Lao Ban Niang Zhu Chao – Affordable Zi-char Fare in Serangoon
Say you want to celebrate a birthday or have a family gathering but don’t want to spend a lot of money in a high-class Chinese restaurant. Some zi char places offer restaurant standard dishes at wallet-friendly prices. I dined recently at Lao Ban Niang Zhu Chao (老板娘煮炒) in Serangoon (along Yio Chu Kang Link, opposite Serangoon stadium) and it looks like a no-frills place for a celebratory dinner or even casual dinner.
Lao ban niang (which means lady boss) Jeanette is definitely not a newcomer in the F&B industry. She has been running a zi char stall with her partner in Woodlands. Decided to start her own zi char stall, she found a space in this coffeeshop in Serangoon. Honestly, I wouldn’t have known about this place if not for my uncle’s tip-off. It was a rather quiet street but it seemed like her food has gained many regulars.
Helming the kitchen is a 23-year-old young chef from Malaysia. Never underestimate his skills as he whipped up some potential dishes for my family. A good place to start would be Special Oyster Sauce Cuttlefish ($18 small, $28 big) which is my favourite of the night. Nope it’s not sotong if you are wondering, that’s the crunchy cuttlefish. Napped in a sauce of light brown hue, the dish is very zi char but well-seasoned. It’s stir-fried with chilli padi and onions, very rewarding.
You probably are very familiar with the Yam Ring which is an ubiquitous dish at any chinese restaurant. I am not a big fan of yam to be honest, and yam ring is definitely not a dish I would order because many places just bought the yam ring from a supplier. But uncle strongly recommended me to Lao Ban Niang’s Yam Ring ($18) as they make their own yam rings. The yam was remarkably ungreasy and the yam well browned and crispy. The stuffing in the ring is crunchy with cashew nut with fresh prawns and mushrooms filling up the middle nicely. I think it is still worth ordering.
It was raining heavily on the day of my visit and Assam Fish Head ($28) seemed to be the perfect choice. Lao Ban Niang goes to fishery port everyday at 1am to buy fresh fishes and is very strict about food quality. Served on the typical silver plate, the red snapper fish they used was absolutely fresh. Using a secret assam paste recipe which they blend themselves, the assam gravy is a perfect balance of spiciness and tanginess. The oil on the surface may turn health freak off, but it is strangely yet pleasantly addictive. It’s not as thick as other assam fish head I have tried, but it means I can probably eat more and won’t feel too heavy on the tummy. Lady’s fingers, eggplants, tomatoes and sweet pineapple chunks add to the allure.
Lao Ban Niang’s Prawn Paste Chicken ($10 / $15 / $20) is better than average. The cooks have a confident hand with the prawn paste, so it has more oomph than most zi char versions. You can finish one without stopping for a sip of water to counteract a salt overload. A dish like Yuan Yang HK Kai Lan ($12 / $18 / $24) is an excellent dinner topic. We “examined” the plate of vegetables closely and were rather intrigued by the leafy shreds. Cooked in two ways, the leafy part is shredded and deep-fried, atop of their stir-fried stems. Paired with crispy silver fish, I love the contrast in textures.
Ending the night at Lao Ban Niang Zhu Chao with a plate of Hometown Dried Fried Bee Hoon ($6 / $9 / $13) which is stir-fried with butter, which makes the beehoon yellow. Beansprouts and fishmaw is added which gives it a delightful crunch, but I was expecting it to have more wok hei. The food is well priced and casual at the same time and if you order the right things, a good time will be had by all. I like how Jeanette is very passionate about food and she would often create special dishes based on her finds from the fishery ports.
Lao Ban Niang Zhu Chao (老板娘煮炒)
Address: First Centre, 50 Serangoon North Avenue 4 #01-30
Mobile: 9133 2083
Opening Hours: 11am to 10pm daily.
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