Singapore


We landed in Singapore very early in the morning and yet our hotel still allowed us to check in and get to our room. Though we felt like napping, we couldn’t and wouldn’t as we were meeting Ivan of food.recentrunes.com and he was going to take us to the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre. Connecting with a local is always a great idea when travelling – Ivan took us to places we’d never think of going and he’s fun and a wealth of information on all things food. For example, this hawker centre he bought us to is well away from the centre and we didn’t see a single other tourist or expat there. According to him, it’s also got the highest concentration of award winning stalls so yeah, a good place! If you’re wondering about what a hawker centre is, imagine a giant covered outdoor food court.

Old Airport Road Hawker Centre

When we got there, we met up with another local food blogger, Catherine of Camemberu, who’d been holding down a large table for us. They sat us down (me and two colleagues) while they scoured the hawker centre (my French colleague thought I said “hooker centre” each time) for good eats. From a stall nearby, I bought big tumblers of refreshing and sweet sugar cane juice for everyone and we sat there waiting to see what would happen.

Sugar Cane Juice

Oh boy, did things happen! Ivan returned with two plates of my favourite childhood dish – chai tow kway (or fried carrot cake – I have a cheat’s version here) – in both black and white versions. My favourite is still the white one as it’s what I grew up with but the sweetness of the black version (cooked with a dark caramelly soy sauce) was addictive. Off he went again.

Fried Carrot Cake, Black

Fried Carrot Cake, White

Now Catherine returned with a big plate of char kway teow. Brilliant stuff with a good chilli kick – I wish it was just as good and just as cheap here in London.

Char Kway Teow

Then back Ivan came again and this time with two plates of popiah. Flour based skins are rolled around a mixture of stewed jicama (yam bean) and various sauces and the rolls are extremely moreish. These were vegetarian ones but it’s not uncommon to find some Chinese sausage or crabmeat in them.

Popiah

He returned one final time with three (THREE!) plates of Singaporean fried Hokkien mee. This one hails from the famous Nam Sing stall (given the highest rating of ‘Die, die must try!’ in Singapore’s fabulous Makansutra guide) – the noodles soak up the stock in which it’s cooked and what results is a dry Hokkien mee, very unlike the slightly soupier versions one tends to find. They were delicious and I was just sorry we couldn’t finish them all.

Singapore Hokkien Mee

Though we were rubbing tummies by this point (jetlag always seems to shrink stomach volume), Ivan wasn’t done with us. He ran off again for a bit and then reappeared with a trayful of desserts!

Desserts

Breaking them down, we had an ice kacang (pronounced ‘kachang’) which is a mountain of shaved ice on top of beans and corn and jelly and atap seeds and it’s doused with multicoloured syrups. Very cold and very sweet – I used to eat this a lot as a kid but just cannot deal with all the syrup now!

Ice Kacang

Or nee is a yam paste – and that’s about it. Ivan told us that it used to be cooked with lard but with health at the forefront of everyone’s mind nowadays, it’s now cooked with shallot oil.

Or Nee

How about a thick and gooey mung bean soup? It wasn’t very sweet and it went well with the crispy cut up Chinese fritters on top.

Mung Bean Soup

Finally, there was cendol (pronounced ‘chendol’). The soupy mixture is a mixture of shaved ice, coconut milk and brown gula melaka (a dark palm sugar) and hidden underneath it all is a treasure trove of green noodles. Though I’ve never been the biggest fan of Asian desserts, my mouth is watering thinking about this again.

The Green Worms

Needless to say, we didn’t finish everything; I only wish we hadn’t been so jet lagged as then we’d have been able to eat more food! Thank you again, Ivan and Catherine!

There were so many food stands, each one offering different things. If, for example, you weren’t interested in the dishes above, perhaps a crocodile paw hotpot is more to your liking?

Claypot Crocodile Paw

Old Airport Road Hawker Centre
Blk 51 Old Airport Road
Singapore

We wanted our last dinner in Singapore to be memorable and so we arranged to meet some friends at Long Beach Seafood Restaurant on the East Coast Parkway. Upon first entering, there’s a bank of fish tanks lining the left hand side of the large restaurant, each tank containing a different variety of fish or shellfish. They’re not for show either as I saw people catch some for cooking.

There was one main reason why we chose this restaurant – their famous black pepper crab! And here was ours.

Black Pepper Crab

The crab was an incredibly meaty one with lots of flavourful flesh; this monster fed two of us quite comfortably. However, I was a little let down by the black pepper flavouring. While it packed the heat you’d expect from so much pepper, the flavour was a bit one-dimensional with nothing to balance that black pepper taste. Oh well, the crab more than made up for it.

There was kangkong belacan (gotta eat our veggies and this one is one of my favourites – it’s also known as ong choi or water convovulus) ,

Kangkong Belacan

country-style tofu (fried tofu topped with meat and prawns in sauce),

Country-Style Tofu

Mandarin-style pork (? it was in a sweet sauce),

Mandarin Pork?

an excellent barbecued fish (not too sure what kind of fish it was – we weren’t told),

Barbecued Fish

and a most delicious silver-fish fried rice.

Silver Fish Fried Rice

Unfortunately, I cannot say how much this meal cost as a couple of kind friends picked up the tab but I can imagine that it’s not cheap. It’s a fantastic seafood meal though, with such fresh seafood, and if you’re not fond of our fishy friends, I saw a whole braised pig’s trotter at the next table that looked great!

Long Beach Seafood Restaurant
1018 East Coast Parkway
Singapore

There are other branches on Dempsey Road, the IMM building, and at the East Coast Seafood Centre.

I couldn’t leave Singapore without eating at a proper hawker centre. It was suggested to us that we visit the Maxwell Road Food Centre and as it was located in Chinatown, our intended destination one day, we headed there for lunch.

I decided to have my all-time favourite hawker dish – chai tow kway. Yes, I know I’d already had a good taste of it at the Straits Kitchen but I needed another plateful! There’s a bit of chili paste fried in with this one though it’s not exactly visible. To drink, I had my favourite drink that isn’t available in the UK – fresh sugarcane juice. You can’t make it with a regular juice; instead, the stalks of sugarcane are pressed through rollers and that greenish liquid is what results. It’s sweet (duh) and very refreshing.

Chai Tow Kway and Sugarcane Juice

My friend chose to queue at the stall with the longest line and was rewarded with this delectable looking plate of Hainanese chicken rice (boiled chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock – sounds boring, tastes wonderful). I had a little taste – it was very good. Well worth the long queue!

Hainanese Chicken Rice

She also had this very cute cup of fresh soy bean milk.

Soy Bean Milk

For dessert, we split a deliciously crispy pisang goreng (fried banana) and a few pieces of hum jin pang (sweet five-spice dough fritters – the stall at this hawker centre is famous for them and I had to queue). Both were excellent – fresh and not at all soggy.

Pisang Goreng

Hum Jin Pang

As this hawker centre was right by Chinatown, it’s unsurprising that there aren’t many Malay or Indian food stalls. That was a bit of a shame but there were already so many options for us that we didn’t feel like it was lacking in anything. Finally, certain stalls only open for lunch or dinner.

Maxwell Road Food Centre
on the corner of Maxwell Road and South Bridge Road
Singapore

One morning, I dragged my friend out of bed to get to the shops early! Shopping in Singapore is fantastic and we spent a lot of time on their famous Orchard Road. Before hitting the shops though, we needed some sustenance and in order for her to try kaya, I took her to a kopitiam, a coffeeshop. I chose the Killiney Kopitiam in Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road as it was near to our hotel and was also packed.

Kopitiams are not your usual Western styled coffeeshops – there’re no cappucinos, no whipped cream, no fancy-schmancy cakes. The coffee served here is a Malaysian-style, particularly thick, almost greasy brew. Kopi is the Malay word for coffee and ordering it or kopi-o will result in a cup of black coffee. Kopi-susu is coffee-milk and a significantly lighter drink will appear if ordered. Tea is also available but as I never order it, I can’t really tell you of its variants!

Kopi Susu

I ordered kaya toast. Kaya is a coconut jam – it has the texture of grainy lemon curd but the scent and flavour of sweet coconut. It’s very addictive. The green kind is scented with pandan and the brown has the addition of brown sugar; I grew up on the green stuff and it’s still my kaya of preference. The kaya toast here was made into sandwiches of kaya and a thick layer of butter. Absolutely delectable and the big hit at this breakfast.

Kaya Toast

My friend wanted to try nasi lemak here but unfortunately, their nasi lemak was quite mediocre. The coconut rice was very lightly scented and a bit dry. The chicken wing was cold and already a little tough, so not at all freshly fried. The same applied to the ikan bilis (the little fried anchovies) as they weren’t as crunchy as they should have been. Nothing to complain about the fried fish ball and the omelette and the sambal that was provided was tasty and made everything go down easy.

Nasi Lemak

There are probably better kopitiams around but at least this one was a nice introduction.

Killiney Kopitiam
Lucky Plaza #01-10
Orchard Road
Singapore

There are branches throughout Singapore and a few in Malaysia too.

When I learned that my cousin was still in town, we arranged to meet up and I asked to meet at a restaurant serving Nyonya food. The Nyonya people, or Peranakans, descended from very early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia and who adopted many Malay customs. Nyonya cuisine has developed since then and isn’t really Chinese food nor is it Malay food but it has incorporated characteristics of both. Our mothers both cooked wonderful Nyonya food and I was looking for that wonderfulness again.

I was taken to True Blue Cuisine, a restaurant housed in a narrow colonial building that doubles up as a Nyonya museum and shop too. Upstairs is a small restaurant with beautiful Nyonya pottery (all on loan) displayed all around. We sat down, were presented with delicious prawn crackers and fried spicy prawn rolls (tiny deep-fried spring rolls filled with a very spicy dried prawn mixture), and then were left to peruse the enticing menu.

We decided on two salads not listed on the menu but were specials of the day: pomelo and banana blossom. The banana blossom salad turned out to be the spiciest thing on the table! I love the idea of a pomelo salad too – there’s a Thai recipe I’ve been sitting on for a while and now I really want to make it, having tried the version at True Blue. We were told the orchids on the pomelo salad were edible but they tasted of not much and so most were left behind.

Pomelo Salad

Banana Blossom Salad

Fried ngoh hiang – five spice meat rolls, wrapped in bean curd skin. These are usually made of pork but this restaurant was halal and so ours were chicken. Delicious – but larger than I was used to. I usually like them with a smaller diameter so they have more of the crispy wrapper.

Ngoh Hiang

Ayam pongteh – chicken stewed in preserved soy beans. I know this description probably doesn’t induce crazed drooling; the preserved soy beans are sort of like miso, if you can imagine. This was very flavourful and was a very comforting dish.

Ayam Pongteh

Chap chye – braised mixed vegetables, with bean threads, mushrooms, cabbage, fungus, etc. Just like my mother used to make – authentic!

Chap Chye

Finally, a deep-fried pomfret fish covered in spicy chili sambal. Despite the ferocious look of that chili sambal, this wasn’t too hot. Very tasty and again reminded me of home and my Mom’s delicious fried fish. This isn’t something I plan on cooking in the near future as our tiny flat will stink of fish and oil and so I like to take the few opportunities I have to eat it. Before I forget, everything was served with white rice, of course!

Fried Pomfret with Sambal

Dinner was finished with pulut hitam (sweetened black glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk) and pomelo with mango puree. Unusually, the pulut hitam was mixed with very sweet dried fruits – not my thing. The pomelo, though, was very refreshing and I’m delighted to have tried it!

After dinner, we walked downstairs to the shop and perused their range of handmade Nyonya goodies. I picked up 2 jars of pineapple tarts (one each of their soft and crispy pastry ones. We’ve already worked through the soft ones – delicious!) and debated whether to get a jar of their achar, Nyonya pickles. Unfortunately, the achar was frozen and it would have been a little difficult bringing them home! They also sell beautiful clothes made of handmade batiks – sarongs and kebayas (traditional Nyonya wear) and silk scarves (which we also purchased!). Ah, eating and shopping – it made for a terrific night.

True Blue Cuisine
117 East Coast Rd., 2nd floor
47/49 Armenian Street
Singapore

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