812 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198779
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In the Same Steamboat


Name of business:

Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat

Name of business in other language:

南華昌 (亞秋) 魚頭爐

Business location:

812 North Bridge Road, Singapore 198779

Business type:

Food & Beverage




Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat is one of the oldest eateries in Singapore that serves the traditional steamboat. The eatery has gone through much hardship, but it has managed to persevere due to the close bond of partners, Ah Chew and Lee Hong Chuan.

The steamboat is a meal familiar to many Singaporeans. This meal, which involves meats and vegetables cooked in a shared metal pot filled with soup, has evolved over the years, varying in terms of the preparation method and the ingredients used. However, at its core, the steamboat is a meal that brings people together. The mention of steamboat brings back memories of family reunions during Chinese New Year and gatherings of old friends from school. Everyone crowds around the table, telling jokes and anecdotes as they fish for cooked ingredients in the soup. These meals provide chances for us to reconnect with the people we love.

If you are feeling nostalgic and want to have an old-fashioned steamboat meal, Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat is perfect for you. Located at the fringes of Kampong Gelam, where North Bridge Road and Jalan Sultan meet, this eatery has been serving traditional fish head steamboat in the precinct for at least twenty years. The layout of the eatery is similar to a typical coffee shop. As people dine in groups, the mouth-watering smell of fish broth wafts through the air. Also known as Ah Chew Fish Head Steamboat, this eatery has kept its original recipe and cooking method of boiling the steamboat’s fish broth over charcoal embers. Even the aluminium steamboat pot has remained the same throughout the years. While the founder’s grandson, Ah Chew has retired from the business, the restaurant is currently helmed by his partner Mr Lee Hong Chuan’s son, Mr Lee Ming Yan, also known as Michael.

Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat is one of the oldest operating eateries in Singapore that serves steamboat. The business started with Ah Chew’s grandfather. In 1927, he migrated to Singapore from Swatow, a coastal city in Guangdong, China and decided to set up a hawker stall in Wayang Street (now Eu Tong Sen Street). Bringing with him his knowledge of Teochew cooking from his hometown, he was particularly famous for his fish soup, which was made from Asian Big Head Carp boiled in soup over a charcoal flame. His stall saw long queues of eager patrons, with the line getting longer with each day.

Ah Chew’s grandfather gave his business the name, Nan Hua Chang (南华昌). “Why Nan Hua Chang?” Michael explains, “When [the Chinese first] came to Singapore, it was known as Nanyang. He wanted all the Chinese coming here to be prosperous, so he called it Nan Hua Chang. “Chang” (昌) stands for prosperous in Chinese. That’s the very simple meaning behind it.” During the early 20th century, Chinese immigrants faced great hardship as they settled in Singapore to make a living. Ah Chew’s grandfather hoped that all the Chinese could prosper together despite the challenging circumstances.

Ah Chew took over in the 1980s and worked hard to carry on his grandfather’s legacy, maintaining the same quality and taste of the family recipe. However, trouble brewed in the early 2000s when Ah Chew faced family problems. He intended to discontinue the business until he met Michael’s father, Lee Hong Chuan, at the temple he frequents. Lee Hong Chuan, or Elder Lee, extended a helping hand to Ah Chew and encouraged the latter not to give up on his grandfather’s business. Elder Lee proposed a partnership with Ah Chew, because he was also in the food and beverage (F&B) industry and oversaw the management of a couple of coffee shops. When Ah Chew joined Elder Lee, they merged Fish Head Steamboat with zi char, and expanded the dishes available on the menu. Elder Lee also worked on boosting the business’ image. He advertised in newspapers and partnered with lion dance groups and members of the temple for public events like getai (festive performances). The restaurant would sponsor food for these events, and in return, the groups would promote the restaurant’s name. Slowly but surely, Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat grew in its reputation and popularity.

Today, Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat is run by Michael, after Elder Lee handed the baton over to him. He dedicates himself to managing the eatery, improving processes and service standards. Ah Chew now takes a backseat in the day-to-day operations, though he would occasionally drop by the restaurant to catch up with the crew.

Michael is passionate about Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head and endeavours to continue the business for as long as possible. His own family has gone through their own fair share of struggles—they initially started out in the construction industry and later switched to the F&B sector. Diving into F&B was risky, but it was a decision that enabled the Lee family to be where they are today. “Because after following my parents, they started from nothing, then slowly grew until this scale right, it’s amazing lah. I witnessed it, I went through it with them, then if [I] give it up it’ll break their hearts,” Michael says. He finds it meaningful to run the eatery, caring deeply for his employees and the operations of the business.

Michael often hears customers joke, “We’re in the same boat!” after finishing a satisfying pot of steamboat1. One can perhaps say the same for both Ah Chew and Elder Lee, who met each other after personally going through much hardship. Their partnership, born out of mutual understanding and shared interests, has become the driving force of the eatery’s success. Undeniably, the spirit of Nan Hwa Chong Fish-Head Steamboat is fuelled by the close, warm relationships that people have with one another.

Interviewed by Eastina Tan on 28 May 2022.

1 Taken from the Our History section of https://nanhwachong.com.sg/about-us/