Hubei Heritage Restaurant Cai Lin Ji Dishes Out New Items at Its Guoco Outlet


Cai Lin Ji 蔡林记, the 1928 Hubei restaurant known for its famous ‘hot dry noodles’ has launched its second outlet, right in the heart of town at Guoco Tower in Singapore. This comes just three months after its inaugural outlet at Jurong Point was unveiled.

At the new Guoco eatery, the restaurant offers some new signature dishes. While there are many Hunan restaurants in Singapore now, the northern counterpart Cai Lin Ji is a breath of fresh air that brings the lesser-known and somewhat less spicy Hubei flavours here. On both occasions that I visited for lunch and dinner, there was a bustling crowd with many Chinese nationals, several among them parents explaining their native dishes to their children.

Cai Lin Ji at Guoco Tower. Photo © Fen Chia.

Before our food arrived, we tried the Green Brick Tea or 青砖茶 (S$6.80 per pot), a storied tea that apparently goes back over a thousand years to even before the Ming Dynasty. This Cai Lin Ji visit was not only about experiencing an almost century-old time-honoured China brand, but a millennium old beverage.

Hailing from its birthplace of Chibi city, a green tea producing centre and the origin of an ancient tea route, brick tea has an iconic square shape that is moulded from green tea pressed at at a high temperature. The tea’s mild taste belies its many health benefits, which include fat reduction, weight loss, liver protection and gastrointestinal regulation. So prized was the tea that it was once upon a time used as currency throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia and Central Asia from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

Today, the tea is not only used in tea drinks and desserts, but also beauty products such as tea facial cleansers and facial masks. Besides the original version, Cai Lin Ji’s tea also comes in rose, luo han guo (monkfruit) and orange peel flavours.

Green tea pressed into bricks at high temperature, rich in history and rich in health benefits. Photo © Cai Lin Ji.

Our first dish was the Vegetable Cold Dish Appetiser (S$5.90) an unassuming and refreshing starter of sweet potato starch noodles with vegetables that comes with a sesame and garlic dressing. The noodles are of an interesting texture that I have rarely had. They are thin like vermicelli or angel hair pasta, but unlike the typical chewy thick sweet potato noodles, these are more crunchy and springy. Not a noodle found commonly in stores, this is light, adequate for an appetiser and saves your stomach for the food to come.

Vegetable Cold Dish Appetiser. Photo © Fen Chia.

It was just as well that we did not have rice or noodles this time round. The pearl meatballs (S$5.90 for three) is a steamed dish that comes looking like heavy rice balls, but is in fact very delicate when one bites into it, with the deft embellishment of a wolfberry. The core is a mixture of seasoned minced pork mixed with finely diced water chestnuts for a slight crunch, which is coated with a layer of glutinous rice that is not too thick before it goes into the steamer. The meat is juicy and tastes like the filling of xiao long baos. I could have a few of these instead of a carb dish.

Pearl meatballs. Photo © Fen Chia.

The next dish was also steamed, reflecting Hubei’s passion for this method of cooking. For the most part, the dishes of this region are more delicate, and less greasy and spicy than some other Chinese regions.

The Steamed Pork with Rice Flour (S$9.90) is a homestyle dish that is not commonly found and is apparently reserved for festive occasions like Chinese New Year or other holidays. It comprises a flavourful, juicy and soft pork belly seasoned with rice powder and when eaten, reminded me a bit of our local lor mai kai. I decided a future visit to Cai Lin Ji would be either of two types – either to focus on a bowl of on of their many varieties of noodle dishes as a single meal, or to  just focus on these dishes as they are hearty and rather filling. Combining both would be too much.

Steamed Pork with Rice Flour, perfect for the Lunar New Year. Photo © Fen Chia.

The next dish is for those who love innards, like yours truly. The Tomato-Beef Pot ( S$17.90) comes with a bowl of rice) or Mala-Sirloin Pot (S$17.90, with a bowl of rice) is a stew that finally has some of the more spicy flavours that mala-loving locals would find familiar.

I saw the usual suspects like napa cabbage, beancurd skin, lotus root beneath slices of beef shank and tripe in a spicy tomato broth. This is perfect for a rainy day to go with rice. Alternatively if you prefer chicken, the popular cold and spicy Sichuan dish Mouth Watering Chicken or (S$9.90) is available too, promising mouth-numbing goodness with the Sichuan peppercorns.

Mala-Sirloin Pot. Photo © Fen Chia.

Cai Lin Ji is a casual eatery, thus I was quite surprised that it came with service charge on top of taxes, unlike many of the lunch spots on the same floor. Nonetheless, in conjunction with the opening of their second outlet at Guoco Tower, Cai Lin Ji has launched their membership program to reward diners. Diners can sign up for free and enjoy the following benefits:

  • 1 x Fresh Mung Bean Soup at $1
  • 1 x 10% off welcome voucher
  • 1 x Osmanthus Paste Rice Wine at $2
  • 1 x 10% off Birthday Voucher
  • Earn 1 point for ever $1 spent

Cai Lin Ji – Guoco Tower
1 Wallich St
B2-26 Guoco Tower
Singapore 078881

Opening Hours: 10am to 9.30pm daily


About Author

When not checking out new hotels or restaurants, Singapore-based writer Fen spends her time reading obsessively about and travelling to destinations with unpronounceable names. She also can't stop getting sentimental about vanishing trades and documenting them for posterity.

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