Chinta Manis makes innovative Nyonya kuehs
Consistently one of the world’s top three airports, Changi Airport is the most accessible airport in the world to visit, even when you don’t have a flight to catch. It should come as no surprise then that the commercial airport of Southeast Asia’s food paradise also has plenty of options for dining.
Across the three terminals at Changi Airport, you’ll find 44 cafes, five bars and lounges, 12 fast food joints, 22 places for quick bites, 43 restaurants and bistros, and five vegetarian choices – all of which are connected via the Skytrain.
Changi Airport is a 1,300-hectare space that contains the buzzing activities of 28,000 people daily, among whom are handlers who make sure 70,000 bags that come off the 108 airlines carry on smoothly. You can also eat for less than $5, which makes it just about the only airport we know which does not hold visitors and passengers to ransom with theirfood and beverage prices (at least $25 per meal abroad).
At Changi Airport, you’ll also find out how bak zhang (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings) is connected to the sarong kebaya; where you can have chendol, sliced up; and where you can be in another country (Penang, Malaysia) without even stepping out of the airport.
So where should you eat at Changi Airport? Here are our picks, and a little piece of advice: go hungry, very hungry. And take note: weekends do mean a bit of a wait as everyone else seems to have the same idea to let their stomach do the exploring.
Peach Garden's noodles with fresh prawn dumplings
Peach Garden Noodle House
Dim sum, noodles, soups and superb desserts
One of the most famous chains for superb Cantonese, even if pressed for time, delectable serves of exquisite dim sum and noodles and soups and desserts. The satisfaction will put you in good spirit for your flight. And the staff are exemplary. The noodle with fresh prawn dumpling will transport you to Hong Kong.
Peach Garden Noodle House | Where: Departure transit mall, mezzanine level 3
Chinese fast food
The specialty is hands-free fried rice ($6.50). The automated wok – you can watch it – blends rice, oil, special sauce, egg, diced carrot, barbecued pork, spring onions, shrimps, till every rice grain is silkily coated. It is the first Chinese fast food introduced in Singapore by the TungLok group. There are 30 dishes to choose from, and if the machines do their job, everything should be evenly-flavoured. All ingredients are weighed, and it’s very filling value for money. Ruyi is open 24 hours all week so you’ll find students here at suppertime.
Ruyi | Where: Departure check-in hall, public area
Kim Choo's chilli prawn dumpling
Kueh-kueh given modern twist
A Peranakan patisserie which also serves home-cooked food. Stepping into Chinta Manis is like being in a friend’s kitchen: the kuehs are handmade daily by the pastry chef who has worked for the Sultan of Brunei. Have a square of chendol kueh (90 cents to $1.10), though the bestseller is the dried mee siam, peculiar to Nyonya cuisine. The pastry chef is always experimenting; expect dark chocolate ondeh-ondeh next.
Chinta Manis | Where: Arrival hall public area and Departure transit mall | Tel: 62149762
Kim Choo Nonya Kitchen
Rice dumplings will fill you up
A bite into a Nyonya bak zhang (rice meat dumpling) must give of lean meat. This is because the Peranakan dress of fitted sarong kebaya favours the slim figure, so fat, oily, starchy ingredients are out. Kim Choo made a top 20 best airport restaurants international list in 2012. Traditional Straits-Born dishes are fused with Chinese, Indian, Malay cultural aspects, so each bite is a bit of history as well.
Kim Choo Nonya Kitchen | Where: Departure transit mall, mezzanine level 3
Gurney Drive Restaurant
Penang food without having to leave the airport
Think “hawker food dining” and it’s Penang at the end of an MRT ride. The fabled Penang char kway teow is here, with the addition of fish cake (unheard of in Penang, perhaps for the kiasu Singapore palate). Wash it down with ampala juice (from the kolondong fruit). CKT $7.50, drink $3.20. Or take a sample platter $13.90.
Gurney Drive Restaurant | Where: Viewing mall, level 3, public area
Sylvia Toh Paik Choo wanted to become an opera-singing sportswoman, but someone else was using the microphone and the hurdle, so she writes for a living - which explains why she eats so badly.