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Jan 18, 2011 07:41 AM

Defining food experiences in Singapore


I will be in Singapore for about a week - end jan - but will only have a day to myself.

'Am a freelance writer and 'am hoping to do a piece on three or so of SG's most original dining experiences.

'Am not looking at 5-star or non-local food - more like Kaya Toast or the hawker's centres - local institutions....

would really appreciate tips from all of you:)

Thanks in advance:)


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  1. Hainanese chicken rice from any of the well-known outlets/chains - Boon Tong Kee, Wee Nam Kee, Tian Tian, 5 Star, etc. My current fave is Nan Xiang at Novena Square, which serves its chicken rice compressed into tennis-ball-sized globes.

    Malay nasi padang - try Hajjah Maimunah in Jalan Pisang, Kampung Glam area.

    Nyonya (a local hybrid Chinese-Malay form of cuisine) at Guan Hoe Soon (Joo Chiat Place) or Peranakan Inn (East Coast Rd).

    Southern Indian vegetarian food at Komala Vilas (Serangoon Rd) or Madras New Woodlands (Upper Dickson Rd).

    Spicy Singapore seafood like chilli crabs, barbecued stingray with sambal sauce & chillied shellfish from either Jumbo, Red House, Palm Beach or Long Beach.

    Visit any of Singapore's hawker centres, e.g. Maxwell Road Food Centre, Old Airport Road Food Centre or Tiong Bahru Food Centre to get your feel of local hawker fare, e.g. pan-fried carrot cake (it's made of radish, and is a savory dish), fried koay teow (rice noodles), rojak (local fruit salad), fried Hokkien noodles, etc.

    6 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      Thanks a ton!

      Do Hawker's centres also serve these cuisines you have mentioned - like malay, nyonya etc.- or do they serve a completely different of dishes?

      1. re: spmizar

        You can find street food items like chicken rice, nasi padang & some types of Indian food at the hawker centres. But do try & go to the specific places named above for the best-tasting versions of those dishes.

        1. re: spmizar

          Every hawker centre will have different dishes and the quality will vary. Yes, you will find Malay, Nyonya, Chinese, Indian and all kinds of other things, all of which are local. Hawker food is very hit-and-miss, there are a lot of excellent locally-well-known stalls all over the place but nobody bothers to keep a list of them especially since everyones' opinion is different.

          I'm vegetarian and I have my preferred places, other vegetarians have their own preferred places too, etc.

          Head off to a hawker centre at a busy time (I'd suggest 7-9am, noon-2pm, 6-8pm) and see what people are lining up for :) Don't be afraid to ask the hawkers what their best recommendation is, either -- sometimes a particular hawker is famous for *one* of his dishes and will be proud of it, but if you go and order some of his other obscure menu items you may not be as happy

          Malls and office food courts also tend to have very decent food, by the way -- catch what people are getting on their meal breaks from work.

          Kaya toast -- again everyone has their own recommendations. Though I usually make my own kaya at home, in a pinch, I like the one from Toast Box (which should be easy for you to find, chain all over Singapore), with a Teh C to go with it. I don't like Ya Kun, but well, as with all Singapore food, everyone has their opinion.

          1. re: yuanzhoulv

            Can you tell me what are your preferred places that serve vegetarian food?

        2. re: klyeoh

          I think the Black Pepper Crab is a must. I have never eaten that outside Singapore. You can get the Singapore Chilli Crab outside but never the Black Pepper crab. Just a fantastic dish. The barbecued Stingray is also not common outside Singapore, although you can see it at Hawker centers in Malaysia and Indonesia. I love Char Kway Taeo (not sure how that is spelled) also. The Fish head curry at Apolo Banana leaf is also very good.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Thanks everybody, for all the tips:)

            Hope to keep you posted on how the trail goes!

          2. For kaya toast and local coffee, don't miss Killiney kopitiam, especially the original one in Killiney Road in Somerset. You can also try Chin Mee Chin in Katong, it has a more original atmosphere although I find their kaya much sweeter than my preferred taste.

            Satays from Lau PaSat market in Robinson Road are nice. These are only available in the evening.

            River Valley Nasi Padang in Zion Rd opposite Great World City serves very good nasi padang, and nice curries.

            Don't miss Eurasian-Portuguese food, eg Mary's Cafe in Kum Yam Methodist Church in Queen's Street (only open for lunch) or Quentins at the Eurasian Community House in Ceylon Road.

            12 Replies
            1. re: M_Gomez

              for late night my go to place was Spice on River Valley Road ... near Zouk

              Sin Huat seafood

              Mellban seafood in AMK for crab bee hoon

                1. re: spmizar

                  AMK refers to Ang Mo Kio, a large housing estate (population: 250,000) where you can find some cheap, good food. Ang Mo Kio town center has an MRT subway station which is 6 stops north of Orchard MRT (where most tourists tend to visit).

              1. re: M_Gomez

                Thanks a lot:)

                Eurasian-Portuguese - had never heard of this before - must try!

                1. re: spmizar

                  Eurasian/Portuguese food is unique to Singapore, Malacca and, to a certain extent, Penang. They share some common characteristics with Portuguese-influenced food in Goa, India (another former Portuguese colony) - e.g. pork vindaloo, sarpotel, potato croquettes, Curry Devil, etc. Can read more from Quentin's website:

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Thanks for all the info, klyeoh:)

                    Makansutra say they offer guided food tours...what is your opinion of those?

                    1. re: spmizar

                      I'd never been on one of those, as they are designed primarily for tourists & visitors who are unfamiliar with the concept of hawker food in Singapore. Perfectly fine if you like company, and also a guide who're able to show you the different types of hawker food available & answer any questions which you may have.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Super - will try and check it out if schedule allows:)

                        1. re: spmizar

                          spmizar, if you have the time, get a copy of "There is No Carrot in Carrot Cake"

                          It explains all the Singapore local dishes & comes in a slim nifty volume. It ashould be available from any good bookstore in Singapore.

                          1. re: spmizar

                            BTW, if you ever visit Kuala Lumpur or Penang, I'd highly recommend the private walking tours organized by ex-Time Out KL food editor, Robyn Eckhardt:

                            Robyn has her fingers on the pulse of the Malaysian culinary scene, and her recs are spot on!

                  2. re: M_Gomez

                    Thanks a lot:)

                    Eurasian-Portuguese - had never heard of this before - must try!

                    1. re: spmizar

                      Quentins does look interesting. Cant wait for my next trip to Singapore! I thought it must be Goan Portugese from the name of the chef but sounds quite different.

                  3. The trouble is that if you're aiming your piece towards a foodie audience, the kaya toast/chicken rice/ chilli and pepper crab thing has been done to death, from Bourdain to bloggers (exhibit A: and It might be more original and interesting to write about modern Singaporean, slightly upmarket, food as well as the old favourites. Maybe read a few Singaporean food blogs to see what the locals are eating.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: limoen

                      Super tip - but 'am super pressed for time - what blogs/eateries would you suggest - limoen?....

                      1. re: spmizar

                        chubbyhubby and ieatishootipost come to my mind.

                        1. re: M_Gomez

                          I was going to say Chubby Hubby, as well. It's pretty clear that his tastes run on the expensive side though. There's also Lady Iron Chef, and check out the Singaporeans they link to.

                          One thing I've never seen written up about, incidentally, is this gorgeous dessert called sago gula melaka, a firm sago pudding cooked and coconut milk with a palm sugar caramel, usually served over ice. Hard to describe. Order it at a hawker centre or two...

                          1. re: limoen

                            There was a recent controversy involving Lady Iron Chef, where he threw a tantrum at a Katong restaurant when told that it wasn't a complimentary meal. He said he's never had to pay for any meals before - as he usually identifies himself as the "Lady Iron Chef" & gets free meals! Yes, it's a "he".

                            1. re: M_Gomez

                              I remember that, but his reviews can still be a good guideline for someone who's not been to Singapore. Everyone is biased in some way ;).

                      2. re: limoen

                        The newest & most interesting restaurants to open in Singapore in the past 3 to 4 months are - Daniel Boulud's Bistro Moderne, Mario Batali's Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, Wolfgang Puck's CUT, Australian chef Luke Mangan's Salt, Japanese chef Hide Yamamoto's upmarket Japanese restaurant, Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda's Waku Ghin. Coming soon are Joel Robuchon's formal dining restaurant and a L'Atelier bistro.

                        1. re: M_Gomez

                          None of them sound particularly Singaporean and local though

                          1. re: limoen

                            Precisely! I forgot - the only "Singaporean" choice would be Justin Quek's new restaurant (3 weeks old) at Sky Park on 57, Marina Bay Sands. I havne't been there myself, but they serve modern versions of Singaporean food. Maybe what you'll call mod-Sing or fusion French-Singaporean.

                            1. re: M_Gomez

                              I forgot ato mention about these new restaurants as well - Santi Santamaria and Guy Savoy's Catalonian and French fine dining restaurants in Marina Bay Sands, Andre Chiang's new restaurant in Keong Saik Rd, Tippling Club in Dempsey Hill.

                              1. re: M_Gomez

                                For a unique Singapore dining experience sans the heat, checkout Wild Rocket for its modern Singaporen cuisine.


                      3. The original comment has been removed
                        1. Fried Carrot Cake at Heng's at Newtown Circus, my deathrow meal. Luscious, soft, white pillows of turnip cake, fried with shrimp, egg, chye poh (preserved vegetables) and topped with a heap of scallions. Absolutely a must-try. Forget the haute restaurants, Singapore is all about the hawker food.