Last Updated: November 7, 2016
I notice more and more Si Chuan cuisine slowly popping up on our sunny island, no longer a minority in the plethora of international cuisine we have.
With more Si chuan restaurants coupled with the abundance of Chinese restaurants along Chinatown, it’s no surprise we’d eventually be trying one of these restaurants – Wan Nian, a Chinese restaurant with a stone pot fish concept.
How does Wan Nian Stone Pot Fish differentiate themselves from the other Chinese restaurants along Chinatown?
Wan Nian Stone Pot Fish doesn’t bother with overly expensive fixtures, but are simple and familial – you don’t have to freak out about the prices here.
They aren’t a full-blown Si Chuan restaurant, instead the restaurant prides themselves on their flexible and culinary capability in multiple Chinese cuisines. So here you can try Si Chuan, Hunan, Cantonese, Singapore food and more dishes inspired by other Chinese cities.
And of course, from their very name, their most unique attribute would be the Stonepot dishes.
How did fish cooked in stone arrive in Singapore?
During the Qing Dynasty, under the reign of Emperor Qian Long (Son of Yong Zheng, Grandson of Kang Xi ), the Emperor was very impressed by this particular fish soup he tried at Chang Sha while on his trip to Southern China. The fish soup he enjoyed so much was served in an earthen stonepot. He liked the taste and idea of it so much, he named it the “Good Fortune Fish”.
Whilst exploring for ideas, the owners chanced upon the stonepot fish and were inspired by it and upon realising that Singapore has yet to have this particular specialty dish, thus Wan Nian Stone Pot Fish was born.
As arbitrary as a stonepot might seem, it actually makes a great difference. Cooking in the stone constantly enhances the flavour of the soup whilst diners are still drinking it, so the first taste compared to another taste 15 mins later would be different. One would discover that the soup becomes much more rich and flavourful.
According to the owners, the stonepots, made out of natural stones from Manchuria, are packed with natural minerals that would seep into the soup hence bestowing additional nutrients to the drinker.
Signature Stone Pot Original Seabass (market price, about $30 – $50 per fish)
The first stonepot fish we tried was Wan Nian’s original Stonepot Fish soup. Pricing depends on the type of fish and whether you choose the live ones from the fish tank.
Made with over 10 Chinese herbs – like danggui, ginseng – and 8 types of vegetables – including winter melon and beancurd skin, this broth promises richness and depth in its flavour.
Despite the load of herbs, the soup was not overly strong in herbal taste so don’t worry about that. It is easy to drink due to its tastiness and will sit well with people of all ages.
After sitting in the lighted Stone Pot for around 10 minutes, the broth evidently thickens in consistency while flavours of mushroom, cabbage and herbs intensifies. This soup ‘ages’ gracefully; guaranteed slurp-worthy!
Stone Pot Perfume Seabass (market price, about $30 – $40 per fish)
Of course, we can’t have a si chuan restaurant without some Mala Soup.
According to the founders, the soup isn’t exactly meant for drinking as it is really rich and intense in its spices but they have some patrons who do love to drink it.
In this mala soup, the ingredients (apart from the mala chili spices from the soup) are pretty much the same as the original soup’s except they have sweet potato noodles.
They are like a silkier and chewier version of kuay teow/hor fun. The sweet potato noodle soaks up the spiciness, so it is delicate in its texture but packs a numbing punch in its wake.
For their Stone Pot Fish Soups, prices will vary according to the type of fish you choose – seabass, grouper, catfish etc
Ribs with Diced Yam ($16)
Cubed pork ribs probably blanched or ‘velvet-ed’ then deep-fried as it retains tenderness inside while the outside is really crisp, almost akin to yam chips but thicker. Yam lovers would probably really enjoy this.
Both the ribs and diced yam are coated in this sweet sauce that was incredibly addictive. I felt like I could snack on this thing all day.
SiChuan Fried Chicken ($12)
A classic Si Chuan dish, this is their rendition of the La Zi Ji 辣子鸡 or Chongqing chicken. There’s ample fragrant Si Chuan chilis stir-fried within renders one’s mouth numb or ‘ma’ 麻- the sensation synonymous to Si Chuan cuisine.
PuTien Beehoon ($6/$12)
Fragrant fried vermicelli of thread-like thinness, cooked in an aromatic stock with a decent whiff from the wok hei and sesame oil. Probably the thinnest rice vermicelli I’ve had.
The recipe is apparently the same as Pu Tien’s famous bee hoon, the noodle texture is springy and light, but holds sufficient taste and wok-hei aroma. Not to mention the seaweed adds an extra crunch. Despite being a simple friend noodle, there are multiple layers going on in this dish which you have to try for yourself. Highly recommended.
Chili Crab (Price varies according to weight of crab)
More sweet with a heavier tomaoto flavour than the usual local chili crab, this seems tweaked for the tourist market who can’t take all that spicy. But the consistency and colour of the chili crab sauce were still right. Although it tasted different it was still pretty tasty, I was eating one mantou after another trying to soak up that gravy goodness. Crab picked could be bit meatier though.
If you’re one to enjoy soups, this is probably a good place for you to check out. Not only is the original soup base incredibly delicious, their other dishes are pretty memorable too. Wan Nian also offers quick and simple lunch sets for $6 if you’re pressed for time.
Expected Damage: $20 – $30 per pax