127, Kitchener Road
Tel: (65) 6295 6358
Rooted in tradition and yet modern in outlook, Putien’s signature Heng Hwa specialties have kept diners returning for more to its chain of restaurants in Singapore.
People sometimes think Hokkien and Heng Hwa food are one and the same, but they actually have distinct characteristics. There are some similarities, but the lesser known Heng Hwa cuisine tends to be lighter, whereas Hokkien dishes tend to be more hearty.
Putian, the birthplace of Heng Hwa cuisine, is a coastal city in the Fujian province of China. Surrounded by the sea and majestic mountains, it is blessed with lush pastures and bountiful catches from the sea.
Putian’s homely provincial fare is focused on the innate goodness and purity of the ingredients, with sauces and condiments used only sparingly to enhance the food’s natural flavour.
In Singapore, Putien restaurant is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of Heng Hwa cuisine. This is because the founder, Fong Chi Chung, a Heng Hwa native, has successfully grown his business from a single modest eatery in Kitchener Road 11 years ago to eight modern restaurants throughout the island republic, plus another in Jakarta.
Word has it that Kuala Lumpur will be next on his expansion plans.
To maintain the cuisine’s authenticity, they ensure that ingredients from the Fujianese city are used as much as possible. Of course, the dishes at Putien are more refined than what you’d find in the Chinese province. With its cheerful and contemporary dining atmosphere, reasonably priced dishes and prompt, friendly service, Putien is still packing them in after all these years.
Our first appetiser of Drunken Cockles (S$9.90++/RM24++) brought with it a blast from the past, reminding me of those cockle feasts that my late paternal grandfather had such a penchant for. The plump fresh blood cockles may be an acquired taste for some, but their rich metallic accent mellowed by sweet Chinese wine and the bracing sharpness of minced garlic and bird’s eye chilli certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.
The subsequent Mini Shrimps with Seaweed (S$9.90++) was pleasant enough but we felt the tiny white shrimps barely made their presence felt amidst the subtly sweet and briny seaweed. Happily, the firm but springy “nine-fold” Braised Pig Intestine (S$13.90++) meticulously hand-stuffed and braised to perfection in a traditional sauce, turned out to be a much better bet.
The savoury-sweet Stir-Fried Yam (small S$10.90++, medium S$16.90++, large S$21.90++) also won us over with its crisp crust and fluffy texture.
We opted for some Iced Bitter Gourd (S$5.90++) to help cleanse the palate after those rich offerings. Dipped in light honey sauce, the long, crunchy and bitter strips proved most refreshing.
Putien is possibly the only Chinese restaurant I know that offers a seasonal menu. The arrival of spring means an abundant supply of bamboo clams from Putian, so that means the Steamed Bamboo Clams with Minced Garlic (small S$19.90++, medium S$29.90++, large S$39.90++) is a “must have”. They are larger and slightly longer than local la-la clams, and we relished every morsel of their juicy and garlic-infused flesh.
It would be unthinkable to dine at Putien without savouring Lor Mee (small S$7.90++, medium S$15.90++, large S$23.90++) — a classic speciality that has smooth, silky wheat noodles in a thick, luscious soup laden with three-layered belly pork slices, la-la clams, prawns, sliced black mushrooms, Chinese parsley and choy sum.
I find the pale, viscous but tasty soup and starchy noodles familiar and comforting. They are reminiscent of the Hokkien mee suah that my mother would unfailingly cook for special family occasions.
Another favourite among Putien regulars is Fried “Hing Wa” Bee Hoon (small S$7.90++, medium S$15.90++, large S$23.90++), which is premium rice noodles from Putian deftly fried with an assorted mixture of peanuts, black mushroom slices, strips of beancurd puff, Chinese parsley, green vegetable and fried seaweed. The super-thin threads have no need whatsoever for sauce, having absorbed the ingredients’ scrumptious flavours.
Should you find the rice vermicelli a tad dry, you can always supplement it with some Braised Beancurd with Chinese Cabbage (S$19.90++, S$29.90++, S$39.90++). Served in a black earthenware pot, the handmade beancurd puffs and Chinese cabbage with Putian’s seasonal clams, dried shrimp and dried scallops in milky-white broth is an upscale but no less sublime version of a basic back country offering.
We rounded up our meal with Chilled Bird’s Nest with Pear (S$36.90++ per person), a luxurious treat created by Putien for the month of May. The dainty mound of gelatinous strands served atop half a Chinese snow pear with honey sauce was a nice change from the ubiquitous double-boiled concoction.