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Posts from the ‘Singapore’ Category

New World Park

Having started with the Gurney Drive hawkers, then moving onto more modern Northam Beach Café, New World Park was the next logical step. Only a little over two years old, this complex is home to casual upscale restaurants like Shanghainese Rou Gu Cha King and Sri Batik Nyonya Café, as well as this tidy hawker center, all signage homogenized into one distinct style.

New world park stand

New world park popiah

The popiah stand was popular and I hadn't tried any on this vacation. I'm not sure if it's the nature of popiah or just this version, which were freshly made on the spot, but I found the rolls kind of bland. I think it was the jicama-heavy filling.

New world park roti canai

We ordered roti canai from the Indian Muslim stall. The sauce was redder than anything I've encountered in the US, and I think vegetarian. Then again, roti canai here isn't the same since most Malaysian restaurants are run by Chinese.

New world park shrimp fritter

And a shrimp fritter too.

New world park char kway teow

James ordered char kway teow because…he usually did in Penang.

New world park hawker center-1

New World Park * Burmah Rd., Penang, Malaysia

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


Before there was Food Republic there was BreadTalk (same company). I don’t have that many food obsessions but I can definitely count pick-a-mix sweet and savory bakery goods as one of them. I am so obsessed that I have given semi-serious thought to how I could come up with a New York interpretation. Sure, we have Fay Da, Taipan Bakery, Café Zaiya and their ilk thriving in Asian-heavy neighborhoods but what about a more universal equivalent that would appeal to Americans?

I was looking at BreadTalk’s franchising program. You need $500,000 and they only have locations in Asia and the Middle East. Not so doable, and it’s not like they have any name recognition in the U.S. anyway. I’d be better off starting from scratch—not that I have even a sliver of business sense.  Maybe if I had one of those The Apprentice type personalities.

Bread talk bacon floss bun

Bacon floss bun. I’ve mentioned floss already. It’s essentially finely shredded jerky and you find it in buns, mini egg rolls and sometimes in stir-fries. Crispy, salty and good.

Bread talk nacho cheese buns

I didn’t find nachos to all that pervasive in Singapore, so a nacho cheese bun was a little odd. Yet nothing can beat the nacho cheese-drizzled Cinnabon I once spied in the Petronas Towers.

Bread talk obunma

Obunma sums up why I like BreadTalk. They are not afraid of novelty and current events. Obama was also used as a marketing gimmick for Hip Diner USA.

Hawaiian pizza

There’s a lot of Hawaiian combos in S.E. Asia. Finally, a place where I don’t have to hide my love for ham and pineapple.

Frankfurter tortilla

Ok, this frankfurter craziness is not from BreadTalk but an upscale grocery chain, city’super, in Harbour City. Hong Kong malls are so chichi with their Prada, D&G, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and the like (maybe the Monchichi shop negates that). There’s nothing upscale about a weiner wrapped in a tortilla, though. I also picked up a classier camembert walnut bun.

BreadTalk * various locations, Singapore & Hong Kong

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

MOS Burger

I’ve said it before but I’m no burger aficionado, either I like one or I don’t. MOS was more important to me for the foreign chain unavailable in the U.S. factor.  It’s the type of place that will randomly show up in NYC some day and there will be guaranteed lines out the door.

Mos spicy cheeseburger

Maybe I should’ve gone for one of the burgers that replaces the bun with rice patties but I was lured by the Spicy MOS Cheeseburger.

Initially, I freaked when I mistook the melty white cheese for mayonnaise (you never know with those Japanese). The spice comes from a mild sienna-hued sauce full of minced onion. There’s kind of a lot happening on this burger–look at that massive tomato slice–so much so that the meat barely registered. I’m just not a burger purist, I guess because it didn’t bother me.

Mos burger combo

It should be noted that this was very slow fast food. We waited about 15 minutes before having our food brought out (I do appreciate that fast food chains, Carl’s Jr. too, bring your order to you. They are also very obsessive about clearing tables and removing any loose napkins, fry bags and the like while you are still sitting). I don’t know if that’s part of the MOS concept or simply how things were done at Ngee Ann City in Singapore.

MOS Burger * Ngee Ann City, 391B Orchard Rd., 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

House of Sundanese Food

1/2 We got this idea that we needed to eat Indonesian fried chicken, I think it was based on this amazing glistening, crisp-skinned photo accompanying a recipe we stumbled on while browsing at a bookstore. But Singapore is not Indonesia.

House of sundanese

And we took our chances at House of Sundanese Food at Suntec City, right next to a Kenny Rogers Roasters (the chain only exists in S.E. Asia). The setup was strange. Most of the sit down mall restaurants were flashy and hyper-stylized, this place was raggedy and makeshift. There were plenty of a la carte options but the waitress who also seemed to be the owner kept pushing combo meals, which were considerably cheaper. And one happened to feature fried chicken. James went with that and I picked a rendang version not really knowing what other bits and bobs would come with the featured entrée.

A drink also came with the set meal, but we weren’t offered choices but had grass jelly nearly forced on us. I discovered that grass jelly is one of the few things on earth that I can’t stand the taste of. The brown squiggles taste like bitter gelatinous dirt. As the room began to fill up I peeked at everyone else’s beverages and no one was drinking grass jelly, just lime juice. I would’ve killed for a sweet, citrusy lime juice.

House of sundanese rendang combo

Anyway, the food turned out to be average, nothing to get excited about. The chicken (not pictured) wasn’t as crackly as it could be. My beef rendang was fine, super rich and falling apart. There was also a soupy vegetable curry and a very tasty, most likely terribly unhealthy bean curd ring that had been fried into lacy crispness and drenched in a creamy, spicy peanut sauce.
The dinner was adequate but we were both left feeling unsatisfied. I ended up eating satay and prata later to compensate and James stopped at Carl’s Jr.

House of Sundanese Food * Suntec City, 3 Temasek Blvd., Singapore