Red Star Restaurant 红星酒家

Red Star Restaurant 红星酒家

Old school Chinese Menu were popular in the 50s and 60s. They were usually written in pink papers and given to the hosting parties.

饮水思源 “When you drink water, remember the source”. These were the exact words from Tony Johor Kaki, my idol food blogger. When I’m around him, he looks out for me.

Tony on his facebook page:

“Last night, I was at the venerable, iconic Red Star restaurant in Singapore. It was like a dream come true for me when I had a chance to meet Masterchef Sin Leong 冼良 – a kindly gentleman whom I have the greatest respect for, since I was a child.

Thanks to Andrew Wong, Masterchef Sin Leong graciously allowed some bloggers into Red Star’s kitchen. It was most fascinating but the most poignant moment for me is this.

While I was engrossed in snapping away like a pesky paparazzi, Masterchef Sin Leong gently beckoned me to follow him. I sensed that he was going to show me something special. But it turned out to be something that I could never expect.

Masterchef Sin Leong brought me to the far end of the large kitchen and showed me a small altar. It is the niche of Sin Leong’s Master Law Seng 羅成.”

In fact, I was the pesky paparazzi. Tony called me twice or thrice before I heard him, “Semi, I think we’re on to something! Master Chef beckoned me and it seemed interesting”.

I was caught in an unexpected traffic jam on a Wednesday Mid-Autumn’s Eve. The rest had gone into the kitchen. I asked if I could go and Tony offered to chaperone me. Tony watches out for me whenever I’m in his company. In plain Singlish, I’m the blur sotong! (someone who has no inkling of their environment).

Instinctively, I followed Tony, who followed Masterchef Sin Leong, into the dark side of the kitchen. I didn’t hesistate to wonder if that was safe (especially in my high heels). In a way, my curiosity was child-like. I guess I have always been lucky that way. My grandma always said, “Ti seh ti chi dua” (天生天养大 – Heavens will always take care of the slower ones).

It never occurred to both Tony and I that we would be led to Masterchef Sin Leong’s master’s altar. They (Masterchefs Sin and Hooi) still offered their sifu joss sticks daily. Masterchef Sin Leong related the story of how the 4 heavenly chefs came to learn from this Shanghainese immigrant the art of Cantonese cuisine in 1950. They had apprenticed for 12 years before moving on as cooks in 1962. It took Masterchef Sin Leong another 10 years or so before he started his own restaurant.

It really touched me that the spirit of Master Law Seng lives on in the kitchen and food of Red Star.

Lest we forget, remember where we were before. ~ Tony  of Tony Johor Kaki

Thank you Masterchefs Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, for the memories, your inspiring passion and your kindness. The legend lives on!

We had 9 decadent dishes, specially created by 2 of the remaining 4 Heavenly Kings of makan in Singapore for the Makansutra monthly Makan Meetings. It was a magnificent evening of “lost Canto wonders”. Journey back in time to the 50s and 60s for them and for me too! ~ Kf Seetoh of Makansutra

To put it very bluntly, the Masterchefs are in their sunset years. Their legendary stories, experience and skills are valuable to us and our heritage and must be passed on. That’s why I felt so lucky, honored and bit emotional to be part of the dinner. ~ Alvin See  of ChefandSommelier

Treasure in Jade Bowl (Wintermelon)

Treasure in Jade Bowl (Wintermelon)

Double-boiled Chicken Soup with Ginseng and Snow Fungus (background) and Braised Pork Belly with Yam (foreground)

Double-boiled Chicken Soup with Ginseng and Snow Fungus (background) and Braised Pork Belly with Yam (foreground)

Chinese Rice Crispies (to be deep-fried) and served with secondary ingredients usually stir-fried meat & vegetables or in tomato-based gravy of seafood.

Chinese Rice Crispies (to be deep-fried) and served with secondary ingredients usually stir-fried meat & vegetables or in tomato-based gravy of seafood.

Secondary ingredients to be stir-fried and topped onto the Rice Crispies later.

Secondary ingredients to be stir-fried and topped onto the Rice Crispies later.

Quail Eggs - to be served with the Wintermelon later.

Quail Eggs – to be served with the Wintermelon later.

Deep-fried Balls - what's inside? We'll take a look later.

Deep-fried Balls – what’s inside? We’ll take a look later.

Masterchef Hooi Kok Wai showing me how to flip a dish onto a plate without making a mess.

Masterchef Hooi Kok Wai showing me how to flip a dish onto a plate without making a mess.

Uncovering the perfectly plated dish.

Uncovering the perfectly plated dish.

Tada! Not an ingredient was out of place.

Tada! Not an ingredient was out of place.

Masterchef Hooi mentioned the name of this dish in Cantonese. I heard legs and saw there were some poultry feet as well as pig's trotters.

Masterchef Hooi mentioned the name of this dish in Cantonese. I heard legs and saw there were some poultry feet as well as pig’s trotters.

Wow! I've never seen so many fish platters all lined up waiting to be served.

Wow! I’ve never seen so many fish platters all lined up waiting to be served.

Master Chef Hooi giving final briefing to the kitchen staff.

Masterchef Hooi giving final briefing to the kitchen staff.

Assistant cook getting ready to start the ball rolling. Banquet was about to begin.

Assistant cook getting ready to start the ball rolling. Banquet was about to begin.

Masterchef Sin Leong in his eighties. He still has a glib tongue and said I look like a Miss Singapore. All who heard started laughing.

Masterchef Sin Leong in his eighties. He still has a glib tongue and said I look like a Miss Singapore. All who heard started laughing.

Masterchef Sin Leong beckoning Tony (Johor Kaki) and I to the back of the kitchen. There lies an altar of his sifu (master).

Masterchef Sin Leong beckoning Tony (Johor Kaki) and I to the back of the kitchen. There lies an altar of his sifu (master).

The Chinese characters for names can be spelled differently so it is better I stick to the sifu's name Chinese characters; 羅成 pronounced as "Law Seng".

The Chinese characters for names can be spelled differently so it is better I stick to the sifu’s name Chinese characters; 羅成 pronounced as “Law Seng”.

Back in the main dining hall, the tables were laden with this "gold" centrepiece which will hold 4 starter dishes.<br />That's Hungry Cow making funny faces in the bacjgorund. He thought he would be bokeh-ed out but lol...

Back in the main dining hall, the tables were laden with this “gold” centrepiece which will hold 4 starter dishes.
That’s Hungry Cow making funny faces in the bacjgorund. He thought he would be bokeh-ed out but lol…

The banquet of Nostalgic Cantonese Cuisine began with the serving of 4 starters.

The banquet of Nostalgic Cantonese Cuisine began with the serving of 4 starters.

But wait! This was the food bloggers table and so the usual snapping took place before we ate.

But wait! This was the food bloggers table and so the usual snapping took place before we ate.

Drunken Chicken - the chicken was vitally infused with the natural strength of Chinese wine.

Drunken Chicken – the chicken was vitally infused with the natural strength of Chinese wine.

Deep-fried Chicken Liver "Pate" and Salted Egg Yolk wrapped in Pig's Caul.

Deep-fried Chicken Liver “Pate” and Salted Egg Yolk wrapped in Pig’s Caul.

Catherine, who sat next to me, said she didn't realised this was made of chicken liver (something she doesn't like). I like chicken liver and couldn't tell it was, also, but we both enjoyed it all the same.

Catherine, who sat next to me, said she didn’t realised this was made of chicken liver (something she doesn’t like). I like chicken liver and couldn’t tell it was, also, but we both enjoyed it all the same.

Gold Coin Chicken - Contrary to the name of the dish, there's no chicken. This dish was actually made of 3 paper-thin layers of Pork Fat, Pork and Ham.

Gold Coin Chicken – Contrary to the name of the dish, there’s no chicken. This dish was actually made of 3 paper-thin layers of Pork Fat, Pork and Ham.

The translucent round of Fat covered the pale white meat (Pork).

The translucent round of Fat covered the pale white meat (Pork).

Pinkish coin of Ham with the Pork below it topped with the Fat made up the Golden Coin Chicken.

Pinkish coin of Ham with the Pork below it topped with the Fat made up the Golden Coin Chicken.

We didn't get the usual tomato-ey gravy based seafood to go with the Rice Crispies.

We didn’t get the usual tomato-ey gravy based seafood to go with the Rice Crispies.

Instead, we had well marinated diced Venison with quick stir-fried vegetables that retained juicy crunch. There were capsicums, onions, mushrooms and carrots.

Instead, we had well marinated diced Venison with quick stir-fried vegetables that retained juicy crunch. There were capsicums, onions, mushrooms and carrots.

Mrs Hooi supervising the distribution of soup dish.<br />Soup plays a very important part of Chinese culinary culture. Even if a child does not eat at home, mommy dearest will always keep a bowl of soup for him/her.

Mrs Hooi supervising the distribution of soup dish.
Soup plays a very important part of Chinese culinary culture. Even if a child does not eat at home, mommy dearest will always keep a bowl of soup for him/her.

Soup for the V.I.P. tables were served in a manner fit for kings.

Soup for the V.I.P. tables were served in a manner fit for kings.

Soup for the rest were served into individual bowls, evenly distributed.

Soup for the rest were served into individual bowls, evenly distributed.

Soup of the day - Doubled Chicken with Ginseng and Snow Fungus.

Soup of the day – Doubled Chicken with Ginseng and Snow Fungus.

Ginseng root is a prized herb. There are different ytypes of ginseng. The Chinese believe that regular consumption of Ginseng, in moderate amount, has many health benefits like,  stress reliever, anti-aging, mental stimulant, aids in erectile dysfunction, menstrual problems, weight and blood sugar control, etc... etc... We do not eat the root. Ginseng needs long hours of double-boiling so that the beneficial properties are infused into the broth.

Ginseng root is a prized herb. There are different types of ginseng. The Chinese believe that regular consumption of Ginseng, in moderate amount, has many health benefits like, stress reliever, anti-aging, mental stimulant, aids in erectile dysfunction, menstrual problems, weight and blood sugar control, etc… etc…
We do not eat the root. Ginseng needs long hours of double-boiling so that the beneficial properties are infused into the broth.

The polysaccharides found in mucilage-like texture of Snow Fungus helps to increase the body's immune system. Some of the useful benefits of Snow Fungus is the prevention of leukopenia, or low white blood cell counts, in people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment. TCM also believe in its ability to fight and prevent cancer and is traditionally popular as an anti-aging food.

The polysaccharides found in mucilage-like texture of Snow Fungus helps to increase the body’s immune system. Some of the useful benefits of Snow Fungus is the prevention of leukopenia, or low white blood cell counts, in people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment. TCM also believe in its ability to fight and prevent cancer and is traditionally popular as an anti-aging food.

Triple Layered Garoupa steamed the old fashioned way.  Having fish in a banquet is symbolic to "年年有鱼/余" homophone to mean abundance in life.

Triple Layered Garoupa steamed the old fashioned way.
Having fish in a banquet is symbolic to “年年有鱼/余” homophone to mean abundance in life.

There is nothing you shall want after eating this dish ;-)

There is “nothing you shall want” after eating this dish 😉

Wok-fried Jumbo Prawns.

Wok-fried Jumbo Prawns.

Prawn dish is also a must-have in Chinese banquet.<br />嘿哈(虾)大笑 - a Canotonese homophone "哈 - ha" for laughter sounded like "虾 - ha" (prawn). Literally translates to "Heehaa Big Laugh".<br />The host hereby wishes his/her diners a life full of joy and laughter. Bigger prawns are always used for this dish and you can guess why.

Prawn dish is also a must-have in Chinese banquet.
嘿哈(虾)大笑 – a Canotonese homophone “哈 – ha” for laughter sounded like “虾 – ha” (prawn). Literally translates to “Heehaa Big Laugh”.
The host hereby wishes his/her diners a life full of joy and laughter. Bigger prawns are always used for this dish and you can guess why.

Remember the dish Master Chef Hooi upturned for me in the kitchen? It's called 3-legged Duck!

Remember the dish Master Chef Hooi upturned for me in the kitchen? It’s called 3-legged Duck!

3-Legged Duck is a pre-war classic Cantonese village dish. Lady slicing up the duck to reveal other ingredients. This duck dish had Duck Web (Feet), Chicken Feet and Pork Trotters.

3-Legged Duck is a pre-war classic Cantonese village dish.
Lady slicing up the duck to reveal other ingredients.
This duck dish had Duck Web (Feet), Chicken Feet and Pork Trotters.

Webbed Duck's Foot. I'm guessing that with the extra limb, one can grab more good things in life?

Webbed Duck’s Foot.
I’m guessing that with the extra limb, one can grab more good things in life?

Braised Pork Belly with Taro served with Mantou (Chinese buns).

Braised Pork Belly with Taro served with Mantou (Chinese buns).

Yam is a popular root used in Cantonese cuisine. This nostalgic dish of stewing yam with roasted pork belly  is quite a delicate job and one can seldom find this tasty dish on menu, done as well as Red Star, if ever in a restaurant these days.

Yam is a popular root used in Cantonese cuisine. This nostalgic dish of stewing yam with roasted pork belly is quite a delicate job and one can seldom find this tasty dish on menu, done as well as Red Star, if ever in a restaurant these days.

What's the Keropok Man doing?

What’s the Keropok Man doing?

Ah... He's assembling the dish together.

Ah… He’s assembling the dish together.

It's time to chow down!

It’s time to chow down!

Treasure in Jade Bowl (Wintermelon) where the inverted melon was the bowl hiding a treasure of diced ingredients.

Treasure in Jade Bowl (Wintermelon) where the inverted melon was the bowl hiding a treasure of diced ingredients.

Quail eggs are also known to have nourishing and rejuvenating properties. The hidden treasure was diced chicken and vegetables, including gingko nuts, another prized ingredient in the Chinese culinary world.

Quail eggs are also known to have nourishing and rejuvenating properties. The hidden treasure was diced chicken and vegetables, including gingko nuts, another prized ingredient in the Chinese culinary world.

Hidden treasures unearthed.

Hidden treasures unearthed.

Tonight is the eve of Mid-Autumn Festival when the moon is supposedly the brightest and "roundest" come midnight, but what's the "moon" doing in our dish?

Tonight is the eve of Mid-Autumn Festival when the moon is supposedly the brightest and “roundest” come midnight, but what’s the “moon” doing in our dish?

The bloggers on my table joked that this was Chinese risotto. We've never had anything like this before.

The bloggers on my table joked that this was Chinese risotto. We’ve never had anything like this before.

Celebration Braised Rice (烩饭).<br />We are only guessing we should toss and mix everything like the crab meat, prawns, chicken, mushrooms, etc... together. And hey... There's tomato ketchup in this! Grin grin, wink wink ;-)

Celebration Braised Rice (烩饭).
We are only guessing we should toss and mix everything like the crab meat, prawns, chicken, mushrooms, etc… together. And hey… There’s tomato ketchup in this! Grin grin, wink wink 😉

There's a story behind this celebration dish - A newly-wed bride will present this dish to her parents when she returns to visit them after the 3rd day, signifying her fertility.

There’s a story behind this celebration dish – A newly-wed bride will present this dish to her parents when she returns to visit them after the 3rd day, signifying her fertility.

Celebration Braised Rice - A lost heritage dredged up for Makansutra's event at Red Star.

Celebration Braised Rice – A lost heritage dredged up for Makansutra’s event at Red Star.

Chinese Banquets are lengthy - which is symbolic to the generosity of the hosting party. But alas, all good things must come to an end. And they always end with something sweet :)

Chinese Banquets are lengthy – which is symbolic to the generosity of the hosting party. But alas, all good things must come to an end. And they always end with something sweet 🙂

And what can be sweeter?

And what can be sweeter?

Than partners who have collaborated for half a century and more and still look out for each other?

Than partners who have collaborated for half a century and more and still look out for each other?

The Green Beans with Barley dessert had a herb called 臭草 "Smelly Grass" and although not intended, in the excitment of preparing the grand event, the assistant cook failed to monitor the dessert closely. It was burnt. The Master Chefs apologised profusedly. For more than half a century of quality service in this industry, we can easily forgive such a mistake!

The Green Beans with Barley dessert had a herb called 臭草 “Smelly Grass” and although not intended, in the excitment of preparing the grand event, the assistant cook failed to monitor the dessert closely. It was burnt. The Master Chefs apologised profusedly. For more than half a century of quality service in this industry, we can easily forgive such a mistake!

Since tonight's banquet was the eve of Mid-Autmn Festival, our Master Chefs did not make the mistake of letting us go without tasting any.

Since tonight’s banquet was the eve of Mid-Autmn Festival, our Master Chefs did not make the mistake of letting us go without tasting any.

The two (remaining out of four) heavenly Master Chef Hooi Kok Wai (my right) and Master Chef Sin Leong have titles like PBM after their names. <br />When taking this photo, they asked me, "西瓜甜不甜?" (Is the watermelon sweet?)<br />To which I replied, " 甜!" (sweet!). The equivalent of saying "Cheese"<br />Of course!

The two (remaining out of four) heavenly Masterchef Hooi Kok Wai (my right) and Masterchef Sin Leong have titles like PBM after their names. 
When taking this photo, they asked me, “西瓜甜不甜?” (Is the watermelon sweet?)
To which I replied, ” 甜!” (sweet!). The equivalent of saying “Cheese”
Of course!

This evening’s dinner was an eye opener for me! It never dawn on me that “simple” (or rather food we took for granted) Cantonese cuisine in an old dingy neighbourhood demanded such ardous work and dedication. I have been a food snob and I should be ashamed, for I have been ignorant of a culture deeply rooted in Chinese traditions. There are many wonderous stories if only I care to listen and make myself available, for these giants are more than willing to share.

P.S. You may noticed that the two Master Chefs have the title PBM after their names. The Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (PBM – Public Service Medal) was instituted in 1973. The medal may be awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service in Singapore or for his achievement in the field of arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters PBM.

Nostalgic Classic Cantonese Cuisine Dinner 18th September 2013.

Nostalgic Classic Cantonese Cuisine Dinner 18th September 2013.
The event was attended by about 200 people.

One of the oldest dim sum places in Singapore that serves the best dim sum on push carts.

One of the oldest dim sum places in Singapore that serves the best dim sum on push carts.

Red Star Restaurant
Address: Blk 54 Chin Swee Road (7th Storey),
Singapore 160054.
Phone:+65 6532 5266

Happy reliving 😀

Nutritional and other information credit: Online resources and Wikipedia

I apologise in advance for any “facts” that were mis-reported.

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Comments
18 Responses to “Red Star Restaurant 红星酒家”
  1. Hi Sam ,this is a royal feast. The chines are artists when it comes to cooking. Fantastic poss. Cheers.jalal

    • Sam Han says:

      it’s a nostalgic feast Jalal, the masterchefs are a dying breed of artisans in their sunset years. i’m so glad to have been part of the dinner. Thanks for your visit 😀

  2. Kevin says:

    What a feast. I must visit this if I am in Singapore again.

  3. Lignum Draco says:

    Great post and photos amongst chef royalty.

    You’re pretty much a master food blogger now.

  4. Laura Lynn says:

    This has got to be one of your best posts! So much information and wonderful, exotic (to me) dishes. You are very lucky to have attended a banquet cooked by master chefs, I’d wish them long life, but they already have it! Lol…they must be very dedicated to their work to keep on working so long after most of us put down the ‘harness’. Wonderful post! (I’m looking for Snow Fungus-but can’t find it. Is there an ‘English’ or Latin name? I want to try it.

    • Sam Han says:

      Hi Laura, I thought I did a Snow Fungus dessert in my blog post but could not find it. But I have it my my facebook. You can look it up here http://on.fb.me/19nNgG5 Click on the pictures for intructions. I will try to do a more comprehensive one when I get back to Singapore. I’m flying off tomorrow 😀

      • Laura Lynn says:

        Oh thank you. Sounds lovely. I have been looking snow fungus up and it sounds very healthy. I am trying to track some down here as the soup looked wonderful. Have fun !

  5. daniellajoe says:

    I love this post, are they training any other Master Chef? can I say that I love the way you let us know of the nutriotional qualities of the food. I have heard of ginseng but have never really tried it….Bona Apetit!!!

    • Sam Han says:

      Yes, they have assistant cooks now but I do not know if they will be trained to continue the traditional cooking style and retaining the 50’s and 60’s dishes as you may understand the young generations aren’t keen on feet and innards (all health conscious). This was an event created to walk down memory lane. Have a great weekend Pat 😀

  6. Jessica says:

    Wow! How neat that you got to talk to the chefs and everything… And haha, okay, to be honest, this post reminds me why I am not a fan of some Asian cuisine… I definitely did not grow up eating chickens’ feet or pig innards, so some of that just does not look good to me at all! The image of the receipt in Chinese made me nostalgic, though!!!

    Hope you’re having a great weekend, Sam!

    • Sam Han says:

      Hahaha, not liking some of the dishes are understandable Jessica, I do not think my children ate chicken feet dish before nor do I think they will like it too. I haven’t slept but am getting ready to fly off soon (haven’t pack my luggage yet!) Cya soon 😀 And have a great weekend yourself!

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