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Putien has an incredibly varied menu that is easy to get lost in. Luckily for novices, there are the 10 signature dishes of Putien to help you get your bearings. We started off with one of the most heavily advertised dishes – the Seaweed with Mini Shrimps Dressed in Sauce, featuring the “creme de la creme” of seaweed. True, the seaweed is springy and fresh, but the sweetish-sourish dressing seemed a little bit too strong to complement to the delicate seaweed flavour. Still, it’s nice to eat. Better still for those who aren’t typically great fans of seaweed.
From there we moved onto a personal favourite, Putien Century Egg. What we thought were pickled gingers in the photograph actually turned out to be sweet and sour sauce. A surprise, but not a bad one. Cooking the eggs takes away the pungency you typically get with century eggs, and leaves the sweetness behind. It’s like century egg lite, ideal for those who find the real thing too intense. For die-hard century egg fans, it’s easy to gobble down three-quarters of the plate by yourself.
Next, another hot seller – the ‘100-second’ Stewed Yellow Croaker. A misnomer, in our case, because when our pot arrived, the server decided that our particular fish needed another 120 seconds of stewing. “This one, big fish,” she said. It turned out to be perfect judgment on her part – the fish returned a few minutes later, beautifully tender and silken, the meat almost melting away on our tongues. The broth is well-balanced so that it’s rich, but doesn’t overpower the fish. And miraculously, even when it cooled it didn’t have a fishy aftertaste.
More signature dishes followed – the Shredded Pork with Sesame Bun, and the Deep Fried Pork Trotters with Salt and Pepper. It’s hard to dislike any kind of mantou, especially when they’re deep-fried, but this one transcends. There’s an outer layer of crispy fried bread that’s oily, but in a good way. Then as you bite into it, the crispy outer edges give way into sweet, fluffy nothingness. Bliss. The shredded pork that accompanies the bun adds some essential texture and gravy to the experience, but otherwise, it’s all about the bread.
The pork trotters, meanwhile, were a little harder to get into. The crisp on the outside is definitely pleasant, but the salt and pepper seasoning doesn’t work hard enough once you get to the tender gelatinous insides, leaving it a little bland. However, we did discover that dipping the trotters into the homemade chilli sauce provided on the table worked wonders – the mildness of the pork trotter making it the perfect vehicle for a hit of spicy, lime-infused sauce.
We also tried the famed Putien Lor Mee, but found ourselves underwhelmed by the hyped-up dish. First of all, there’s no thick, gloopy black sauce – but okay, fine, it’s a different style. Still, compared to the rest of the tantalising flavours on the table, we found ourselves bypassing this supposedly heralded dish. It might suit some people, but for us… meh.
Even the Braised Bitter Gourd – which we randomly picked from the menu just so we would have a vegetable – was more interesting. The bitter gourds were cooked just right – not too tough and bitter, not too mushy and overdone. The velvety gravy was perhaps a tad too salty… but that didn’t stop us from sopping up as much as we could with the bitter gourd slices.
Finally, bellies distended, we ordered a series of desserts. And sadly, this is where our happy, gluttonous Putien experience came to an end. After much debate, we ordered two desserts – the Pumpkin Cream with Ice Cream and Putien Rice Cakes. But after one spoonful of the pumpkin cream, we knew it wouldn’t be worth the effort. What did they blend the pumpkin with? Low-fat milk? The “cream” was runny, thin, and disappointing. Nope. We hoped the rice cakes would offer some salvation, but, even worse, the rice cakes had been steamed too long, and it felt like we were biting into one of those kitschy kueh tutu erasers. Ugh. Why, Putien, why?? We were having such a nice time.
We couldn’t leave with the taste of such bitter disappointment still lingering in our mouths, so we even ordered the Hot Yam Paste with Gingko Nuts as a last-ditch attempt at redemption. It turned out to be merely passable, so we ate it miserably while contemplating all the other wonderful things we had eaten that night. Ah, well. Close enough. 10/10 would still come here again. (And maybe even give the other desserts a go. Maybe.)
Photos taken with the Huawei P20 Pro.
Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.
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