Skip to main content



“Almost Bankrupt” Zi Char Stall Boss Says Biz Tripled After Getting Halal Cert; Fish Steamboat Now On Menu

“It completely turned my life around,” says the towkay of converting his stall into a halal one. New on the menu at Mari Mari Seafood: fish steamboat, a rare find at halal eateries.

Fish head steamboat is a great communal dish to gather around with friends and family. However, the traditional Teochew dish isn’t typically served at halal zi char eateries, which might lead to fish steamboat FOMO for our Muslim friends.

Enter Mari Mari Seafood, a halal-certified zi char joint in Woodlands serving up a version of the dish using whole grouper alongside other Muslim-friendly riffs on zi char grub like crab porridge and flying noodles.

No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from

Business “tripled” after halal certification

Towkay Novestine Tan (pictured), 52, tells that Mari Mari Seafood used to be your typical zi char joint when it first opened in 2019 – it was named 57 Seafood back then and served pork dishes. But business wasn’t particularly good those first two years, especially once the pandemic hit.

“Frankly speaking, during Covid, I almost went bankrupt,” explains Novestine. “But I realised that there was quite a vibrant Malay-Muslim community living in Woodlands. I thought why not give it a try [to get the halal certificate], so that we can serve a wider community and capture a larger market.”

It turned out to be the right decision. After rebranding his zi char stall to Mari Mari Seafood (which means ‘come on’ in Malay) and snagging his halal certificate in August 2020, sales “tripled”. Adds Novestine: “It completely turned my life around. Moving forward, if I have any other food stalls, I will still choose to get the halal cert”.

Halal fish steamboat a rare find

Mari Mari Seafood now has two outlets, both halal-certified: one in Woodlands, and another in Hougang. Only the Woodlands flagship branch currently offers their grouper steamboat, which was added to the menu a couple of months ago.

“I was a bit sceptical at first when I was trying to decide if I should sell this dish, as you can hardly find this kind of soupy fish or steamboat in the market for halal food,” Novestine says. “But after introducing it and getting feedback from my Malay customers, I can safely say that 100 percent of them loved it – even though for many of them, it was their first time trying it (laughs).”

Grouper Steamboat, $39.90 (about 800g – 900g; feeds three to four pax) 

While we haven’t made the trek to Woodlands yet, here’s the lowdown on Mari Mari Seafood’s Grouper Steamboat.

The steamboat’s broth is made from simmering chicken bones, dried sole powder and “a secret mix of six spices” for a couple of hours, before being served to order with other add-ons like yam, tomatoes and sliced raw whole grouper (to cook yourself). Unlike some eateries that serve the dish heated with charcoal, Mari Mari’s version is kept bubbling by a tabletop gas stove.

You can top up $15 for a platter of extra ingredients like prawns, golden mushroom, lala and crab sticks, which stretches the steamboat to feed around five or six people. As a bonus for upsizing your steamboat, it’ll be served in a larger pot theatrically decorated with dragon head handles.

Here are some other dishes to go with your grouper steamboat.

Volcanic Lamb, from $20

A Muslim-friendly version of leng saap – traditionally a Thai dish of boiled pork spine bones (with a bit of meat on them), piled high and drenched in a fiery sauce – but replaced with lamb spine bones here.

Seafood Rojak, $53.80

One 400g to 500g Sri Lankan mud crab, prawns, lala, sotong and mussels in a sauce of your choice (such as salted egg, black pepper and assam), served fusion Cajun seafood boil-style.

Double Taste Kampung Chicken, $40

Kampong chook done two ways – boiled, and deep-fried.

Mari Mari Seafood is at #01-06 182 Woodlands St 13, S730182. Tel: 9068-0033. Open daily 11am – midnight. More info via Facebook & Instagram. Delivery via Foodpanda.

Mari Mari Seafood’s second outlet is at 174C Hougang Ave 1, S533174. Tel: 8206-6094. Open daily 10am – 10pm. Delivery via Foodpanda.

Photos: Mari Mari Seafood

No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from

Related topics

Mari Mari Seafood hawker hawker food cheap food halal fish head steamboat halal fish head steamboat

Read more of the latest in



Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.