I am thoroughbred Teochew. My dad came from Chaozhou, and my maternal grandfather came from Swatow. So I should be excited to go to a Michelin-starred Teochew restaurant in ION Orchard or do I?
At Imperial Treasure Fine Teochew Cuisine, a spread of fresh seafood, braised pork and duck (offals and all), and classic Teochew desserts are available. The classic Steamed Pomfret in Teochew Style, melting in your mouth with a delicate sweetness, is guaranteed to win you over. Other favourites include the marinated sliced cuttlefish, as well as delicate crystal dumplings and home-made orh ni (yam paste). It is an authentic taste experience like no other.
Tea drinking is very important in every Teochew household. We always present our guests with a small cup of deep brewed tea served in a style that was called Kungfu tea 功夫茶 non-Teochew. And to kick us off the culinary journey was the traditional serving of highly concentrated Tieguanyin (Buddha’s tea). A small snack if sweet mustard green pickles was served with the tea.
Chilled Pig’s Trotters 猪蹄冻
The first appetiser was a pig’s trotter aspic. The chilled pig’s trotters 猪蹄冻 is made by boiling a large amount of pig’s trotters and skins with condiments and spices to a reduced and concentrated state where all the gelatine in the skin is extracted. The trick is not to add additional water or other forms of geleè in the solution. The pig’s gelatine will solidify when cooled and encased bits of skin and meat with all the flavours in the geleè that formed.
Chilled Yellow Roe Crab 冻膏蟹
Chilled yellow roe crab 冻膏蟹 uses male mud crabs that just about to mate and full of roe. Many mistaken that the roe for this dish is the eggs of the mud crab. Think back to your basic anatomy classes: males don’t have roe. Actually, you’ve probably consumed sperm if you tasted the soft, gooey bits in the body. But it was this soft, gooey bits that we were after and the best way to consume it was without any condiments because they were bursting with all kinds of flavours and umami.
Four Marinated Combination 卤味四拼
The usual suspects were in the combination – 卤水九转大肠 braised pig intestine, 卤水鸭 braised duck, and 卤水鸭胗肝 braised duck gizzards and livers. The braise was Teochew style but slightly to the traditional Swatow 汕头 flavours (spice bag, less soy sauce) versus the localised Nanyang 南洋 braise we grew up with (less spices, more soy sauce)
But the most difficult to braised was 卤水墨鱼 braised cuttlefish. Cuttlefish is easily overcooked and braising would be the last thing you would think of if you do not want a rubbery texture. The chef has done a perfect job here, the cuttlefish was still tender and firm to the bite with all the flavours of the braising liquid.
Doubled Boiled Sea Whelk Soup with Chinese Herbs 淮山杞子炖螺头汤
This double-boiled soup was full of umami from the dried sea whelk 螺头. The drying process concentrated the flavours of the meat of the whelk and when boiled in stock made from chicken and pork, it released all the umami into the soup. I find the soup a bit to the fishy side, and it can be neutralised with a dash of Zhejiang vinegar or even better, cognac. I could not find any dried yamaimo 淮山 or gojiberries, must have disintegrated in the double-boiling process.
Sautéed Chives and Bean Sprouts with Dried Fish 家乡炒青龙菜
青龙菜 Green dragon chives is a variety of chives that have gained popularity in recent years. Teochews have been eating chives 韭菜 for centuries. Even great poets have written poems about this simple green vegetable that can be grown in the harshest environments. However for the uninitiated, chives are like parsley and can be rather unpleasant to consume. Enter the dragon. The growing process makes it crunchy like yellow chives and less fibrous like green chives and eliminated most of the oniony smell. But it also made it tasteless, you need the dried fish to enhance the flavours. A very bland dish nevertheless, I think they forgotten the condiments.
Steamed Coral Trout in Teochew Style 潮式蒸东星斑
Teochew-style of steaming the fish requires perfect timing and a flawlessly fresh fish. That’s because the technique makes the naturally sweetness of the fish to shine through. The stuff used to steam it with are just a side show. The coral trout or leopard coral grouper 东星斑 is a sought-after fish in Chinese restaurants, and these days they are almost definitely farmed. So high chance you could get one that is loko (fresh is tough from inactivity or hiding in caves). Tonight, we were lucky to get a perfect fish steamed to perfection. I would love for more flavours, but it was really good enough.
Sautéed Australian Lobsters with Scallions and Ginger with E-fu Noodles 姜葱澳洲龙虾伊面底
OK, this dish is not exactly Teochew, but we need something substantial to balance out the delicate tastes we had so far. The Australian rock lobster was around 1.2kg, but it looked nothing like that. It as coated with too much flour so there’s this starchy crust that covered the lobster which I hated because it destroyed the naturally sweetness and umami of the crustacean. And the e-fu noodles was very dry. Overall it was a Cantonese dish hiding in a Teochew restaurant – regretted ordering it.
Sugared Coated Taro 反沙芋
With its mellow, refined flavours and wholesome preparation methods, Teochew cuisine requires utmost skill and attention to detail. An no other dish captures this essence than this 反沙芋 sugared coated deep-fried taro. The perfect ones have a soft and springy taro stuck coated with powdery sugar crust. This requires perfect control of the fire for preparing the syrup and perfect timing for incorporating the taro with the syrup. It is should still taste like powdery sugar and not hardened sugar crust. They have nailed the outside, but the inside was still mushy. So far the best one I had in Singapore is still San Shu Gong 三叔公.
Mashed Taro with Pumpkin 金瓜芋泥
And finally the quintessential dessert for every Teochew banquet – the orh ni or 金瓜芋泥 mashed taro with pumpkin. It was a crowd pleaser because of the sweet and mushy texture of yam and pumpkin. In the past we would use lard as the oil to mash the steamed taro. These days it is vegetable oil. A small cup but it went a long way in terms of taste and enjoyment.
I do not understand how did Teochew cuisine become so expensive. I grew up with this cuisine, and most of these dishes can be prepared at home except for the deep-fried taro. The food was good no doubt, and the service was tip-top. I would highly recommend this restaurant if you are entertaining important guests, like I was.
But would I be bring my family here anytime soon? Not really because the emphasis of the menu was to feature expensive ingredients and not the Teochew cooking technique. There were only a few Teochew classics on the menu, and the rest were pretty much Cantonese. Such is the sad state of Teochew restaurants in Singapore.
Imperial Treasure Fine Teochew Cuisine 御宝阁潮州酒家（爱雍乌节）
ION Orchard, #03-05, 2 Orchard Turn, Singapore 238801
Tel : +65 6736 2118
Visited on Jun 2022
Michelin Guide Singapore One Star 2017 – 2019, 2021