Swee Choon Dim Sum Restaurant is an unassuming, little place along Jalan Besar road in Singapore. If it wasn’t for the street-facing take away counter displaying row after row of delicious egg tarts, I may have walked passed and completely missed this little gem. Swee Choon has been serving Shanghai and Hong Kong style dumpling and noodle dishes in Singapore for more than fifty years. Located near Farrer Park station, it is always busy and it stays open until the wee hours of the morning (6am) to feed both dinner and supper cravings. Their signature dish is the Mee Sua Kueh, a deep-fried vermicelli cake however everything from their steamed prawn dumplings to Shanghai chilli dumplings tastes good.
Flossy’s rating: ★★★★
Chinese dumplings for Saturday brunch is a firm tradition in my household. Ever since I moved to Singapore I have sampled dumpling after dumpling at all the popular chains, from Din Tai Fung to Tim Ho Wan, to your lesser known yum cha spots but Swee Choon remains a firm favourite. The quality of their food and ingredients is consistently good, the service is unfriendly but speedy, and most importantly the value for money is unbeatable.
It is best to visit Swee Choon with as a group so you can sample a few different dishes, but if you are dining solo than look no further than their range of La Mian dishes. La Mian is a type of Chinese noodle made from stretching and pulling dough into long, thin bands and is served with sauce or soup. Although the taste is more starchy than other noodle types, it makes for the perfect comfort food because it is filling and carries flavours well. Swee Choon pride itself on serving some of the best La Mian in Singapore as they especially invite La Mian chefs from China to make noodles on the premises and if you are sitting close to the kitchen, you can watch the chefs at work.
My favourite is the Sichuan Chilli Oil Wanton La Mian. It comes with plenty of soy, bok choy vegetables, and a generous number of pork dumplings although it could probably do with a bit more chilli for added kick. Otherwise if you are trying to minimise your carb intake, then a simple bowl of Shanghai Wanton soup will hit the spot. The soup is very light and has seaweed and green vegetables so you do not feel too guilty for gobbling up all those juicy pork dumplings.
The dumplings that are served in the La Mian and soup dishes are made with same white dough that is used to make the noodles. The dumpling dough is thick and therefore a little glutinous. The dumplings can be ordered on their own minus any noodles or soup as well, either with Sichuan Chilli Oil or filled with either pork and chive or peking duck mince. The amount of filling is not as generous as some other dumpling shops, but for the cheap price you can hardly complain.
The most popular dumplings however are the Shanghai Xiao Long Bao. These are also known as soup dim sum, and they are smooth white, almost translucent, steamed dumplings that are pinched at the top and contain pork mince and soup. The key to eating them is to either nibble the top of the dumpling and drink the soup first, or place the dumpling on a soup spoon and poke a hole in the dumpling with your chopstick so the liquid spills out, then slurp up the dumpling and soup together from the spoon. I like that Swee Choon don’t get too fancy with different types of Xiao Long Bao fillings but rather they only serve the standard pork variety and do it very well. The dumplings are never dry and very soupy, which I like, and the pork is juicy. However the size of the Xiao Long Bao are a little on the small side compared to Din Tai Fung.
The Mee Suah Kueh is an absolute must. This dim sum dish is a unique innovation of Swee Choon and is a cake made of deep fried vermicelli noodles. I’ve never quite tried something like this before, as it is hard and very crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. Although vermicelli noodles are notoriously plain and bland, this dish is tasty enough and I suspect that it is because of the amount of oil it is cooked in so you don’t want to consume too many of these.
Another surprise I discovered at Swee Choon is their Yam Fritter. Whilst yams seem to be a popular ingredient at dim sum restaurants judging by the food menus, it was at Swee Choon that I lost my own yam virginity in Singapore. The fritter was shaped like a large, oval egg and had a fried crispy brown shell made of yams. Inside was filled with delicious minced meat mixed with peas and mushroom that tasted a little bit mushy, sweet and savoury all at the same time. I cannot explain why I loved these fritters so much, but one was not enough.
Swee Choon do pork well and other honourable mentions from their menu include the Char Siew Pau, delicious BBQ pork filled steamed white buns that are light and fluffy, and their flakey BBQ pork baked pastries. The pork filings have a charred, sticky consistency that is just amazing.
As much as I love Swee Choon, there are a couple of areas that could be improved upon. They have a limited range of rice noodle dishes, only offering the plain Chee Cheong Fun, which is a little bland without any meat or prawn filling, despite the sprinkle of sesame and the excessive amount of soy sauce it is served with.
Their Har Kow steamed prawn dumplings are also disappointing, as they are small in size with an ungenerous amount of prawn filling and they are presented poorly on a small, metal dish that is spotted with water.
For dessert, ordering the Portuguese-style tarts is a no brainer. Many people come here just for these yummy egg tarts, which you can also buy as take away by the boxful if you wish. They get the custard and pastry proportion just right, and the custard is nice and soft without tasting too eggy. However the pastry is a tad too flaky and greasy, which loses them top points.
Swee Choon might not be the best dumpling house in Singapore but it is certainly in the top ten. Although the dumplings tend to be on the smallish size and sometimes the meat and prawn fillings are a little stingy, the serving size is normally two or four pieces per serve, so it is easier to share if you are a couple. However the reason Swee Choon will always remain a firm favourite of mine is because of the great value for money, the incredible Yam Fritters and the delightful novelty of watching the chefs making fresh La Mian.