Cheap & Good

Punchy Sichuan in Chinatown

Chuan Wei Fang's shui zhu yu ($12), a classic Sichuan dish of boiled sliced fish with chili, is a generous portion meant for sharing.
Chuan Wei Fang's shui zhu yu ($12), a classic Sichuan dish of boiled sliced fish with chili, is a generous portion meant for sharing.ST PHOTO: YIP WAI YEE

Walk along the outer rim of People's Park Complex Food Centre on a Sunday afternoon and you almost forget that you are in Singapore.

It might be because of the people eating there or the food options available, but the area feels like a busy street in the Chinese province of Sichuan.

Almost all the customers, made up of workers or students from China, are happily chugging beer as they eat plate after plate of some kind of stir-fried dish overrun with chillies and peppercorns.

If these Chinese customers appear to be enjoying the food so much, the cooking has to be authentic, right?

I round up some of my colleagues to join me for a weekday lunch there to test the food for ourselves.

There are several Sichuan cuisine stalls with similar-sounding names and they all look like they offer the same dishes too, so we just choose one at random.

  • CHUAN WEI FANG

  • 01-1050 People's Park Complex Food Centre, 32 New Market Road; open: 10am to 10pm daily

    Rating: 4/5

We seat ourselves in front of Chuan Wei Fang and a staff member swoops in with a menu that overwhelms.

The tiny hawker centre stall offers close to 50 dishes featuring meat, fish and noodles.

As the Sichuanese are famous for fish dishes, we decide to order the shui zhu yu ($12), a classic Sichuan dish of boiled sliced fish with chili, as well as suan cai yu ($12), a fish stew made with pickled mustard greens.

When the staff member returns with two large bowls, we start commenting on how generous the portions are. These dishes are definitely meant for sharing.

Each bowl is filled with large chunks of sliced fish, on top of plenty of other ingredients, such as sweet potato noodles and tofu.

We dig into the suan cai yu first and the broth is delicious. It is sour and only a little spicy, and the pickled mustard greens have been cooked till soft. The fish is very tender and fresh and flakes apart as soon as you put it in your mouth.

Meanwhile, the shui zhu yu, which looks daunting with all the black peppercorns and chili oil swimming on top, turns out to be a lot less fiery than it looks.

The heat only hits you hard if you accidentally bite into the dried chili or slurp the oil. Otherwise, it is a flavourful dish we end up finishing in no time.

Even though we are stuffed, we go through the menu one more time to take note of all the things we want to eat when we return. The chilli chicken ($10) and fish fragrant eggplant ($5) both look appetising.

But with so many dishes to choose from, I believe we will go back more than once.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Punchy Sichuan in Chinatown'. Print Edition | Subscribe