It has been said--and I think by The New Yorker
, so you know it's legit--that Singaporeans just may be the most gastronomically homesick people you will ever come across. Although American by nationality, I so clearly experience that deep-seated longing every moment I am away from that Southeast Asian tropical haven. In Singapore, you will find dishes as culturally diverse and hybridized as its creators, with influences of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisine. In Singapore, eating is not just a physical process of ingesting food, but the ultimate hedonistic experience that is meant to be shared with friends and family alike. Only in Singapore will you find yourself chatting rather intensely with a buddy about where to go for lunch during breakfast, for dinner during lunch, and for supper during dinner. It's an appreciation of food on a whole other level.
From the first time my feet trekked the pretty-damn-clean streets of Singapore in 2007, searching for that one hawker stall that serves the best Hainanese chicken rice (a Singaporean specialty), or melt-in-your-mouth roti prata (a crepe-like Indian pancake that can be savory or sweet), or, my favorite, bak chor mee (a delicate Chinese noodle dish with pork, mushrooms, lettuce, and other bits of goodness), I have made it my life mission to return every year to that culinary mecca that is my absolute favorite city-state-island-country. Last month, I returned "home" to Singapore to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I could spend the next thousand words describing the epicurean adventures I had during those glorious two weeks, but instead, I will give you some of my highlights in a "36-hours-in-Singapore" kind of way. Here are some recommendations for places to visit, if you ever find yourself in the stomach of Southeast Asia.
Porridge at the Marine Parade
After landing at Changi airport, I always go straight to Marine Parade
for some soothing Chinese rice-based porridge--not because it has the best Teochew or pork or cuttlefish porridge, but because it's the closest hawker centre (an open-air food court) to the airport. This dish is great for a delicate, post-travel stomach.
A proper breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam: kopi, kaya toast, and three-minute egg
At this well-known "kopitiam," a local coffee and breakfast shop, I had my first taste of Singapore's traditional breakfast: coffee (kopi) with condensed milk and crispy toast spread with butter and kaya, a custard-y jam made from coconut milk, eggs, and pandan leaves. You must also try "three-minute" or "half-boiled" egg, which is perfectly soft-boiled and sprinkled with white pepper and dashes of soy sauce. Second recommendation: Ya Kun
is another kopitiam chain in Singapore where you can find kaya toast, half-boiled egg, etc. If I can't make it out to Killiney
, you can probably find me at Ya Kun.
Lunch at Wee Nam Kee: Hainanese chicken rice
If Singapore were to have an official national dish, it'd probably be "Hainanese chicken rice." And if every Singaporean were to chime in about where to get the "best" chicken rice, we would never hear the end of it. My preferred place, however, is Wee Nam Kee
, where you can get the most delicious steamed or roasted chicken, cooked with garlic and ginger and served with a fragrant bowl of rice that had been slow cooked in chicken broth. A bowl of hot broth accompanies the dish.
Coffee + Shop at A Curious Teepee
As tempting as it is to eat all day, you probably should do something else for a short while. Like shopping or having a fresh cup of coffee. At A Curious Teepee
, a mixed concept store on Orchard Road, you can luckily do both. As the name might suggest, this shop is filled with rather curious objects, like coasters printed with Rorschach inkblots, wooden rulers in the shape of revolvers, and aromatherapy oils made locally by a friend of ACT's owner, Tracy Phillips. If you're looking for cool and unique gifts to bring home, definitely swing by (and tell Tracy I said hi!). Second recommendation: Check out Books Actually
, a well-curated independent bookstore.
Second Lunch at Puay Heng: Bak Chor Mee
I live for bak chor mee - it's as simple as that. My last meal on Earth will hopefully be this noodle dish with minced pork, stewed mushrooms, fried bits of fish and shrimp, and a splash of Chinese black vinegar and a bit chili. A bowl of hot broth also accompanies this meal. Top the whole thing off with supremely fresh watermelon juice (the fruits of Southeast Asia taste like no other, my friends), and you will hear the angels sing for joy in three-part harmony.
First Snack at Hock Lam Beef
Just next door to Puay Heng is another great (also well-known) joint that serves authentic Teochew beef kway teow (flat rice noodles). I prefer the beef noodles in soup over the dry version, but no one will stop you from eating both.
Dessert at Teh Tarik Cartel: Milo Dinosaur
One great way to stay cool in the tropical heat of Singapore is to have a Milo Dinosaur. Milo is a chocolate malt drink (think Ovaltine or Horlicks) that's quite popular in Singapore. When you order a "Milo Dinosaur," you're asking for the drink with extra scoops of Milo powder atop.
Seafood Dinner at Long Beach in Dempsey
You cannot come to Singapore without trying its specialty crab dishes: black pepper crab and its "wetter" counterpart, chilli crab. At Long Beach restaurant in Dempsey, which has been credited to have invented the black pepper crab, you will find both variations of hard-shelled crabs in a gravy that has either a pepper or chilli and tomato sauce base. If you order chilli crab, you must get the fried mantou (Chinese bun) to sop up the chilli sauce. Lip-smackingly good.
Drinks at OverEasy
is a great mellow nightspot to go to when you and your friends just want to relax and "shake leg" (Singaporean idiom meaning "being idle"). I love sitting outdoors there with my friends, sipping on iced coffee while they get their drink on. Plus, you get a great view of Marina Bay.
Supper at Newton Circus: Carrot Cake
Uncle Heng's carrot cake in the Newton Circus
hawker centre will always have a special place in my heart. Fried carrot cake, or chai tow kway, in Singapore is not sweet, but a savory dish of white radish (i.e., white carrot) that is stir fried with egg, garlic, spring onions, and other ingredients that are probably top secret. You can have it "black" (with a sweet black sauce) or "white" (plain), and both options are fantastic. It's my go-to spot before heading to bed.
just eat it
i'll take you there