I pass through Clementi Mall on my way to and from work everyday but have never really ventured past the Mall to explore the little provision shops, coffeeshops, much less get acquainted with the vibe of the place beyond the mall. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found this Chinese vegetarian coffeeshop stall tucked just a short distance away from the Mall whilst looking for an organic healthfood shop around the same area last Sunday.
Being just 1 – 2 minutes walking distance from Clementi MRT, I decided to give Tian En Vegetarian Food a go for a weeknight dinner.
When I arrived, I was greeted by the sight of a queue! Which actually put me to relief quite some as I believed this must be a testament to their standards since there weren’t many people at the other stalls.
It’s kind of hard to explain how to tell if a cai fan* stall does good food or not. But really, just a quick glance and you should be able to tell how interesting, how properly cooked, or how fresh the spread of dishes are at the time.
By 7+pm when I arrived, there was a good spread of leafy greens, mock meats, tofu, curried and saucy dishes as well as more simply seasoned dishes. Looks like they’re just getting ready for the dinner crowd! Good thing it wasn’t crowded either and seats were easy to find.
I‘m a creature of habit, and always like my vegetarian/vegan beehoon + dishes. And I’m always ordering a curried veg, one simple green veg dish and one protein dish which feels like a most balanced combination to me.
What immediately struck me was the strange gray tinge to the beehoon. Next thing I noticed was that everything on my plate was positively glistening, so gives me the impression that they are not shy in using oil to cook dishes. So here’s my review of the dishes I chose:
Beehoon — really moist and doesn’t feel dry when you have a mouthful of it unlike beehoon I’ve had from other vegen food stalls. It was also very flavorful. While that’s a plus, it also appears quite well coated with oil. If flavor is the most important to you though, I’d say definitely go for it!
Curry Veg — the curry veg here definitely tasted more rich and heavy. The gravy was also a darker brown rather than orange, and I somehow felt that it lacked that milky coconut milk taste reminiscent of curry veg/ sayur lodeh. This wasn’t necessarily a poor dish, rather a different sort. It also consisted predominantly of cabbage, long beans and beancurd (not taupok).
Okra and Long Beans — while simply seasoned veggie dishes may seem like a no-brainer on first sight, I find they do require some skill and technique to do right. Timing and high heat is key to making sure the veggies are cooked just right, do not become soggy and retain their vibrant green. Here, I find the veggies met these requirements plus they were flavored with galangal, which was a welcoming sign as it tells me the stallowners know how to rely on herbs for flavor rather than turn to MSG and other refined seasonings not so good for health!
Tempeh and Tofu — I adore tempeh! And a most common stir-fried tempeh dish is this type which is coated in a sweet and sticky sauce, quite similar to sweet and sour pork. While I thought this was pretty decent in terms of flavor, I wish I had more tempeh in proportion to tofu as I found the tempeh bits to be too small to be substantial enough. Another vegan chinese foodstall at Amoy Food Centre does a similar tempeh dish with petai beans that is really savory and is one of my favorites.
Red Chilli Paste: I find it generally very difficult to find tasty and fragrant red chilli pastes at most vegan cai fan stalls and I am still on the hunt. I will not bother with Tian En’s chilli paste in the future as this was like spooning sugar to mouth. It was too sweet with little flavor and spicyness at all.
Price: I paid $3 for my plate which I thought to be reasonable and quite standard in price. You do get quite a lot of beehoon in comparison to the veggies.
Besides rice/ beehoon + dishes, one can order a variety of other zi char* dishes and hot pot which are all pretty reasonably priced. Also, check out their specials-for-the-day below which include laksa, biryani, chicken rice, prawn noodles and bak kut teh, all vegan of course!
I hope this review helped brought your attention to this humble stall and I look forward to reading any of your comments if you’ve been there before. Please share your experience with me! 🙂
* Psst.. If you’re wondering, cai fan literally means vegetables and rice and refers to stalls that let you choose a range of different kinds of dishes to have with your rice. Vegetarian stalls usually have the extra carb options of fried beehoon and unpolished rice. Zi char refers to made on order type dishes like fried rice or noodles among others.
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