The Beginner’s Guide to An Ox-picious New Year at Chinatown Complex

The Beginner’s Guide to An Ox-picious New Year at Chinatown Complex

And you should start at the wet market.

You’d be captivated. A bustling (and somewhat unforgiving) crowd you’d wrestle elbows with just for a bag of the best yong tau fu in town, a mother pinning an embroidered masterpiece of a qipao upon her daughter’s shoulders and the seamlessly endless ruckus of hawker stores churning out mouthwatering plates till the evening. This is Chinatown Complex, the mecca of Singaporean Chinese culture.

Navigating this three-storey complex may seem daunting, and even more so as young and old make their repeated pilgrimage in preparation of the new lunar year. As a handy guide, I got the low-down on what a beginner should know, see and, most importantly, buy, courtesy of the HawkerWalk@CNY Edition by Tribe Tour*.

1. Anthony The Spice Maker

A variety of packed spices and spice blends. Photo: Jessica Chan

Despite the tech-savvy packaging aimed at the younger crowd, Anthony’s story began in the 1970s. The second-generation spice maker followed in his parents’ footsteps, revamping the spice stores of yore into a series of readily packed premium quality spices and spice blends. The stars are the blends, an accumulation of recipes from grannies across Singapore, that’ll have even the most clumsy of cooks whip up winning dishes. Reunion dinners would be incomplete without his five-spice - cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn and cloves - a mix that is ubiquitous in many quintessential new year dishes. Think Ngoh Hiang (Hokkien), Roasted Char Siew (Cantonese) or most braised dishes.

  • Address: #B1-169
  • Tel: 9117 7573
  • Opening hours: Tue-Sat, 10am-1pm

Related: 8 Small F&B Businesses In Singapore With Interesting Chinese New Year Offerings

2. Chia Keng Seng

Ingredients for pen cai or poon choi. Photo: Jessica Chan

Reunion dinners would be remiss without pen cai or poon choi, a festive dish teeming with indulgent and supposedly auspicious ingredients meticulously braised in a claypot. Not only does the name literally translate to basin of treasures, it is the ultimate symbol for harmony and auspiciousness. There’s no fixed list of what goes into one, but the usual suspects are ho see, chewy and umami-laden dried oysters that signifies “good things will come”, and mineral-rich black sea moss which Cantonese verbalisation fatt choy sounds a lot like great fortune, just to name a few. And you can get all these and more with the help of the Chia sisters at Chia Keng Seng.

  • Address: #B1-002
  • Tel: 6223 2473

Related: Top 10 Realistic Tips for a Healthy Festive Chinese New Year

3. Chai Wee Cuttlefish

Making the crispy cuttlefish. Photo: Jessica Chan

Chances are you’d have heard the phrase “nian nian you yu” being thrown around during new year visitations. This well-meaning wish for abundance and surplus every year is epitomised into a delectable snack over at Chai Wee Cuttlefish. Here, the cuttlefish, or as the Chinese call it, you yu, are marinated in a proprietary mix of prawn paste, chili and sugar before it’s slowly roasted into a crisp snack. They’re a hot commodity, with their crispy cuttlefish sold out till after Chinese New Year celebrations.

  • Address: #02-65
  • Tel: 9751 1986
  • Opening hours: Tue-Sat 7.30pm-4.00pm

Related: 6 Small Local Food Establishments In Malaysia With Exciting Chinese New Year Deals

4. Pan Ji Cooked Food

Mr Pan hand-rolling the dough to make desserts and tidbits. Photo: Jessica Chan

Your one-stop solution for all your traditional Cantonese desserts and tidbits, Pan Ji Cooked Food is most known for their handmade sar kay mah or ma zai in Cantonese (the latter references how superstitious punters would eat it before placing their horse racing bets). Originally hailing from Manchuria, this square-shaped treat of fried batter and malt sugar has taken on a sweeter rendition in Southeast Asia. Mr Pan, who has been feeding Singaporeans this childhood delight since he was 14, has perfected the recipe and can be found hand-rolling the batter every morning.

  • Address: #02-78
  • Opening hours: Daily, 8am-2pm

5. Xi Shi Bak Kwa

Bak kwa. Photo: Jessica Chan

For old-school bak kwa, sizzling atop red hot charcoal, look no further than Xi Shi Bak Kwa. Established since 1985, founder Koh Hock Bin has stuck to its Fujian-style BBQ hand-sliced pork in its attractive red hue that doubles as an auspicious symbol. Those seeking variety can also check out their innovative flavors, such as Sliced Duck, Monascus (with homemade monascus red wine) marinated sliced pork, or, to impress the older folks, ginseng or goji berry bak kwa.

  • Address: #02-002

Related: 5 Keto Recipes for a Low-Carb Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

6. Hua Design

Exclusively designed Chinese clothing for women. Photo: Jessica Chan

What’s now seen as a sign of a fresh start, wearing new clothes during the lunar new year originated from the fable of Nian Shou. This lion-esque beast is said to appear once every year, during the beginning of the festival, to feed on men and animals, with the weakness of the colour red and loud noises. To scare off the beast, villagers would then dress in red and set off firecrackers, a tradition we continue to this day. And what better way to embrace this tradition than with authentic garb from Hua Design? Working closely with an embroideress in Hong Kong, the store brings in exclusively designed Chinese clothing for women, men and children. Pieces range from the traditional to modern takes with accompanying accessories.

  • Address: #01-259
  • Opening hours: Daily 10am-6pm


*Tribe Tour offers privately guided tours curated by locals in Singapore.

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