It's not difficult to find good Teochew restaurants in Singapore. Come to think of it, I've never had a bad meal at any Teochew restaurant here yet. It could be that many of our earliest settlers from China were Teochew, so together with their penchant for hard work, they also brought along their heirloom recipes and set up many Teochew restaurants here.
The Teochews are known to be fastidious in their requirement for the freshness and quality of the ingredients, as very little flavouring is used to prepare Teochew dishes. This translates to food that's very delicate, a lot lighter than other types of Chinese cuisine.
Swa Garden has been a stalwart in the Teochew food scene, with a heritage that spans decades. The old-school decor is evident of its age. Stark white plastic chairs, harsh fluorescent lighting, faded curtains flanking the doors to the restaurant that have seen better days. But, nobody comes here to enjoy the ambience. It's the simple, delicious fare that draws its customers back.
Swa Garden's Teochew Braised Goose ($18) is a must-try. It's not often that we get goose meat in Singapore, and even when we do, it sometimes turns out gamey. Swa Garden's rendition is one of the best I've ever had. The goose is thoroughly marinated so the braising liquid has totally permeated the entire meat. It's tender, tasty and super fresh, totally devoid of any gamey taste.
I love thick Fish Maw Broth ($14), this was simply seasoned with conpoy for a distinctively umami seafood tinge. Fish maw was plentiful and diced fresh seafood, prawns, crabmeat, squid and mushrooms lent texture and flavour.
Although the Teochew Steamed Pomfret ($65) is a must-eat of any self-respecting Teochew, I've gotta admit that I've never really been a fan of this thin fish. Even when I was a kid and my Gran would steam the most amazing pomfrets for family gatherings. Still, Swa Garden's version is very commendable. Delicate seasoning using the barest of ingredients, plum for a hint of sour, chilli for some heat, and mushrooms for a woodsy taste, the focus was on the freshness and natural sweetness of the fish. Despite the well-done dish, I still thought that the $65 pricetag was a bit too much for a fish that had so little flesh.
We loved the Four Treasure Beancurd ($14) for its silky textures and wonderfully light flavours. The beancurd wasn't your typical plain white tofu, but a delicious seafood based tofu, flash fried so the crust is a little crisp, then slathered in a luxurious egg-drop, mushroom, sliced chicken and sugar snap peas gravy.
The Stewed Eight Variety Vegetables ($15) is possibly the best classically vegetarian
dish I've ever had. The gravy was incredibly rich in flavour, probably from all that braising, so it was smooth and sweet. if I had to choose, this was probably my favourite dish of the night.
The Sweet Yam with Gingko Nuts ($3) was a very nice way to round off the fantastic meal. Sweet but not overwhelmingly so, soft and smooth in texture.
Swa Garden Restaurant
540 Macpherson Road
Tel: 6744 5009
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch and from 6pm to 10pm for dinner