There is plenty to eat in food-obsessed Singapore. Beyond the usual suspects of chicken rice, chilli crab and char kway teow, the taste of Singapore can be found in everything from sinfully good hawker fare to upscale restaurants serving modern interpretations of recipes handed down over generations.
Try well-known favourites or venture off to sample more unique finds such as burnt bee hoon and onde onde cupcakes, these 52 dishes represent the unique flavours that make up the taste of Singapore.
ICE-CREAM BREAD | Orchard Road, Clarke Quay or at void decks of public housing blocks | Americans have their ice-cream truck, and we have our local ice-cream-cart man. He pops by at odd hours and rings his bell to alert children and adults of his presence. A few are even permanently stationed along Orchard Road (in front of Ngee Ann City) or on Read Bridge at Clarke Quay. Choose from up to nine different flavours: chocolate, strawberry, peppermint choco-chip, blueberry, mango or even durian. The ice-cream is wrapped in a slice of "rainbow" bread or sandwiched within a wafer biscuit. We like how the bread soaks up every bit of melting ice-cream. At $1 ($1.20 in more touristy areas), this is one of life’s simple pleasures.
BAK KWA | Various shops | Bak kwa, the sweet-salty sheets of barbecued pork jerky, has traditionally been a treat during Chinese New Year. These days, they are available all year round. Of the types of offerings (sliced or minced, pork, chicken or beef), the premium sliced pork (sometimes marketed as “bacon bak kwa”) is our favourite: candied, medium-thin slices of pork, grilled to crisp chewiness. We especially like Kim Joo Guan’s (1kg for $68) for the abovementioned flavour and texture.
BAK CHOR MEE SUA | CCK 302 Food House & Yan Kee | Commonly known as bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), this simple noodle dish is often served with with mee pok (flat yellow noodles) but the owners of CCK 302 Food House ($3.30 a bowl) and Yan Kee ($3) do it a little differently. They replace noodles with mee sua (thin Chinese wheat noodle). These springy wheat noodles soak up the fragrant mix of chilli and vinegar better, and bring a pleasant bite to, well, every bite. They are served with the usual condiments of crispy lard, stewed mushrooms, minced meat, liver and a fried wanton.
BAK KWA MAC AND CHEESE | Pidgin Kitchen and Bar | This Dempsey Hill tenant opened in 2013 to a lot of buzz for its modern take on Singaporean dishes. While the hype has since cooled, we do recall this one dish from its menu: the bak kwa mac and cheese ($20 as an appetiser, $26 as a main). An ideal marriage between two rich foods — the sweet smokiness of bak kwa and comforting creaminess of the mac and cheese — this is a go-to comfort food.
BUAH KELUAK FRIED RICE | Immigrants Gastrobar (BOOK A TABLE) | This Joo Chiat restaurant-and-bar's kitchen is manned by chef Damian D'Silva, well-known chef and champion of local cuisine. While it is a gastrobar, the bar bites are far from typical and the dishes are bursting with local and heritage flavours. The sambal buah keluak fried rice ($20) is an easy favourite. For the unititated, this is a good introduction to the bold, nutty flavour of the black mangrove nut. The rice glistens jet-black and is positively saturated with the inimitable earthy flavour of keluak seeds married with sambal chilli. The portion is small, which works, because this is a very rich dish.
CEREAL PRAWNS | Red House Seafood and most tze char restaurants | Fried in butter, topped with fried curry leaves and chilli padi, the prawns are usually coated in a batter of oats that turn delightfully crisp when fried ($21 for 300g at Red House Seafood). These are a must to order at most tze char restaurants and we like the well-fried version at the slightly upscale Red House Seafood restaurant. What we love about this dish is the crispy texture of the cereal topping that is delicious down to the very last fleck.
CHAMPAGNE PORK RIBS & COFFEE PORK RIBS | Por Kee Eating House & Siang Hee Restaurant | Champagne pork ribs ($16 for a small portion, available at Por Kee Eating House)? Not quite what you expect to find at a tze char restaurant. Originally named 7-Up pork ribs, referring to the use of the fizzy drink to tenderise the meat. Chinese cooking wine is used as well and the combination of bubbles and wine results in a sweet caramelised pork dish with crisp skin and tender meat. In recent years, the restaurant started adding a splash of champagne to give this dish a nice fragrance and a name change. Similar in taste, but with the heady aroma of Nanyang-style kopi, are the coffee pork ribs ($8 for a small portion at Siang Hee Restaurant). These are caramelised pork ribs tossed in a coffee-flavoured sauce.
BURNT BEE HOON | Yong Kee Seafood Restaurant and JB Ah Meng | Burnt food is not always bad. This sinfully good dish of burnt thin rice noodles, said to have originated in coffee shops in Johor Baru, Malaysia, is perfect with a mug of beer. They are fried to a perfect golden brown, till the edges are crisp. The top is charred but with the insides remaining moist. Topped with spring onions and crispy fried pork lard, this decadent dish is best saved for special occasions. Available at Yong Kee Seafood Restaurant ($6/$12/$18) and JB Ah Meng ($7/$11/$14).
CHAR KWAY TEOW | Hill Street Fried Kway Teow | One might argue that cooks in Malaysia first created this dish. But we’ve added a spin to it, creating a flavour that is uniquely Singaporean. It is sweeter, with dark soy sauce, and have add-ons that include fishcake, egg, beansprouts, cockles, Chinese sausage and a few greens. The flat noodles in the Singapore version are thicker and absorb the elusive wok hei (smoky aroma of the wok) better when fried by a skilled hand. Our go-to spot for char kway teow is at Hill Street Fried Kway Teow ($3 onwards).
CHICKEN RICE | Fook Seng Golden Hill and Tian Tian Chicken Rice | Singapore’s unofficial national dish and a huge part of our food culture, this was a contribution from the early Hainanese immigrants from China. It has now evolved into three varieties — Hainanese steamed chicken, roasted chicken and soy sauce chicken. The fragrant rice is made with chicken stock, pandan leaves, shallots and ginger, with the shallots and ginger added to a broth that is served with this meal. The best chicken meat is usually plump, smooth and tender, and there should be accompanying chilli sauces and other condiments. We are partial to the versions available at Fook Seng Goldenhill and Tian Tian Chicken Rice. Take a read of our taste test to find out why.
CHILLI CRAB | Mattar Road Seafood BBQ | Nobody leaves Singapore without trying the chilli crab, considered by some as Singapore's national dish. Every local has his or her own favourite go-to place for this dish, each with its own interpretation. If you are up for a challenge, try the chilli crab ($45 per kg) at Mattar Road Seafood BBQ located at the Old Airport Road Food Centre. The chilli crab is spicy and the gravy thickened with egg (there are no thickening agents such as cornstarch), so that its consistency stays till the last drop. We especially like the gritty texture from the inclusion of crab roe.
CHILLI CRAB PASTA | Halia Restaurant and Nassim Hill Bakery | This is an easy adaptation of Singapore's iconic dish, though not all do it as well as Halia’s Raffles Hotel outlet: spaghettini pasta tossed in a slightly sweet, chilli crab sauce, evenly dotted with bits of the crustacean ($26), topped with spring onions. If you’re staying (or staycation-ing) at Raffles Hotel, this is available at the same price via room service. Indulge further and order the modernised version of the Singapore Sling cocktail ($28 a glass; $50 as a set with dish). The drink uses Hendricks gin, and is less sweet than the original offering. Nassim Hill Bakery also offers a chilli crab pasta ($16, $25) and its version is drenched with sauce, though it is not as sweet.
CHILLI CRAB ICE-CREAM | Restaurant Labyrinth (BOOK A TABLE) | There are several dishes at this degustation-only restaurant that stand out for their modern-experimental take on local cuisine. One of them is the Labyrinth Chilli Crab, expertly put together by ex-banker chef Han Li Guang. Presented to mimic a beach on a plate, this dish comprises deep-fried soft shell crab served with chilli crab sauce-flavoured ice-cream on a bed of mantou (buns) "sand" with crab mousse and sturgeon caviar. Chef Han advises diners to mix it up and enjoy the contrast of textures, hot and cold. Try this via its seven- ($98) or 10-course ($138) tasting menus.
CHILLI CRAB IN POTATO SKIN | Spuds & Aprons (BOOK A TABLE) | This Mount Faber restaurant's ethos for its cuisine is east-meets-west, so chilli crab is definitely dressed up here. Listed as "chilli crab in a tux" ($12), this is a convenient, classy (read: not messy) version of shelled crab meat mixed into the spicy-sweet sauce, filled into deep-fried hollowed potato halves. It's a hearty, strong two-bite (per piece; three pieces in portion) dish, with the flavour of dried shrimp. What else should you get up there for? A magnificent view of Southern Singapore.
PIZZAS WITH LOCAL TOPPINGS | Socks & Pans and Violet Oon's Kitchen (BOOK A TABLE) | Only in Singapore will you find hae bi hiam (a spicy, dried, ground shrimp condiment) or chilli crab on pizzas. Socks & Pans serves the former (13-inch pie at $38, 18-inch at $48) with egg and tofu among the toppings; while Violet Oon serves the sweet-based chilli crab pizza on a round homemade crust that is medium-thin and puffy on the edges ($27).
CHIPOTLE CHILLI CRAB TACOS | Xperience Restaurant & Bar | Yes, you can just about wrap a tortilla around anything, and the same can be said for using chilli crab as a filling for just about anything. But to do a good version of the two (combined) is a feat that chef Anne-Cecile Degenne has mastered. The dish ($12-$36) is a fragrant combination of wisps of shelled crab in relatively mild, smoky chilli crab sauce, shredded purple cabbage and kaffir lime oil in flour tortillas. Our only complaint? We wish the crab meat comes in bigger chunks. We're greedy like that.
CRAB BEE HOON | Sin Huat Eating House | The owner of Sin Huat is said to be the creator of this dish. Also known by many as the Food Nazi, he certainly knows how to make a mean plate of crab bee hoon ($60 per kg, seasonal price). It was so good it impressed food personality, Anthony Bourdain. The bee hoon (rice vermicelli) is cooked in a wok of stock with crab to infuse all the umami goodness. The stir-fried rice vermicelli comes out moist, combined with layers of leek, fresh cut chillies and bits of crab roe. The key lies in the freshness of seafood used, which is personally sourced by the chef himself.
DURIAN CHEE CHEONG FUN AND MORE | Rice Roll & Porridge | We might not be able to claim the king of fruits as a Singapore produce, but we certainly found ways to include this pungent fruit in many desserts and sweet concoctions: in chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls), mooncakes, milkshakes, puddings and more. Our favourite is still the durian chee cheong fun ($5.20) which eschews the usual savoury fillings and toppings of soy sauce. This version is stuffed with Mao Shan Wang durian flesh and topped with a mixture of ground peanuts and sugar, and served chilled. If you are a durian lover, we have more durian desserts for you to savour, so take a look here.
FRUIT JUICE MEE SIAM | Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa | Hong Lim Market & Food Centre is popular with the Central Business District lunch crowd for its affordable meal options. One of the more creative hawkers there is at The Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa stall. Many wait patiently in line for its purportedly healthier version of mee siam, made with fruit juice ($3/$4, or $6/$7 with crayfish). This version of the rice vermicelli with spicy, sweet and sour light gravy replaces the tamarind for a "secret" blend of fruit juices. The owner Mr Soo declined to say what goes into the sauce, but we tasted hints of pineapple and orange, which provided the tartness to this dish.
FISH HEAD CURRY | Samy's Curry Restaurant andThe Banana Leaf Apollo | A dish of Indian origin, with Malaysian and Chinese influences, the head of an ikan merah (red snapper) fish is stewed in a Kerala-style spice-laden curry, with vegetables such as long beans, brinjal and okra. Order this of Samy's Curry signature dishes ($20/$27/$32) where it comes bubbling in an earthen pot. Slop it over some rice (served on a banana leaf) and eat with your hands for the full experience. The Banana Leaf Apollo's version ($22/$26/$30) is a tad less spicy, but still full of flavour. The most succulent part of the fish's head is the cheek meat. Paired with the spicy curry, it almost melts in your mouth. If you are not squeamish, extract the fish's eye and eat the eyeball — that will be a story to tell.
HAR CHEONG GAI | Various tze char restaurants | What is so special about fried chicken wings, you ask? Singapore's version is far from typical. Chicken wings are first marinated in fermented shrimp paste and a flour mixture and left to marinate overnight before they go into the fryer. This results in juicy, savoury wings with a strong umami taste. You can find this at most tze char restaurants selling stir-fry Chinese dishes, or cooked food stalls at hawker centres. We are partial to the perfectly crisp version from Sin Hoi Sai Eating House (eight for $10, 13 for $15 and 16 for $20). Har cheong gai (Cantonese for "shrimp paste chicken") makes for excellent bar bites (it pairs very well with beer), and one bar that does an excellent version is No.5 Cocktail Bar on Emerald Hill, and at not much more expensive a price than at a tze char place (six for $12 and a dozen for $18).
HAE BEE HIAM BUN | Toast Box outlets | While this sweet, salty and spicy dried shrimp floss has a strong flavour and aroma, it is also an extremely versatile ingredient. It may be added in stir-fry dishes, made into crispy rolls as snacks, or made with cookies. For a quick satisfying snack, go for the hae bee hiam served in a soft bun ($4.20 per set) at Toast Box. Mildly spicy, it has a gritty and crunchy texture that nicely contrasts with the fluffy bun.
KAYA TOAST, SOFT-BOILED EGGS AND KOPI OR TEH | Various coffee shops | If there is a breakfast set that is uniquely Singaporean, it is this — kaya toast with soft-boiled eggs and a piping hot kopi (coffee) or teh (tea). It is readily available at coffee shops, hawker centres, food courts and chain outlets such as Toast Box and Ya Kun Kaya Toast across the island. At the heart of a good kaya toast is the kaya (coconut spread made with eggs and sugar). We like the not-too-sweet but extremely fragrant version of Killiney Kopitiam — which is also available bottled (a great gift for visiting tourists or family abroad, $4.80) This is then slathered on a crisp slice of toast with thick slabs of butter patted on before being topped with another slice of toast ($2.20 for two pieces). Crack open the eggs to reveal runny, soft-cooked insides that should be drizzled with soy sauce and a sprinkling of white pepper. Dip your toast into the eggs and enjoy. Wash all this down with your preferred kind of syrupy Nanyang-style coffee or tea.
KAYA BALLS | Ya Kun Kaya Toast | We’ve already expressed our love for kaya toast as a truly Singaporean breakfast item, but 70-year-old homegrown chain Ya Kun Kaya has devised a rounder, doughier version that it calls "kaya balls". These dough balls (eight for $3) are filled with a healthy dollop of kaya (coconut custard spread), and are slightly reminiscent of egg waffles, a street snack from Hong Kong, but only fluffier and tastier. Wolf them down while they’re still hot, because they get firmer once cold.
COFFEE CRAB | Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant | Try to get past what you think of the restaurants at Gardens by the Bay and get with this: coffee-cooked chilli crab. A smoking good variation (1kg for $65) on the nation’s favourite, it consists of Sri Lankan crabs coated in a sticky-sweet alcoholic coffee sauce that is lit on fire before you can tuck into it. The sauce is rummy, and not as thick as the chilli crab’s, but enough to give it a nutty, medium-strong coffee coating. While you’re at it, also try the crisp chilli crab meat bun – chilli crab sauce in a seared bun (six for $13.60). The bun’s fillings won’t ooze, but at the very least, you’ll get your local food fix with this reverse chilli crab experience.
CHOCOLATE KUEH TUTU | Lau Tan's Tutu Delights | With its influences coming from the Indian, Chinese and Malay population here, kueh tutu has an origin that greatly represents Singapore's multi-cultural demographic. At Queensway Lau Tan at Ion Orchard, you get the rice flour (or glutinour rice flour) steamed cake with the traditional filling of coconut, peanuts, or gula melaka (palm sugar, $3 for three), as well as chocolate. The chocolate oozes in your mouth and isn't too far off from a hot and steamy chocolate cake. The texture is incredibly soft and fluffy, but we wish there are more hawkers selling these beautiful steamed cakes.
"DRY" LAKSA | Violet Oon's Kitchen (BOOK A TABLE) and The Citrus House (BOOK A TABLE) | Violet Oon, one of Singapore's more prominent cookbook writers (on Nyonya cuisine) set up shop on Bukit Timah Road, and we're grateful to have access to her food. At her establishment, she serves a number of hits, including this dry, nutty version of the lemak (rich, coconut-milk-laced) laksa ($20) served with prawns, dried bean curd, and bean sprouts. The Citrus House serves a wetter version ($8.90), with spaghetti in a shallow bowl of laksa soup.
MILK POWDER PORK RIBS | Two Chefs Eating Place | This tze char dish ($8/$10/$16) is delicious and full of buttery goodness. Butter is melted over low fire for hours before milk powder and flour are added to create the "golden dust", which is then stir-fried with pork ribs, curry leaves and red-cut chillies. The "dust" is light, gently covers the crispy outer layer of pork ribs. and slowly melts in your mouth. The process of converting high fat liquid to powder is often used in molecular gastronomy, but at Two Chefs, it’s all done over the wok.
MILO DINOSAUR, GODZILLA, T-REX… | Hawker centres, various coffee shops | The Milo Dinosaur is far from getting extinct here. The iced chocolate and malt-powdered drink (at $3-$3.50) is made hot, cooled with ice, then heaped on with a spoonful of Milo powder. The powder sinks into the drink slowly and in clumps, so what you get with your spoon are little pockets of sweet cocoa malty goodness. A staple at most hawker centres and coffee shops, it has spawned many variations: the Milo Godzilla ($4 at Nana Teh Tarik) is a Milo Dinosaur topped with ice–cream or whipped cream; the Milo T–Rex ($3.50 at Al-Almeen Eating House); and Milo King Kong ($4, at Al-Ameen Eating House). There is even a Milo Dinosaur special ($3.20) at Rasa Istimewa Woodlands Waterfront Restaurant (book a table here), and a Milo Dinosaur cake ($32, at Cat & The Fiddle).
UPSCALE NASI LEMAK | Ujong Restaurant (BOOK A TABLE) | Ujong wasn’t always a restaurant, nor was it always in the Raffles Hotel. Along with it, the nasi lemak has also upgraded. This upscale offering at Ujong began with former head chef Shen Tan, who started cooking professionally at a hawker stall in Maxwell Food Centre. Back in 1970s, a plate of nasi lemak was merely rice, fresh cucumber slices, small fried anchovies, roasted peanut and hard boiled egg, served with two types of sambal – a raw and a cooked belacan (fermented prawn paste) sambal. It was when Tan opened her own bistro-type establishment on Duxton Hill, the now-defunct The Wok and Barrel, that this higher-end plate of “fatty” (lemak) rice (nasi), came into being. We're hoping that despite Tan's departure from Ujong (September 2014), the rendang (stewed beef in spices and coconut milk, $17.90) and crisp breaded fried pork ($15.90) will still be offered with the fragrant, soft, coconut milk-flavoured rice. The rendang adds depth of flavour with its strongly-spiced stew, while the pork adds texture.
ONDEH-ONDEH CUPCAKES AND MORE | 40 Hands | There is more than artisanal coffee and brunch plates available at this Tiong Bahru cafe. Glance at the cake display and if the ondeh-ondeh cupcake ($3.50) is available, grab one. The cupcake version of the traditional Malaysian kueh (dessert) is executed perfectly. The icing is pandan flavoured and dusted with coconut shavings, and just like the kueh, the cupcake also has a decadent gula melaka centre. The cafe has cupcake versions of other local desserts such as chendol (coconut milk-based drink with green jelly-like rice-flour noodles, $4.50) and peanut pancake ($3.50) as well.
PANCAKES WITH GULA MELAKA | Food for Thought | Move over, maple syrup. The sweet stuff we like to drizzle over our pancakes is liquefied palm sugar or gula melaka. Soft, fluffy pancakes, like the ones you get at Food for Thought are porous enough to soak up the gula goodness. Pair with the additional topping of whipped cream (two pancakes for $9), mixed berries (two pancakes for $11) or milk chocolate (two pancakes for $11) for added flavour, although the pancakes don’t really need it. They are made to order, so expect to wait 10 to 15 minutes for them.
POSH PANDAN ICE-CREAM | The Clifford Pier | At The Fullerton Bay Hotel’s The Clifford Pier, yet another dish with local flavours gets a posh makeover. Simply called pandan ice-cream ($12), it is fragrant pandan-flavoured ice-cream served between two pieces of "rainbow" bread and accompanied with 'love letters' (egg wafer rolls) stuffed with whipped cream, smiley-shaped coconut jelly and pandan crumbs. The best way to eat this dessert is to have a bit of everything in each mouthful. That is a brain freeze we don’t mind.
EIGHT-FLAVOURED XIAO LONG BAO | Paradise Dynasty | Singapore gives a unique twist to these traditional Shanghainese soup dumplings. For $14.80, you may have a sample basket of xiao long baos in eight different flavours (including one original flavoured dumpling) at all Paradise Dynasty outlets. There are garlic, herbal ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe, and Szechuan ma la (spicy, numbing) flavours. Admittedly, some flavours work better than the others. We like the garlic, crab roe and the spicy ma la options more than the others. Points anyway, for an innovative way of serving traditional dumplings.
PULUT HITAM CAKE | PINE GARDEN'S CAKE | This Ang Mo Kio bakery has been in business since 1982, steadily keeping up with the times, fusing the old with the new seamlessly. The pulut hitam cake (black glutinous rice cake, 500g for $29) is one of the most popular, with a vanilla sponge base, coconut-flavoured fresh cream dotted with glutinous rice, and a layer of pulut hitam on top. Unlike the original dessert-in-a-bowl version (a thick, sweet stew of black glutinous rice, drizzled with coconut milk), this is a light, textured cake. Other cakes worth a mention: the lychee martini (500g for $29).
DECONSTRUCTED LOCAL SWEET TREATS | :pluck | We are fans of this Club Street open-kitchen restaurant serving modern grazing plates. A good chunk of credit goes to its well-executed, nostalgia-inducing dessert offerings: the bananas, malt and honey ($10) is one of our favourites — a deconstructed take on the local pisang goreng (deep-fried battered bananas). Feuilletine battered bananas, burnt thyme honey and malt ice-cream make up this (good) imitation of pisang goreng. Because the menu at :pluck changes regularly, at any one time, there are only three desserts offered. We noticed this dish has remained on the menu longer than the others, so let's hope it becomes a mainstay.
COIN PRATA AND FLAVOURED PRATA | Sin Ming Roti Prata | Ah, prata! Flaky buttery goodness with chewy insides and a dough that is a fresh mix of flour, eggs, sugar, salt and water. We prefer them hand-kneaded (none of that frozen stuff will do) at our preferred prata spot: Sin Ming Roti Prata. Although this coffee shop stall finalist in the Hawker Heroes challenge did not move on to compete with Gordon Ramsay, we're smitten: here, you even get prata dough shaped into discs and then fried — these thicker, chewier bites are called coin prata ($3.50 for six coins) and pair well with the accompanying thick curry sauce. Prata is also available stuffed with cheese or drizzled with strawberry or chocolate syrup.
DEVIL'S CURRY | Quentin's and Casa Bom Vento | Also known as curry debal, this form of Eurasian curry is a fiery pot of flavours usually whipped up the day after Christmas with leftover roast meats. At Quentin’s (a restaurant at the Eurasian Community House), you may opt for curry with either oxtail ($22.80) or chicken ($18.80), with bacon bones, chicken cocktail sausages, potatoes and cabbage padding up a spicy gravy of chill, onion and blended mustard seeds. Further down the street, the cosy, halal-certified Casa Bom Vento serves only a chicken debal curry, but it is a slightly spicier curry ($13/$17/$24).
DRUNKEN COCKLES | Two Chefs Eating Place | This tze char dish is not for the weak. Though it is "drunken", there is no alcohol: it is a starter plate ($6) of cold, fresh blood cockles on the half shell, doused with soy sauce, topped with fresh chopped garlic, spring onions and chilli. If you can stomach picking up the red-juiced clam, sucking off the sweet, strong sea-scented meat with a hit of garlic (and the aftermath of a possible garlic breath), order this.
YU SHENG | Zhen Zhen Porridge | This raw fish salad is no ordinary salad, but an auspicious one that is most commonly seen and eaten during Chinese New Year. For the rest of the year, what is available at Zhen Zhen Porridge is the simpler version ($3/$4/$5) with slices of fresh wolf herring with lettuce, ginger, fried shallot, toasted sesame, sesame oil and fresh squeezed lime. What makes this refreshing dish unique is the use of local wolf herring fish that is also commonly used to make fishballs.
RICKSHAW NOODLES | The Clifford Pier | This assembled dish of yellow Hokkien noodles in pork and anchovy broth sold by mobile hawkers on trishaws is now a thing of the past. However, it can still be found in the lush confines of The Clifford Pier at The Fullerton Bay hotel, where chef Ken Zheng has created his own two versions of the dish ($18). One is a bowl of traditional noodles in a light, yet nuanced broth made using a recipe from the chef’s grandfather, who was a rickshaw hawker in the same area. The other version is a modern version of flat rice noodles tossed in a sauce of stewed pork belly, topped with a sous-vide egg. Both versions are served together.
THE ‘MICHAEL JACKSON’ | Rochor Original Beancurd and various coffee shops | Not the most politically-correct name for a drink, but this soya bean milk with chin chow (grass jelly) is worth a sip. The hawkers have nicknamed this mildly sweet drink ($1.20) "Michael Jackson" because of its colours (it’s black, it's white, geddit?) We must say, however, that this qualifies as Singapore's near-equivalent to bubble tea in Taiwan.
SALTED EGG YOLK CRAB | Red House Seafood and Sek Tong Gai (BOOK A TABLE) | This sinful dish is not for those on a diet, but it is worth breaking the diet for it. The savoury flavour of the salted egg cooked with the richness of crab is a match made in heaven. Red House Seafood (1kg for $58) does a drier version with Sri Lankan crabs, where the sauce clings to the crab shells. At Sek Tong Gai, the cooks use the more luxe Alaskan crabs (sold at market price) and cater to people who prefer their salted eggs a little runny, so as to mix with rice or mantou (fried buns).
ALASKAN KING CRAB | Sek Tong Gai(BOOK A TABLE) | It is hard to pin down one dish to recommend from this stalwart tze char restaurant. The menu is crammed with both innovative dishes as well as comfort fare. For a special occasion, we would go with anything featuring Alaskan crab (charges are per market price). While most restaurants prefer to just steam and serve these, at Sek Tong Gai, you can opt to have them baked with foie gras, baked with cheese, tossed in a rich salted egg yolk sauce, braised with bee hoon or even baked with a Western-style minced mushroom sauce that clings to the shells beautifully. As an added touch, the restaurant cuts the crab shells in ways that allows the flesh to be easily picked out.
ICE-CREAM IN LOCAL FLAVOURS | Various outlets | Handmade, artisanal ice-cream made locally and, in most cases, with natural ingredients, are suddenly all over the place in Singapore. Don't step into one these shops for a plain old vanilla, but go for the more innovative local flavours. Creamier's sea salt and gula melaka ice-cream ($3 a scoop) is worth queuing for, and Island Creamery does ice-cream flavours such as teh tarik and pulut hitam as well as a sorbet flavoured with Tiger Beer ($3.20 a scoop). At Momolato, fresh, market-bought avocados are mixed with palm sugar and churned into a cutely named flavour called Avocado face palms ($3.90 a scoop).
FRIED SOFT-SHELL CRAB WITH CHICKEN FLOSS AND CURRY LEAVES | Grand Mandarin Restaurant (BOOK A TABLE) | We’ve all had deep-fried battered soft-shell crab, but one that is deep-fried, coated with fragrant curry spices and dusted with chicken floss ($18)? This is a first. This crazy-good hybrid is a must-try, along with the out-of-this-world roasted meats offered at this new restaurant that is fast becoming known for its excellent fare.
KATONG LAKSA | 328 Katong Laksa and Janggut Laksa | The exact origins of laksa remains unclear, though both Malaysia and Singapore stake their claims to this fusion dish that has Chinese and Malay elements. Though laksas do differ in taste and recipe, in Singapore, foodies prefer the lemak type. Expect thick bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and a spicy coconut milk soup base flavoured with dried shrimp and sambal chilli. Toppings typically include prawn, cockles, taupok (fried beancurd puffs), and sometimes chicken or sliced fishcake. Another vital ingredient is finely julienned daun kesom, popularly known as laksa leaf, that garnishes each bowl of laksa. For ease of slurping it down, places such as 328 Katong Laksa ($4.50/$5.50/$6.50) and Janggut Laksa ($4/$5/$6) cut up the thick bee hoon into bite-size strands that can be easily scooped up with a Chinese soup spoon.
STEAK FRIED RICE | New Ubin Seafood (BOOK A TABLE) | Ribeye steak is seared and cut up into cubes. Its fat and rich juices retained, and in the same pan (with the fats), rice is stir-fried in it (100g for $12). The result? Fragrant rice, cooked al dente, and the grains are coated evenly with steak fat. This is tze char cooking with a twist – dishes improvised to become restaurant standards, inspiring other tze char restaurants to do the same. If you know of another place in the world that does this, tell us now. We want to be there.
STUFFED YOU TIAO | Two Chefs Eating Place and Melben Seafood | You tiao (fried dough stick) may be common in Asia, but in Singapore, you get it savoury, sweet and spicy. These fried dough sticks that are crispy on the outside and soft like bread inside are stuffed with fish or sotong (squid) paste and deep-fried until crispy, then served with tangy mayonnaise. At Melben Seafood, the dish comes stuffed with squid paste and topped with mayonnaise ($10). At Two Chefs Eating Place, the mayonnaise has extra zing from lemon that cuts through the greasiness of the fried dough stick. For a sweet finish, the latter's version is also topped with sweet and spicy chicken floss ($8).
SUP TULANG | Haji Kadir & M Baharudeen Sup Tulang | Known to be a local innovation, sup tulang (bone soup, $10) is a combination of the gravy of mee kuah (noodle soup) with mutton soup. Big chunks of mutton or beef bones served with thick gravy that is coloured in signature bright red, like in most Indian Muslim food, so the visual of this dish itself is an experience. Forget about the plastic fork, use your fingers, dig in, suck out the bone marrow and mop up all the gravy with the bread provided.
TEOCHEW PORRIDGE | Teo Heng Porridge Stall | We have a significant number of Teochews in Singapore who have contributed much to the street food we know today. Teochew porridge is like an introduction course to their cuisine, noted for the fresh seafood and cooking methods such as braising and steaming. It is comfort food at its finest, with dishes such as steamed pomfret done simply to retain its natural sweetness. Find it at Teochew porridge stalls such as Teo Heng.
SUGEE CAKE | Chin Mee Chin Confectionary | No other dessert speaks Eurasian more than sugee cake (semolina almond cake), especially popular during festive seasons. At Chin Mee Chin Confectionary, the sugee cake ($10/$15) is decadently buttery, dense yet moist with chunks of finely chopped almond in the batter. At Quentin’s, one of the very few Eurasian restaurants around, the cake is topped with a layer of sweet marzipan for a sweeter finish.