Update 02-Jan-2011: T-Hut is reported closed recently. Refer comments on this post below.
Wait! Don’t go! Continue reading.
I know … the name of this restaurant, T-Hut Cafe, is a very unimaginative name … BUT, let me tell you … for the food geeks and those who like savouring all kinds of cuisines this is one restaurant you will want to take note of.
I know. One look at the restaurant, you would have brushed it aside as a hole-in-the-wall. They have the worse looking awning I had ever seen. For the casual passerby, they may even think that they are no longer in business.
From the name T-Hut Cafe, I actually thought that this is a Bubble Tea House. Would you not?
Even the red on yellow sign at the top of the door says “Taiwanese Snacks” and “Beef Noodles”. In the past life, T-Hut surely must have been a Bubble Tea House. They just did not bother to change the name … nor even the sign. It is misleading because they don’t serve Taiwanese Snacks or Beef Noodles here. No siree.
T-Hut Cafe, dear Friends of Chowtimes, is a Chiu Chow restaurant.
And a very authentic one at that too.
Suanne and I stumbled upon this restaurant about a month ago as we were walking along Fraser after having iced desserts in PinPin. I almost walked into the sandwich board placed outside the restaurant. That was when Suanne said that the three words shabbily painted on the board says “Chiu Chow Choy”. In English that means Chiu Chow Cuisine.
I can’t believe how bad a job they did with the sign. They just hand painted the three words over the board without even bothering at least to paint the background. Such shabbiness.
With what little Chinese Suanne knows, she managed to pick out some of the words on the hand written sign pasted outside the door of the restaurant. She saw words like:
- Golden … award … Chiu Chow … oyster omelet
- Famous … belly warming … pepper … sour mustard … pork stomach soup
Hmmm … those were the descriptions of a typical Chiu Chow cuisine.
We thought that was interesting but we did not even bothered to take down the address or even the name of the restaurant. We just knew it was on Fraser somewhere near PinPin with the intention of checking them out sometime in the distant future (given how long our to-try list is!).
A few weeks later, I casually mentioned this restaurant on the post on Cabin 5555 (see here). The next thing we know it, JS and Grayelf was already talking about checking this place out. Gosh, they are such dedicated foodies. So JS organized a chowdown in T-Hut and asked if Suanne and I wanted to go.
What kind of a question is that? LOL!
I made reservation for dinner. When I called, the lady who picked up the phone was clearly very proud of her own restaurant. Actually she was almost bordering on cockiness. She was talking to me like I already knew their specialty dishes and sounded a bit disappointed when I told her well, I don’t know what I wanted. I only wanted to make a reservation and was not prepared to order the dishes too. She was telling me I must pre-order the “Low Sui Ngap” (translated as old water duck). She went on rattling a few dishes which went swosh over my head. So yeah, because of her enthusiasm, I said sure … reserve a “Low Sui Ngap” for us and that we will order the other dishes when we get there.
So we met for dinner … the six of us. The inside of the restaurant is not much better than the way it looked outside.
The tables are small and cramp. And they can only accommodate two larger tables (seats 10 and 8) which were booked for the night already. The next bigger sized table is six which is oddly arranged with a couple of chairs jutting out to the corridor. Yeah, we were forced to take that odd table.
The lady was very chatty. And she has a very noticeable accent which I assume is Chiu Chow. She told us they are from Swatow and had actually been here for three years already … and all these while choses to operate under the radar. She also said that they do not want to advertise or promote their business because they cannot handle any more customer than they already have. He he he … lets see how this changes things after this post gets published on chowtimes.
I asked her for the menu. She brushed me aside and said “no menu” … and at the same time pointed to the wall. That is their menu. You may click on the pictures above to show it in larger image.
There are a lot of dishes but I know that the best of the best is the ones on the largest of posters.
The orange ones said something like … old water duck (again!) … American duck … special selection … small … Chiu Chow … sand … taro.
The red poster had words like … half deep fried … yellow flower fish … Chiu Chow … big … stir fry … vegetable … minced meat … fried rice.
Sorry those were some of the smattering of words we know. LOL!
I told the lady boss I can’t read Chinese and she told me don’t worry, she will decide for us! Frankly, that works for us because she seems like she sounded so confident she knows what we wanted.
Actually, we were at her mercy.
The first dish that came is the one I pre-ordered the day before. This is called the “Low Sui Ngap” … the old water duck which is a very traditional Chiu Chow dish.
The “old water” refers to the … soya stock (or sauce) that remains in the stove and continuously replenished by adding new sauces to existing … never made fresh. Legend has it that some really authentic ones have the same sauce made in the same pot for decades. That is what “old water” mean!
The sauce is really great with steamed rice. A fan-toong (rice bucket) like me immediately asked for steamed rice. Yeah, the sauce is NOT to be wasted. It must be savoured before the first piece of meat.
The duck meat was everything I expected it to be. It was flavourful and the meat lean and tender with a nice clingy skin on it. Half of the plate is made up of boneless breast meat (very good) and the other half is bonier (that is boney-er if you know what I am trying to say).
The dip given was simple vinegar which gives the duck a twist in taste. Great start!
The Chiu Chow discussions on the Cabin 5555 blog post started over the Taiwanese Oyster Omelette (which I was saying is not how I like it). JS pointed out that Chiu Chow style oyster omelette are famous and is distinctively different. It sure was.
The oyster omelette serving was large. It is clearly very crispy on the outside, quite unlike the Taiwanese variation which is starchy. It is also not egg-y.
They have lots of small fresh oysters in the omelette. Overall the dish is not great. However, it is authentic and good. It is made the way it is meant to be made Chiu-Chow style.
This will appeal to the food geeks … especially the ones who likes to dissect the dish. Especially people like JS … and Grayelf … and TS … and Ben. Suanne and Mr Grayelf was just there for the ride. Mr Grayelf was just glad that there are food on the table. Suanne? Well, she was just glad that she did not have to cook and do the dishes that night.
Here is their other specialty. The Pork Stomach Pepper Soup.
She made sure we heard “No MSG” when she served this on the table.
Actually the Chiu Chow food here is not the refined type. This is really homestyle food, just like the way they make it at home. So, yeah … the presentation is a bit rough at the edges. I can’t even describe the food as delicate, fine or exquisite. I can only use words like tasty and satisfying. In other words, it is comfort food.
The pickled mustard here is crunchy. The soup was peppery and delicious. The pork stomach was chewy. I was thinking they should leave a bit more of the black pepper in the soup. I just love biting into the black pepper because it gives a burst of pepper-i-ness (oh man … I know I am slaughtering the English language but at least I think you know what I mean).
The lady owner said that kids from 3 years old to 80 year old seniors will like this. She was so poetic when she said that. LOL!
That Chiu Chow Fried Rice has dried shrimp, wood ear, eggs and some kind of preserved vegetables in it.
It doesn’t look pretty. The rice was like broken rice. At a glance one could even mistaken them for couscous.
It was good. Again, it was not great. And again, it was made the way it was supposed to be … chiu chow style, no more no less.
Grayelf was observed poking around this dish. She … errr … took the dish from the middle of the table to her side and had a really closer inspection of the dried fish (the dark brown pieces). With us it is OK but such close inspection might raise some eyebrows with more traditional Chinese. LOL!
This is called Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with ‘Tai Tei Yue’. The smokey dried fish was quite hard to chew on. This dish is nothing special about it.
BTW, Grayelf, you did not quite like this one, did you? I did not ask but what are your thoughts?
I learned that the Chiu Chow cuisine is the only Chinese cuisine which has a formal section for dessert. Dessert plays an integral and distinct part of the cuisine.
The lady owner said this like three times … each time repeating that it takes a long time to make this and that we are lucky they have this for us. So, if you want to try this, I think you should pre-order this dish.
The name of the dessert is “‘Wang Sar Yu Toe'” — translated as Deep Fried Taro coated in Sugar.
The taro was creamy and melts in the mouth. It was also sweet obviously from the sugar coating. Suanne loved this for sure. Me? It was OK.
I think Chiu Chow folks will know how to appreciate this a lot.
The hand written bill has that same matching look all round with the restaurant. It worked out to be $20 per person.
Lots of food for sure. We even had a little bit left over to take home.
On the way out, we saw the remnants of the previous business sitting lorn-fully at the corner. Seems like you can order Bubble Tea here but seriously who does?
We also picked up the business card on the way out. This is interesting … it appears that they print the “Big Four King Signage”. The four are:
- Oyster Omelette
- Old Water Duck
- Pork Stomach Pepper Soup, and
- The Taro Dessert
All four of them distinctive to the Chiu Chow cooking.
So yeah, go try it out so that you know what Chiu Chow cooking is all about.