Whenever I’m in this food haven, I feel a sense of urgency.
So much food, so little time and a limited capacity.
My goal in Singapore is to always make every calorie count.
It has been a little over three years since I was last in the Lion City.
Since that time, this metropolis of South East Asia saw the passing of one of its most revered statesmen, its founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 23 March 2015. Later that year in August, Singapore celebrated its 50th anniversary since its independence in 1965.
This country is also Mysaucepan‘s home city and along with her cousins and friends, we are keen to hit the streets to find out what’s been happening, food and otherwise.
There’s a system here – both Mysaucepan and I have our own food favourites as well as the overlaps, dishes that we both enjoy. Whenever, we hit the streets, logistics are important so that we don’t waste precious time though hunting down our favourites do help to burn the calories!
So dear readers, here they are… in no particular order, some of our firm favourites this trip though it difficult to fit so much into one single blog post.
My deepest respect goes to the people that make food such an iconic pastime in Singapore – the chefs, providores, local authorities who have done so much to promote its food to the world. And lastly, food writers, bloggers and food lovers who form such an integral part of this food chain.
Food Safari Singapore 2016
Although I love hawker food in Singapore, I am determined to discover good “zi char” restaurants so popular with the locals.
The equivalent of Kuala Lumpur’s ‘tai chow’ (literally big fry up), these restaurants serve home style Chinese dishes that complement steamed rice and are popular with families and larger groups of diners.
Smoky aromas of the fiery Chinese wok are legendary but conviviality is guaranteed when you have a large group with so many dishes to share let alone economies of scale when the bill eventually arrives.
(Note: The exchange rate between the Singapore & Australian dollars are on parity during our recent trip.)
Appetizers such as pickled vegetables, prawn crackers and roasted peanuts are popular pre-dinner snacks.
“Why do you Singaporeans put sugar in everything you eat?” I ask Mysaucepan, a little bewildered by the usual sweet tinge compared Malaysian food.
“Why do you think we Singaporeans are so sweet?” she retorts in jest.
These steamed peanuts in sweet syrup are nice enough though I am still partial to Malaysia’s savoury version with hints of five spice.
Black pepper ‘ostrich’
I read with much amusement this dish was originally ostrich when first introduced.
But due to procurement difficulties, the chef has since been using chunky venison cubes tossed in a hot wok with garlic and onion slices coated with a black pepper sauce.
Thankfully, the hints of sweetness are not overpowering the ‘wok hei’ with each chunky bite succulent and peppery. I would come back just for this dish with an icy cold Tiger beer in this humid climate.
Eggplant mince pork hot pot
It arrives bubbly and sizzling in a claypot.
Thick eggplant batons are coated with a silky sauce laced with mince pork. I ladle a wholesome spoonful into my mother-in-law’s bowl as she loves to eat this kind of thing with steamed rice. Salted fish adds a savoury dimension to everyday comfort food.
Marmite pork ribs
Perhaps this dish should really be so popular in Australia since Marmite is like Vegemite’s partner in crime.
Slices of meaty pork ribs are snap fried to golden brown then tossed in a hot wok with a savoury sweet Marmite sauce. If this is comfort food to local families, it is also beer food at its best to me. For wine lovers, these ribs would be a treat with a jammy style pinot noir from Central Otago.
Traditionally, the Chinese love cooking with claypots because they seal in all the flavours in China’s harsh winter. This is especially so when a cabbage wrapped-spring chicken is stuffed with chestnuts, shitake mushrooms, Chinese white fungus and goji berries.
With a gentle yield of the knife, strands of succulent chicken come apart. The thick gravy is chickeny rich with Chinese herb aromas that can only be imparted after hours of slow simmering.
This restaurant has also been reviewed by prominent Singapore food blogger, Dr. Leslie Tay, writer behind the food blog i eat i shoot i post.
Chiu Xiang Kitchen is a delightful discovery this trip. The food is on the mark with owner and chef Chiu Kok Kwang helming the kitchen and wife Wendy at front of house.
Over the years of visiting each other in Sydney and Singapore, our food indulgences have brought us immense joy and laughter.
This time is no different because we need to psyche ourselves whenever we meet up with these two lovelies. Mentally prepared means we visualize mouth-watering images and physically prepared involves allowing ample space for the onslaught of calories intake.
“This place is in the middle of nowhere okay!” Towkayso Quintessential warns us.
She is right and we see, among other things, car repair shops and panel beaters around this neighbourhood in the middle of an industrial estate.
I love drinking cold beer in Asia’s warm climate and the first two gulps of this icy cold Tiger seems to evaporate down my throat.
Seafood is the way to go in this restaurant and there are on-going promotions for oysters, clams and prawns.
“The owner loves his wine” the manager tells me as he shows me a small private dining space inside the wine cellar. “You need to book months ahead if you like to eat in here” he adds.
The air is cool in here and the owner seems to be a fan of whisky and French wine.
A 3-egg spinach showcases three types of egg – salted egg, century or preserved egg and fresh egg all in one dish. You will need to decide for yourself whether you consider this an egg or a vegetable dish or both.
The spinach is gently braised with wedges of salted egg , century egg and fresh egg white. And I love the savoury complexity of this dish that would do immense justice with the savoury and medium-bodied characteristics of an Italian sangiovese or nebbiolo.
This 3-egg spinach is better than most I have tasted in Sydney.
Onsen egg with foie gras
I love soft boiled eggs in the tradition of Singapore’s breakfast of champions but it would be sacrilege to add light soy sauce into this concoction of onsen egg with foie gras.
I am too excited to capture egg porn and scoop into the gooey egg with the rich and minerally foie gras. And for good measure, there is a drizzle of truffle olive oil too. Perhaps a pinch of salt will elicit more eggy flavours but each spoonful is truly an eye-closing and defining moment of our food safari. Thank you lovelies, you’ve done it yet again in introducing us to some of Singapore’s best.
I am now eyeing Mysaucepan‘s French foie gras in our pantry which has given me ideas for breakfast this weekend.
Salted egg squid
In recent years, the savoury complexity of salted eggs has become a mainstay in restaurant menus all over Singapore and Malaysia.
The Pirelli tyre patterns on this squid is meant to capture as much salted egg ‘mud’ as possible. Each bite is gently chewy yet succulent and full of salty egg flavour that makes my mouth water for more.
Apart from my Tiger beer, I would recommend washing this down with the buttery and oaky nuances of an aged chardonnay.
Chye poh kway teow
Traditionally a Teo Chew dish, this chye poh kway teow is wok tossed with bits of kai lan, egg and my favourite ingredient – crispy pork lard, and lots and lots and lots of it too.
This dish is beautifully smoky with wok hei. The finely shredded kai lan adds a subtle bitterness that makes it rather different from mainstream char kway teow you find in hawker stalls.
“This is too good to go to waste” I say as I pick on the crispy bits of pork lard.
We spoke about last meals should we be on death row and this plate of kway teow with an extra serve of crispy pork lard might just sneak into the list.
US black Angus rib eye
A huge wooden platter of American beef steak cubes is accompanied with Idaho potato wedges and caramelized onions.
Freshly ground black pepper has already been added so all that is needed is a good sprinkle of salt and a dollop of French Dijon. Cooked to medium-rare, each succulent bite is caramelized with the smoky aromas of the grill.
‘Heart attack’ fried rice
Ubin calls this ‘heart attack’ fried rice in jest.
When you order the US black Angus beef, this dish comes complimentary or complementary, whichever way you want to look at it.
Fried with the fat drippings from the beef, this rice is heady with smoky wok hei. Tasty goes without saying when it is covered with unctuous beef fat. If this doesn’t give you a heart attack, it might give your cardiologist one.
Grilled New Zealand lamb cutlet
When you order the New Zealand lamb rack, each lamb cutlet is sliced and individually grilled to impart more caramelized flavour.
Smoky charred aromas are wafting from this juicy lamb cutlet. I disregard the homemade mint sauce because all I want to taste is mouth-watering lamb flavours. With just a pinch of salt, this little bad boy is as good as some of the best in Australia.
Fried bee hoon Boss style
There are a number of items on the menu with the added narrative “Boss style”.
I would hazard a guess the boss of this place loves his food cooked a certain style hence the term.
“Apparently, there are four different kitchens in this restaurant” the Professor tells us.
I marvel at the extensive menu of Ubin that serves Chinese style seafood such as steamed soon hock fish, garoupa or patin to western style grilled beef steaks, whole suckling pig and German style roasted pork knuckle, satay, hawker style dishes as well as southern Indian style nasi biryani, chicken and prawn masala.
“It looks like the owner has just gone on a food safari, loved it so much and put everything he ate on this menu!” I say.
Mysaucepan and I have an on-going debate as to whether chilli style mud crabs originated from Singapore or Malaysia.
But what we do agree is chilli crabs taste bloody delicious.
The Catch Seafood Restaurant & Bar is conveniently located below a block of HDB flats in Clementi.
We are catching up with Mysaucepan‘s cousin Zack and his family who stays within walking distance of this restaurant.
Battered white bait
I am not a big fan of deep fried white bait when having yum cha in Sydney but these ones are truly exceptional.
Light, crisp and golden brown on the outside, these little babies are addictive as an appetizer.
Lala clams with Chinese rice wine
A large bowl of lala clams with Chinese rice wine is the Asian equivalent of seafood cooked with alcohol.
With just one sip of this broth, I know I will be replicating this dish when I get back to the winter in Sydney. Nevermind the clams because the soup is heart-warming with slices of Chinese black fungus, ginger and basil.
So simple, yet so good.
Deep fried man tou
It is difficult to go past these golden brown fluffy flour bombs that precede the king of Singapore’s favourite dishes.
Chilli mud crabs
What can I say about the dish that Singapore has claimed to be its very own?
Through the years we have visited Singapore, this dish is always on the cards but this one today might top all the others we have tasted before.
Zack tells us the owner of this restaurant has JVed with his seafood supplier in business and this may just explain the freshness of these mud crabs. The sauce is rich, eggy and power-packed with crab flavour.
I am impressed by my own finger maneuvering skills in taking photos while tucking into this saucy piece of crab without smearing sauce all over my Lumix.
Black pepper mud crabs
The black pepper mud crabs are equally as tasty with its bold peppery taste.
Drunken prawns in Chinese wine broth
Drunken prawns in Chinese wine broth is another dish we seldom cook at home and I wonder why.
Fragrant with fresh ginger, coriander and shallots, the broth with hints of Chinese wine is sensational even on its own. This is another dish that will definitely be replicated when we get home to Sydney.
Claypot pork belly with salted fish
Claypot pork belly with salted fish is another standout dish for me during this food safari.
Thin slices of pork belly are stir-fried with onion, dried red chillies, bits of salted fish, garlic, shallots with a splash of cooking wine. When I get home, I will splash some brandy with this dish in the kitchen and have it with white congee to delight myself this winter.
The Catch Seafoood Restaurant & Bar has an extensive menu and this is another fantastic find this trip.
Of course, we can never go past the awesome hawker food when in Singapore and one of my all-time favourites is the iconic Tian Tian hainanese chicken rice at Maxwell Food Centre.
Long queues are legendary at this stall and today is no different although it only just 11am in the morning on a weekday.
Hainanese chicken rice lovers might have read that the ex-chef of Tian Tian, Ah Tai, has since opened up his very own hainanese chicken rice stall just a few clicks from his previous stomping ground in Maxwell Food Centre.
There is also some great debate on YouTube as to which one is better.
So before I left Sydney, I did some online research to see what pundits say about these two stalls among another four or five other chicken rice stalls all in the same location. It seems that if you are selling chicken rice at Maxwell and you’re not either Tian Tian or Ah Tai, then you seem to be going against every grain of good business acumen.
Therefore, I am determined to find out for myself which one is better.
I devise a strategy with Mysaucepan to get a plate of chicken each from these two stalls … vertical tasting (just like wine) if you like.
“I queue here and you queue at Tian Tian” I say to her, chuckling inside in seeing the snaking queue at Tian Tian while there is hardly anyone at Ah Tai.
I meet At Tai and am delighted he is serving me personally today at his stall because I have seen journalists and food writers interviewing him on YouTube.
Ah Tai is friendly and affable and I like him already. I have only ordered a plate of chicken from him and on seeing I am armed with a camera and Mysaucepan returning with another plate of chicken, rice and soup from Tian Tian, he sense we might be doing a comparison tasting today.
He generously brings me a complimentary bowl of rice, soup and joins us at our table, eager to find out what we think.
The Verdict ~ Tian Tian vs Ah Tai
Firstly, it should be noted Tian Tian‘s plate of chicken is bigger at $S10 because Mysaucepan ordered half a chicken. I only ordered a smaller plate of chicken without rice for one person which Ah Tai recommended and it is priced at $S6.
The rice – Winner: Ah Tai
Ah Tai‘s rice is a firmer and more al dente in texture with individual rice grains clearly visible and a little more flavoursome. Tian Tian‘s rice is more sticky and there appears to be more broken grains.
The chicken – Winner: Tian Tian
Size-wise, Ah Tai‘s chicken is sliced into smaller slivers and I prefer the chunkier pieces of Tian Tian. Perhaps I have been in Australia for too long because I know Singaporeans and Malaysians generally prefer smaller pieces of bite-size meat. Maybe I just have a big mouth. Texture-wise, Tian Tian‘s chicken breast and drumstick meat is decidedly smoother and silkier.
The soy gravy – Winner: Tian Tian
Tian Tian‘s soy gravy is slightly thicker with a corn starch and this is my personal preference. Mysaucepan being Hainanese tells me this is not in line with what she knows as tradition. Ah Tai‘s soy gravy is clearer and also decidedly more salty. There are varying amounts of sweetness and sesame oil in both but we both prefer the taste of Tian Tian‘s soy gravy.
The chilli sauce – Winner: Ah Tai
Ah Tai‘s chilli sauce is a deeper orange and less watery. It is also more gingery and wholesome than Tian Tian.
Overall – Winner: Tian Tian
The rice is important but when it comes down to it, the chicken must be smooth and silky. Tian Tian‘s chicken epitomizes this quality. This is interesting when Ah Tai was its former chef.
I came back to Maxwell on Monday for another plate of Tian Tian‘s chicken only to find them closed. In its absence, Ah Tai‘s plate of chicken fixed me up just fine. Both are ‘heavy weights’ in Singapore’s chicken rice arena.
Fresh sugar cane juice is the standard procedure to wash away garlic, ginger and chilli remnants in your mouth after an indulgence at Maxwell Food Centre.
Drumstick soya sauce chicken with noodles
“Go check out the soy sauce chicken at Chinatown’s food court” Mysaucepan‘s mum tells us.
This sage advice from my mother-in-law turns out to be yet another beautiful meal as we queue up at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle stall in Chinatown Food Complex.
Though the queue is rather long, it moves quickly because the proprietor / “chicken chopper” wields his meat cleaver like a samurai warrior. Slicing and chopping as I take photos while Mysaucepan is in queue, a whole chicken disappears before my eyes within seconds.
I can’t quite decide which is a better sight – these luscious and delectable golden brown birds hanging on display or luscious and delectable models in a fashion parade, strutting their stuff on a catwalk.
Drumstick soya sauce chicken with noodles
This is Mysaucepan‘s lunch so I’m just picking at her food because I am gearing up for half a chicken all to myself (that is, I’m not sharing) at Tian Tian.
But one bite onto this piece of chicken and I am truly sold. The skin is sweet, apparently marinated with maltose sugar and soy but the unsung hero is actually the noodles. It is al dente in the spirit of a good kon low meen a la Malaysian style.
My only advice to you is to tell the stall owner not to put that ghastly chilli sauce with dried shrimp on the same plate.
I like to think I am eating Hong Kong style soy sauce chicken and the only appropriate sauce to go with this is pickled green chillies with light soy, separately, on a dipping plate.
Orchien or fried oyster omelette
What’s the calorie intake on this plate of orchien omelette?
If you tried answering this question, then you’re not with me so far. This is a food safari so does it look to you that I am counting calories?!
BBQ chicken wings
My criteria for awesome BBQ chicken wings is the skin must be dry like edible baking paper whilst the slivers of wing meat inside are moist and juicy.
These ones here at Chomp Chomp Food Centre are pretty good though it can be better.
Pork satay and chicken satay
Mysaucepan is a fan of satay, which probably explains why she married a Malaysian boy like me.
I grew up with the best satays in the world in Malaysia. Unfortunately, these pork and chicken satays are totally forgettable. There is almost no hint of lemongrass which is the essential ingredient apart from sweet cumin (‘jintan manis’ in Bahasa) among a host of other ingredients that make a good Malaysian satay recipe.
One of only few occasions I would advocate an overload of sugar in my cooking is right here … good Malaysian-style satay requires fairly generous amounts of sugar in order to caramelize the meat on the grill.
All I taste in these satays is one-dimensional curry powder and the peanut sauce has zero attitude unlike the great Malay style satays of Malaysia. I should have known because these are pork satays and are cooked by Chinese people.
I am not a fan of popiah because unlike the heyday of popiahs, the ingredients that go into these rolls vary from stall to stall.
Singapore style Hokkien fried mee
I don’t eat Singapore style Hokkien fried mee at all because I grew up with Malaysian style Hokkien mee from Kuala Lumpur.
Mysaucepan tells me this is pretty good and without even tasting it, I beg to differ.
I have been trying to track down a good roti canai (roti prata in Singapore) and I have yet to find one this trip.
The ones in Singapore tend to be crispy on the outside and doughy in the middle.
For me a good roti prata needs to be fluffy and crisp outside, having been smacked together to loosen and release any remaining damp air inside the roti before it gathers moisture.
Steamed red fish head
I was trying to hunt down a good steamed fish head for my mother-in-law and was excited when I read about a soong fish head at Cafe De Hong Kong on Balestier Road.
We should have double-checked because the fish head that arrives is a red fish head more appropriate for the style of Indian fish head curry.
One thing to remember at zi char restaurants in Singapore is they do charge for all items placed before you – peanuts, pickled vegetables and wet paper towels.
A roast chicken is crisp with bits of crispy garlic for good measure but we have tasted some decidedly better ones.
You mak vegetable with fried dace and black bean
Stir-fried you mak vegetables are crunchy but when a can of fried dace with black beans from a supermarket shelf is used as a main ingredient, I am not sure if this dish should be on a restaurant menu.
Remember, the best thing to drink with crispy skin roast chicken is an icy cold beer.
Chwee kwei or rice cakes with chye poh and sambal
I don’t eat chwee kwei at all because I find plain gelationous rice and sour chye poh to be a mismatch.
Mysaucepan tells me this is pretty good and without even tasting it, I beg to differ.
Mee pok with fish balls
Mysaucepan loves mee pok because she grew up in Singapore.
For me, the thought of sweet tomato sauce in wanton style noodles that I am so used to being savoury is enough to make me rather nauseous.
Penang style char kway teow
During this trip, I noticed so many young women eating by themselves and it is not surprising because I have read rather extensively about Singapore’s history and its economy.
There are 65% and 34% of girls aged between 25 – 29 and 30 – 34 respectively who are single and never married! Ex-PM Lee Kuan Yew signaled this as an issue way back in the 1980s and it looks like the issue has become more pervasive. I remind single guy friends in Sydney this is the case too.
So I find myself chatting to two women having lunch by themselves, both having a plate of Penang style CKT of their own. I tell them I grew up in Malaysia and is eager to find out whether they actually prefer Singapore or Malaysian style CKT.
For the uninitiated, Malaysian style CKT is savoury in taste whilst Singaporean style CKT has a sweet tinge because hawkers use sweet black caramelized sauce.
They are both Singaporeans and they tell me with great enthusiasm they prefer Malaysian style – they should since I caught them both eating it, right?
BBQ chicken wings
When I am in Singapore, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night craving for BBQ chicken wings.
When you think about it, fried chicken has made America really, really fat. So why wouldn’t you eat roast chicken when much fat has been rendered and it tastes so damn good?
This may just explain why Singaporeans have adopted eating as their national past time and yet, they remain rather fit and slim.
I hope you have enjoyed my latest round up of our food escapades in this awesome food haven. I may have been born in Kuala Lumpur but I love Singapore for its food and its humble beginnings.
I feel safe wondering in this beautiful city searching for a late night feed. Singaporeans are friendly, welcoming and whenever I leave the Lion City, I know I will always be back.
So dear readers, what is your favourite food in Singapore and where would you find the best of it?
Chui Xiang Kitchen
126 Casuarina Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6458 4567
Opening Hours: 7 days Lunch 11am – 230pm, Dinner 5pm – 1030pm
New Ubin Seafood
Block 27 Sin Ming Road,
Sin Ming Industrial Estate Sector A, Singapore
Tel: +65 6466 9558 or SMS at +65 9740 6870
Opening Hours: Lunch: Tuesday – Friday 11am – 2pm, Saturday, Sunday & Public Holiday 1130am – 230pm Dinner: 530pm – 1030pm daily
The Catch Seafood Restaurant & Bar
Block 106, Clementi Street 12, Singapore
Tel: +65 6546 2155
Opening Hours: 7 days Lunch 12pm – 230pm Dinner 5pm – 11pm
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Tel: +65 9691 4852
Opening Hours: 11am – 8pm or until sold out, closed on Mondays
Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice
Tel: +65 8137 6559
Opening Hours: 7 days 11am – 730pm
Maxwell Food Centre
1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle
Chinatown Food Complex
Blk 335, Smith Street, Singapore
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 1030am – 7pm, Saturday & Sunday 830am – 7pm, Closed on Wednesdays
Chomp Chomp Food Centre
20 Kensington Park Road (Serangoon Gardens), Singapore
Opening Hours: Daily 5pm to midnight though opening hours of individual stalls may vary
RK Eating House
Tel: +65 6289 5379 1 Kensington Park Road (Serangoon Gardens), Singapore
Opening Hours: 24 Hours
Cafe De Hong Kong
586 Balestier Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6255 3865
Opening Hours: Lunch 1130am – 3pm, Dinner 530pm – 12am
#B4-03/04, ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn, Singapore
Tel: +65 6509 9198
Opening Hours: Sunday – Thursday & Public Holidays 10am – 10pm, Eve of Public Holiday, Friday & Saturday 10am – 11pm
Level 4, Wisma Atria
435 Orchard Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 6737 9881
Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm daily