Singapore: Noms (part one)

There are two reasons why a visit to Singapore is a goal of all true foodies. First, it offers the food of many cultures, as this small country (720 km²) is a mixing pot for both people and cuisine. On tap: Malaysian food, Chinese food, Indonesian food, Indian food, Indonesian food, Buddhist vegetarian food, and even some remnants of British food, as in my breakfast below shows. Second, virtually all the famous dishes of this land are available at “hawker centres”, where dozens and dozens of small stalls occupy large open-air markets, lining corridors in which there are tables. Many stalls specialize in only one type of food, like fish soup, chicken rice (which can be considered the national dish of this land), and so on.

You simply go to one or more stalls, pick up your dish or dishes, and take your grub to a table. With a group, you can sample many different dishes at a single meal. The dishes are relatively cheap, too: between $4 and $6 Singapore for a large dish, with one Singapore dollar equal to about 0.72 US dollars.

When I arrived at Changi Airport at 6:30 a.m., pretty well rested, my friend Melissa Chen and her lovely parents Michael and Annie met me, and they wanted me to begin my visit with a genuine Singapore breakfast. Fortunately, Terminal 3 in the airport has a real hawker centre right on the spot, and that’s where we went.

Breakfast included classics, clearly influenced by the British but with a local twist. There was with condensed milk and sugar (invariably called “Coffee C” C” as opposed to “Coffee O”, which is black coffee. If you say “coffee” by itself, you get coffee with milk instead of condensed milk, and also with sugar.) Alongside the Coffee C below are two very lightly fried eggs, so runny that they become a soup when you break them up. Those are served with some soy sauce and a sweet soy-ish sauce resembling hoisin sauce.

The coffee beans here are often roasted in a wok, sometimes with sugar and margarine or pineapple skin, and then brewed by pouring hot water through a sock-like cotton strainer (called, of course, a “sock”). The Singaporeans are justifiably proud of their strong, tasty coffee.

p1110133

The eggs, beaten up with some soy and hoisin-like sauce.

p1110135

Alongside is another local classic, “kaya toast,” made by taking thick slices of bread, cutting them in half to make them thinner, and then frying them and covering them with butter (lots of it!) and a jam made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and pandan leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius). Pandan leaves are ubiquitous, and impart a green color and fragrant note to many sweets as well as being a flavoring agent in many regular dishes.

p1110138

Frying the bread for kaya toast:

p1110139

Michael had another Singapore staple eaten for both breakfast and lunch: mee siam, thin homemade noodles in a tasty and spicy broth with lime, shrimp, egg, bean sprouts, tofu, peppers (the black pile that looks like caviar just below the egg) and many other goodies. It’s like amped-up ramen noodles.

p1110136

We went to the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre for lunch, with four aisles, each lined with dozens of stalls. At the entrance is a Buddhist shrine that, I’m told, is supposed to bring luck and prosperity to the hawkers.

p1110142

One of the aisles of the hawker centre (I suppose this would be called a “food court” in the U.S.):

p1110143

Some of the stalls showing how they specialize. Here’s a stall serving the famous chicken rice of Singapore. Each Singaporean has strong opinions about where to get the best version of this dish.

p1110145

Chickens waiting to be braised, boiled, or roasted (chicken rice can be served all three ways):

p1110146

Fresh sugar cane juice on offer, along with various other juices and sweet bean curd desserts:

p1110164

p1110147

A stall specializing in the local coffee. Many people take it out in plastic bags into which they insert a straw:

p1110148

This one has four types of “pan cakes”, which are more like spongecake rolls than American pancakes:

p1110149

$ 0.60 translates to about 42 cents in American money.

p1110150

I would have to try all four. Here’s a peanut and what looks like a red bean pan cake. The green comes from pandan leaves.

p1110165

This stall, the one with the blue and red sign far away, is very popular–look at the line! It serves only fish soup.

p1110151

A popular chicken rice stall. You can see the line going off around the corner:

p1110162

A stall specializing in drinks (click to enlarge):

p1110159

Rice dumpling with vegetables:

p1110166

Shrimp fritters:

p1110167

And our lunch. Here’s chicken rice (the rice is cooked in the chicken broth with other flavorings as well, so it’s delicious on its own). You add some chicken (on the bone) and flavor it with delicious chili sauce (each stall has its own secret recipe) along with soy sauce and another sweetish hoisin-like sauce. We also got a dish of chicken livers:

p1110153

We also had char kway teow, fried flat rice noodles with Chinese sausage, clams, fish cake, and prawns. I love those wide, chewy noodles.

p1110156

And a very famous Singaporean dish: oyster omelet. It consists of an omelet fried on a hot skillet with potato starch to give it a thicker consistency. When the omelet is nearly done, it’s topped with fresh oysters, with are only lightly cooked, and bean sprouts. The combination of thick egg and oyster is incredibly addictive.

p1110157

We washed down lunch with big glasses of sugar cane juice (left) and lime juice, made with very small limes that resemble Key limes but are less bitter:

p1110155

Melissa, Annie, and Michael, about to tuck into lunch.My “food folder”, containing the field guide to Singapore food compiled for me by Melissa, is by my plate.

p1110158

We had dessert at my request, because I do love the shaved-ice desserts in Singaporean, Indonesian, and Malaysian cuisine. Here is cendol, an Indonesian dessert made with rice flour, shaved ice, grass jelly, agar, red beans, and other goodies. It’s all mixed together and eaten like a soup as the ice melts. This light and cold dessert is the perfect ending to a heavy Singapore meal:

p1110160

Ais kacang, a related shaved-ice dessert. A tall mound of shaved ice is drizzled with brightly colored fruit syrups combined with red beans, palm seeds, sweet corn, grass jelly, and sweetened agar:

p1110161

After a meal like that, you need digestive assistance, and good luck cats (found everywhere in Chinese- and Japanese-influenced cultures) are there to help. I can haz nap, plz?

p1110163

 

43 Comments

  1. darrelle
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Perfect timing as it is about lunch time here. Otherwise this would be cruel and unusual punishment.

    Still kind of cruel. I’ll be having pizza for lunch, a rare thing. Though it is the best pizza in town, 1) that’s not saying much considering the town and 2) it doesn’t compare to what you’ve been eating!

    I want, in this order, the shrimp fritters, the char kway teow, the chicken rice and then the peanut pan cakes.

    I love a lot of things about Asian cuisines, but you can keep the red beans out of my desserts.

  2. Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    My mouth is watering so much I may have to go stand at the sink.😉

  3. Christopher
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, did I read “grass jelly”?!

  4. GBJames
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Now you’ve gone and made me all hungry.

  5. Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I went to a Singapore food festival once when I was at CMU. Student run, so very simple stuff, but it was wonderful all the same. What a treat going to the source must be!

    Also – oyster omelets! I had one of those at an Asian food street fair here in Ottawa about a year and a half ago. They’re … different😉 And now I realize where they came from. (I thought they were Taiwanese!)

  6. John Harshman
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    My envy knows no bounds.

  7. nicky
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    In ’91 I was in Singapore, flying with Singapore Airlines I had to stay one night in a hotel (Amarna, IIRC) due to some logistic problems. All included in the flight price of course.
    Dinner was a buffet: there was a European, a Chinese and a Malaysian buffet, ad libitum.
    I chose mainly Malaysian, and I think I have rarely, probably never, eaten better, it was absolutely fabulous. Especialy the seafood (keeping AC Clarke’s third law in mind: pure magic). When I think of it my mouth starts watering again, after 25 years!

  8. GBJames
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Sure is a lot of cultural appropriation going on here.

  9. Vaal
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Yay, more travel noms from Prof CC!

  10. CJColucci
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I had to go to Singapore on business 30 years ago, and I remember the food being great then (and in nearby Kuala Lumpur as well). One of these days I want to go back for pleasure.

  11. Debra Coplan
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for such a great tour of the food!
    Really enjoyed the post—

  12. Tom
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    How does he do it?
    Everywhere he goes great spreads of the most delicious food.
    It is really beyond understanding why the Professor (Emeritus) does not already weigh fifty stone and require an electic cart to get around

  13. dabertini
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Like brilliant, eh!! Like phenomenal post!! Like the food is out of this world!! Like thanks PCC (e).

  14. W.Benson
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the FBI is going to go after Hillary. Hold on to your hats, folks.

    • GBJames
      Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Or not.

      “Comey is not saying that these emails were recovered from Clinton’s server, or from Wikileaks, or … he’s not saying anything. He’s leaving the whole situation infuriatingly vague. Which is … typical. James Comey is not some squeaky-clean outsider. He’s a long time Washington player who knows exactly what he’s doing. There doesn’t seem to be anything in his letter that requires that he blow up this election.”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        The new frenzy will continue. I liked the one saying that Hilary could likely beat him from a prison cell.

    • somer
      Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Its sus that the FBI are reopening the email saga just now … perfect timing for a round of destabilisation/hassles for the new president. And bloody little Julian has released more stuff – though it doesnt look overly exciting. Right on cue, yesterday Putin said something vaguely anti Trump, aren’t we innocent. And uglyface Donald has been saying how he wishes America had Libel laws like Britain so he could sue and silence critics and potential critics to his hearts content a la David Irving who Deborah Lipstadt only beat because the Jewish community raised tens of millions to fight the case and even then she was hospitalised at the end of it all.

  15. Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Singapore: One my two favorite places to eat, along with France.

    Lucky you, Jerry! 🙂

    • nicky
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      Generally the French cuisine is better in Belgium. In France you can get excellence, of course, but some shoddy stuff too. Never in B.
      Had some outstanding zander (perch-pike) with crispy morelle mushrooms in a shady cellar in Montpellier a decade ago (yes in F not in B). After Singapore the best nom I ever had.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        I’ve had terrific luck in France. But I’ve mostly eaten out in local places in rural France.

        I’ve had some major disappointments in Paris and therefore avoid the big names and go for small neighborhood places, where we’ve had wonderful food.

        I love Belgium; but I have only rarely eaten out there. Mainly, I drink their wonderful beers when I’m in Belgium!

        I have friends to stay with in Belgium, so I haven’t eaten out much.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        My food disappointment has been Italy.

        I’ve had decent food there; but nothing great. (Especially considering the prices.)

        The best pizza I’ve ever had was in a little sidewalk place in Paris! (Run by Italians however.)

        Best meal I’ve had in Italy: Simple fried sardines in a little seaside cafe in Lazio.

  16. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    What kind of chickens are hanging up over the roasters? They don’t look like chickens to me…

    • Posted October 28, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’m not sure what they are. They look like goose necks or something.

      • M Janello
        Posted October 28, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Looks like chicken backbones — cut off on either side of the spine. I bet when they make great chicken broth when they are roasted, mmmm.

        • nicky
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:59 am | Permalink

          Yes, clearly chicken heads, neck and vertebral column. No clue what they do with it, but in all probability something very yummy. ☺

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        Ok goose I can see – if the beak is somehow unusual. The tail is evident. It’s overall much larger than the chickens below, and all consistent.

  17. jrhs
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Oh… don’t I miss food from home!

  18. kamamer
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m engaged to a woman from Singapore. If you’re a foodie, the best choice you can make in life is marrying a Singaporean.

    I’ve been to the red dot twice now. Your post reminds me why I love going back (despite the long flight times).

    • bric
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      My partner is from Penang, which is at least on a par with Singapore for food (IMHO); unfortunately neither he, nor his mother, nor any of his sisters can cook: they were brought up with servants for that sort of thing. So just check before signing anything.

  19. Larry
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Here is Taiwan is a dish known as stinky tofu (chou tofu). The truly best kind smells like – and I am not exaggerating – human excrement. I mean, REAL excrement. Nevertheless, it is a great tasting dish, served with spicy cabbage. If it is offered in Singapore, I recommend giving it a try. It changed my life. As the saying goes, “Stinky tofu walks alone.”

    • Steven Hill
      Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      It’s available in SG in Geylang. Not something I shall be trying again anytime soon!

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      What the hell?

      Reminds me of that Scandinavian ‘delicacy’ where they bury fish underground until it rots and then serve it to —-stupid—- curious tourists.

      • Posted October 31, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        A Norwegian described lutefisk to me as tasting like a cross between vodka and soap.

  20. philfinn7
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Welcome to Singers, Jerry. A little grey and overcast today, but at least that means it’s not sweltering! Looking forward to seeing and hearing you on Monday.

  21. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    One of my favourite kinds of posts on WEIT: the mind-blowing, alternately fascinating/frightening food photo post, which I always seem to read just when I’m really hungry.

  22. Posted October 29, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Semoga tempat makan ini jadi terkenal karena masuk blog pak Budi , Aerith

    • bric
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      makan makan!

  23. Denis Westphalen
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Love Singapure. My two suggestions: baby fried squid and, of course, the famous Singapore chilli crab.

  24. Mike
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I can feel myself getting fatter as I scroll down.

  25. Posted October 31, 2016 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Actually Kopi C is with evaporated (non-sweetened) milk. Kopi is the one with condensed milk. In the coffeeshops you can’t get coffee with fresh/UHT milk

    I don’t think the soft boiled eggs (not lightly fried) come with sweet soy sauce – is that dark soya sauce together with the light?

  26. Kum-Pang Yow
    Posted November 2, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Coffee C is coffee with sugar and evaporated milk, not condensed milk.

    http://nanyangoldcoffee.com/how-to-order-a-cup-of-singapore-coffee.html


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

%d bloggers like this: