In the past year we have had the opportunity -- no make that 3 opportunities -- to shoot stories on Singapore's extraordinary food culture. We love nothing more than to get to go inside the kitchens, get to know talented chefs and makan makan makan, or eat eat eat. So this is going to be a multi-stage post, as I take a moment before James finishes the kari ikan (Malay fish curry) we're having for dinner, to note a few of my favorites.
If you'll allow us to become temporary food bloggers (like Marge Simpson) here follows our totally biased, woefully incomplete, and entirely delicious
Guide to Eating Well in Singapore
Eat Laksa, Popiah, Chilli Crab, Chwee Kueh, Ondeh Ondeh, & Kaya Toast
These are our favorite (mostly pescetarian) local dishes.
Deserving of its own category, LAKSA is a coconut noodle soup, flavored by a complex spice mix that changes from region to region, even between neighborhoods (but always includes laksa leaves). Sungei Road Laksa, near the "Thieves Market" where the older gentleman behind the counter "tariks" or pulls the coconut broth over the noodles. Get two bowls so you don't have to stand in line twice -- you will want more. My friend over at Notabilia just posted a vegetarian recipe you might wanna try....
POPIAH rolls resemble a small burrito: a rice paper"skin" wrapped around cabbage, nuts, eggs, tiny shrimp, chili and seasoning. Qi Ji, a local chain whose most central location is at the bottom of the Technology mall Funan. Pick up a hard drive and a delicious snack! Fresh iced chrysanthemum tea and popiah, mmmmmm.
- KUEH Biting into a ondeh ondeh, a coconut sweet with palm sugar in the middle, is a messy, sweet, sticky, addictive experience. Maybe we moved to Tiong Bahru because we tasted one when we came by to see that apartment. The best, in my humble opinion, are at Galicia Pastry in Tiong Bahru, where you can also get kueh dar dar, or little green kaya & coconut wraps, and cannisters of pineapple tarts at the Chinese new year.
- Also in Tiong Bahru market food center, you'll find stalls three excellent dishes to try: Chwee Kueh, a hot preserved radish topping on glutinous rice cake with chili oil at Jian Bo #02-05, Lor Mee, a thick soup with fried fish on top at #02-23, and Pau (hot steamed buns) at Tiong Bahru Pau #02-18. You should probably have some sugarcane juice with lemon to wash it down.
- KAYA Toast, a generous helping of coconut and pandan jam between slices of toast and toast-sized butter, is one of my favorite treats here. Get "Set A" at either major kaya toast chain -- Toast Box or Ya Kun Kaya Toast -- and it comes with two half-boiled eggs, dark soy and white pepper, and a kopi, or local boiled coffee with sweetened condensed milk and sugar. You can also get toast with peanut butter, pork floss, and other toppings, and at Toast Box, they have decent noodle dishes and a bakery. I hear of more traditional coffeeshops in the east, but unfortunately, I haven't tried them all yet.
- The Chilli Crab, favorite national dish to serve to tourists, is really extraordinary. You can get lots of versions of it, and they are all different recipes. Black Pepper Crab, Crab Bee Hoon (see above) -- all are wonderful, so eat in a big group to get more than one. Our favorite spot for this dish is at East Coast Park, where several of the best seafood restaurants are "co-located," in a pleasant breezy spot by the sea.
- Finally, there's Chicken Rice. I've never tried it, but our subjects always seem to LOVE Tian Tian at Maxwell Hawker Center, and so do Robin and James. So there you go.
- Next time, I'll report on food served with air-conditioning.