Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice, Sembawang: “Smoky and fragrant, with a rich sweetness from the dark soy sauce”

Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice is well-known for its authenticity—every pot of claypot rice is cooked fresh upon order. It’s sooo fresh that the stall even cooks the rice from scratch inside each claypot!

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Located at Sembawang, this cosy little zi char eatery also sells a selection of other standard zi char items. However, among those are a couple of stand-out dishes, like its KL-style San Lao Bee Hoon, Curry Fish Head, as well as Garlic Fried Chicken (S$12.80).

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The minute I stepped into the stall, I could smell the charred smokiness from the claypots at neighbouring tables, which made my dining companion and I incredibly excited to try it for ourselves.

Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice has limited seating and already had a snaking queue outside when we reached. It only has a couple of dozen tables or so, so it’s best to call to make a reservation. Plus, it isn’t air-conditioned and only has rotating fans, so it can get quite stuffy, especially on a hot afternoon.

What I tried

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I ordered the medium-sized Traditional Claypot Rice (S$8.80/small, S$13.80/medium, S$19.80/large). I was quite impressed to note that Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice cooks the rice directly in the claypot itself, unlike cooking large amounts of rice using a rice cooker and then portioning it out into the claypot upon order.

That means that the rice morsels themselves will have an extra smokiness from the claypot itself. This recipe is 40 years old and has been passed down since the 1980s, so it’s definitely going to be delicious.

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The experienced chefs regularly turn the claypot around on the stove so that all parts of the claypot and its ingredients get an equal amount of heat.

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Once the rice has been cooked, the chefs pour in the marinated chicken. They cover the claypot once again and let it cook over the searing hot fire.

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After that step, the chefs take the claypot off the stove and add the rest of the ingredients, such as the lap cheong, vegetables and salted fish on the bed of chicken and rice. Then, the chefs put the claypot back on the stove for the last time.

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If you’re looking for an Instagrammable moment, this is it! Once your claypot rice is ready, servers will carry it to your table and open it right in front of your eyes.

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It was such a gorgeous sight. Steam wafted out from the claypot rice in thin wisps and the smell of salty lap cheong filled the air.

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Servers drizzled a generous amount of black sauce on the claypot, and then proceeded to mix it right in front of us.

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The result was a glorious browned mass of slightly burnt rice with chunks of tender chicken, bits of lap cheong, tiny nuggets of salted fish, and thin strands of wilted vegetables.

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I absolutely loved each mouthful of claypot rice. It was smoky and fragrant, with a rich sweetness from the dark soy sauce and a tinge of salty savouriness from the chicken marinade.

Out of all the ingredients in the claypot rice, I personally loved the tiny bits of salted fish. I couldn’t spot it in the rice at all, so every single time I tasted the characteristic saltiness from the salted fish, it was such a surprise to me.

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And of course, with claypot rice, my personal favourite part was the charred bits at the bottom of the claypot. To my joy, the charred bits came off easily when I scraped at it with my chopsticks, and I ended up eating the crispy bits on their own. It was crispy and crunchy and had a glorious chao tah (burnt) taste.

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I also ordered Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice’s San Lao Bee Hoon (S$5.80/small, S$9.80/large). I was super happy to see that it was as authentic as the ones I’ve had in Malaysia—flattened like a pancake with a crisp top.

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Upon stirring, I realised all the ingredients were at the bottom, so definitely give it a good mix before trying it. While it was on the drier side, with no gravy whatsoever, it was still a little moist and reminded me of xin zhou bee hoon. It was mildly sweet with a strong wok hei, and was very fragrant and tasty.

My only gripe would be that the bee hoon got dry over time, so by the end of our meal, it was stringy and limp. I’d have loved for it to have a little more starchy gravy.

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The Curry Fish Head (S$26.80) came in an insanely huge portion, with plenty of eggplants, ladies’ fingers, cabbage, carrots, and onions.

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The curry was one of my favourites. It was spicy and smoky, and I could taste the fragrance from the added turmeric and spices. There was a lingering spicy kick which I relished in, and the texture of the gravy was thick, like a gravy.

The curry gravy was a tad too spicy for me, so I didn’t drink it on its own. I confess, I ended up drenching my claypot rice and San Lao Bee Hoon in curry. It made each spoonful of rice or bee hoon super indulgent and creamy, and I absolutely loved it.

Final thoughts

If not for the fact that this zi char place is located in Sembawang, I’d gladly bring my entire family (and extended family, at that) for a bowl of gloriously charred claypot rice again. To me, the curry fish head is a must-order. The curry was fragrant and aromatic and I’d love to drench my rice or bee hoon in it.

The prices here at Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice are also relatively reasonable and the portions are huge, so I’ll definitely be back!

Expected damage: S$8.80 – S$30 per pax

Price: $ $

Our Rating: 4 / 5

Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice

4 Jalan Tampang, Singapore 758948

Our Rating 4/5

Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice

4 Jalan Tampang, Singapore 758948

Telephone: +65 6757 7144
Operating Hours: 11am - 10pm (Daily)
Telephone: +65 6757 7144

Operating Hours: 11am - 10pm (Daily)
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