Last Updated: July 5, 2017
Nestled among a row of restaurants at Teck Chye Terrace at Upper Serangoon is Uncle Lee Eating House, a humble eatery that serves affordable and delicious zi char. Among the more common offerings, there is a standout dish that we came to try: Sand Skin Chicken.
Boasting a spacious and no-frills interior, there was sufficient space between the tables so we could all sit comfortably. However, since it’s a closed environment, it can get a little rowdy during peak hours, as zi char places tend to get.
For those looking to beat the heat, no worries, this place is air-conditioned.
To start off our meal, we had the Golden Fluffy Tofu ($8). Piping hot and coated in a crispy batter, each piece of tofu was soft and wobbly with a nice hint of egginess.
A light sprinkling of Chinese five spice was a welcome touch too.
The dish was accompanied with a Thai sweet chilli dipping sauce as well, which introduced some acidity and faint spiciness. Very comforting and addictive.
We also felt the portion was quite generous for its price compared to other zi char places. Tofu is a relatively cheap ingredient so it can sometimes feel like a waste to order it outside. But the generous portion here definitely made us feel like we got our money’s worth.
Next up was the Dong Po Rou ($15), or Braised Pork Belly. Arriving in a claypot, the entire slab of pork belly was submerged in braising gravy and bubbling away.
The braising process really did well to break down the meat fibres in order to achieve that melt-in-your-mouth texture that is often looked for in this dish.
While the top two layers were extremely soft and tender, the bottom layer was actually quite tough. Which is a huge pity because the top part of the pork belly was truly delightful.
I suspect it may have something to do with the heated claypot, which may have inadvertently continued the cooking process onto the bottom layer. Despite the appealing visual of a bubbling claypot, I would suggest that the dish is served on a regular plate to preserve the texture of the pork belly’s bottom layer.
The Assam Curry Fishhead ($26) was another claypot dish that arrived bubbling hot. Packed chockful of ingredients such as long beans, cabbage and taupok (my favourite), we couldn’t wait to dig in.
I really have to give props to the freshness of the fish here. Despite being quite sensitive to fishy odours, I could sense none of it here, which was a pleasant surprise.
To boot, the fish meat was moist and smooth, cooked to perfection, really. I was initially hesitant to order this dish but the helpful server assured me that they get their supply of fish daily in order to ensure its freshness. I’m glad I went ahead with this dish. No regrets.
The gravy is actually a blend of curry and assam, which was an interesting break from most other places that serve both types of fish head but do not mix them together.
Instead of achieving a dish that has the best-of-both-worlds, my taste buds were utterly confused by the gravy’s taste — it wasn’t thick enough to be comforting and not acidic enough to be refreshing on the palate.
Finally, the star of the show: Sand Skin Spring Chicken ($18). We were very impressed with the portion, a whole chicken was used. Very affordable for its price tag.
One thing we immediately noticed was its visibly rough and crispy texture — it truly does deserve its name. This is quite uncommon compared to other spring chicken dishes at zi char restaurants, which tend to be basted in oil for a thin and crispy layer of skin.
Boasting a thick and crunchy batter on the skin, the meat within was tender and juicy. Even for the usual drier parts such as the chicken breast, it was decently moist and not tough at all.
Despite being deep fried, there was almost no trace of grease at all, unlike other deep fried chicken dishes that will leave a glossy sheen on your lips with just one bite.
Also, remember to call ahead to check for this dish since the restaurant prepares limited quantities of it each day.
We thoroughly enjoyed the zi char dishes at Uncle Lee Eating House. With affordable prices and great portions, it is definitely worth making the trip down, even if it may be a little out of the way.
Another thing that had us leaving with smiles was that despite being air-conditioned and serving us iced water and rice at no cost, the restaurant does not impose GST or service charge!
Expected damage: $15 per person