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Singapore layovers - reports

daveena Mar 4, 2008 02:58 AM

I piggybacked onto one of cimui's threads a few weeks ago and received a lot of valuable info re: eating during layovers:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47523...

My first layover was about 6 hours long, but after getting through immigration, checking my email (yay for free email kiosks in the terminals), I only had 4 hours left. I had grand plans to try several murtabak (at Singapore Zam Zam, Victory Restaurant, and the place I first had murtabak 7 years ago) but the reality of eating in Singapore hit me hard... the heat and humidity really kill my appetite, which is absolute torture in a place with so much great food. Since I'm loath to discard perfectly good food, I was only able to try one (at Singapore Zam Zam).

I chose this restaurant because it had been featured in an article on Singapore street food in Saveur magazine, and because I had neither a name nor an address for the roadside stall where I had my first murtabak ever. I saw a picture of a man hand throwing the roti, as I had remembered, and figured it would be just as good.

Now, I don't know if I've romanticized the perfection of that first murtabak, or if I happened to just stumble on a really incredible one that first time, but this murtabak was a letdown. Instead of the light, elastic, almost croissant-like chew that I remembered, the roti was tough, like a scallion pancake. I also remember somewhat finely textured and perfectly spiced lamb - this had coarse, underseasoned mutton.

Too full to try any others, I headed back to the airport, but I've already decided - next layover, I'll take a taxi to the approximate place where I had that first murtabak (my notes say it was on Changi Road, near the Joo Chiat Complex) and walk until I find it. The stall may not be there anymore, and the man who made that first murtabak may not be there... and there's always the possibility that my memory of that first murtabak, one that I've replayed and relished many times in the intervening 7 years, is just not that accurate. But I know I won't forgive myself if I don't at least try to find it and try it one more time.

Travel notes for anyone else planning layover forays into Singapore: it was a 30 minute MRT ride to the Bugis stop, then a 5 minute walk to Singapore Zam Zam. There were quite a few interesting-looking restaurants along the way, and the neighborhood itself, in the Arab quarter, was very attractive and enjoyable just to stroll in.

  1. daveena Mar 26, 2008 08:33 PM

    And finally... MURTABAK! (Har Yassin Restaurant)

     
     
    1. daveena Mar 26, 2008 08:32 PM

      Kampong Carrot Cake pics:

       
       
      1. daveena Mar 26, 2008 08:31 PM

        Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk pics:

         
         
        1. daveena Mar 26, 2008 08:30 PM

          Jian Bo Shui Kueh pics:

           
           
           
          1. daveena Mar 26, 2008 08:28 PM

            Singapore ZamZam pics:

             
             
             
            1. daveena Mar 18, 2008 11:32 PM

              Layover #2 Report:
              Immediately after clearing immigration, I hopped into a cab and went directly to Tiong Bahru Hawker Center. As it was 7 AM and the skies were overcast, the temperature was somewhat cooler on this layover, and I was able to take full advantage of my improved appetite.

              1) Jian Bo Shui Kueh - #2-05
              Chwee Kueh at last! While the rice cakes didn’t have the luxurious texture I remember from my first chwee kueh experience (which may be very well due to fact that those had been my first steamed rice cake of this sort, ever, and I’ve since been exposed to various bahn beo and bahn khot), the topping was everything I’d remembered. I don’t think I can live without it – time to start experimenting with caramelized shallots and pickled radish… maybe I can talk one of the Vietnamese restaurants near me into selling me some plain bahn beo. Or maybe I should try to learn to make it myself. I’m also thinking the shallot/pickle mixture would be great on steamed fish, or mixed into dan dan noodles. S1.5 for 6.

              2) Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk - #2-69
              This stall had the most continuously long line out of all the stalls in this center, so I obediently hopped on line and got a bowl of fantastic do hwah (soy bean curd) for 70 cents. It had a faintly nutty flavor I haven’t been able to discern in other bowls of do hwah, and a somewhat denser and more custardy texture than I’ve had in the past, with minimal weeping. This bowl brought me full circle, as the chowhound post that led me to the chwee kueh/shui kueh in 2001 didn’t actually say what chwee kueh were, and Google gave me an inaccurate translation that sent me searching for what I thought was do hwah… only to lead me to the delicious steamed rice cakes with greasy shallot/pickle topping above.

              3) Kampong Carrot Cake - #2-53
              While the carrot cake stall immediately to the right of the staircase had been recommended, I was wary of its utter lack of a line, and the unappetizing pictures of its wares. Kampong looked more promising, and I bought a small (2 Singapore dollar) plate of black carrot cake. This was actually my first time having carrot cake in Singapore, and I was surprised to see that it more closely resembled what I know as Chiu-Chow style rice cake, than the ham-studded daikon cakes I assumed they were. These were good, but I think I prefer the white style, and luckily, I can get pretty good versions in Oakland’s Chinatown.

              Then I set off for the Holy Grail… the murtabak.

              4) Har Yassin Restaurant – 48 Changi Road (just past Joo Chiat Complex).
              Success! I didn’t have to venture far from Paya Lebar MRT station. My pages torn from my ancient Rough Guide Singapore gave clear directions to Joo Chiat Complex (turn left out of the station, cross Sims Avenue, left again onto Geylang Road) and my obsessive notes took me the rest of the way. I recognized the block as soon as I saw it, although the restaurant itself is much larger than I’d remembered (memory painted a tiny storefront with minimal seating – reality was a smallish but not tiny restaurant with a lot of sidewalk seating).

              And the murtabak? Almost measured up, which may be about as good as one can hope for. The texture was as I had remembered – tender and elastic tissue-thin sheets, crisped but not toughened by the griddle. The mutton was finely ground, as I’d remembered, but there was actually too much of it (much of the pleasure of this murtabak, for me, was the balance between meat and roti), and the seasoning tasted a bit of inadequately toasted curry spice. The sauce served on the side was unremarkable.

              Finding and eating this murtabak was a significant event for me. Now that I know that my Best Murtabak Ever doesn’t quite measure up to the memory of it, I can let go of that obsession, and move onto another one. Maybe handmade paratha will be a more attainable goal in the Bay Area. Or homemade chwee kueh.

              5 Replies
              1. re: daveena
                FourSeasons Mar 19, 2008 01:58 AM

                I am glad you have a better time on the second layover.

                I agree with you; I prefer the white style carrot cake rather than the black style. I have never tried the one at Tiong Bahru; personal favorite is the store Heng at Newton Hawker Centre.

                1. re: daveena
                  limster Mar 20, 2008 10:24 AM

                  Is the teochw-style shiu1 jing1 bao1/crystal dumpling stall still at Tiong Bahru?

                  1. re: limster
                    daveena Mar 20, 2008 11:57 AM

                    I did 2 or 3 laps around the center, focusing on stalls with lines. I don't remember seeing a crystal dumpling stall, but it's possible I missed it.

                    1. re: daveena
                      klyeoh Jan 27, 2009 08:46 PM

                      Tiong Bahru's Shui Jing Bao stall has moved to Alexandra Village:

                      Tiong Bahru Lien Fa Shui Jing Bao
                      Alexandra Village Food Centre
                      120 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-10
                      Singapore 150120
                      (65) 6274 5561

                      It's 15 minutes' drive away from its old location. Here's a link:
                      http://sparklette.net/archives/tiong-...

                  2. re: daveena
                    s
                    shengtang Feb 5, 2009 12:57 PM

                    ------------------------------------------------------------
                    Chwee Kueh at last! While the rice cakes didn’t have the luxurious texture I remember from my first chwee kueh experience (which may be very well due to fact that those had been my first steamed rice cake of this sort, ever, and I’ve since been exposed to various bahn beo and bahn khot), the topping was everything I’d remembered. I don’t think I can live without it – time to start experimenting with caramelized shallots and pickled radish… maybe I can talk one of the Vietnamese restaurants near me into selling me some plain bahn beo. Or maybe I should try to learn to make it myself. I’m also thinking the shallot/pickle mixture would be great on steamed fish, or mixed into dan dan noodles. S1.5 for 6.
                    ------------------------------------------------------------
                    Like Tsai Tao Kueh, these things can't be easier. Honestly, I wouldn't travel thousands of miles to look for it. These are the things you can easily get "from the scratch" ingredients even in US and make pretty decent products following only online recipes. Now Bak Kut Teh or Chicken rice, that is a different ball game. :-)

                  3. FourSeasons Mar 4, 2008 05:43 AM

                    I am shock by the effort you put in to seek your "dream" murtabak. What happened to your plan for chwee kueh at Tiong Bahru market? I am pretty sure chwee kueh and bar kut teh would have been a better deal for breakfast!

                    What time do you arrive and how long will it be for your second layover? Are you sure you are so determined to go to Joo Chiat Complex? Unfortunately, I am not familar with that area and would not be able to advise you on any alternative food if you were not able to find the "dream" murtabak. Good luck!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: FourSeasons
                      klyeoh Mar 4, 2008 08:48 PM

                      My guess is, that murtabak stall is still there - Joo Chiat Complex is very near the Geylang Serai/Malay enclave. There are lots of other Muslim-Indian stalls there, so getting good murtabak shouldn't be too difficult.

                      Really sorry to hear that your Zam Zam murtabak experience didn't turn out as well as you'd expected, Daveena. I know exactly how you felt about being let-down by a "famous" place. I'm in Oakland right now & had dinner at Chez Panisse last night. Whilst it was definitely a much more pleasant experience than your Zam Zam one, there was still this "anti-climatic" feeling of my expectations not being met. I guess my expectations of Alice Waters was too unrealistically high.

                      1. re: klyeoh
                        daveena Mar 6, 2008 03:50 AM

                        Oh, that's really disappointing about Chez Panisse - the cafe upstairs is one of my favorite restaurants in the world - I haven't been following the SF Boards while I'm travelling, but I'll pop over there when I get a chance to read about your experience.

                      2. re: FourSeasons
                        daveena Mar 6, 2008 03:49 AM

                        Don't worry, FourSeasons - the chwee kueh is actually the number one priority for my second layover. I can get so-so murtabak in the States, but chwee kueh is nonexistent. Also, I'm getting in at 6 in the morning, so breakfast food makes more sense anyway. And it will be an 8 hour long layover, so there should be enough time for me to digest in between meals.

                        I just had a few excellent hand-thrown paratha from street stalls in Madurai with the texture I remember from that first murtabak - tender but elastic, and flaky like the inside of a good croissant. So that gives me some hope that my memory of the first murtabak is true, not not romanticized.

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