[dropcap size=small]Z[/dropcap]i char dishes are the ultimate comfort food for many of us. The wok-kissed flavours and arresting aromas always hit the right spot. We dissect the tastes that make these mouthwatering dishes.

Cuttlefish Kangkong

Keng Eng Kee, #01-136, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1. Tel: 6272-1038

Keng Eng Kee, established since 1975, may be best known for its Moonlight Hor Fun, a delicious wok-fried rice noodle dish topped with an egg yolk. But did you know that it also does a mean version of cuttlefish kangkong? Third-generation chef-owner Wayne Liewshares that the dish, which started out as blanched cuttlefish and kangkong smothered in a peanut sauce, was given a new lease of life by his father, Liew Choy, some time in the 1980s. The kangkong is first stir-fried with garlic, and set aside. Then the cuttlefish is meticulously scored with a knife and stir-fried over high heat with homemade sambal and crispy pork lard. The two are combined for a delicious dish that is more-ish and perfect with a bowl of steaming rice.

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US Black Angus Rib Eye with “Heart Attack” Fried Rice

New Ubin Seafood, 63 Hillview Avenue, Level 6 (Canteen). Tel: 6466-9558

New Ubin Seafood has got to be one of the most exciting zi char places in town. With an extensive menu of over 100 dishes, the spread ranges from classic chilli crab and Old Punggol-style mee goreng to carabinero prawn sashimi and sous vide egg with chargrilled foie gras scented with truffl e salt. But what caught our eye was the US Black Angus Rib Eye with “Heart Attack” Fried Rice, stir-fried with beef fat. Second-generation owner Alexander Pang says that this dish started out as dinner for the family; customers at the next table saw them eating it and asked for the same dish. Eventually this creation made it to the menu. The rice is wok-fried with pieces of beef lard, and flavoured with beef drippings, then served with a robust US Black Angus Rib Eye grilled to medium rare – the ultimate beef-lover’s dish.

Garlic Chilli Lala

JB Ah Meng, 534 Geylang Road. Tel: 6741-2418

In addition to the san lou bee hoon and white pepper crab at JB Ah Meng, you would not want to miss this exceptional dish of garlic chilli lala. The chef-owner, whom most customers refer to as chef Meng, tells us that the clams he uses are either from Russia, which are larger and plumper, or from the Philippines, which are smaller, but sweeter. Unlike the usual lala (or clams) that are stir-fried with sambal, he stir-fries the plump bivalves with minced garlic, chilli padi and a touch of oyster sauce, which enhances the natural flavours of the clams. A truly addictive dish that makes a great starter.

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Big Prawn Hor Fun

Kok Sen Restaurant, 30 Keong Saik Road. Tel: 6223-2005

Kok Sen Restaurant has been serving zi char in the Keong Saik area for almost 40 years and is best known for its hor fun with big prawns. Think luscious wok-fried broad rice noodles simmered in a rich and intense gravy made with prawn stock and sambal. The dish is studded with chilli, and topped with succulent big prawns. According to third-generation owner Chris Wong, it was derived from another signature dish – thick bee hoon soup with big prawns (which is also on the menu) – and came into being in 2005. It has been a hit with regulars ever since.

PHOTOGRAPHY ZAPHS ZHANG ART DIRECTION CHELZA POK