If there is anything I have learnt from doing zi char reviews, it is that going early is vital.
So many of these eateries are packed on weekends, which is when I visit these places.
Chai Chee Seafood is something of an institution along Changi Road. Cars are parked all along the street, and latecomers usually have to settle for a table under a large tent outside.
The place serves halal zi char, and is a popular place for celebrations. Big groups turn up and order platters of crab, prawns and other seafood.
We do the same.
A sizzling cast iron platter with Pari Sambal ($15) or sambal stingray, appears first and it looks mighty fine.
The slab we get yields plenty of perfectly cooked flesh and the sambal is plenty punchy. It is made to go with rice, although on its own, the smoky flavour that comes from contact among hot platter, banana leaf and fish is more apparent.
Thai Style Sotong arrives next ($9) and the batter is light and crispy. Most unfortunately, the squid is chewy and rubbery.
It is rare to get overcooked squid in zi char. Most places do a competent job, but this is practically inedible. The large strips of unripe pineapple and cucumber, and the overly sweet chilli sauce make this a dish I will not order again.
Another one would be Kailan Beef ($9), pretty decent but full of sliced beef that have been artificially tenderised.
The greens are fine, although we get chye sim rather than kailan, and I appreciate the effort to add colour to the dish with thin strips of carrot.
Next to the stingray, the best dish in the meal turns out to be Black Pepper Crayfish ($25). For the price, we get six of the shellfish, three large and three medium.
All yield tender meat, just cooked. It is easy to overcook shellfish, but while the cooks botch up the squid, they do a great job with the crayfish.
What's even better is the aromatic pepper sauce, with not a trace of sweetness.
It has a deep heat that warms the belly.
And the dish almost makes me forget the horrible, rubbery squid.
CHAI CHEE SEAFOOD
359 Changi Road, tel: 6841-2002
Open: 11.30am to 11.30pm