Nestled in a corner of Casuarina Road, right along a quiet stretch of shophouses in the Upper Thompson neighbourhood, lies a zi char restaurant that is over three decades old—Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood. Established in 1986 by Mr Teh Chor Joo, it started as a single economic rice stall and remained so for several years. Over time, as business boomed, it took over the entire shophouse. Today, Mr Teh’s son, 27-year-old Noel Teh Jing Long, helms Ban Leong Wah Hoe as its second-generation owner and chef.
Recalling his younger days in his early twenties, Noel says that when he first entered the kitchen to learn to cook from his dad, he felt like he was in a puppet show—starring his dad as show master and he as the puppet being guided along with strings. “Today, you will cook,” Mr Teh would say, but reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I will guide you along the way.”
Little by little, under the watchful guidance of his father, Noel improved. From simply adding salt and pepper as per his dad’s instructions to frying mantous (golden buns), and to handling the kitchen himself, he has come leaps and bounds since he first held a wok in his hands.
From sportsman to chef
Noel’s path towards F&B was a long and winding one. He was on Singapore’s National Cyclist Team for most of his life. A near-fatal accident in 2017 left him in a coma for 3 weeks and hospitalised for 3 months. In the aftermath, Noel suffered from multiple fractures all across his body. He even required reconstruction surgery for his broken jaw. Despite this unimaginable physical and mental ordeal, Noel’s cycling journey continued on. He competed and joined his team for training for another year. But in 2018, Noel decided to help his parents full-time after realising that his dad was suffering from a slipped disc. This concluded his journey as a pro cyclist.
One unforgettable anecdote from our time with Noel went like this. We asked Noel if he could cook up his restaurant’s three specialities—Chili Crab, Fried Lala, Prawn Paste Chicken. Nonchalantly, he asked if he should cook them separately or if he could do them all together. “I am trained to cook at least 3 dishes at the same time,” he clarifies. It seemed like a matter of fact for Noel. But, to us, his confidence stands testament to his skillfulness as a chef!
His experience as a second-generation owner
Being a second-generation owner doesn’t mean that he didn’t have to work hard. Having grown up around the restaurant’s staff and the Head Chef, he had to deal with a fair amount of doubt and prejudice when he stepped up to the plate. “Oh, he’s so young, what does he know?”
But when I started working hard and made improvements to our recipes, they realised that I’m actually quite capable.”
Noel Teh, second-generation owner
With this, Noel continued to push himself and prove himself to gain his team’s trust and confidence.
Ban Leong Wah Hoe’s seafood specialities
Ban Leong Wah Hoe imports their seafood themselves and has many seafood dishes to indulge in. The Chilli Crab ($84 for 1kg, $126 for 1.5kg) sits in a bed of sauce, made with their top-secret homemade chilli paste. The gravy is not overwhelmingly spicy and enhances the natural sweetness of the crabs. Sufficiently shiok, this dish leaves you wanting more. Can’t just stop at a single crab claw when you’re having it!
Next up is the Stir Fried La La ($18 for small, $36 for medium), which is the recipe that Noel tweaked. The la la (venus clam) dish was originally on the sweet side, but Noel added a tinge of pepper for deeper flavours. Now, it’s has a decent amount of spiciness and kick to complement the naturally briny flavours of the la la. We recommend having a sip of the peppery, umami-packed broth!
With this, we welcome the star of the show. The Prawn Paste Chicken ($9.60 for small, $14.40 for medium, $21.60 for large) is simply heavenly. Also known as Har Cheong Gai, Ban Leong Wah Hoe’s rendition is acclaimed to be one of the best in Singapore. You’ll be salivating once you get a whiff of the wings’ fragrant aroma. Bite into one of these scrumptious, golden-red wings, and experience the perfect juxtaposition of the crunchy skin and the tender, juicy flesh of the wings. With prawn paste sourced from a factory in Hong Kong, this is the real deal.
It takes perseverance to keep a zi char business going for over three decades, and it takes a new generation that is willing to put in the hard work, blood, sweat and tears for the next few decades to make it a legacy. For those living in the North, or around Casuarina Road or Upper Thomson enclave, this zi char restaurant’s fare makes for a hearty and wholesome with your family and friends.