What’s Teochew? Steamboat…? How is this traditional? Let’s take a step at a time. This cuisine is something that I only eat during Chinese New Year at my grandparent’s place. It’s difficult to find such traditional Teochew steamboat anymore!
Chinese = Teochew?
What in the world is “Teochew”? It is a dialect group in the Chinese community. Think about how you have Pringles and different flavours like sour cream, barbecue, and salt with vinegar. The Chinese community is like that too. We have different dialects.
- Cantonese: Hong Kong, Guangzhou region
- Hakka: Taiwan, Fujian region
- Hokkien: Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Fujian region
- Teochew: Malaysia, Singapore, Chaozhou region
So it is a type of subset of Han Chinese with their own cuisine, language, and culture. The Teochew language is very different from the Cantonese language. You cannot communicate if one speaks Cantonese and the other speaks Teochew.
Dialects are quite a dying language now, at last in Singapore. It is only the grandparents’ generation that speaks it. Very little parents speak it now, so I’m so glad that this dialect heritage is carried on in the form of food – traditional Teochew steamboat!
About That Steamboat?
So then, what’s steamboat? Elliott thought steamboat is a boat, powered by steam, and everyone dines on it. No, it is not.
Steamboat is hot pot. Imagine a large bowl of boiling soup in the middle of the table. There are raw food around (vegetables, mushrooms, prawns, etc). To eat them, you grab the food you want (aka prawns) and put them in the boiling soup. Allow it to cook and you can eat it! The soup is absolutely tasty.
So that’s steamboat. What’s special and traditional about this?
How Is It Traditional?
Teochew steamboat is different because it uses charcoal to heat the steamboat (aka that bowl of boiling soup). The steamboat has a little chimney in the middle and it is heated through charcoal. Think of a doughnut and a pipe in the middle. The pipe is where the charcoal is and the doughnut is where the “bowl of soup” is.
This is very traditional because
- I only see that in my grandparent’s home.
- The modern steamboat is powered by electricity, not charcoal.
My Childhood with Teochew Steamboat
So my family is from the Teochew dialect. I used to be able to speak it in simple vocabulary to my grandfather.
I remember during Chinese New Year, the entire family gathers together at my grandparent’s home. Each of the family brings a dish. My grandmother will be busy cooking the soup and my grandfather will be making his signature fish cake. During dinner time, we all gather around this steamboat and cook the food. We usually have at least 20 dishes!
Because of the charcoal, we had to pause every 40 minutes during the meal. My grandfather would add charcoal to keep it boiling hot. My bother and I used to place the food on the “pipe” (aka where the heat goes to) and try to make teppanyaki. Of course, it did not work and we were scolded by our parents.
This traditional Teochew steamboat means a lot to me because it was how my Chinese New Year went. Lots of food, charcoal-heated steamboat and food marinated in the Teochew way. For instance, you can eat fish head steamboat. (My favourite!)
What’s Good About Traditional Teochew Steamboat?
So, enough about my story. What is good about it then? As mentioned, it is charcoal heated. I don’t know where else can you get steamboat like this, or if you can still buy them! You can only find electrical steamboat these days. Have a taste of the Teochew culture with charcoal-heated steamboat!
Secondly, it is the food, of course. You can’t find “fish head steamboat” so easily than in a Teochew place. (Yes, we eat fish head from a specific species of fish. Check out this fish head soup if you are interested to try.)
What Should I Order?
The owners of the place are Teochew, so they can recommend the dishes based on your preference. Alternatively, this is what we ordered for the steamboat (景泰蓝火锅炉):
- Red Grouper fish head soup base with fish head (红斑鱼头汤底)
- Lettuce (大白菜)
- Japanese mushrooms
- Dang-O (a type of vegetables that is a MUST during steamboat)
- Deep fried egg
Non-steamboat dishes we recommend:
- Glutinous rice wrapped in pig intestines (糯米猪肠)
- Broccoli stir-fry with scallops (西兰花炒带子)
- Teochew Jellied Pork (潮州猪脚冻)
- Stirred Fried Kai-Lan (清炒芥兰)
- Fried Squid With Salted Egg Yolk (蛋黄苏东)
Traditional Teochew Steamboat In Singapore Details
Where can you get this? In Singapore, by a Teochew couple. They are open 24-hours, so it’s great if you want to eat for hours. Prices are reasonable and great for family events. The service is good and lots of parking space (very crucial). They also make their own dimsum. I haven’t tried, but it seems good.
Restaurant: Lee Kwang Kee Teochew Cuisine
Address: BLK 212 #01-53 Lorong 8 Toa Payoh Singapore 310212
Opening hours: 24-hours, every day
Reservation number: 62590880
Check out Singapore Travel Resource List for more things to do in Singapore!