JB 101 Firewokz pride themselves on their hearty Zi Char fare inspired by Malaysian cooking styles from the 1970s. The outlet is helmed by the renowned Chef Lim Ah Meng, who is best known for his decades of experience as Head Chef of Restaurant See Hai, in Johor Bahru – a popular eatery there.
And after taking a hiatus from cooking, Chef Lim, who is from Jalan Serampang in Johor Bahru, has recently picked up his wok again to re-introduce Malaysian style Zi Char, now to new generations of customers right here in Singapore.
BRINGING GOOD, AFFORDABLE MALAYSIAN FOOD TO SINGAPOREANS
Sad Chef Lim, “Singaporeans often travel to Malaysia in search of good food especially during weekends. At JB 101, we want to bring to Singaporeans, that good Malaysian style food in an affordable manner, without the need of travelling across the causeway in search of it.”
He added, “So if you have tasted Zi Char dishes in Singapore, you will notice that ours are quite different in terms of our tastes and flavours.”
This eatery is famous for several dishes – these are the Black Hokkien Mee, JB Curry Fish Head and the Cereal Prawns. But the truest inspiration from Chef Lim, though, is the added $2 option to infuse seafood flavour with freshly chilled meat into the classic dishes.
INVITED FOR A FOOD TASTING
JB 101 Firewokz recently invited me to their Zi Char stall for a food tasting session. Located at Bukit Batok’s industrial epicentre, it is a 10-minute bus ride from Bukit Batok MRT and Beauty World MRT Stations. Parking is free for those who are driving down.
My mum and dad had accompanied me to the food tasting session, and the three of us tried out the following dishes.
WESTERN BUTTER SLICED FISH
Said Chef Lim, “Sliced fish is a common Zi Char dish but the Western butter flavour is a twist that we added – we prepared this style before and we felt that it was quite interesting. The sauce also takes lots of effort and thought; it is not the common sauce that you find in most Zi Char outlets.”
I quite enjoyed the flavour of this dish. The sauce had an interesting lemon butter taste to it. This was tasty yet at the same time the flavour did not overpower my senses. Also, I liked the slight crunchy edges of the fish, which went very well together with the creamy flavour of the sauce, but unfortunately though, the fish was a tad overcooked.
Added dad, “The sauce was nice – it was buttery and smooth, and had a slightly sweet note to it.”
SAN LAO HOR FUN
Said Chef Lim, “The most important thing about this dish is the charred wok hei taste. While hor fun is something that is simple to cook, the wok hei is not something that can be easily controlled. But we are able to do this. Our hor fun looks deceptively simple but when you taste it. it is a different thing altogether.”
This was possibly my favourite dish of the evening. The hor fun was tasty and the flavours blended in quite well, without any of them overpowering each other. It was simple, yet very satisfying. Most importantly I could also detect the charred wok hei flavour in the hor fun and this really gave a special taste to the dish.
Added dad, “This dish was quite nice and it has the wok hei taste.”
Said Chef Lim, “This is a standard dish served at most Zi Char outlets, but the way that we cook it is quite different. Our sambal is not purchased from a wholesaler. We prepare it fresh using a combination of ingredients. Our prawns are also fresh – we believe in serving high quality food at an affordable price.”
On tasting this dish, I thought that the prawns were quite hot and spicy – the spiciness also drowned out most of the other flavours present in the dish. The prawns could have been more tender.
Agreed dad, “This is quite a pleasant dish, but maybe the prawns were a little on the firm side though.”
WHITE BEE HOON
Said Chef Lim, “For this bee hoon, you want to cook it with the wok hei flavour but at the same time you want the sweetness of the sauce and gravy together with the bee hoon. From what I have gathered so far, people are happy with the dish but we think that the introduction of more ingredients like clams will improve the taste and make the gravy a bit sweeter.”
On trying this bee hoon, the first thing that I had detected was a slight eggy flavour which seemed to overpower the flavour of the bee hoon and the other ingredients in the dish. But otherwise it was quite a pleasant dish though.
Said dad, “The bee hoon itself was quite nice but the egg taste in the dish was a bit strong.”
HOKKIEN FRIED NOODLE
Said Chef Lim “If you have eaten Hokkien mee at other Zi Char shops, you will notice that our noodles are different – they typically have the flat yellow noodles but ours are the thick ones. This is the only type of mee that we are serving.”
He added “Our version is good because there is a lot of creaminess in the noodle and the sauce is flavourful – the noodles are also able to soak up a lot of the gravy. You should also be able to taste the wok hei in the noodles – we are trying to bring out the wok hei flavour and then to introduce the sauce to the palette.”
I felt that this was quite delicious and one of the better dishes of the night. The noodles had a very pleasant taste – overall, it was rich without overpowering my senses. The thick noodles gave the dish plenty of bite and the flavours combined very well together.
Said dad, “I liked the taste – it was quite nice and pleasant, like the true Malaysian style noodle.”
MONGOLIAN SPARE RIBS
Said Chef Lim “This is not something that you see at most Zi Char shops – because it was one of the dishes that I used to experiment with when I was younger. I decided to place it on the menu and it has become a hit.”
He added, “The flavour is supposed to be a mix of Western Butter sauce and the common sweet & sour sauce. We also added some sesame seeds into the sauce to bring out more of the flavour and improve the tastefulness of the dish.”
On trying this dish, I found the overall flavour of the sauce very hard to place – it’s definitely unique and I have never tasted something quite like it before. At first it made me think of sweet & sour sauce, but on tasting another mouthful, it reminded me of something quite different. It was not only slightly sour, but also seemed to have a buttery taste. With another mouthful, I could also pick up the sesame seeds added in the sauce. It was interesting and really arrested my taste buds.
Besides its exotic flavours, the sauce was also slightly spicy and due to this, I could not really taste much of the natural flavours coming from the pork ribs itself.
Said mum, “I could pick up a sweet taste from the sauce, and I could detect some onion flavour inside it too, but the meat would be nicer if it was a bit more tender.”
ASSAM CURRY FISH HEAD
Said Chef Lim, “For this dish we are trying to cater to a single level of spiciness; after that we will be having various levels – this will be like the Buffalo wings challenge that you see in many cafes.”
He added, “A lot of people have told us that this is very fragrant but we are still looking to improve on this dish.”
For this dish, the fish had been cooked till it was really nice and soft, and the sauce had a slight tamarin sour note in addition to the spiciness – which made it quite interesting. It is an item that will definitely please lovers of spicy food.
Added dad, “The tamarin sour note was nice but this was quite hot though.”
HOPES TO DRAW IN MORE CUSTOMERS FROM OUTSIDE THE AREA
While the JB 101 Firewokz Zi Char stall is often frequented by the lunch time office crowd at Bukit Batok, Chef Lim, together with the founder Phil Phua – who is Singaporean, hopes to draw in more people from outside the area to enjoy a Zi Char meal at the outlet.
Said Phua, “The lunch crowd at Bukit Batok industrial estate is a given because we are located in this area. But what we really want us to draw those people who do not have the chance to hear about JB 101 to come in during dinner time. This is because Zi Char is best enjoyed at dinner – you can eat slowly and enjoy the flavours and have a wide spread of things on the table to share with family and friends. And the rushed nature of working office lunches often do not allow this.”
And eventually, JB 101 Firewokz hopes to bring their business to the heartlands. Explained Phua “We are looking at eventually expanding out to the suburbs area, preferably the West Coast areas such as Clementi, because there is the perception that there is no good food in the Western part of Singapore. So I think that this would be the place for us to go.”
Thank you JB 101 FIREWOKZ for the media food tasting session.
JB 101 FIREWOKZ
21 Bukit Batok Crescent,
WCEGA TOWER, #02-01 (Open air food court)
Open from Monday to Saturdays, 11.00 – 22.00hrs.