Before the regular hotpot and shabu shabu became popular, the communal soup of choice in Singapore was always fish head steamboat.
The dish — served in a knackered copper pot — looks simple enough: the mix of cabbage, seaweed, yam and tofu comes with a comforting moat of soup that’s both savoury and sweet at the same time. Fish slices of garoupa, pomfret or snapper are added in last, delicately cooked to perfection whilst the charcoal at the centre of it all continues to add its smokey heat to the pot.
The recipe for the addictive, flavoursome broth differs from stall to stall, but unmissable ingredients from the best fish head steamboat spots in Singapore include sole fish, ginger and one to two pieces of sour plum, all of which help to add a whole lot of depth and a subtle zest to the soup, making them different from your regular hotpot joints.
Of course, these communal sharing pots aren’t enough for those who crave a little variety. If that sounds like you, don’t fret. Most locales also serve tze char dishes like sweet and sour pork, sambal kangkong and fried prawn paste chicken too.
Here’s where to find the best fish head steamboat in Singapore:
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This story was first published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.
Foodies in the east aren’t strangers to Hai Chang Fish Head Steamboat. You won’t even have to look for the stall here — just follow the sound is and you’ll find the charcoal-burning uncle doing his thing out in the open, whilst diners around the area sit by waiting for their steamboat, mesmerised by the embers. Apart from the delicious yet incredibly affordable steamboat, diners here often come by for the tze char dishes as well. Crowd favourites include sambal kangkong and sweet and sour pork.
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Tian Wai Tian Fish Head Steamboat has been operating since 1983, so you know for sure that there must be something they’re doing right. The OG coffeeshop they operate from (at Serangoon) is quite a cosy space, so many diners end up having their meals at tables along the five-foot way and in the back alley, which really just adds to the old-school vibes. Choose between fresh pomfret, red grouper, or bighead carp, but be sure to head down early if you’re planning on getting the pomfret — the crowd favourite often sells out by as early as 6.30pm. For a larger group, we recommend getting a couple of dishes like the Tofu Prawn and the Prawn Paste Chicken on the side.
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Whampoa Keng Fish Head Steamboat is household name in Singapore for fish head steamboat lovers. Teochews will most likely get the pomfret for the soup, but if you’re not one for its delicate taste, the meaty red garoupa or sliced batang fish will serve you well too. The highlight of the dish however, isn’t the fish or other vegetables like yam and cabbage: it’s the soup. The addictive broth is crafted with over 30 ingredients, which lends a mouthwatering savoury-sweetness to it. You’ll be asking for refills for sure.
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Chang Long Fish Head Steamboat is a little hidden gem only known to those familiar with the area. The fragrant soup base comes with a delightful smoky aroma and a generous serving of ingredients; besides your plate of freshly sliced grouper fish, it also comes with fried fish meat, cabbage, yam, and crown daisy. Did we mention lavish additions of dried sole fish too? We’re hooked.
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Many know Xin Yuan Ji for it’s souper (sorry, we had to) fish soup in Bugis, but did you know they also have a sister joint specialising in charcoal fish head steamboat at Tan Quee Lan Street too? The naturally sweet broth is a moreish mouthful on a cold, rainy day, and the thick slices of fish meat make it extra compelling to come back to time and time again.
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If we’re searching for heritage fish head steamboat stalls in Singapore, we don’t have to look further than Nan Hua Chang Seafood Restaurant. The joint has been in operation for almost a century, serving up the same delectable broth to diners around the island. The Teochew-style fish head steamboat comes with options like fresh pomfret, garoupa or snapper fish, complete with adds-on that include crown daisy and mushrooms. We recommend getting a plate of cai poh (pickled radish) Tofu and Prawn Paste Chicken on the side too even if you’re stuffed — trust us, you won’t regret it.
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You probably won’t find a stall that’s open after 5pm at Whampoa Market — except Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tan, that is. The unassuming charcoal fish head steamboat comes in a beaten-up copper pot, and you’ll be surprised at how generous the stall is with its ingredients. The pot comes packed to the brim with a lavish serving of fish slices, yam, seaweed, and cabbage, all in a flavour-packed broth that’s richly flavoured with ginger and dried plaice. The braised duck and braised pork trotters are crowd favourite dishes here too.
Pro tip: there’s quite a wait if you come by during peak hour, so be sure to head down early to save yourself a number in line.
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