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Posts from the ‘Singaporean’ Category

My Mum’s Place

not sure if we were just hungry from scoping out so many restaurants embedded
in maze-like malls, but this food was really good, way better than I would have
expected from an eatery across the walkway from the always-busy Spageddies
(Hong Kong has a chain called The Spaghetti House, which looks equally
frightening). Being housed in a mall means nothing in Singapore, though; there
was also a branch of Din Tai Fung, a highly regarded Taiwanese chain I tried in
Beijing, around the corner.

love Nonya cooking but James always makes a stink (ha) about the rampant use of
shrimp paste in the cuisine. The strong flavors were balanced perfectly, just
hot and sweet enough padded with that belachan in a way that boosted everything
rather than overwhelming, kind of like a natural msg or narcotic even.

My mum's place sambal prawns

had shrimp sambals in NYC that were like eating nothing; a few sad prawns
sitting in a dull ruddy puree. I’ve also made sambal, myself, a huge tub sits
in my fridge that tastes like damp mush. This sambal could be a multi-purpose
condiment even minus the prawns. Plain white rice is all you need to go with
it, or even white bread for colonial-style tea sandwiches. Crusts removed, of

My mum's place kang kong

kong (I know, I always want to say king kong because I’m corny) is another one
of those things that’s lackluster in my hands (though I think our produce can
take some of that blame) but vivid here. There was plenty of shrimp paste in this, yet it didn't overwhelm the water spinach in the least.

My mum's place rendang

requisite beef rendang, ordered primarily to appease James who still contests
that we never had any in Malaysia and doubts its origins, altogether. This is
one SE Asian dish I don’t ruin. it’s hard to destroy coconut-and-spice stewed
meat, especially since it’s designed for tough sinewy cuts.

It's odd that I can't seem to find a website for this restaurant.  They were selling branded spice mixes and pastes at the front of the room, which implies broad name recognition.

My Mum’s Place * Paragon Shopping Centre, 290
Orchard Rd., Singapore

Muthu’s Curry

I had originally set my sights on Karu’s for fish head curry, but after so much sickness set in, ease of transport took precedence over tracking down obscure haunts. This wasn’t the time to be catching buses to the Queens and Brooklyns of Singapore. Instead, I went for the obvious: Race Course Road, the main drag of Little India.

Muthu's interior

I had tried the other well-known fish head purveyor on this strip, Banana Leaf Apolo, last time. Muthu’s is shinier and more modern in décor and showcases a much-used tandoor in the front of the large room. They totally mix up Northern and Southern styles of cooking and seemed proud of their bizarre hybrid, a tandoori fish head, which I would’ve gladly tried on a second visit. Muthu’s is also a la carte, so no blobs of sundry curries doled onto banana leaf placemats/plates.

Muthu's fish head curry

I was surprised how much I liked fish head curry the first time I had it, not because of the disembodied head (I really don’t know why people are so scared by fish faces. I’ve had various odd links to my stargazy pie experiment because the dish seems freakish) but because I envisioned a blah soupy mild Indian-spiced preparation. In reality, it’s kind of like nothing you’ve tasted before, assuming you’re American, that is.

This is one of those rare Singapore specific dishes like chile crab or Hainan chicken rice No one else can claim it (though there is a Nonya version). Fish head curry is a total invention dreamed up by local Indian cooks and not something you would find in South Asia. In some ways it’s closer to a Thai yellow curry, all sour and hot, no coconut milk softening or sweet notes. The meat, including the gelatinous bits, is moister than a filet and half the fun is picking the white flesh from the many nooks and crannies. However, I stopped short at eating the eye and I refrained from biting the cartilage-heavy tongue after dislodging it from the little jawbone ringed with sharp teeth.

Muthu's gobi manchurian

We had Malay-Indian mishmash on the table so why not Chinese-Indian too? Gobi Manchurian is classic Indian “Chinese” food. Battered, fried cauliflower is filling, though, and would probably be better as a focus than a side.

Muthu's pork vindaloo

The pork vindaloo was one course too many (there was also biryani and naan) and just weighed us down. This is where we should’ve taken our waiter’s suggestion of something skewered from the tandoor.

Muthu's fish head remains

Picked nearly clean.

Muthu’s Curry * 138 Race Course Rd., Singapore

Maxwell Food Centre

Due to head colds and bronchitis, neither of us was up for lots of sweaty outdoor dining even though that's what Singapore's famous for. But we had to make at least one hawker stop since eating only in air conditioned spaces would be negligent. 
Maxwell Centre is a good standby, easily accessible in Chinatown, with a large selection of well organized stalls. The only problem, a non-problem really, is that even small sizes tend to be hearty so my plans to sample like crazy always get squashed after a dish or two.

I've never eaten real bak kuh teh before (though I made my own version to try and reverse the ill effects suffered by an idiotic attempt at master cleansing) and remembered two women eating bowls of the pork rib tea three years ago, last time I was at Maxwell Centre. I made a mental note to try it if I ever returned. Plus, bah kuh teh is meant to be restorative, filled with lots of medicinal herbs (uh, and fatty meat) so it seemed like perfect sick person food.
I was pleased to note that my version using a mix I bought in Kuala Lumpur really wasn't far off at all. The deep amber colored broth smelled like a Chinese pharmacy (I know, because we patronized a few looking for homeopathic sore throat cures before giving up and visiting a hospital clinic. We now have tons of pink Eu Yan Sang cough relief packets in the medicine cabinet).

The substantial hunks of bone-in pork proved difficult to handle with chopsticks and I'm fairly adept. I was making a splashy mess until I gave up and used my fingers.
One should review individual stalls rather than a hawker center as a whole but I couldn't deduce the names of every stand. This was the bah kuh teh shop, #01-89.  The world's biggest bowl of bah kuh teh was cooked in Malaysia a few months ago, and the pictures actually provoked a rare audible chortle from me. There's something so very Asian about such food follies.

James thought he ordered mee goring or something similar from an Indian-Muslim stall but ended up with roti john. I'd always wondered what the strange minced lamb sandwich was like. I still don't know because I didn't taste any. The sweet and sour sauce, kind of like an orange au jus, freaked me out a little.

Round two for me was carrot cake, black (as opposed to white, which was also available and equally popular) from sweet soy sauce and stir-fried with egg and scallions in what I'm pretty sure is lard. It's like char kway teow but with cubes of grated radish and rice flour instead of noodles. No one thinks carrot cake is healthy, but the sweet, starchy and oily combination is irresistible.

Obviously, this isn't American-style carrot cake, but radish, you know, the type used in turnip cakes. Carrot? Radish? Turnip? It's so confusing. Once again, I couldn't determine the name of this stall.
James ordered chicken curry noodles from Hock Hai (Hong Lim), a stand with a name and lots of press clippings. To me, this is laksa. In fact, it's just like the first laksa I ever had, the one that started my obsession. In the mid-'90s my favorite lunch spot, Taste of Bali, was run by Filipinos and made a laska with chicken. Given the cultural mishmash and that Portland, Oregon isn't exactly a Singaporean hotbed, I didn't think it was necessarily authentic but I loved it. And the owners actually noticed my absence when I moved to NYC, asking my friend what happened to his "jolly companion." I hope jolly wasn't a euphemism for fat.
Over the years, I've realized that laksa in all its regional guises, doesn't generally contain chicken but shrimp or fish instead. Well, Sarawak laksa uses poultry so now I'm just confused. Apparently, chicken laksa is just called curry noodles even though to me it's the same thing (cue the angry corrective commenters). Ok, the potatoes aren't laksa-like at all but the fried bean curd strips and fish cake are.  This was coconut milky and had that appropriate throat-tickling amount of spice. I was way too full to eat more than a few spoonfuls of this, unfortunately. (12/2/08)

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Alhambra Padang Satay

threeshovelI’m trying not to talk about illness any more but one fascinating (well, if you’re like me and find malls enlightening) part of being told by a doctor to not spend time outdoors due to the heat and humidity aggravating your bronchitis, is that in Singapore you don’t have to spend much time in open air. You can walk for what feels like miles through malls connected to each other by passageways, underground tunnels and sky bridges.

Our goal was to get from Suntec City to Gluttons Bay at the Esplanade with as little outdoor exposure as possible. And with the exception of a single outdoor walkway and escalator, we accomplished this. The major problem, we were both aware of, is that Gluttons Bay is outdoors and that was a no go. It sounds like I’m being melodramatic but James literally couldn’t walk more than 10 feet outdoors without starting to wheeze and gasp for air. Frankly, it was a little irksome for a tropical vacation but I have a hard time mustering sympathy for sick people, which is probably why karma caught up and sickened me the following week. Satay probably isn’t worth your health but whatever, it had to be done. The plan was to grab food to go and catch a cab immediately, which was a touch unrealistic since there always seems to be woefully long taxi stand lines in Singapore. No street hailing allowed.

Carl's jr double cheeseburger
Along the way we found a Carl’s Jr. Not having any on the East Coast, James felt compelled to get two humongous Super Star with Cheeses for the road (neither of us allowed a little illness to hamper our vacation eating). One for later that night and one for the flight to Hong Kong the next day (when I was seriously hurling the entire plane ride–let’s just say that that monster burger inches from me didn’t help matters). The burger in the pic looks pathetic and squashed, but that has more to do with my photography.

Some may deride Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay as an overpriced marketing gimmick. I don’t know who specifically, not me, maybe I’ve been in NYC too long because I automatically assume people will have a problem with everything. The concept is a collection of hawkers in one spot that was organized by a popular food site. It would be like having a Chowhound-created Porkers Pier at South Street Seaport or some such.

Alhambra padang satay
We weren’t even hungry because we’d already eaten Indonesian food, prata and had two enormous cheeseburgers in a bag. But I’d made a fuss about coming so we had to get something, something small and snacky from Alhambra Padang Satay. Except James ended up getting suckered into some too-large combo deal with 20 sticks of mixed lamb, beef and chicken.

Mixed satay
Real satay is tiny, thankfully, no tough meat slabs awkwardly threaded onto a skewer. Three bites per stick. We were given enough sauce, in dangerous Asian-style plastic bags, to practically fill a sink. And most important to me, the accompaniments: lontong, pressed rice cubes, and chunky slices of cucumber and shallots. You could tell the lontong was made traditionally, steamed in banana leaves, because the curved edges had a pale green hue.

I think I made myself sick eating so much rice dipped in peanut sauce. I ate a bunch for breakfast before heading to the airport and I do wonder if that had some impact on the intestinal issues that plagued me that entire day. But no, I won’t put the blame on the poor satay.

Ah, it appears that Gluttons Bay is having a holiday promotion through Jan 1, 2009. I’m amused by the promise of “cool December” weather for dining when I was just there a few weeks ago and temperatures approached 90 degrees. Wow, eight hawker courses, “Rose Shandy, Roast Turkey with Fruit Chutney, a stinging BBQ stingray, Crispy Cereal Prawns and let’s not forget the Satay, White Fried Carrot Cake, Banana Tempura with Kaya sauce and a cool coconutty Chendol” for S$ 89 per couple. That’s $31 each (sure, spendy for Singapore) and you can BYOB. Now, I could get into that kind of New Year’s Eve festivity. I’d rather sit at home this evening than spend $100+ per person for the mediocre food and drink that’s the norm on December 31st in NYC. I’m officially old.

Alhambra Padang Satay at Gluttons Bay * 01-15 Esplanade Mall, Singapore

Toast Box & Ya Kun

1/2 The first meal I ever ate in Asia was kaya toast and soft boiled eggs at the original, air condition-less, non-mall Killiney Kopitiam way back in 2003.

I've since eaten a fair amount of kaya toast (I went through a phase here where I'd make my own version with kaya and peanut butter) and every time I fret a bit over the quarter-inch thick layer of butter. Never mind the sugar and fat in the coconut jam. White bread slathered with rich sweetness doesn't do much for me, but there's something about the crunchy warmth of toasted bread that melds everything together perfectly.

Toast box kaya toast

Before heading to our hotel, we stopped at Toast Box in Changi Airport. I always throw people off because I drink my coffee black. That's neither the standard kopi (coffee with evaporated milk and sugar) or kopi-o (coffee with sugar).

Toast box mee siam

I also tried a bowl of not-as-wretched-as-it-looks mee siam at the Changi Toast Box on our way to Hong Kong.

Ya kun kopi kaya toast and egg

At Ya Kun in Bugis Junction shopping center, we had the full combo complete with soft boiled egg. I mixed a little too much soy sauce in, I'm afraid. Dipping sweet toast into a salty eggy soup sounds odd but it works.

Toast Box & Ya Kun * various locations, Singapore


1/2 If Food Republic, a glorified food court, nearly made me crap myself with glee, then StraitsKitchen…um, I don’t like where this metaphor is going. Let’s just say that it is the most awesome buffet in the universe. Eating in malls and hotels isn’t shameful in Singapore and I must admit that the Hyatt knows what they’re doing. In Beijing, we tried Made in China, a similar concept that served Northern Chinese dishes. StraitsKitchen also brings local fare under one roof, and presents everything slickly yet with remarkable authenticity.

Straits kitchen interior

Different styles of food, including Indian, Malay, soups, Chinese roasted meats and chicken rice, desserts, tropical fruits and juices, and more, were featured at individual stations.

I only regret that 9pm reservations were the only time we could finagle same day. They have two seatings and the first was fully booked. The problem being that we eat way too slow and leisurely to cram enough food into an hour and a half. I felt half-frantic the whole time, wanting to sample as many things as possible without filling up (after my super power fantasy of being able to speak and understand all languages in the world, my number one grotesque desire would be to eat and never get full or absorb the calories). Just because I like to order lots of food doesn’t mean I can actually eat it all.

Straits kitchen popiah
My first interaction pissed me off but I quickly got over it. I walked up to the popiah station where the guy spreads out the crepe batter and makes the roll custom for you from scratch and as I was waiting a clueless Australian woman walked up and asked a million questions about what these were, then decided she wanted one so he started making ours at the same time. But then she made a fuss about not eating shrimp and not liking spice and next thing I knew he had made our two rolls exactly the same. Not all white women hate shrimp and chiles. The New Yorker in me would’ve made him re-make mine but I’m not a total bitch, and time was wasting. Instead, I brought it back to the table, sulked and unhappily picked at the half-assed popiah not made my way.

Straits kitchen chicken rice

No time for tears, though. I moved on quickly to Hainanese chicken rice. I couldn’t fill up on all that rice, nice and chicken brothy as it was. I didn’t think I was going to have time to fit in this Singaporean classic during my week in town so I was happy for this quickie.

Straits kitchen indian food

James picked out some Indian food for us to share. That’s fish head curry on the left and I think tandoori chicken, biryani and something orange on the right. Bok choy and char kway teow are hiding in the background.

Straits kitchen malay food

Malay, my favorite. James is not so crazy about the belachan-based cuisine but I can’t get enough of the strong flavors. One of the things I appreciated about this restaurant was not dumbing down or simplifying and the offering of appropriate condiments. This plate includes beef rendang, sayur lodeh (vegetables in coconut curry), kari ayam (chicken curry) and sambal prawn.

Straits kitchen malay station

The Malay station, conveniently located closest to our table, had those tiny olive-sized limes, numerous sambals, a pineapple-cucumber achar, and more that I’m forgetting. I think that wooden bucket that looks to be filled with rocks actually contains buah keluak, a toxic nut used in Peranakan cooking. Yep, definitely going for authenticity and atmospherics.

Straits kitchen chile crab and satay

Moving on to Singapore with chile crab and the necessary fried mantou. Also, a few sticks of satay.

Straits kitchen laksa

My capacity was dwindling but James brought over a bowl of super lemak laksa and I couldn’t let it go uneaten. I think he went a little wild with the garnishes.

Straits kitchen sweets

A melting pot of desserts. I’m a freak who doesn’t like fruit even fresh beautiful tropical fruit, so just the foreign sweets for me. I had a hard time narrowing it down to just these five. Clockwise from far left: Indonesian lapis legit, Nonya ang koo, Hong Kong egg tart, Nonya kueh dadar (my favorite—I love the color green and hate that any American dessert that color is minty. I prefer my green goodies flavored with pandan) and Chinese peanut pancake.

StraitsKitchen * Grand Hyatt, 10 Scotts Rd., Singapore

What You Do Prata

1/2 I’m not ashamed to admit that a good food court is one of the few things in life I can get excited about. And by good, I mean a well-curated space offering diverse foodstuffs from the Asian continent. Essentially, an indoor hawker center (I’m not persnickety about hygiene but I do love me some air conditioning).

Singapore really takes the cake in this genre, which isn’t surprising since they prefer modern tidiness over grit. Yes, some might say soulless compared to say, Malaysia, Vietnam…or really anywhere in Southeast Asia. Of course you can eat outside in Singapore too; it’s just that everything’s organized and regulated in comparison.

I love the Food Republic concept. I even watched a television segment about its founder while recuperating in our hotel (one of the many evening spent lying in bed rather than gallivanting around town—I got like zero drinking accomplished on vacation). The thing about these restaurant collections is that for the most part, they’re not mega-chains, many are extensions or evolutions of local eateries, and you won’t find all of the same establishments in each mall.

I first stumbled upon a Food Republic in the Wisma Atria and they had a little of everything: Hainanese chicken rice, herbal soups, sushi, dim sum, laska and so on. We vowed to return for dinner but after spending all day going from mall to mall (nearly all of the shops on Orchard Road are connected) we had strayed too far to go back, plus, we’d already discovered a million other places where we wanted to eat (ultimately, My Mum’s Place in Paragon across from the always packed, distressingly named, Spageddies.)

Food republic

Our last night in Singapore, after eating so-so Indonesian food at House of Sundanese in Suntec City we did the mall-to-mall crawl and eventually found ourselves in another Food Republic. This one was classy and designed to look like a library with green-shaded desk lamps, wood tables, book wallpaper and padded leather signage. Seriously? A library-themed food court full of amazing Southeast Asian treats in a ginormous mall?! I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced this level of awesome before.

Suntec city food republic

We desperately need an NYC Food Republic. The equivalent would be going to…well, we don’t have real malls in Manhattan. But imagine a giant suburban mall at Union Square. There would be a food court but minus any McDonald’s or KFCs (they would be in the mall, as they are in Singapore, but not as part of the food court). Instead, you might find some of the beloved Red Hook vendors. You couldn’t get DiFara but definitely those Artichoke guys (they’re expanding, right?). Obviously, street cart favorites like Kwik Meal and Calexico could be there. You could go trendy with a salumeria stand, porchetta and charcuterie too. There would have to be bbq, bagels, oh, and deli food and hot dogs but not Junior’s or Nathan’s who would certainly jump on the wagon, Rachael Ray would also want her burgers represented but the public would demand a Shake Shack satellite (I say the public because I’ve never eaten there. Weird, I know) Will Goldfarb could pretend Picnick never happened and get in on the desserts. Duh, and a speakeasy stall, mixology for the masses. Alcohol is one thing Singaporean malls totally lack because they are lame that way. There would have to be drinks. The theme could be Gangs of New York and it could be decked out like Tamanay Hall. Or maybe the Immigrant Experience, yes, the second location in midtown would have Ellis Island memorabilia everywhere. I see pushcarts, newsies and chamber pots.

What you do prata

Do note the books tucked into the shelves in front of the stands. No eating in the library?

Many of the Food Republic shops are showy with big picture windows letting diners watch their Chinese donuts being kneaded, cut and deep fried in a giant oil-filled wok. Or their prata being rolled out and filled with tasty stuffings…

Cheese prata

I could only make room for something small, I mean, I wasn’t going to not try something, so James and I shared a cheese prata with the default vegetarian curry containing a lone okra pod. The griddled pancakes weren’t too oily and there was just a hint of mild white cheese (I couldn’t say what type). There’s no getting around the fact that prata are heavy, though. I restrained myself from ordering two and then thought twice when I noticed the woman in front of my getting three (if I were truly nosy, I could’ve followed her to see if she was dining with two others). I am always humbled by the culinary fortitude of Asian girls.

I didn’t realize the name of the stall was What You Do Prata until we were leaving. Despite the silly moniker, the food is a notch more serious. They have guy who makes your prata on demand. I was kind of paralyzed by indecision because in NYC we only have roti canai, no choice of filling or sauce. Here, you could have egg, onion, cheese, combinations of those or meat, but then I think chicken or mutton makes a prata become a murtabak. And there were curries in steam table trays behind glass. Everyone else seemed to know what everything was despite no labels.

Typically in Southeast Asia I haven’t been stymied by language barriers, Singapore is super English-friendly, it’s the food customs. I was thinking of this when I read about Ferran Adria being taken to Katz’s. Even though he could communicate with the Dominican counter guy in Spanish, it’s not like he knew how and what to order.

Roti canai, a flaky, layered pancake that’s always served with a little cup of curry that usually contains as small bone-in chicken piece and one potato chunk, is something you’ll often see as an appetizer in Malaysian restaurants in NYC. I’ve since realized this is weird. For one, what we call roti is prata in Southeast Asia. That’s fine, just a semantics issue. It only occurred to me this time, on my third visit to Singapore, that roti, prata, whatever, isn’t even Malay (though it could be argued that it is Malaysian). It’s something you find at Muslim Indian stalls, a style that I’ve heard called mamak (don’t know if that’s an un-PC term or not). So, Malaysian restaurants in New York, which are run by ethnic Chinese serving Muslim Indian food, are really no different than the American restaurants run by Brits or Australians in Asia that serve tacos, bbq and Cajun food all together.

But more importantly, I have no idea how to categorize prata. Prata is a Singaporean bastardization of Indian paratha so is it Singaporean because it's part of the country's culture or still Indian? Malaysians would claim prata too and they are more Muslim than Singaporeans so is it also Malaysian? Ok, I'm going to call it Malaysian and Singaporean but not Indian, convoluted as it may seem. The closest local example I can think of is whether gyros are Greek or American. It's crazy when food starts making me think like a librarian.

What You Do Prata * Suntec City, 3 Temasek Blvd., Singapore

Prima Taste

1/2  Is eating laksa at a Singaporean chain restaurant in Shanghai any less blasphemous than shamelessly patronizing Pizza Hut? Well, we did both in the same afternoon and I feel very little guilt. It’s a rare vacation where we don’t indulge in our must-sample-everything second lunch, second dinner plan. And this was a rare vacation because Prima Taste enabled our only second lunch in China.

As much as I’m fond of all of Chinese food iterations (it’s strange how much loathing for Shanghainese cooking I’ve run across on the internet—no, I’m not calling anyone out) coconut milk, shrimp paste and fresh hot chiles suck me in like nothing else. I’m already planning (at least in my mind) a 2008 Malaysia excursion.

HamburgerhelperI was initially tempted by the out of place smell of belacan in a Beijing food court. It was the first Prima Taste restaurant I’d ever seen. I only knew the name from packaged spice pastes I bought at a Carrefour in Singapore a couple years ago. Apparently, they have one American branch in San Jose. I’ll admit the concept of brand-inspired restaurant is off putting. I wouldn’t be in a rush to eat at a Hamburger Helper café. But somehow Asians get away with that crap.

And the food’s not even bad. No, of course it wouldn’t get the Makansutra seal of approval, but not everyone is blessed with hundreds of hawker stalls to choose from. We don’t have any Singaporean food in NYC (nah, Singapore Café barely counts, it’s totally Chinese) so a Prima Taste wouldn’t offend me.


Admittedly, I wasn’t that hungry but I did get through most of my shrimp laksa. The broth was very lemak with fish cakes and quite a bit of chunky, shrimpy sambal that came already mixed in, no cockles. I’m still not sure why all my favorite food hails from hot, sweaty climates when I’m a firm believer in temperate weather. To me, laksa would be best enjoyed somewhere in the 60s, just like Shanghai in autumn.


I only had one bite of the char kway teow so I can’t fairly assess it. I’ve never had a version with flat and thin noodles mixed together—I’m sure sticklers would have a problem with that. I was kind of surprised that it contained crispy bits of fried pork lard, it’s not atypical but I don’t recall ever getting porky nuggets in Penang. See? Now, I have to go back to taste test more seriously.

Prima Taste * 3/F 1111 Zhao Jia Bang Rd., Shanghai, China

Singapore Cafe

You might think that I'd eat Malaysian/Singaporean food more than I do since those are my favorite countries to eat in and I'm frequently trying to reproduce the cuisine in my cramped kitchen, but I dine on Chinese and Thai fare way more often. Much of the fun of Malaysian fare is the hawker or food court experience, the caliber of the cooking itself and cheap cheap prices. It doesn't quite translate in NYC.

James and I did a Mott and Canal after work meet-up to see what struck our fancies. I couldn't make a restaurant decision (I've noticed one of the many downsides of my not-so-new-anymore job is that it has made me exhausted and indecisive) earlier so wandering seemed like a good antidote.

I'd eaten at Singapore Café, twice before, though not recently, and it appears to be under new management. They now have two menus, one Chinese and the other "Asian fusion" which contains the Singaporean stuff. That's an interesting tactic. I guess they think that no one knows what Singaporean food is because they explain it to you without being prompted, and it appeared that most diners were eating Chinese food either because they were Chinese or because they were tourists (yes, I'm generalizing).

We had adequate versions of char kway teow, roti canai, grilled chicken in pandan leaves and beef rendang. I'm sure purists would find nitpicking points galore, but it was about what I'd expected going in. It's wise to be wary of restaurants that offer two cuisines because it's likely one is going to suffer. I don't even know if there are any Malay-run Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants in NYC. It's a more Chinese-y kind of city, I think. 

My only complaint was the hovering service, which I realize sounds petty considering many consider Chinatown the epitome of brusqueness (I do not). Everyone watched us like a hawk, filled drinks too frequently and generally made me self-conscious. Two of the waitresses kept staring at my feet and I couldn't figure out why. I was too unnerved to snap photos, primarily because I was convinced that it would lead the host to think we were tourists who'd never seen Singaporean food and he'd come over and school us. Maybe I'm just an unfriendly crab but I'm a leave me alone kind of person.

Singapore Cafe * 69 Mott St., New York, NY

Newton Food Centre

I had big plans for our sixth (dating) anniversary. Originally, No Signboard Seafood, which isnt fancy fancy, but eating crab feels special. Then I was leaning towards a belated celebratory meal the following night at Opia, the new sleek "Australian freestyle" in the JIA. But we'd already splurged a bit, so we opted for low key. I didnt imagine quite as low key as a hawker center, but it just kind of happened.

This was the only hawker center where we were really hawked at. And aggressively. I'd avoided Newton on the last vacation because I was aware it was touristy and pricier than others, but it was sort of on the way from the Night Safari and certain to be open.

I had chicken murtabak, James the chicken rice. I later ordered char kway teow (from a woman who appeared to be falling asleep at a table, which made me wonder if cooks get really bored during down time) just to sample the Singapore style. We fended off attacks from all the pushy seafood vendors, but after seeing a young couple gorging on chile squid, mussels and grilled fish, I kind of wished we tried some, after all. I was just afraid of getting gouged by inflated prices.

I also made a sourpuss stray cat hang out with me. He didnt take much coaxing to come over to our table, especially since no one else seemed terribly fond of him. Loose non-pet animals just dont evoke much sympathy from locals, which I can understand. But I was fascinated by S.E. Asian cats, which tend to be tinier than American felines and almost always have short kinked tails that look like theyve been chopped off or broken (I'm assuming theyre all distantly related and not hacking victims). The Newton cat wouldnt eat the satay tidbit we handed him, though he munched a few bean sprouts from our char kway teow. Maybe he was a halal cat.

Newton Food Centre * Newton Circus, Singapore