Cheap & Good

Cheap & Good: Fragrant French beans at zi char restaurant Da Fu in Toa Payoh

The sweet and salty tang of the preserved radish makes the dish irresistible.
The sweet and salty tang of the preserved radish makes the dish irresistible.ST PHOTO: HAU BOON LAI

It has been double happiness on the culinary front for me recently.

First, after a period of mourning when a good zi char stall in Toa Payoh near my home relocated after a year to bigger, air-conditioned premises - in a precinct far away - I was thrilled to find that another one had opened in its place.

Second, Da Fu Seafood Restaurant's menu has a dish that draws me back again and again. Its dried shrimp French beans ($10) is an absolute winner.

The Chinese name for the dish refers to the beans as shi ji dou, or four seasons beans, which owner Chee Yook Sin, 52, tells me is the common trade name in Chinese for the beans.

Whatever the name, Da Fu's version is in a class of its own - a delightful combination of crunchy goodness from the deep-fried beans, shrimps and chye poh, or preserved radish, and fragrant wok hei.

The addition of the chye poh is a master stroke by the chefs, as its sweet and salty tang adds the right amount of oomph that tips the dish into extra memorable territory.


    Block 85C Toa Payoh Lorong 4, 01-368

    open: 11.30am to 10.30pm daily, with last orders at 10pm, but may close earlier on some days

    Rating: 4/5 stars

I first tried it early last month and have been back to the stall for the dish about 10 times since. Even so, I am not anywhere near done with it - I am still scraping the plate clean whenever I have it.

The three chefs in the kitchen - who are from Malaysia and have been plying their trade in Singapore for decades - serve an extensive menu of dishes.

The supreme pork ribs ($9) and deep-fried seabass ($18) in a soya sauce mix are standouts too. The ribs are succulent pieces of lean meat basted in a sweet-and-sour sauce. The value-for-money fish is well-portioned and fried to perfection.

Since its opening in late February, Da Fu has been quietly winning over those residents who stumble upon the stall at the 40-seat mini coffee shop on the ground floor of an old Toa Payoh Housing Board block.

While business has been decent, Mr Chee says more customers are needed for the stall to become viable.

With food this good and service that is fast, friendly and efficient (the stall even offers a delivery service for orders above $20 during off-peak hours), it should only be a matter of time before residents from near and far start flocking there.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will not then decide to follow its predecessor and opt to set up shop at bigger premises elsewhere.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'French bean dish in a class of its own'. Print Edition | Subscribe