Any supper-lovin’ kaki would have heard of Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant, and would have spent more than they wanted just by gorging on delectable dim sum.
Speaking of delectable dim sum, 126 Dim Sum Wen Dao Shi also has garnered a cult following with a recent expansion to Boon Keng, besides their original outlet at Geylang. Their own fan base is mainly young adults looking for affordable and delicious dim sum for their late-night cravings.
The stakes are high in this showdown, as we pit 10 classic dim sum basics from each place against each other.
Starting small, we’re all familiar with our well-loved pork wrapped in yellow skin. Siew mai has broadened to being a staple alongside buns in almost every snack shop.
At 126 Dim Sum, their King Siew Mai comes as a portion of four for S$5. It’s almost double the normal size, therefore packed with much more ingredients and flavour. The meat filling was sweet and juicy, although the mushroom taste wasn’t as pronounced.
At Swee Choon, we got the regular sized Siew Mai (S$2 for two). Despite being smaller, it was just as stuffed, and encased in a little bit more skin.
Taste-wise, we felt that it was a draw between the two, with 126 Dim Sum’s King Siew Mai being a bigger brother of Swee Choon’s Siew Mai. But if you’re looking at your wallet, I’d say 126 Dim Sum’s King Siew Mai takes the siew mai spot.
The har kow may not be everyone’s favourite, but it takes a spot in the basics of any dim sum menu. It’s called the crystal prawn dumpling for a reason; succulent prawns are encased in a translucent skin.
At first glance, 126 Dim Sum’s Har Kow (S$4 for four) glistened under the fluorescent lighting. As full as it was of the sweet prawn stuffing it was, the skin was thick enough to hold it all together. We found that we could taste the skin a little more than usual, but it carried a slightly sweet flavour, so that made it passable by our standards.
Swee Choon’s Har Kow (S$2.40 for two) shined even brighter, with an almost transparent skin, even! The dumpling was filled with meaty prawns but wrapped in a less thicker skin.
Unanimously, we agreed that Swee Choon takes the har kow spot, even if it means paying a little bit more for a great har kow.
Char Siew Bao
Buns are one of the signatures of dim sum restaurants, and here we have a steamed bun filled with slightly sweetened barbecue pork. A dim sum meal doesn’t feel quite right without buns.
At 126 Dim Sum, you get a steamer of three BBQ Pork Buns for S$3.50. Just from the looks of it, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into what looked to be a fluffy and fragrant bao.
The bun was filled with succulent char siew, and it was also slightly sweet.
Meanwhile, Swee Choon offers Char Siew Bao (S$2 for two) in a form that we are more familiar with — a dome-shaped bun with the signature red dot indicating what lies within.
The bun itself was slightly firmer, matched with sweet, tender pork fillings.
We were divided in our opinions for this one because of personal preferences in how sweet we liked our char siew to be. However, the ethereal appearance of 126 Dim Sum’s bao coupled with savoury char siew takes the char siew spot for me.
Liu Sha Bao
We’re totally riding the hype train by including the liu sha bao. Well, time keeps our trends ever-evolving, and that includes our favourite dim sums forward. The iconic Salted Egg Golden Custard Buns are one of the most ‘grammable snacks to date.
Of course, we’ve seen the pictures and we’ve heard the rumours about 126 Dim Sum’s Baby Corn With Butter Bun (S$4 for five). Still, we were adamant about trying it for ourselves.
I braced myself for fear of any corn bits hiding within the bao, and to my relief there wasn’t. Instead, for the size given, it was adequately filled with a thick custard, somewhat like kaya.
Now, we can’t say the same for Swee Choon’s Steamed Salted Egg Yolk Custard Bun (S$4.50 for three).
The same firm bao from the earlier Char Siew Bao encapsulates the creamy custard, which burst out onto our plates. The custard was sweeter, and less viscous than its contender.
In its own respect, 126 Dim Sum’s liu sha bao could very well carry its own weight. Hence, Swee Choon takes the liu sha bao spot in this showdown.
(Bonus: Swee Choon has a fried version (S$4) of their liu shao bao which I’d describe as, liu sha in a mantou skin.)
Char Siew Chee Cheong Fun
Another iconic sight on a typical dim sum menu are rice rolls are either stuffed with pork or prawns. We’re keeping things basic here, so let’s follow through with the char siew line-up.
At 126 Dim Sum, we were served their BBQ Pork Chee Cheong Fun (S$4 for four rolls). The rolls were firm, holding slightly chewy char siew meat — a rendition that was pretty off from what we had in their char siew bao.
The gravy was really too salty; it almost reminded me of salted caramel. Honestly, we were quite disappointed with what we got.
Swee Choon’s Rice Roll With Char Siew (S$3.50 for four rolls) featured a slightly more flimsy, ‘wetter’ version. It’s best to pick it up with a spoon.
The gravy wasn’t as viscous, and the flavours too strong. The char siew definitely blended well with the kway-teow-like skin.
There’s no doubt about it, we’re giving the char siew chee cheong fun spot to Swee Choon.
Xiao Long Bao
The modern millennial calls it the “XLB”, while older folks know it more endearingly to be the xiao long bao.
Oddly enough, 126 Dim Sum was the first time I ever encountered a “soupless” Xiao Long Bao (S$4 for five). The staff claims that the Hong Kong version which they sport does not have soup.
We dipped it into the ginger-vinegar sauce blend and popped it into our mouths.
The filling was well-seasoned for sure. In fact, we could identify the various spices in the meat stuffing way better now that there wasn’t any soup diluting everything. I was quite surprised that I enjoyed this!
Hopping over to Swee Choon, this is where we find the Shanghai version of the Xiao Long Bao, or Xiao Long Tang Bao (S$4.50 for four). I think they’ve done the soup right; its savoury notes complemented the succulent pork filling well!
We recommend that you poke a corner of the bao to release the soup and slurp that up first, before dipping the remains in the ginger-vinegar sauce. Or you could just dunk and consume the entire XLB in one go.
Hmm, this one’s difficult because it really is a matter of preference. Tang bao lovers will definitely love Swee Choon’s plate better, whereas the other camp of supporters would be happy with the Hong Kong version.
Personally, I’m with the soup lovers. It makes the meal exciting to have the bao burst in your mouth!
Equally messy as it is sweet as the liu sha bao, which are egg tarts one can commonly find in a dim sum restaurant. Sometimes I struggle with keeping the flaky crust from crumbling all over me, making sure my custard doesn’t spill out.
As the staff from 126 Dim Sum set their freshly baked Egg Tarts (S$3.50 for three) on the table, we noticed it had quite a thorough caramelisation.
Their egg tarts come in little aluminium tins and do note that they’re not on the menu.
The custard had an airy, light texture to it, while the crust was crispy. We also noted that it had hints of slight char.
On the other hand, at Swee Choon, their Egg Tarts (S$3 for two) were set in cupcake liners. In contrast, their Egg Tarts were on the paler side, with less charring.
Also, their custard was a tad bit firmer, less sweet, and definitely carried a little more eggy notes than what we had at 126 Dim Sum. The crust however, was flaky and I found it hard not to make a mess on my end of the table.
I did have a bit of a dilemma in deciding this, but eventually, I’m choosing 126 Dim Sum’s Egg Tart simply because they’ve got a sweeter version and a third tart for an extra S$0.50.
Singapore is littered with carrot cake stalls, but the ones in dim sum menus are somehow different.
A less conventional term would be radish cake, because the dish is not really made of orange carrots anyway. For this, we’re looking for a crispy exterior and soft insides.
The Fried Carrot Cake (S$4 for six cubes) from 126 Dim Sum came in individual fried cubes, making it easy to pick up and consume.
Each cube was oily and crispy on the outside, holding a soft interior that had hints of pork and bits of meat.
Swee Choon’s Carrot Cake (S$2.40 for two) was pre-cut into six rectangles, and less firm so do take care when picking up a piece! Also, each piece was pretty well-seasoned, as compared to the lesser pork flavour noted in the former contender.
But for once, an item from Swee Choon was tagged at a lower price than 126 Dim Sum. That being said, we’re still giving the carrot cake spot to 126 Dim Sum because it was much crispier.
Century Egg & Minced Pork Porridge
Hailed as comfort food, a bowl of creamy porridge topped with century egg and minced pork bits find its way to our dim sum spread.
By the looks of it, 126 Dim Sum’s Century Egg & Minced Pork Porridge (S$3) was generously garnished with minced pork, ginger, garlic, and scallions.
Taking a mouthful, I noted that the mix of garlic really accentuated the flavours of the porridge. The century egg wasn’t as pungent, so I felt it was a perfect balance with the rest of the porridge.
At Swee Choon, we had the Congee With Minced Pork & Century Egg (S$3.30). Likewise, the porridge sported a smooth, glistening texture. It also had generous portions of minced pork, and an even less pronounced flavour emanating from the century egg.
Well, in my books, I preferred 126 Dim Sum’s porridge. If you like the viscous, thick, type of porridge, then 126 Dim Sum’s will appeal to you, otherwise, there’s no lack in taste from Swee Choon’s otherwise “watery” version.
Fried Prawn Roll
Finally, we bring the prawns back on the table with fried prawn rolls. Typically, this dish uses beancurd skin to hold the prawns together before frying, producing a combination of textures.
126 Dim Sum’s Fried Prawn Rolls (S$4.80 for five) were chock full of prawns and slippery to the bite. I found it a bit too oily for my taste, though. But the prawns were buttery, and it tasted excellent with mayonnaise (S$0.50 additional charge for mayonnaise)!
At Swee Choon, their Beancurd Prawn Rolls (S$3 for two) were wrapped in a thin beancurd skin, and lightly fried till crispy. It was much less oily than 126 Dim Sum’s version for sure. I reckon they stuffed the same amount of prawns in their har kow as this dish!
We agreed that Swee Choon’s Beancurd Prawn Roll trumps the fried prawn roll spot for our dim sum table. Mainly, its light and crispy skin was the winning factor for us.
Honestly, when I first had 126 Dim Sum, I was pleasantly surprised I could find quality dim sum that was this affordable.
It has its own perks such as parking, outlet style, queues and waiting time, as well as prices, which led to its rise in popularity.
For one, 126 Dim Sum has a 24-hour outlet out at Boon Keng for an all-day dim sum feast. Prices are also marked way lower, making your late-night dim sum hunt less painful on the wallet.
However, purely judging by the taste of these 10 basics, I’d conclude that Swee Choon still has my heart and stomach.
Of course, both restaurants boast their individual specialities, for example, the Mee Sua Kueh (S$2.40) at Swee Choon, and Crispy Soft Shell Crab (S$5) from 126 Dim Sum.
I loved that Swee Choon was able to strike a balance between their flavours and textures. For example, the sweet char siew paired well with the smooth chee cheong fun skin.
Unlike 126 Dim Sum, which skewed way too much towards being either too sweet or too salty.
Granted, both of these places will still be steamin’ hot dim sum supper go-to’s, and you can choose either to explore.
But, the fact that Swee Choon nailed the staples, therefore, makes them my go-to dim sum restaurant!
Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant 瑞春: 183/185/187/189/191/193 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208882 | Tel: +65 6225 7788 | Opening Hours: 11am – 2.30pm & 6pm – 6am (Mon to Sat), 10am – 3pm & 6pm – 6am (Sun & PH), Closed on Tues | Website | Facebook