I have a very hazy memory of my first visit to Fut Sai Kai vegetarian restaurant - it was in the late-60s, and I was a toddler then. Fast forward to today, 4 decades later, and one of Singapore's best-known and oldest surviving vegetarian restaurant is still going strong - its business definitely boosted by a rise in Buddhist devotees these days.
Lunched with 3 elderly very devout Buddhist and very dedicated vegetarian maternal aunts today. My first time back to the restaurant in my living memory since that Austin Powers era visit. What we had:
- Lo Mei, the restaurant's signature dish of braised assorted mock chicken, mock duck and mock "char siu". I don't know why Chinese vegetarians have a fascination for consuming mock "meats" constructed from various soybean products, which are supposed to closely approximate the *real* stuff. Anyway, this dish was uniformly bland - as with almost all traditional vegetarian Chinese dishes I'd had.
- Vegetarian egg puffs with asparagus and straw mushrooms. This one fared much better - the "egg puffs" were, of course, constructed from tofu skin wrapped around minced soft tofu. The egg puffs were nice but, again, the rather bland dish overall did not quite appeal to me.
- Stir-fried "kai lan" vegetables with fried beancurd rolls. It didn't taste that much different from the earlier two dishes. I think onions and garlic were also omitted from the cooking here, to accommodate the stricter vegetarians.
- Deep-fried spring rolls. I *love* spring rolls of any form, but even then, did not like the tasteless version here.
- Crispy wantons - this was the only dish I really enjoyed here: the wanton skins were aromatic & crisp, and the filling was caramelised mushrooms with a meat-like texture. Served with a sweet-sour sauce which imparted a nice tangy flavour to the wantons.
I now know why I'd not opted to return to this place - I find its dishes too uniformly bland and uninteresting. My aunts? They *loved* everything there! Well, this explains why Zen Fut Sai Kai, founded by a "mah cheh" (Cantonese matron, known in Singapore as much for their industriousness, as for their trademark long pig-tails and black-and-white garb) has survived through the past 4 decades, weathering family squabbles after the old lady passed on, and the ever-changing culinary scene in Singapore. Its other old rival, Loke Woh Yuen in Tanjung Pagar, closed down a few years due to rising rentals.
Zen Fut Sai Kai Vegetarian Restaurant (佛世界)
147 Kitchener Road
Tel:+65 6291 2350