Pu Tian, Little India

I was early and walked around and I thought the family who is managing Pu Tien (aiya, it’s always a family business) is so stupid because there are TWO Pu Tien-s on the same street (Kitchener Road) and across the street, there is another Pu Tien in City Square Mall. I wish I were the son of the Pu Tien, so that I can run the chain well. I’ve great business acumen. But a chat with a waitress: she said Pu Tien Seafood (on the same street) does not belong to Pu Tien. Wow, I am full of admiration for the damn smart PT Seafood owner, using the same name to get customers. So when you walk about Kitchener Road, be careful. Pu Tien is the sexy restaurant with dark glass and free valet parking; PT Seafood is the bright one, so bright it’s like an interrogation room. So don’t fall into the trap.

From the chat, the waitress also told us that the cuisine belongs to Fu-jian. Aiya, I really don’t know lah, Chinese food is Chinese food lor, all the same to me. But I asked because I need to blog about it mah. I’ve intelligent readers leh, don’t pray pray.

For starters, we had raw bittergourd dipped in honey. The coldness and crisp of the oh-so-thinly-sliced bittergourd was very refreshing. The bitterness contrasted with the sweetness of the honey awoke the sensitivity of the tastebuds. But I can’t help but to think that this was just very fresh bittergourd and one could have just sliced it at home. It costs only $5.90 lah. So it’s fine.
The Drunken COCK-les ($10.90) were astonishing. An extremely generous layer of garlic, very hot-chilli, and green onion was drizzled on the see-hums. I love, love, love garlic, just a little bit less than I love Chubby Cheeks. But the miracle of this dish lies in its sauce. The see-hum, dipped in the sauce, didn’t taste like meat at all. It tasted like a fruit. Seriously. There must be a fruit in the sauce, but I can’t tell what. Then the taste completely turned around when we added, on the advice of the waitress, vinegar and ginger (you think only xiao long bao needs this condiment) on the COCKles. The taste became more astringent, and the vinegar reverted the hums back to a meaty taste.
The waitress said, this 大闸蟹 (Hairy Crab with roe) is only available two months a year. The last time someone said this to be was the sushi chef in New York, who said the Alaskan salmon is available only two weeks in a year and my bill came up to USD$110.
I hate crabs because I hate to pluck and suck. I always say that I might as well eat clayfish which tastes almost the same. But my friend said he had never eating Crab with Roe, so we ordered. When it came, my jaw dropped. Can you see the size of the crab?! It occupied 1/2 a dim sum basket! That was how tiny it was and it costs $40! The cost of my 10 hawker meals! But guess what? The waitress de-shelled the crab for us. (Well, my hands were already dirty because I used them to eat the bittergourd and the COCKles. I like using my hands to eat food, especially COCKles, and I don’t care how posh the restaurant is. You should see me using my hands at Iggy’s, one of the most expensive restaurants in Singapore.)
When I took the first bite of the crab, it was amazingly fresh and sweet. The flesh was tender yet bouncy. The roe was wonderfully eggy, creamy, without the stale stench of the sea. When my friend urged me to eat more, I said, “I cannot, I must stand by my principles of hating crab. I am a man of principles.” In truth, the crab was so tiny and I can’t bear to let him eat less. Crabs aren’t my thing anyway. I won’t die from not eating.
When we were eating, the waitress brought a bowl of lemon water to wash our hands and by this time, they had already change our plates a few times. The service was impeccable and polite and courteous. The manageress was fantastic. She chatted with a table of uncouth uncles (one of whom picked his nose during dinner!), fully aware that the uncles were objectifying her, but she kept to her job. When a very old couple came in, she asked how she should address them. And to the wife, the manageress said without any affectation, “You’re indeed Mrs. Ho, his wife. I was afraid to address you wrongly because you look so young and beautiful!” The manageress is good, man. She should go into insurance, or PR. Such a waste of her talent. The old couple then told her the air-con was too cold, could she increase the temperature? She immediately took the air-con controller and adjusted it in front of them. I joked to my friend, “Let’s tell her it’s too hot. Let’s see what she will do.”
Anyway, when we were nearly finished with the crab (or I mean, when my friend was nearly finished), the waitress gave us two cups of ginger tea and said, “Drinking the tea after the crab will warm you.”
I replied cheekily, “But I don’t feel chilly.” She laughed. Actually I think she meant this: the Chinese believe that the body is a balance of yin and yang, cold and hot, and the crab, since it is near the winter months, should be “cold” and to maintain the balance in our bodies, we should drink something “hot.” No balance = fall sick.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE GINGER TEA. (and cinnamon tea.) The spiciness of ginger is reinvigorating and the antioxidants fight the estrogen found in vegetables (due to pesticides). But this ginger tea is not the spicy kind; it is the tang yuan (rice dumplings) kind, brewed with brown sugar and ginger. Not very sweet. And I still love it. I think if the restaurant use the spicy ginger tea, the tea would rob the appetite for the rest of the dishes. Good move.
At this time, after finished the crab, the waitress asked if she could bring out all the dishes. We said yes, but now as I am typing this, I wonder why she asked. Then I realize that we should have said no, because the mixture of tastes of the dishes would confuse my delicate tongue. It cannot be helped because at this time, the restaurant had a queue. (We were early at six.) Seriously, what Chinese restaurant would have a queue on a weekday night?
Tri-egg-ed spinach. Normal egg, century egg and salted egg. Let me say that I’m very partial to eggs (you would know if you have read my reviews on ramen, I always order two eggs). I am aware of the irony of a gay man liking eggs. HA HA HA. Grow up. Let me also confess my secret identity: I am Popeye. I hate all green vegetables and I love spinach. Let me also say that I have always like tri-egged spinach as a dish. I have eaten it all over the world. When I see it on a menu, I would order it.
So after eating so many eggs, after eating so many tri-egg spinach (such a simple dish), nothing could faze me. I was wrong. I took the first bite and I went OMG OMG OMG OMG in front of my friend. It was such a simple dish – how could it possibly be so fantastic, so out of this world??? The broth was so rich, they must have used a very good chicken stock and where was the salted egg? The yellow of the salted egg was completely smashed into atoms, infused into the stock. The stock was slightly saltish but still could be drunk on its own. However, I was so tempted to order a bowl of rice to drizzle the stock (but as you can see, we were already over-eating). The stock had the essence of all the eggs and the slightly pungency of spinach, such a wonderful burst of favors. The century egg didn’t have the sharp taste of cheap century eggs (although sometimes I like my century eggs to stink a little).
The secret ingredient for the favor, we discovered it being Sherlock Holmes we are, is in the garlic. If you squint your eyes on the photo, you’d see the brown garlic slightly off-centered to the right. Why is it brown? Because the restaurant must have soaked it in something. And this garlic, you would notice, is used in almost ALL the dishes.
Next: Pu Tien Lor Mee. The small Lor Mee can feed at least 4 people. I asked my friend, “Why is lor mee white one?” He ignored me. HA HA HA. I don’t know if curiosity runs in the family but my sister and I always ask irrelevant, impossible-to-answer questions. I think it’s more likely she copies my style.
Throughout the meal, my friend was making oooh and aaahh (we behaved like suaku-s). But when it came to Lor Mee, the restaurant’s #1 speciality, he kept quiet. So I tested the waters, “Wow, very nice!” He said, “Hm.. I think it’s ok.” I’ll move on to the fish soup first, before explaining on my friend’s reaction.
SMALL Fish soup (serves 4-8). I wanted a fish. When we were ordering, I made it very clearly I wanted a fish. Because fish is my favorite meat (aiya, don’t care those pseudo-vegetarians claiming fish is not a meat ok?) At first we wanted steamed fish. My friend, very atas one, wanted Soon Hock, which costs $8.90/100g. I said, “Siao ah. The other fish costs $3.90/100g and you choose Soon Hock. Eh, all fish are created equal. We live in a meritocracy ok? Pick the cheaper one lah.”
Then my friend wanted to change to Deep Fried Fish in Red Wine sauce (I think it should be translated as red fermented sauce). And I, being so easy-going, right?, said ok, it’s something different. Then he said, “aiya, why don’t we get the fish soup? since they are the same price.” I have great patience on an empty stomach.
Again, when my friend drank the soup, he had no reaction. He claimed that after all the strong and awe-inspiring dishes, the soup and lor mee tasted bland. He added that the fish soup should be served after the starters to start off slow and build up in the end. Very angmoh hor, drink soup at the start of the meal.
But I think otherwise. I think the arrangement is perfect. It’s winding down, relaxing, not ending off with a bang. Not everything must climax ok? In fact, I convinced my friend that his taste is wrong. There was something very subtle about the lor mee and the fish soup, especially the latter. The soup had almost no taste, no salt at all but the texture was very creamy (“full of collagen,” my friend remarked) because the bones of the fish had melted into the soup. Yet the soup didn’t taste fishy.
On first taste, it might be bland but I never judge a food by the first mouthful. Like the name of my blog suggests, like what Chubby Cheeks suggested, give food a second chance. But of course I’m not an amateur like my friend. I am a gourmand. I drank the soup and paused for a while. There was a very ineffable aftertaste. And I know exactly where the taste lingered. It was at the back of my tongue, just before the throat. I can still feel it now. If this were a cartoon, then it would show a fish swimming inside my mouth and when I puff out, the fish will spurt out of my mouth. It isn’t a bad smell; in fact it has a scent of… how shall I put it…the aftertaste is a taste like the world is new again, no pain, innocent again. For that slight moment, I was very contented and supremely happy.
We couldn’t finish the soup of course, having eaten so much. The waitress should have told us we over-ordered. Halfway through the soup, with my green face, I said in a grave voice, “I don’t think I can eat anymore. I am going to vomit.” Then a waitress walked by and asked if we wanted dessert. I said, “Of course.”
To commemorate Halloween, I ordered pumpkin paste with ice cream. Pumpkin paste is like those black-sesame paste; peanut paste; almond paste, etc. Cold and delightful. Just the right touch of sweetness. I think the pumpkin paste should stand on its own, instead of adding the cheap vanilla ice cream, which milkiness spoilt the texture. But still good.
Everything was perfect in this restaurant and even the price. The thing is there is a wide range of food from the very exorbitant to the cheap ones so the rich and the poor can come together to eat here, despite the posh decor. I like this concept very much: good food should be for the masses. We spent $141 for two but we over-ate and if we took away the crab and the fish soup, it would be only $60 for two.
I said to my friend, “I want to get married just to hold a wedding here!” Man, I sure get my priorities right. Any lucky male volunteers?
Pu Tien
127 Kitchener Road (opposite City Mall Square)
6295 6385 (make reservation! very busy!)
Rating: 5/5

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