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As I am of Chinese ethnicity, every so often, I’m asked, “Where do you go to for Chinese food?” My go-to place is Happy Meals Chinese Restaurant in Victoria Park.
And what do I order when I’m there? Here are a few of my favourite dishes.
1. Singapore style chilli crab with lightly pan fried buns
As I understand it, there is some controversy over the origin of this dish. The Singaporeans lay claim to it, but the Malaysians say they’ve been preparing this dish before Singapore even became a nation. For what it’s worth, as a Malaysian by birth, I give this one to my neighbours. Regardless of what you call it though, you’d be hard pressed to find a tastier version of this style of crab elsewhere. It’s so good, I sometimes get cravings for it. Luckily, it’s not hard to round up a few friends who love this dish as much as I do.
The crab pieces are lightly cracked to make it easier for you to get to the flesh, then lightly fried and drenched in a beautifully balanced eggy, tangy, sweet and slightly spicy sauce. It’s messy but slurpingly good.
If I have 1 tip for you, it’s this – do not go to a Chinese restaurant in your best clothes, especially if you’re planning to order a seafood dish like this one. And my 2nd tip? Throw your inhibitions out the door. We Chinese care less for finesse and more for flavour, flavour and more flavour. And flavour you’ll find in abundance in this dish. So dive right in and discover for yourself how much better things taste when tackled caveman style – with your hands. If you’re wary of the small communal handwashing bowl that’s provided, you have 2 options. You can either make sure you’re the first one to dip your hands in. Or bypass it altogether and head to the washroom at the back of the restaurant.
And to finish off, this dish comes with lightly pan fried buns to mop up all that deliciously sticky sauce. The buns are golden and slightly crispy on the outside, yet soft and light on the inside – a perfect foil for the creaminess of the eggy sauce. Bear in mind that each bun is actually cut in half. So, in the picture above, that’s actually 4 serves of buns, not 8. But if you end up with more than you expected, it doesn’t really matter, because you will eat it. In fact, we quite often end up ordering extra buns because they really are that good.
2. Spinach with 3 styles of eggs
This vegetable dish with its light but tasty broth is the perfect way to follow the richness of the crab. The flavour of the dish comes from a blend of chicken egg, salted duck egg, and preserved eggs, as well as slivers of toasted garlic. The result is a taste and textural interplay between the creaminess of the chicken egg, the slight give in the salted duck egg white and sweetness in the salted duck egg yolk, the softness and saltiness of the preserved eggs, and the crunch and roasted flavours of the garlic. You’ll find yourself happily slurping the broth that has been infused with all of these delicious flavours. Happy Meals is not heavy handed with its use of salt, so the broth is delicious either with a bit of rice or on its own. You choose.
3. Crispy chicken in vinegar sauce
Now you’re ready for the main rice-and-dishes part of the meal. One dish I virtually always order here is this chicken dish. Happy Meals does it well because the skin is crispy and the vinegar sauce has just the right amount of tang balanced with just the right amount of sweetness and saltiness. I quite often find myself drenching my rice in the sauce, adding another textural element to counter the crispiness of the fried chicken pieces.
4. Sizzling Japanese tofu in egg sauce
I’m guessing you’re beginning to sense a theme here. Yes, I do like eggs. But don’t worry, in many Chinese dishes, eggs are used as an agent to add creaminess to a dish rather than being the hero of the dish. This is because we don’t use cream in our cooking. The tofu in this dish is silky, is topped with a sticky salty sauce, and is served on a platter that sizzles satisfyingly as it is placed on your table.
5. Golden prawns
These prawns are lightly crumbed in a batter that’s blended with salted duck egg. The result is golden crunchy nuggets full of salty sweet flavour, with the duck egg yolk also adding a slight creamy texture.
This combination of dishes works well, as the prawns have crunch and a slight sweetness to them, the tofu is silky and salty, while the chicken is crispy and tangy.
Let’s face it – you don’t go to a Chinese restaurant expecting fine dining silver service. Maybe it’s because I’m a frequent customer. I find the service here better than most Chinese restaurants though. They’re cheerful and friendly, respond quickly to requests, and very accommodating, even when I once turned up for supper when they were already beginning to pack up for the night. I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but I also more often than not get free dessert at the end of my meal, in the form of red bean pancake topped with vanilla ice-cream and a cherry.
This is a typical Chinese restaurant. Expect noise. Lots of it. From the chatter of the patrons to the sizzling of hot plates, the clinking of dishes and the restaurant staff calling out to each other. If you’re looking for a quiet romantic night out with mood lighting, fancy crockery and napery, this is not the place for you. Still, Happy Meals fares better than most Chinese restaurants by doing away with tablecloths altogether (better than stained and threadbare tablecloths), and managing to somehow keep the chipped crockery to a bare minimum. Expect to go home smelling like Chinese food too.
Most of the dishes range from $20-30. Seafood like crab and lobster varies depending on seasonality and weight, and will of course greatly increase your final bill. Our crab dish was very ample for 7 people with good appetites (including 1 bottomless pit) and cost just under $200.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, though I’m not sure if they have specific hours. They seem to keep serving as long as people are turning up for food, and as long as the kitchen hasn’t been cleared and cleaned.
2/786 Albany Hwy, East Victoria Park.
They’re situated just opposite the Coles complex, close to the Mint St intersection.
My advice is to park at the car park next to the chemist, then cross the road to the restaurant.
Like I said, this is my go-to place for good Chinese food that’s authentic, tasty and affordable with reasonable service. If you’re wanting to splurge, you really must try the Singapore style chilli crab!
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