Confession: I make fun of hipsters but I pick up their habits, I’ve been “eating clean.” But it seems that 75 year-old Mr Lee Choon Huat, owner of Pioneer Seafood, is the Original Hipster. He has been eating clean and advocating whole foods his entire life. He just doesn’t have the terminology for it.
Established in 1979, Pioneer Seafood was named “Top 5 Most Popular Seafood Restaurants in Singapore.” It was also awarded Gold and Silver in “Best Seafood Category” by The Restaurant Association of Singapore in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
The traditional seafood restaurant serves only wild caught seafood, which is bought daily at auctions. Seafood is displayed at the entrance, clearly stating the prices (see photo above). Even condiments are made in house, from scratch. For example, the homemade xo sauce, with ham, dried scallops and a special Indonesian prawn (no hae bee!), was dope, my BFF had a pint of it with fried rice. Fruits and vegetables are specially imported from Indonesia, Thailand, and the region.
The seafood was extremely fresh, which is why most seafood items on the menu are steamed. For instance, simply steaming live crabs 清蒸活螃 ($4.90/ 100g) coaxed out the natural sweetness. No need for complicated sauces, which other restaurants use to cover staleness in ingredients.
But BFF and I aren’t big fans of crabs in general. Our favorite dish was steamed red garoupa in Nonya assam sauce 百盛娘惹蒸红斑 ($9/100g). While we thought it could be more assam-sourish, the fish was killer, flesh so fresh, possessing a chewy texture that was hard to find elsewhere.
My BFF’s other favorite was the unique fried prawn ball with macadamia nuts in orange sauce 橙味夏果虾球 ($23), crispy, caramelized layer with a bouncy bite. Unlike other restaurants that soak prawns in baking soda to achieve the bouncy texture, Pioneer’s prawns were bouncy because they were fresh. I didn’t fancy this dish because the taste was sweet, while I was expecting tangy, orange-sourish. But to judge the dish objectively, the execution was flawless.
My other favorite was the specialty, crispy scallop mango fritters 带子香芒卷 ($12/ 4pcs), the best mango fritters I had. Premium Australian fresh scallops, Thai mango filling and mayo in rice paper, breaded and deep-fried. You could taste different layers of sweetness from the mayo, mango and scallops, and experience different textures, crunchiness, creaminess, and pillowy scallop. Each bite, a different delight.
You MUST end dinner with Or Ni 百盛潮式芋泥 (yam paste, $6/bowl or $18 regular size). There was no lard but it was one of the best or ni I had. You have to mix the mushy Thailand-imported pumpkin into the yam paste, giving the dessert a more layered taste. Bits of water chestnut–you can feel the crunch but not see it–added a nice texture. And the fresh gingko–not the dried kind—brightened the dish.
Squid in XO sauce XO 苏东仔 ($4.50/100gm)
After a sumptuous 7-course dinner, I returned home, weighed myself, and found myself lighter. I felt energetic, none of the drowsiness that usually comes with a heavy meal. Eating clean is so important; the body knows.
Besides better, fresher, healthier ingredients, Pioneer Seafood’s advantage is that the food is sincere, honest and more affordable. The only flaw is its location, truly a place where birds do not lay eggs. Still, the competitive pricing and delicious food make it worthwhile to travel. Limited wine list. VIP rooms with karaoke facilities available at no minimum spending. Highly recommended.
71 Pioneer Road, Tuas Amenity Centre #02-01 Singapore 639591
T: 6863 3933 / 9828 5822
Rating: 3.334/5 stars
ps: Thanks for the hospitality, Joanne, Elaine, Michelle and especially Mr Lee. BFF and I learned a lot from Mr Lee’s kampong experiences and he taught us how to choose a fresh fish. Deeply grateful and honored to know Mr Lee.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.