Li Wei Vegetarian is a popular place. A very popular place. Located in the Chang Cheng Mee Wah coffee shop – itself strategically positioned at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 (next to the Masjid Al-Istiqamah no less) – Li Wei’s boasts queues that are longer than any other stall in the whole of the coffee shop. Proof can be found in the picture below. Vegetarian food commanding more attention than pig organ soup, sliced fish porridge, and pork chop and chips? This, my friends, is not a sight you see everyday.
To be perfectly honest, there was only one reason for me to visit Li Wei’s – Hungry AM’s unflinchingly flattering review of the chicken rice. Giving it a heady 10/10 (way back in 2009, to be fair), reserved he is not with his praise. “Legendary”, “a fantastic version”, “definitely the best” – it’s presented to the reader as Last Supper-calibre stuff. Desperate to see what the fuss is all about, I went to go and savour it myself. And to that point, i’m still not quite sure what the fuss is all about…
The vegetarian roast chicken (SGD 3.50 – price unchanged in 5 years!) comes with char siew and soup and rice! I was mildly shocked by such generosity – still am in fact. Beautiful plates and nicely presented, it got off to a good start. The rice was good (HAM – “perfect”) – the grains were swollen and satisfying, although the taste was a little subdued for my liking (more ginger, more stock…). The soup was also delicious – fresh and light and able to cut through the heaviness of the mock meats well. Speaking of mock meats…
The chicken was deep-fried and gluten-made. It tasted to me like it had been battered, with the outer layer having a slight sweetness to it that made me feel a little uncomfortable (even HAM admits it’s “a little sickly”). The char siew – usually a favourite of mine – was too dark in colour (it looked like sliced liver – scary), and had none of the tangy sweetness that makes this imitation meat what it is. What really destroyed this dish for me, however, was the sauce. Apparently a type of Chinese plum sauce, it was at once a bit too sweet, a bit too salty, and yet still rather bland. It was also incredibly oily. So oily, in fact, that you could feel it coating your mouth with every bite, and it lingered in the throat long after your jaw had stopped exercising. Not pleasant, at all.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad plate of chicken rice. It’s incredibly good value, and a satisfying meal overall. My point is that it certainly isn’t the best in Singapore, nor is it 10/10-standard. It’s good, but probably commands no more than seven-point-something. And when there are versions as good as Onn’s around, it becomes even clearer that this thing needs to be re-thought. Still, nice plates.
Li Wei Vegetarian
#01-41, Block 151, Serangoon North Avenue 1
Open 08:00-20:00 Friday-Wednesday; open 08:00-12:00 Thursday