
Michelin Guide Singapore Edition Plates 2016-2021