Mention Gu Ma Jia (姑妈家) and it evokes a sense of cosy familiarity. We were delighted to tuck into homely dishes which have earned thumbs up from several diners, so when we heard that a meal was arranged, we were excited much!
Having spent her growing up years in Pulau Ubin, the lady behind Gu Ma Jia, is Madam Chan Mei Yan, or more affectionately known as Gu Ma. Cooking is almost second nature to her, as she has been honing her culinary skills since she was 7, and her love for cooking has led her to establish Gu Ma Jia in 2009 so families can bond and enjoy fresh food served from her kitchen.
Hello, Gu Ma Jia!
When I first saw this logo, I couldn’t help but be tickled – in a good way, of course! This is such a cute caricature of Gu Ma and I love the clever play of the word “jia” which bears resemblance to a covered wok cooking over the fire.
In celebration of Gu Ma Jia’s 5th Anniversary, 6 new dishes have been created to seduce those discerning palates. Truth be told, I’m usually a fan of non-Chinese food and so to offer a more balanced review, I’ve gotten my hubs (he’s a true blue Chinese food eater!) to join us for the food tasting together with baby V. Families with your bubbas, there are clean high chairs at Gu Ma Jia, just so you know!
Homecooked Chinese Dishes at Gu Ma Jia
Dishes were served piping hot, and I think that’s one of the most important factors of most Chinese food standards. Besides the Hokkien teaser “sio sio jiak liao tio beh pio”, which means “eat it while it’s hot and you’ll strike the lottery”, seemingly ringing in my head because my mum echoes it every now and then. Translated in English, it doesn’t make much sense, but in Hokkien, rhymes are so much fun :P
We tucked into the newly-introduced dishes, and alongside with 2 other signature dishes as well as desserts. Our lazy Susan was working really hard that night – full course meal chugging ahead! Are you ready for the visual feast??
Pre-dinner, we were served a tall glass of appetite-whetting drink, which was sour, sweet and had texture all blended into this concoction. What exactly was it??
Don’t be fooled by it’s simple appearance. Those glasses are filled with Fruity Enzyme Juices ($4.80/glass) made from the fermented essence of vinegar and fruits submerged for 3months!
This drink pretty much wakes your digestive systems, improves digestion and immune system and aids in detox too. Enzymes act as catalysts for the human cells to function as our body‘s ability to digest, absorb and utilize nutrients require the presence of active enzymes, so this is definitely a healthier choice as compared to a soft drink.
I started my gastronomy adventure with comfort soup – a dish that Gu Ma grew up with. Gu Ma Signature Traditional Bean Curd Soup ($28) is a bowlful of nourishment that was slow-boiled for 6 hours and brims with goodness from salted fish head, Chinese Ham, Pork Ribs, Peanuts and fresh Bean Curd. Although it contains salted fish head, this broth won’t leave you feeling thirsty.
Next, I sunk my teeth into some meats, and found them soft and chewy but not tough like rubber. They were tender and flavourful. This dish of Homemade Yam Ring and Kyoto Pork Ribs ($30) was almost like a fusion of the good old Yam Ring (Orh Nee Kwan) and gives Coffee Pork Ribs a run for its money with its tangy Kyoto sister. Yam Rings are traditional favourites of Chinese food – I remember them at my late grandmother’s birthday bashes (she had big dinner parties in restaurants in the old school way – not those with evening gowns at hotels, yea?) and as a kid, I’d zoomed into those fried bee hoon that adorns the dish. Gu Ma’s Yam Ring was crispy and soft, without jerking a jerlat (meaning sick, in Malay?) aftertaste.
What’s a meal without some greens? A self-proclaim veggie lover, I must must must see green in my food. Maybe it’s just me and the ideology of having a balanced diet – remember the food pyramid? The Yuen Yang Kai Lan ($10/$15/$20) was a nice tantalizing treat to our tastebuds with its dual cooking methods – deep fried leaves and blanched stems. The deep fried leaves resembled seaweeds (minus the generous salt!) which lent a nice crunch with each mouthful. I love stems and these were perfectly cooked without having to go through chew-robics.
If you love your prawn noodles, the XO Prawn Noodles ($36) is a classic favourite amongst Cantonese folks too. Selecting only the freshest prawns, Gu Ma painstakingly prepares the special homemade superior XO sauce to marry the succulent seafood and noodles. Hubs was enjoying the soup and favoured it for its unique twist from the usual prawn noodles. Be sure to have it when it’s hot though, as yellow noodles tend to expand after soaking for sometime.
A hotplate covered with cuttlefish was simply calling out to us! Unlike the usual Cuttle Fish with Kangkong which usually disappoints with a pathetic scatter of cuttle fish, this dish of Satay Cuttle Fish ($18) was a delight with its seemingly cannot-eat-finish quantity of seafood lying on a bed of sliced cucumbers. Topped with its special homemade flavourful satay sauce, the cuttle fish is yummy-ly chewable and i’d reckon would make a great companion with beer! Beer lovers will dig this dish, for sure!
The other claypot dish earned nods of approval from both the hubs and I. Wanna make a guess what’s in it?
The bubbling tub of meat and soup ranks number 2 on my favourites chart for the night. Not usually a pork lover, I actually enjoyed this dish for its stock base. The Claypot Pork in Sesame Oil ($15/$23/$30) stole my heart, thanks to the flavourful Chinese Wine, Ginger and Sesame Oil combi. The thin, soft pork slices and black fungus were nice and crunchy. It probably sounds strange, but we were told that this is actually one of the dishes for confinement too. Having heard that, it did seem to ring a bell in my mama’s brain, but I don’t recall my confinement nanny’s take to be anywhere near Gu Ma’s! :P
So what was my fave dish?? Presenting the Assam Fish Head ($28)! The fish meat was very fresh and sweet, unlike frozen fish heads, if you know what I mean. And it was a meaty head too – er….. okay, that didn’t seem to come out right, but yea, you geddit, right?
The sauce was a nice blend of spices and sweetness, and I liked the ladysfingers on it – they were added in only when about to serve, unlike other places which leave the veggies boiling in the Assam sauce until they get all mushy. There are sliced brinjals and large tomatoes in it too. For someone like me with a rather low threshold for spicy food, this was bearable! The hubs enjoyed it as well and happily laced his white rice with the Assam gravy. Heh!
This fish found a little fan too – we offered some to baby V and she happily chowed them all. Before you start judging, we ain’t no crazy to splash Assam gravy down her tummy – the fish was rinsed in hot water before she had them :)
At Gu Ma Jia, fresh seafood is their specialty, so you can’t do without the Ubin Lala Bee Hoon ($18). Hubs and I liked the fresh Lalas and the simple broth that the rice vermicelli was soaked in. Nothing overpowering, just simple and homely like the way it should be. Oh, and did you notice some sliced omelette sprinkled on top? That’s a touch of homecooked fashion that Gu Ma retains in her dish.
We sat right in front of these accolades and yes, Gu Ma Jia has also garnered awards over the years!
Making space for delish homemade desserts too!
Just as we thought that was the finale to our food tasting session, we were told there were desserts coming up to end our meal on a sweet note. There’s a dessert stomach in me, for sure! Unless I was like mad bursting :P
Here’s a glass of Fruity Jelly Enzyme with Longan and Wolfberries ($5.80), which was made with the same stew of enzymatic goodness. It served as a nice, cold and refreshing treat at the end of a heavy meal. Hope it helped with digesting all that we had in our bellies!
To end off with a second dessert, we had the Gu Ma Tang Shui ($3.50) which was a hot, soothing treat for the night. The taste was just right, without threatening to kick you into a sugar high. Generous servings of white fungus, lotus seeds, gingko biloba, and wolfberries warm the soul after a long, tiring day at work. If you need some comfort food after an arduous day, this would do the trick!
After our bellies were filled with all that good food, we did a mini tour of the area. Baby Vera was happily taken into some other’s arms and she was seen chatting up Chef Yap, who helms the rein in Gu Ma Jia’s kitchen as head chef.
Since Chinese New Year is just around the corner, reservations have been snapped up for reunion dinners on the eve. We had insider news that a 5-generation family has also booked the entire establishment for their Lunar New Year dinner! Gu Ma Jia takes up 2 levels and you’d be happy to know there’s no GST or MSG when you dine at Gu Ma Jia! So if you’re planning meals with your family or clients, Gu Ma Jia has a special Chinese New Year Menu which is available from 5 Feb – 5 Mar. Check out the menu here. If you’ve lunch-in meetings or events, bento sets can also be prepared and delivered to your offices or events, just give them a call to inquire.
With our positive experience at Gu Ma Jia, I’m certain we will be back again. Wish to skip those usual Chinese food places? Mark Gu Ma Jia as one of the secret hideouts to visit. If you know where the old Jackson Kopitiam used to be, you’d be able to locate Gu Ma Jia easily.
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