Before regular hot pot and shabu shabu became popular, the common soup of choice in Singapore was always fish head steamer.
The dish – served in a battered copper pot – seems simple enough: the mixture of cabbage, seaweed, yam and tofu is accompanied by a comforting soup that is both savory and sweet. Slices of garoupa, pomfret or snapper fish are added last, delicately cooked to perfection while the charcoal in the center of it all continues to add its smoky heat to the pot.
The recipe for the savory and addictive broth differs from stall to stall, but the must-have ingredients for Singapore’s best fish-head steamers include sole, ginger and one to two pieces of sour plum, all of which contribute to add a lot of depth and a subtle zest to the soup, which sets them apart from your usual cauldron dishes.
Of course, these common sharing pots aren’t enough for those looking for a bit of variety. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Most localities also serve tze chariot dishes like sweet and sour pork, sambal kangkong and shrimp batter fried chicken too.
Here is where to find the best fish head steamer in Singapore:
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This story was first published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.
Hai Chang Fish Head Steamer
137A Tampines St. 11, #01-03, Tampines Round Market, Singapore 522137
Eastern foodies are no stranger to the Hai Chang Fish Head steamer. You won’t even have to look for the stall here – just follow the sound and you’ll find Uncle burning charcoal doing his thing in the open, while diners around the area wait for their steamboat, hypnotized by the embers. Besides the delicious but incredibly affordable steamer, diners often come here for the tze chariot dishes too. Crowd favorites include sambal kangkong and sweet and sour pork.
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Tian Wai Tian Fish Head Steamer
1383 Serangoon Rd, Singapore 328254
Tian Wai Tian Fish Head Steamboat has been operating since 1983, so you know for sure there must be something they do well. The OG coffeeshop they operate from (in Serangoon) is quite a cozy space, so many diners end up having their meals at tables along the five foot path and in the back alley, which is only adding to the old school vibe. Choose from fresh pomfret, red grouper or bighead carp, but be sure to get down early if you plan on getting the pomfret – the crowd favorite often sells out as early as 6:30pm. For a larger group, we recommend getting a few dishes like the Tofu Shrimp and Shrimp Paste Chicken on the side.
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Fish head steamer Whampoa Keng
556 Balestier Road, Singapore 329872
Whampoa Keng Fish Head Steamboat is a household name in Singapore for fish head steamboat enthusiasts. Teochews will most likely get the pomfret for the soup, but if you’re not one for its delicate taste, the meaty red garoupa or sliced batang fish will serve you well too. The highlight of the dish however, isn’t the fish or other vegetables like yams and cabbage: it’s the soup. The addictive broth is made with over 30 ingredients, giving it a mouth-watering salty sweetness. You will definitely ask for refills.
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Chang Long fish head steamer
Blk 122 Bedok North Street 2, #01-140, Singapore 460122
Chang Long Fish Head Steamboat is a little hidden gem known only to those who know the area. The fragrant soup base comes with a delicious smoky flavor and a generous helping of ingredients; in addition to your plate of freshly sliced grouper, it also comes with fried fish meat, cabbage, yam and daisy. Did we also mention sumptuous additions of dried sole? We are addicted.
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Xin Yuan Ji
31 Tan Quee Lan St, #01-01, Singapore 188117
Many know Xin Yuan Ji for his supper (sorry we had to) fish soup in Bugis, but did you know they also have a sister joint specializing in charcoal fish head steamer in Tan Quee Lan Street too? The naturally sweet broth is a more indulgent bite on cold, rainy days, and the thick slices of fish meat make it even more compelling to come back again and again.
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Nan Hua Chang Seafood Restaurant
812 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198779
If we’re looking for heritage fish-head steamer stalls in Singapore, we need look no further than Nan Hua Chang Seafood Restaurant. The joint has been in business for nearly a century, serving the same delicious broth to island diners. The Teochew-style fishhead steamer comes with options like fresh pomfret, garoupa, or snapper, with additions that include crown daisy and mushrooms. We recommend that you take a plate of cai poh (marinated radishes) Chicken with tofu and shrimp paste on the side even if you’re stuffed — trust us, you won’t regret it.
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Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan
91 Whampoa Dr, #01-1415, Singapore 320091
You probably won’t find any stalls open after 5pm at Whampoa Market, except for Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan. The modest charcoal fish-head steamer comes in a battered copper pot, and you’ll be surprised at how generous the stand is with its ingredients. The pot is packed to the brim with a sumptuous serving of sliced fish, yam, seaweed and cabbage, all in a savory broth richly flavored with ginger and dried plaice. Braised duck and braised pig’s trotters are crowd favorites here too.
Pro tip: There’s a long wait if you pass during peak hours, so be sure to get off early to save a number in line.
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