A Teochew Easter of Cold Crabs and Candles

THE BUNNIES DIDN’T hop at my family’s Easter gathering. Neither were there any sightings of colored eggs. That’s because our family was celebrating this joyous day in the Christian calendar at a Teochew restaurant, Quan Le Yuan, at Havelock Road.

Translate that word for word, you get: spring water, happy, garden—words that not only jingle aptly to the whole Easter theme, but also evoke the warm, happy notes of birthdays, which was what Easter Sunday was too: a celebration of my mother’s 77th. And if you did your sums and mapped that against the Chinese zodiac, you’d realized, Hey, there’s a bunny in our midst!

If this were a game of finding as many symbolisms as I could over our long and delectable ten-course lunch, I’d have run short of finding anymore. Every dish, every morsel of meat and vegetable, fish and crustacean, noodle and gingko nut—every one of them didn’t really signify anything bigger except this: family.

That’s what it was for us: feasting and family. And for the raucous adjacent table of some ten or so salt-and-pepper-haired blokes, it was feasting and friendship. Come to think of it, one must also add this: feasting and good fortune. Fortune not in the sense of wealth and jingling gold coins, but that sense of abundance that’s the very reason why we say, towards the end of grace, that phrase, “from thy Bounty.”

And bounty it was at our table, the lazy susan spinning enthusiastically, sometimes impatiently to the point that someone would go, Oops, Grandpa’s clipping a prawn! The dishes at Happy Spring Garden came equally enthusiastically and impatiently. First, the cold crabs, with all the torso pieces flaked with jewels of roe:

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Then, the hei zhor, that Teochew restaurant must-have, the mother of all deep-fried staples—prawn rolls with sweet sauce (and my nephew’s chopsticks diving in):

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And following a temperature contrast of cold crabs and a piping hot hei zhor, the chef teased us with a tingle of cold again: aspic of pork trotter with all the super-rich goodness of pork concentrated in a slow melt of consommé jelly:

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From here on, it’s the hot and warm and savory.

First, the whipped custard yum of an omelette topped with oysters that were only almost cooked, where “only almost” is the sole terrain of an accomplished chef.

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Then, our steamed Ang Zhor, Teochew for John’s Snapper, or Golden Snapper, or Moses Perch—too many middle names to add to the muddle, so let’s just call it “The Snapper,” and it sure looks like one:

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And finally, some respite from the proteins—a touch of greens from the cooling crunch of yellow Chinese chives:

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While it’s true photos paint a thousand words, I’ll skip the shots of two of our
lor, soy-sauce braises: duck breast over a bed of lor beancurd, and duck wings (too chewy and sinewy in my mind, and oh, “too salty,” most of us winced). The photos didn’t make the editor’s cut: too much brown, and too much meat. Too much, too much. That’s right: surfeit.

Which is always the thing with feasting: we find it hard to go slow, but when we do have to, there’s always the vin rouge. Tip the wine glass and down some vino and you’re good to nibble just that little bit more towards stuffed city. Now, when visiting places as home-styled as Quan Le Yuan, make a mental note to bring your own stemware, which was exactly what my elder brother did.

If you’re fussy, bring your own decanter too, but it’s Easter, and you’ve got a family in tow. No one’s really going to fret about decanting in a beer jar, compliments of the restaurant. Well, not exactly compliments, there’s a corkage of … My brother whips his hand up and flashes five fingers. We all go, Wow, fifty at such a place! Then he grins: No, five dollars! That’s why even snobs like me are thinking, It’s quite cool pouring wine from a Tiger:

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That was the other joy about QLY, our Happy Spring Garden: service was swift, breathless almost, and no one put on any airs. Ask for a knife to cut a baby Easter banana cake, they’ll tell you earnestly: “Sorry, we got no table knife.” But the next moment, they bring in a real knife from the kitchen.

And when it’s cake-and-candle time for our bunny Mommy, aka Gramps (that’s how my third nephew calls his Grandma), they present us with a lighter that looks like a hand grenade, a super slim farcical-looking one. It flickers not with a flame, but roars like a blowtorch. Alas, the photographer was too busy lining up the candles—seven tall ones and seven shorties—and didn’t get a shot of this BOMB of a lighter!

But here’s what she did take. Colorful remnants from our equally home-styled classic birthday sponge cake topped with glazed macerated fruits packed with almond flakes on the side:

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And it turns out I may have one last symbolism: candles that speak of a glorious seventy-seven years!


Quan Le Yuan Seafood
721 Havelock Rd
Singapore 169645
+65 6273 4960

 

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