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Posts from the ‘Singapore’ Category

Diandin Leluk

When a co-worker I don’t speak with often asked me about my vacation yesterday I realized how pissed I still am about the Thailand debacle. I have not accepted and moved on yet and neither has James who recently stated, “I’m not eating Thai food for six years.” I don’t truly believe that boycott will last but I can identify with the ire.

So desperate to rectify our aborted Bangkok eating trek, we researched where to find real Thai food in both Singapore (Golden Mile Complex) and Hong Kong (Kowloon City). In fact, our first meal in Singapore was at Diandin Leluk. Larb before laksa.

Golden mile mall

Our hopes were not high–they mangle Thai food in Malaysia and they share a freaking border—and no, our appetite was not appeased. The surroundings were definitely promising, though. Everything I read online painted an enticing picture of a dumpy ‘70s shithole that could barely be called a mall by Singaporean standards. There’s talk of tearing down the entire building, which is home to about 20 Thai businesses including many hairdressers, bars and stores that were the Asian equivalent of Dee & Dee or Pretty Girl.

Diandin leluk exterior

Part of the problem may have been us, we know better than to settle on the restaurant with English menus (this was Singapore, though) but we were kind of exhausted and didn’t have the spirit to attempt one of the eateries with only Thai scrawled on paper signs on the wall. And many of the small restaurants seemed like they were more hangouts for drinking beer and playing dice. I wasn’t convinced that they served great food either.

Diandin leluk condiments

The condiments seemed right: sugar, chile power, fish sauce, chiles in vinegar and crushed peanuts. The menu seemed odd, though. We ended up ordering weird things because absolutely nothing appealed. I would’ve predicted that the food would be Chinese-y and that was the case, lots of stir-fries and not really any curries.

Diandin leluk fried rice

We almost left but instead went with it and ordered, yes, fried rice. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Diandin leluk seafood salad

Ok, the seafood salad was rightly spicy and tart and contained a good amount of shrimp, squid and chunks of fish.

Diandin leluk fried pork

Fried pork with chile dip is more of a drinking food than a dinner dish. That was fine, we had big bottles of Tiger beer as an accompaniment.

I think we should’ve ordered tom yum, everyone had it on their tables, but I just never order soup unless it’s noodle soup and then that’s a meal unto itself. The food wasn't bad, it simply wasn't what we wanted. We were so underwhelmed that we nixed seeking out Thai food in Kowloon City. It’s usually wise to stick with the local cuisine anyway, though we did go a little wild and paid a visit to an Argentine steakhouse in Hong Kong. We couldn’t resist the novelty.

Diandin Leluk * 5001 Beach 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

J.Co Donuts & Coffee

1/2 I wonder if people in Malaysia read about fast food sensations on NYC blogs? Probably not. I keep tabs on a few Singaporean and Malaysian blogs, and one of the things I find most fascinating are foreign trends. In the mid-2000s I kept hearing about Rotiboy, which I eventually tried.

Last year I started noticing internet chatter about Indonesian donut chain J.Co. I was particularly amused by their use of outré ingredients like cheese. And the alcapone donut combined with a bullet hole motif on the company’s cardboard boxes was kind of sassy.

So, when I was unexpectedly faced with a big J.Co Donuts café with seating (I always imagined them as a take out counter) at Bugis Junction right after a fun stop at Raffles Hospital, a block away, I had to sample the wares even though I’d just eaten sweet, buttery kaya toast.
One vacation problem is that I use the break as a license to snack with hedonistic abandon. I’d buy anything that caught my fancy whether or not I had an appetite for it at the time. Consequently, lots of snacks sat around the hotel room not getting eaten at their prime.

I thought getting four donuts to share with another was being kind of gluttonous, but I had nothing on the two teenage boys in front of me in line who got three donuts apiece on a plate to eat right there on the spot. mocha and tiramisu donuts

These donuts, mocha and tiramisu, had a glossy unusually thick layer of frosting that would be gooey if fresh and warm. When I tasted these the next morning, they were still good but the chocolate had hardened like Magic Shell. It was almost like having a candy layer atop a donut that wanted to flake off in chunks. green tea and cheese donuts

Green tea tasted like green tea; I’m more into the color than the flavor. The most interesting donut by far was the cheese. James was scared of it, but I thought it had grotesque charm. I actually prefer hole-in-the-middle non-filled donuts just for the sweet bready yeastiness. This has all that softness with a salty melted parmesan-esque (funny, I just looked up their own description and it's "New Zealand cheese." I told you Southeast Asia was obsessed with Kiwi dairy) coating. I expected something more bagel-y, but nope, it was a genuine donut encased in cheese just like it looked.

It wouldn’t make a half-bad breakfast treat, especially if it had some bacon crumbles sprinkled on. Though being Southeast Asia, they’d most likely use “floss,” the ubiquitous flaked jerky that shows up in strange places.

J.Co Donuts & Coffee * Bugis Junction, 200 Victoria St., Singapore

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

Banana Leaf Apolo

Who knew that a humble fish head could be so tasty? I inadvertently bypassed Little India on my last visit to Singapore, so fish head curry was a must on this trip even though I wasnt super excited in comparison to other classic local dishes like chile crab. I wanted to have at least one banana leaf meal (where the rectangular frond serves as placemat and plate). Maybe hands-as-utensils is tradition, but everyone seemed to be using spoons and forks. And I'm not one to buck a trend.

s usual, we over ordered. Partly because everything sounded so good and partly because its hard to gauge portions. Here, I usually know what to expect and choose accordingly (its usually going to be big). We had a chicken biryani, which came with two vegetable sides, one a daal concoction, the other spiced tomato-y green beans. That, with naan and the small fish head (small wasnt that small) wouldve been plenty. But we also ordered a vindaloo just to see how its done in Singapore.

The fish head curry was much hotter than the vindaloo, and came in a broth dotted with okra or lady's fingers, as they call them. For some reason I'd envisioned the curry as being more chili-sweet, not chili-sour and unexpectedly bracing. The extra hot spice combination and soupy quality reminded me of Thai yellow curries more than typical Indian food (which isnt surprising since yellow curry paste uses dried spices typical to Indian food where most Thai curry pastes use fresh herbs) Fish head curry is really a Singaporean-Indian invention so the mish-mash comes with the territory.

Banana Leaf Apolo * 54-58 Race Course Rd., Singapore

No Signboard Seafood

We tried Jumbo's chile (I know they spell it chili, but I'm trying to be consistent) crab during our last visit, so this time 'round, pepper crab, a close competitor for Singapore classic status, was a must. I already had my sights set on No Signboard, and the Esplanade location, too. Not because its the new, classy branch, but primarily because it is centrally located. My plans were cemented when Jamess coworker, Alvin, who lives in Singapore, said hed show us around Friday night. When we mentioned pepper crab, he immediately suggested No Signboard. It was a go.

I had anticipated ordering the aforementioned pepper crab, cereal prawns that I'd heard about and sambal kankung. But Alvin was a total enabler (hes a sales guy and you can tell hes experienced at wining and dining clients–most interestingly, he doesnt seem to drink) and encouraged ordering practically everything we showed an interest in. We went wild and had small crabs prepared both ways: chile and white pepper with fried mantou on the side. James preferred the dry spice of the pepper crabs, while I'm still sticking with the original sweet, hot, sour and soupy rendition. Ill admit the dish is a peculiar invention, considering it contains ketchup and scrambled eggs, a gruesome twosome if there ever were one.

The cereal prawns were sweet and crunchy, possibly honeyed and rolled in oats, which I hadnt imagined. For some reason, I was envisioning Rice Krispies. At Alvins suggestion we had seafood served in a lacy yam (taro) basket, and if that werent enough we also had a little something called you tiao salad, which was most definitely not my idea. You tiao, I like, theyre fried dough sticks, Chinese crullers. It's the salad component thats tricky. If something says salad in S.E. Asia, in my experience that means mayonnaise. I'm guessing it has something to do with British ties and their fondness for salad cream. So, you tiao salad was fried bean curd wrapped crullers with a side of mayo for dipping. Eek.

There was food and Tiger Beer a plenty, and only the beginning. Luckily, it ended up expensed as a business dinner. As a librarian, its fair to say that I dont experience many expense account meals, free Monday morning bagels are as good as it gets. We (well, I) continued on with chendol at a nearby food court, then we headed up for drinks and a 70-story panorama at City View, the cigar bar atop the Swissotel, which wasnt terribly trendy but still commanded a cover charge and wait for seating (lists, waits, entry fees were rampant. I guess the same is true in NYC, I just don't frequent those places).









basket, you tiao salad in background


pepper crab


chile crab

No Signboard Seafood * 8 Raffles Ave., Singapore

The Blue Ginger

No, not Ming Tsai's place. This was nearly our last official meal in Asia. It wasn't planned. If I'd had my way, it would've been Sunday tea in our hotel, The Fullerton, that we only had one inadequate night in. But we hadn't made reservations. I didn't know tea was such a popular thing, but being a former British colony, I should've known better.

At the last minute, our luggage being held at the desk until our 11pm Sunday night departure, we asked to use the phone for a last minute (literally) reservation at Blue Ginger. It was 1pm and we were out of luck with brunch, so we needed a 2pm lunch date. Singapore seemed to be all about the rules, even if you were only going a few subway stops to eat in a few minutes, reservations were in order.

After a sweaty excursion (what other kind of short trip is there in S.E. Asia?), we settled in to a nice starter of bean curd skin spring rolls with pork, shrimp filling. Not popiah, I don't think, but close, and kalamansi juice (I never know if that's with a K or a C). We also tried a tamarind shrimp dish and the Ayam Buah Keluak, braised chicken served with these black nuts from Indonesia that I've since heard are poisonous, but I don't really think so. I should have savored it more because it's the sort of thing you might not get your hands on for quite some time. I'm totally irked because the chicken came with two tiny spoons and I didn't understand their purpose. I guess you're supposed to scoop the insides of the nut and it's all wonderful and rich and like a S.E. Asian mole. So stupid for not knowing, and when am I going to ever get to try them again? I hate condescending waitstaff, but obviously I need to be informed of obvious practices every now and then.

Actually I found these nuts at the best Hong Kong Supermarket in the chain, in S. Plainfield, NJ. Whether they're the real deal or hopelessly rancid is yet to be determined. (8/24/03)

Re-visiting Blue Ginger wasnt on my itinerary, but became a spur of the moment Saturday night choice because it was walking distance to our hotel and I was fretting over being so close yet so far away from the black nuts we messed up last time. I'm referring to ayam buah keluak, a stewy Nonya dish of chicken and buah keluak. Youre supposed to scoop out the innards of the black nuts with tiny spoons and savor them.

We did this time, and discovered that they're kind of earthy and funky. Peranakan cooking is pungent, heavy on the shrimp paste and strong flavors. I dont think James was super fond of the style (nor the bill. We didnt order that much but still spent around $100 American). I agree that its not as immediately accessible as Chinese or Malaysian food, which are wholly "grubbing," to use a horrible expression. Nonya cuisine isnt grubbing. He wouldnt touch the otak otak either, which was surprising since he ate it last time we were in town. Fortunately, the udang masak assam gulai, shrimp in a spicy tamarind broth, and ngo heong, minced pork and prawn wrapped in bean curd and deep-fried, were bigger hits. I wouldve gone for the durian chendol, but James wouldve killed me. (9/3/05)


the elusive
ayam buah keluak

Azteca * ? Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Takashimaya Food Court

I seriously can't even begin to describe the wonder that is the Takashimaya
food court. First off, I was overwhelmed by the mooncake paradise, as it was
the mid-autumn festival season (on our way back through Singapore a week
later, there was a huge area outside the food court set up with mooncake
stalls. Every bakery in the city must've been there handing out little
samples on toothpicks and flyers.). There was a stall for everything, and I
can't even remember it all. Not much Western food, despite the presence of
Harrod's. But plenty of Asian purveyors and great chains I'd never heard of.
Places like Bengawan Solo,
which is a Malaysian kueh baker (with the most interesting mooncake
flavors), Tio Glutton, a Japanese cheesecake stand, and Beard Papa, a place
for filled puffs, also Japanese (duh, who else would name a store after a
gluttonous uncle and illustrate Beard Papa with a cartoon image of what
looked like a grunge Santa Claus). Of course there was Thai, Vietnamese,
Indonesian, various Chinese, and lots of bakeries. My favorite was a place
with a French name I can't remember (they had a place just like it in
Bangkok, but with a different French name that I also can't remember) where
you get to pick out all your goodies with tongs and put them on a tray. It's
not only sweets and pastries, there are curry puffs and buns with octopus,
corn and mayonnaise. I loved it. Anyway, I never got a chance to actually
sit and eat a meal because it was always so crowded. But I got plenty of
snacks to go.

This reminds me that I've never been to the Takashimaya in NYC because I
know it's not the same, and I'll be disappointed. I bought the cutest
umbrella in the world at the Singapore location, a tiny, apple green,
gingham number that barely stands up to rain-maybe it's for the sun? (They
seem to like using umbrellas as shade in Asia.) and it's doubtful they would
have such a sweet accessory here. I'm pretty sure the NYC Takashimaya is
priced beyond my means and houses a fancy teahouse in the basement.

TakashimayaFood Court * 391 Orchard Rd., Singapore



My final meal in Asia, appropriately untraditional. Well, maybe not for
Singpaore–malls seem ingrained in their culture-why not eat your last
supper wedged between Top Shop and Boots. I'm not even 100% sure it was City
Link Mall we dined in. After spending our entire last afternoon and evening
going up and down escalators, we lost track between Raffles Place and Suntec
City. I could've sworn there was an exact restaurant chain in Bangkok called
Noodi, but can't seem to find any evidence of it.

Nooch is a colorful, plastic-y youthful noodle bar with a menu split
between Thai and Japanese dishes. Not even very hungry (but wanting to eat
at the mall), I was intimidated by a giant steaming bowl of tom yam, but did
my best to slurp it down. I was stuffed on the plane.

Nooch* City Link Mall, Singapore

Lau Pa Sat

It was round two in Singapore. Thanks to my bad planning we did the country
in two short chunks. This was our second, only a little more than 24 hours
before returning home to NYC. On our last full night in town we tried satay,
my second version of laksa and carrot cake, which doesn't contain carrot at
all. I think it's also been described as radish cake, radish like what they
use in turnip cakes. I don't know why carrots, turnips and radishes are so
confusing. It's really a spicy, sweet soy omelet. Good and fried.

Lau Pa Sat * 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore