When we mention Potong Pasir, what often comes to mind is either that of politics, or of the distinctive sloping roof blocks that the town is famous for. However, within the little foodie enclave of great food that sits at the corner of Sennett Estate, there sits a charming little eatery named Gu Ma Jia.
While I’ve passed it often, it was only recently that I had the chance to pop by to explore its food. My conclusion: I can’t believe I took this long!
So the story behind the name is that the eponymous Gu Ma was the eldest of a large family, and also pretty much magical with food, so much so that the family convinced her to open a restaurant so they could have their dishes anytime they wanted. True to that feel, Gu Ma Jia is very homely: the slightly whimsical decorations on the wall and the soft comfortable lighting make you feel like you’re entering someone’s house instead of a slick restaurant.
We dined on the second floor, which had plenty of space for large family gatherings. Flipping through the menu, you’ll notice a large variety of fairly unusual dishes. From their regular menu, we ordered the Assam Fish Head ($28), Cereal Prawns with Curry Leaves ($20), Kyoto Pork Ribs ($20), Yuan Yang Kai Lan ($12), Crispy Brinjals ($12) and the Signature Beancurd Soup ($28). Given that it’s the Lunar New Year soon, we also ordered the Steamed Lotus Leaf Rice, Braised Duck with Sea Cucumber and the Steamed Prawn with Gu Ma Jia sauce from their New Year menu. My, what a treat It was.
First to arrive was the Steamed Lotus Leaf Rice. Grainy rice wrapped in lotus leaf with Chinese sausage and shredded scallop, this dish arrived at the table and was unwrapped by the staff to release a mushroom cloud of fragrance that whet the appetite. What I liked best about this dish was that the rice grains were still individually distinguishable In the mouth: some places tend to do their lotus leaf rice a tad too soggy and I can’t get that tactile mouth feel of rice done just right.
The next few dishes came in quick succession: the Steamed Prawns with Gu Ma Jia sauce and the Braised Duck were up pretty quick. I thought the Steamed Prawns looked somewhat pedestrian in their presentation, yet I was pleasantly surprised by the sauce that was tangy and not too spicy either. The prawns were juicy and plump, but I’ve come to expect that of any decent restaurant that takes pride in its food, so the sauce was the real standout here.
The duck was decent, but it was rather massive so you might want to ask the staff to help slice it up if you order it. It was reasonably tasty and the sea cucumbers were just right, but I thought it wasn’t anything especially spectacular (the other dishes were really too good in comparison).
What got me really excited though, was the Gu Ma Jia Assam Fish, which I’ve heard lots about. Assam is tricky to do: some like theirs a little more sour, others like it spicier. It’s a hard thing to do, but the all of us at the table kept going back to this dish for seconds because somehow it hit the right spot. I had it with plain white rice, and the balance of sour and spice with the calming taste of the rice was simply exquisite. Will be back.
Kyoto Pork Ribs aflame.
The Kyoto Pork Ribs soon arrived our table to some lovely showmanship. Wrapped up in aluminium foil, the dish is gently doused with some wine before being set on fire just before serving. The result? A heady aroma that hits your nostrils very very fragrantly. The meat was soft and tender, but my only complaint was that the pieces were slightly too small: I’d have loved to put a huge piece of this in my mouth at one go.
We had to get some of our veg intake dealt with, so out came the Crispy Brinjal with Sijidou. Mind you, I hate brinjal (the editor knows this very well), but I walloped as much of this as I could. I don’t know how they did it, but the brinjal was crispy and packed lots of flavour, perfectly matching the crunch of the fresh beans. None of the usual mushiness of brinjal here: this dish was all about texture and they hit it out of the park. You HAVE to try this at least once.
In all truth though, I didn’t order the Crispy Brinjal: that was my tablemates’ choice of veg. I instead plumped for the Yuan Yang Kai Lan, which really is something unusual too. It’s a dish of kalian done in two styles: blanched stems and deep-fried crispy leaves. Eaten alone, they’re great, but I really enjoyed the taste contrast when you put both in the same mouthful. Sure to be a hit with the kids, even those who hate greens normally!
Our final highlight dish of the meal was the Cereal Prawns. I know what you’re thinking: loads of places do this reasonably well, so why bother when you’ve got other things to try here? Well, I’m personally not having cereal prawn anywhere else until they do it like here. Gu Ma Jia adds curry powder into the mix, lending it a fragrance that cannot be found elsewhere. The cereal was light and crisp, but the curry powder added a lovely kick to it that I didn’t know I needed until I tried it. Time for me to experiment with this too!
To round off the meal, we had the Beancurd Soup. This was a gentle closer: large chunks of tasty beancurd with salted fish head, Chinese ham, pork ribs and peanuts cooked over a slow fire for hours to yield a lovely comfort soup. Perfect for rainy days!
Desserts were a simple affair: pulut hitam with ice cream, vinegar enzyme jelly and the ice aiyu jelly. I particularly enjoyed the vinegar enzyme jelly (which also comes as in drink form). It was slightly tart in a way that made it very refreshing, and cleansed my palate quite nicely. After the riot of textures and flavours, this was a satisfying end.
All in all, Gu Ma Jia is a cosy and comfortable eatery to dine at that’s not too hard to get to. It’s not showy and ritzy, but it’s homely, and that’s really what you want most days. Though the dishes are a little pricey, thre is something to be said about its value in flavour and delightful, comfort food. After all, isn’t the upcoming Lunar New Year all about family reunions? I’m planning mine already.
Thank you Gu Ma Jia for the invitation.
Article by Lan Yingjie
Gu Ma Jia
45 Tai Thong Crescent
Reservations: 6285 2023
Monday to Friday
11.30am to 2.30pm (last order 2pm)
5.30pm to 9.30pm (last order 9pm)
Saturday, Sunday, and Public Holidays
11am to 10pm (last order 9.30pm)