This post can also be entitled, 5 things I got to eat for the first time in Singapore. (This is what happens when you can’t decide on a title.)
On my last evening in Singapore, my three friends living and working there decided to take me to Makansutra Gluttons Bay. I wanted to eat Singapore’s famous (1) Cereal Prawns for dinner, which I didn’t get to eat on my previous Singapore glutton fest a year ago; Makansutra was a no-brainer choice if you want to have some of the country’s popular hawker stalls in one area. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s also convenient if you don’t know where else to go.
Judging from our appetite a few nights ago when we we annihilated a platter of Lamb Tanjine, chicken kebab and other middle-Eastern fare in Deli Moroccan in Bussorah Street at the Arab Quarter, we were obviously not just going to have cereal prawns, with small servings of rice and a modest plate of veggies. No. As a Manila-based British chef I interviewed before observed, we like to eat with our eyes. Ooh, that looks good, put it on the tray. That too. And that. And soon our table looks like a spread for a fiesta.
We also love our carbs. So in addition to a huge platter of fried rice to go with the cereal prawns, we also had char kway teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried in pork fat…no wonder it was so good) and another noodle dish, the name of which escapes me now. And we couldn’t just have cereal prawns for ulam. We got BBQ chicken wings (you must try the chicken wings!) and a plate of garlic kangkong (a bit of greens on the table).
The cereal prawns were buttery and the skin was fried to crispy goodness. The char kway teow was just as flavorful and rich as I remembered it and the chicken wings had a good smoky flavor and juicy meat clinging to the bones. I would go back to Singapore for these two simple dishes in a heartbeat.
Another local favorite that I’ve never had in Singapore is (2) Kaya Toast and egg with kopi. Sure there are already several kopi tiams in Manila, where I’ve had my taste of kaya toast, but an authentic kopi tiam in Singapore or Malaysia is typically a humble open-air coffee shop. Like a carinderia or turo-turo in the Philippines.
If you think about it, the sweet and creamy kaya is almost similar to our own coconut jam or matamis na bao. Kaya though is made of coconut jam and eggs (duck or chicken) and flavored by pandan leaves. It’s not as cloyingly sweet. So if you miss dunking pandesal with matamis na bao into a cup of coffee when you’re in Singapore (or Malaysia), the kaya toast and kopi C offer an alternative.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the eggs. Kaya toast sets usually come with soft-boiled eggs. The eggs I got that morning were perfectly soft-boiled–the whites were still runny but the yolks, once pierced with a fork revealed a gelatinous outer portion and could still retain its shape while some of its thick yellow goodness in the center gently ooze out and mix with the whites. Soy sauce is typically mixed in with the eggs. And your kaya toast set breakfast is complete. (Priced at SGD2.70 or almost PhP90)
Another morning treat I enjoyed in Singapore is (3) Soya Beancurd. Yes, it’s like our very own taho, the Pinoy snack made from silken tofu. Except this one didn’t have the sweet trappings of thick arnibal (brown sugar and vanilla syrup) and sago (pearl tapioca). It did have a light sweet flavor.
A friend came bearing food on a Saturday morning and bought beancurd from Mr. Bean. It came in a big bowl, which I didn’t think I could finish. Lo and behold, after two or three episodes of Downton Abbey (we were waiting for another friend to arrive before going out to, do what else, eat lunch), I finished it. It had a clean, light taste–which isn’t how I would describe this next edible item.
(4) Ramly Burger. People in the Singapore office had warned me about it. How greasy, fatty and one way to induce cardiac arrest. But as one Pinoy pointed out, we have deep-fried pork dishes such as Crispy Pata and Lechon Kawali, so I shouldn’t be that scared.
With its origins from Malaysia, the Ramly Burger has a beef patty, which is wrapped in egg and smothered with margarine, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings and with a bit of cabbage and onions in a bun. It didn’t sound that bad. So when we went to Geylang area, my friends and I gravitated toward this Ramly Burger stall.
Yes, it was greasy, but the one thing–no make that several things that stood out were the flavors. It had too many or at least strong ones that didn’t seem to make nice with each other. When I got to the patty I realized why the flavors were so intense. It seemed as if the burger was over-compensating for the mystery meat of a beef patty that it had, all wrapped in the fried egg and condiments and seasonings. One of my friends liked it and likened it to our beloved Chori Burger. It wasn’t that far off, but maybe I could do without all the condiments or without the mystery meat.
What I did love was the (5) Mixed Vegetable Rice (or Economy Rice). It’s like the Philippines’ concept of a turo-turo. One chooses meat and vegetable dishes spread out behind a counter to go with a plate of steamed rice.
In the square in front of the hotel where I stayed there were several stalls serving mixed vegetable rice. (You can find similar stalls in many hawker centers.) There was sweet and sour pork, a spicy fish dish that I kept ordering, shrimps, fried chicken that was marinated in bagoong (shrimp paste), and a lot of stir-fried vegetable dishes.
It’s cheap too! If you’re on a budget in Singapore, you can have 1 meat dish and 1 vegetable dish for SGD2 (around PhP60), 2 meat dishes and 1 vegetable for SGD3 (almost PhP100) and other combinations.
The dishes are mostly Chinese food or flavors we’re already familiar with so it wouldn’t be something totally foreign to Pinoys’ taste buds. That humble plate above was one of my favorite meals in Singapore. That along with the Moroccan feast, the Makansutra glutton’s fest and other meals simply shared with friends with the same appreciative appetite.