We talk to local food writer Chin Hui Wen to get her opinion on the city-state’s best culinary offerings and where’s best to eat across the island.
Three to try
Bak kut teh: ‘Pork rib soup – there are also versions with different kinds of offal like intestines and liver – made with lots of warming spices like star anise and pepper. It’s really nourishing. After all, it was invented in the 19th century by Chinese labourers – coolies – who could only afford the cheapest off-cuts. And they added Chinese herbs and spices to the soup making it a herbal tonic, to give them energy. I don’t know if it’s psychological, but I always feel really rejuvenated after eating it. Plus, it’s really basic dishes like these that say the most about the local history and cuisine.’
Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, #01-01, 11 New Bridge Road.
Rojak: ‘A salad with ingredients like pineapple, cucumber and chunks of fried dough fritters, tossed in tamarind dressing and topped with chopped peanuts. Salad is great in Singapore’s sweltering heat. Also, the term “rojak” is used in casual conversation to describe the nation’s mix of cultures. It’s a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian ingredients and flavours. I think it’s wonderfully representative of the country.’
Balestiar Road Hoover Rojak, Blk 90 Whampoa Drive, #01-06 Whampoa Drive Food Centre.
Chicken rice: ‘Poached chicken with rice cooked in chicken fat. Sounds simple but is made amazing with seasoning like ginger, garlic, scallions and sesame oil. We import really good plump tender chickens here in Singapore. It keeps the general standard of the dish high at hawker centers across the country. Some versions in neighbouring Southeast Asian nations tend to be scrawny and stringy. Though I do concede there are many other – less protein reliant – hawker dishes that are just as good if not better in Malaysia.’
Tian Tian Chicken Rice, Stall 10 and 11, Maxwell Food Centre.
Top spot for chilli crab
‘The best is probably at No Signboard Seafood Restaurant. But the one at Palm Beach Seafood is almost as good and comes with a killer view of Marina Bay. It’s also at a way more convenient location. All things considered, I’d go with Palm Beach.’
Where you’d take a friend
‘I think Immigrants is pretty special. They do great Eurasian food – many of the traditional dishes they offer are really hard to find out at restaurants these days – but the vibe of the restaurant-bar is modern. The shophouse space is outfitted with urban industrial fittings and they have a killer selection of whiskies to wash it all down.’
Immigrants, 467 Joo Chiat Road.
Mod Sin cuisine
‘Mod Sin cuisine is dishes featuring local ingredients and seasonings but plated course-by-course, ala Western restos. Restaurant Labyrinth is one of the hot new restaurants in town. Chef LG Han does amazing dishes like gula melaka xiao long bao: Grass jelly, red beans and coconut stuffed in a thin pandan skin with a gula melaka dipping sauce. It’s like the local dessert cendol, but reinvented.’
Restaurant Labyrinth, 5 Neil Road.
‘Tanjong Pagar. It can’t be beat for the diversity and quality of restaurants. You’ve got great hawker food at Maxwell Food Centre. Then, there are lively Mexican joints like Lucha Loco, serious cocktail spots such as the Tippling Club and charming cafes including The Department of Caffeine.’
Blowout dining experience
‘Ki-sho. The Japanese fine dining establishment puts out faultlessly executed omakase menus in a zen space located in a beautiful black and white colonial house.’
Ki-sho, 29 Scotts Road.
Authentically local dining experience
‘Kaya toast, eggs and local coffee for breakfast. It’s sweet and savoury, and there’s nothing else like it.’ Photo by Nigel Sia.
A lazy Sunday hangout
‘Spathe Public House. The modern European joint does good eggs and waffles. Plus, it’s located in a really charming shophouse. I like how it’s relatively quiet over the weekend. People tend to think of the place more for lunch or dinner, so you avoid the usual brunch crowds.’
Spathe Public House, 8 Mohamed Sultan Road.
Latest food trend
‘New cafes. It’s not a new thing. But it’s a trend that just won’t stop. Singapore’s even hosting the “world’s first cafe hopping event” Cafe Fest in September.’
A chef worth checking out
‘Violet Oon. The local celeb chef has been around since the seventies and does awesome modern Peranakan food at her restaurant in Bukit Timah, Violet Oon’s Kitchen.’
Violet Oon’s Kitchen, 881 Bukit Timah Road.
Over and under-hyped restaurants
‘Restaurant Andre is good. But it’s not the gastro-temple it’s made out to be. My theory is that some food editors are swayed by Chef Andre’s good looks. Alkaff Mansion is totally underrated. They’ve got a solid and well priced menu of Italian specialties but the real draw is the amazing location. It’s housed in the former home of The Alkaffs, a prominent family of traders from Yemen. They built the two storey tudor-style home in the early 1900s. The place is surrounded by greenery and has been preserved really well.’
Taking culinary classes
‘Go to Shermay’s Cooking School. The chef-owner has written two award winning Peranakan Cookbooks. Plus, her grandmother, who she got the recipes from, is Lee Kuan Yew’s [The first Prime Minister of Singapore] mum.’
Shermay’s Cooking School, 64 Jalan Merah Saga.