Type of Institution: Vegetarian
Address: 8 Smith Street, Singapore 058971
Tel: +65 6225 9026
Opening Hours: Daily 12:00 – 23:00
(This review was updated again on 26 August 2012. The original review was written on 23 April 2012.)
Mdm Wong began acquiring her impressive culinary skills when she was compelled to adopt a healthy vegetarian lifestyle after being diagnosed with leukaemia. Soon after, she started cooking for her fellow cancer patients as well. Such experience eventually culminated in the opening of Ci Yan, a Chinese restaurant tucked away in a corner of Chinatown with simple wooden stools and tables and many religious artefacts. As you might expect, most of the ingredients used are organic and a lot of attention is paid to the nutritional content of the dishes, without compromising on flavour. It is easy to feel at home in Ci Yan – the ambience is laidback, the food is comfortingly traditional Chinese, and both Mdm Wong and her husband Mr Seow are warm and friendly.
The menu, which features about 4-6 dishes, changes daily. It always includes the brown rice set. The price of each dish ranges from $5-$7. I would recommend you call the restaurant before visiting to check what is the daily menu. Usually you will hear a voicemail reciting the day’s menu in both English and Mandarin. Perhaps my only gripe is that portion sizes lean towards the small side (though I’ve been told I eat a lot…).
Vegans should take note that they have been increasingly using dairy products in the dishes, so please check with them before ordering! Needless to say I’m severely disappointed.
On one night I visited, there was a fairly large group of people in the restaurant who had reserved a table and had placed their special orders prior to that day – I was jealously eyeing all the food arriving at their table because it all looked so appetizing, and yet we couldn’t have any of it. But we got lucky because there was leftover herbal soup, which was proudly proclaimed as the “best soup you can ever have” (not quite, but pretty close). The light yet richly flavoured herbal soup combined many flavours and textures, derived from the various mushrooms (such as monkey head) and Chinese herbs (such as codonopsis root or dang shen) which were braised for 8 hours.
Red Lentil Soup
This was a simple, sweet and creamy red lentil soup. ($3)
This was similar in concept to the red lentil soup, except with pumpkin. ($3)
Brown Rice Set
Ci Yan’s rendition of the staple dish at almost every Chinese/Singaporean healthy eatery in Singapore – the brown rice set – usually impressed with its side dishes. The Brown Rice Set Meal is a safe bet if you’re looking for some simple and traditional Chinese food. Expect side dishes such as fresh, crispy and crunchy long beans, slightly crunchy cauliflower with black fungus mushrooms and button mushrooms, tender strips of marrow green, sautéed Chinese greens, and a simple salad with iceberg lettuce and carrot strips. Perhaps the most interesting side dish I have come across is the bittergourd cubes cooked in a way as to eliminate most of its bitterness.
My favourite side dishes always featured chewy and firm tempeh, either marinated in soy sauce or curried and accompanied with sesame seeds. I really wish it would be easier to find good tempeh dishes in Singapore because I love its naturally nutty flavour, its dense chewy texture, and the fact that it is super healthy (it is rich in soy protein, dietary fibre, riboflavin, magnesium, manganese and copper etc.).
Braised Mala Noodles
An extremely satisfying dish – the noodles as well as the fresh mushrooms, tender carrots, crunchy lettuce and extra-firm tofu soaked up the slightly spicy braised mala broth, which was rich but not overwhelming.
Mushroom Spaghetti in Olive Oil
This was a light and simple pasta dish. Al dente spaghetti was topped with shimeiji mushrooms and strips of iceberg lettuce and cucumber, and tossed with olive oil. ($6)
Millet Fruits & Veg Salad
This was an extremely hearty millet salad with an impressive variety of ingredients – it’s good for hungry people! The dominating taste was the natural sweetness from the raisins, red and green apple, shredded carrot, pear, pumpkin and star fruit. Other ingredients included cucumber, sprouts, tomato and tiny cubes of mock ham. Although the salad sauce with flaxseed was too mild to contribute any flavour, but the nature flavour of the ingredients more than compensated for this. ($7)
Stir-fried Tung Hoon (Glass Noodles)
Savoury glass noodles were tossed with carrot strips, mock meat and beancurd skin, and topped with shredded lettuce. Notably, this wasn’t oily in the least. ($5.50)
Lotus Leaf Rice
The Lotus Leaf Rice arrived steaming with fragrance and moisture. Tiny bits of mushroom, peanuts, broad beans, kidney beans, and gingko nuts lent an interesting texture. I could barely taste the mushrooms though because they were cut way too small. The portion size was akin to a satisfying snack rather than a main dish. ($6.50)
Organic Cold Tofu
I loved the generous serving of organic cold tofu slices dressed with a sweet soy sauce reminiscent of that accompanying Chee Cheong Fun. This was topped with refreshing cucumber slices, shredded seaweed and nutty white sesame seeds. Highly recommended. ($6.00)
Mung Beans with Durian
The picture above might look rather nondescript, but this was easily one of the best dishes I’ve had here (and I’m not mad about durian). The simple, traditional Chinese Mung Bean Soup dessert was given a sophisticated twist by the subtle taste of durian permeating throughout the soup. Chunks of durian and intact mung beans added an interesting texture. Fresh coconut milk topped it all off. ($2.50)
Conclusion: If you’re like me, i.e. you love clean, healthy, feel-good and delicious organic vegan food at reasonable prices – this is the place for you! Definitely one of my favourite eateries in Singapore.