Friday, April 27, 2012

Singapore 1 - Singaporean Must-Eats

Top 10 Singaporean Must-Eats


I'll take a deep breath before diving into my mass of overseas dining photos.


To start with... before I left for Singapore I did some research on the food culture there. The general consensus was that it wasn't so much the fine dining culture that was unique but the street food. By the end of the trip, I started to realize that this translates to most of SE-Asia.

In any case, there are some uniquely Singaporean dishes that are most frequently recommended. I'll share what I managed to get a taste of. Some of the items may be considered Malaysian, or indeed just generally Indo-Chinese but I've put them on here anyway.

1. Kaya toast

Plain kaya toast with butter

I'll start off with something that seems unique to that part of Asia and is also incredibly delicious. I've seen notices selling 'kaya toast' in Brisbane Asian eateries (mostly in Sunnybank, as expected) but never felt the desire to try it. How silly I've been! The concept of kaya toast is simple. Perhaps I should first explain what kaya is. To me, it's a creamy, gel-like coconut spread. Wikipedia says it's a coconut egg jam made with duck or chicken eggs. Well, that would explain the creamy consistency then... it must be semi custard based. Whatever the mechanics behind this spread, I love it.

Inside of kaya toast

We first tried kaya toast at 'Ya Kun Kaya Toast', a frachise that we found in other locations too. The classic variant of kaya toast is simply the spread sandwiched between 2 slices of dark sweet bread (crusts off; noone in Asia likes crusts) with a knob of melty butter. This is what I got and delicious as is.

French toast with kaya

There are other things on the menu. Marc tried a French toast version that is pretty self explanatory but you spread your own preferred amount of kaya on.

Milo and tea Frostyz 

We were also tempted by the beverages on the menu. I had a tea Frostyz whilst Marc got a milo-flavored one. They're basically flavored frappes but IMO quite awesome. In fact I liked the tea Frostyz so much that I picked up another one at the airport on my way home to Brisbane.

Pork floss toast with kopi and soft-boiled eggs

There are other kaya toast franchises - probably tonnes. Another I ate at was called Toast Box. I went to the one located in the Marina Bay Sands Shopping Centre and it had the cutest decor. To satisfy my food blogging obligations of trying something different, I picked up a pork floss toast. It was in no way as awesome as the kaya toast but uh, 'interesting' anyway. It was a huge slab of toast covered with pork floss and mayo. I got a set meal, which came with soft-boiled eggs and coffee (aka 'kopi', which is automatically sweetened even if you hate sugar in coffee, as I do).

A point I'd like to make here is that Ya Kun also sold the kaya toast in set meals with soft-boiled eggs so I take that to be a normal addition to toast breakfast in Singapore? I wasn't a huge fan of mine and didn't see the point of the squelchy bland goo but maybe there's something you're supposed to do to it that I wasn't doing.

2. Chili crab

Chili crab 

The main thing I wanted to try in Singapore is also one of my favorite dishes of all time. That's quite a big call. Peking duck is up there. Ham, cheese and tomato toasties might be too (hey, they don't have to be fancy to be perfect) and Singaporean chili crab is another. There was no way I was going to pass up trying the real deal in Singapore.

I discovered a uni friend of mine was actually living in Singapore. Through joint Googling efforts, we found that one of the most highly recommended places to get chili crab was called No Signboard Restaurant. Strange name, I know. There are several locations and we went to the one at The Esplanade.

Singapore chili crab isn't super hot spicy. Rather, the sauce is a perfect mix of a sweet chili and tomato sauce flavor with other special ingredients that make it awesome. Usually you sop the sauce up with some steamed buns. We ordered plain, fried steamed buns (crunchy exterior) that were prefect for the job.

Our crab itself was average. I think we had sandcrab which is far inferior to mudcrab in terms of flesh sweetness and plumpness. The sauce was great though!

3. Cereal prawns

Cereal prawns

The name of this dish may seem confusing and indeed it should be. We saw some other radically named dishes in Singapore such as fried carrot cake but that turned out to be nothing like it suggests. Cereal prawns, on the other hand, at least have some semblance to their namesake. I've had oat-battered prawns in Malaya Corner in Sunnybank and LOVED them. This is dish was similar - fried prawns with a crunchy crumbly outside. Think cornflakes mixed with oaty flakes. It might seem like an odd concept but it works fabulously. IMO much superior to breadcrumbs :).

4. Nasi lemak

Something that's not quite a nasi lemak but similar concept

Nasi means rice in malay and nasi lemak apparently translates to 'fatty rice'. It's something I often get at Malaya Corner as well and what I know of it is: a serve of coconutty rice with an assortment of accompaniments including curried meats, pickled veggies, anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, sambal and usually an egg of some description. I think there are several variants (possibly differing in what accompaniments go with the rice) but you see these types of dish layouts everywhere through Singapore and Malaysia. I had one version on my first day in Singapore. Not sure which type of nasi ___ it was but it came with a chicken leg and some other bits and pieces. I wasn't blown away by this particular one (had it in a casual restaurant inside a shopping centre, when really they're probably best had at street-side eateries) but you win some and you lose some

5. Char kway teow

Char kway teow

This is one of my favorite basic Indo-Chinese dishes. It's a type of stir-fried flat rice noodle cooked with sweet dark soy, often with prawns, chicken, bean sprouts, egg and other assorted goodies. We had varients of this dish at several different locations throughout our trip. A good char kway teow is flavorsome, saucey and packed with stuff. It goes great with beer too. Yum!!!

6. Satay skewers

Satay chicken and beef skewers with peanut dip

I didn't really think I could claim satay skewers as Singaporean but I sorted the skewer photos I had into this blog post anyway... and it turns out that my decision was justified! When I Googled 'Singaporean cuisine', there were tonnes of photos of satay skewers. Whatdya know. We had some awesome ones by the water along Boat Quay (near the Fullerton). There were heaps of seafood restaurants and we picked a random busy one. I liked these skewers so much I found myself randomly craving them throughout the rest of my trip.

7. Chicken rice

Chicken rice

In Australia, I know this dish as Hainanese chicken rice but in Singapore, it seems to be more commonly referred to as just 'chicken rice'. The deal with this is that chicken gets boiled (in a special stock, in a special way so that it stays nice and tender). The stock is then supposed to be used to flavor the rice. The meal usually also comes with cucumbers (as does most Singaporean meals... why??) and a broth, possibly also made from the chicken stock. I tried this at a stall in Lau Pa Sat. I was thinking that the chicken was a bit bland when I remembered you're supposed to have it with dipping sauce! There's usually a garlic sauce and a chili sauce. Oops, I forgot.

8. Coconut juice and other forms of fresh fruit juice

Mango and pineapple juice

Fresh fruit is plentiful around the equator so you'd be crazy not to try some fresh fruit juice. It's so refreshing ordering mango smoothie or mango juice and having something blended from real mango rather than mango syrup or powder.

Coconut juice

I just HAD to order a coconut juice inside an actual coconut. It's one of those tropical holiday must-do's, like sipping pina coladas (which, BTW, I didn't actually get to do). I don't think coconut juice is that amazing but it does complement the humid, hot weather and it's nice with spicy food. The other drink we had was a blend of mango and pineapple. Delish!

9. Something pandan flavored

Pandan coconut milk

Pandan is something that confuses a lot of people but is very typical to Indo-Chinese desserts. It's a large leafy plant and the leaves are used to infuse the flavor into things. Pandan flavoring can be applied to cakes, breads, desserts, puddings... the list goes on. I didn't have anything too extravagent on my trip. On the first day, I had some pandan coconut milk. It was nice! Pandan had a refreshing, almost grass-like flavor that goes really well with milky things.


10. Iced kacang/mango pudding

Mango pudding

Iced kacang was something on my list that I DIDN'T get to try on the trip. We can get versions of it in Australia - shaved ice often with red bean, jelly, lotus seeds and misc, topped with condensed milk. I NEARLY bought some but tried a mango pudding from the same dessert shop. That's why mango pudding is on here... not because it's uniquely Singaporean but because I wanted to upload the photo somewhere haha. It was a nice mango pudding though!

And a bonus no 11 for BEVERAGES!: Tiger beer/Singapore Sling

Finally, no list from me can be complete without some BOOZE. I won't upload any photos of Tiger because it features in many other food photos of mine. We didn't just drink Tiger in Singapore. It became our staple throughout Borneo and Kuala Lumpur too. I had a couple Singapore Slings from a club we went to (name eludes me) and loved them.

Lau Pa Sat

As I mentioned above, most of this food is street food and can be found in hawker centres. We were directed to one such food court by a kind cabbie: the Lau Pa Sat food market. It was unreal. There's a giant pavillion filled with hundreds of food stalls selling every type of Asian street fare imaginable (we got some decent Vietnamese food from there too) all at incredible low prices. The seating is food court-like so you and your friends can satisfy your differed cravings and come together to eat. If there was something like this in Brisbane, I would die and go to heaven.

Hopefully the above guide will give you an idea of some things to try if you are to visit Singapore in the near future.

6 comments:

  1. what you had there was a nasi bojari and looks exactly like what you get from a chain in msia called madam kwan. btw, its lemak not lamek.

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  2. Great post Hungry Kitten! Can't wait to go to Singapore to try their food!

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  3. Hi Joe...
    I think the chainstore we went to was called Grandma's Kitchen or something? It was in a shopping centre called Raffles? And thanks for the spelling correction! I'll fix it later :).

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  4. Hi DolceBunnie...
    There are most posts about Singapore coming up so stay tuned!

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  5. Nice... I love the food in Singapore/Malaysia :) Some comments:

    - The half boiled eggs are normally eaten with a few drops of soy sauce, and you either slurp it down from the saucer, eat it with a spoon, or dip your toast in it (my preferred method).

    - Chili crabs are soooo yum. It's a must eat every time I'm in Singapore. Actually I'd be happy eating plain rice with the sauce from this dish. Also worth trying is the black pepper crab - some people think this is even better than chili crab.

    - Some other good local food to try is roti prata (or its relatives roti john and murtabak), and frogs leg porridge.

    - A good and popular website/resource for (mostly) street food in Singapore is http://ieatishootipost.sg/ - I've met the author a few times, and we have his books 'There's no carrot in carrot cake', and 'The end of char kway teow'. If you're planning another visit I can lend them to you. Or just peruse the blog... btw his top 10 for tourists is at http://ieatishootipost.sg/2011/10/top-ten-things-to-eat-in-singapore.html#more, looks like you've done well to get to a few of the items on the list :)

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  6. Hi quop...

    Thanks so much for your comment! Very comprehensive. I'll DEFINITELY be going back perhaps sooner rather than later so I'll be checking out those links. And yes, we saw the black pepper crab around so that's going to be on my to-eat list now, after your recommendation.

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