Last year, David and I went to Singapore twice. The first time because it was the only way we could get to Vietnam (where we had our amazing motorcycle adventure). The second time was because we loved the food so much the first time that we had to come back and eat it properly.
For those of you who have been to Singapore, you know what I mean. It is a food lover’s paradise, proferring cuisine ranging from a tasty stick of satay on the street to the highest level of fine dining found anywhere in the world. And, as you know, David and I like to eat. But the main reason we returned to Singapore was the street food. The city has several hawker centres around town serving up the tastiest morsels you could imagine. BUT, if you don’t have a lot of experience (or an insider to help you – and we had neither) it can be a little hit and miss. This time, we did a little research, and had a strategy. A plan of attack.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention – last year we also bought a camera (nothing fancy, just a Canon EOS 1100D). So now we like to eat AND take pictures.
Ask any taxi driver in Singapore where the “best” hawker market is and you will get a different answer every time (trust me, we asked). Most prefer not to give recommendations, citing “personal preferences” that may vary from our non-Chinese palates. Fair enough too. I doubt I’d enjoy the pig’s lung if it was recommended, even though apparently, it’s quite delicious (and I would probably actually try it). But if you dig a little deeper, the general consensus (and the hawker centre that ultimately won my heart – and stomach) was Old Airport Road Food Centre. At the end of our trip, when I got a shiatsu massage at Changi Airport (LOVE Changi Airport), the old Chinese masseuse asked me where we’d had our favourite street food. When I told him Old Airport Road he clucked approvingly and said, “Ah, you serious about food!” You bet I am.
But, to get to that conclusion, we systematically trialled the food at about eight different food markets. In five days. Here are photos of some of the highlights. Day 1 we got into town late (around 9pm). We planned to go to Newton Circus Market but when we got there it was closed for annual maintenance!!! Damn! So we asked the taxi driver where else we should go and he recommended Lau Pa Sat, famous for its satay grillers. We’d been to Lau Pa Sat with friends only a few days before so we decided to go again.
Unfortunately for us, we were also tempted by a stall slightly set apart from the market selling naan and curry. I say unfortunately because I believe that this is what gave us a stomach bug. And by us, I really mean me. Usually it’s David that suffers gastrointestinally on vacation and I can rely on my Guts of Steel to get me through any food contamination. Not this time. The remainder of the trip was beset with lots of toilet breaks and stomach cramping. Did I let it get in the way of our culinary adventure. No way man! I soldiered on and ate everything on the agenda. Foolhardy? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely!
Next day (Day 2) we revisited an old favourite, The Banana Leaf Apolo. This restaurant has been serving an old Indian speciality, fish head curry, in Singapore for the last 39 years. Fish head curry, you say! Yes, it really is DELICIOUS! All the tender bits of the fish are in the face anyway, everyone knows that. And the curry is rather mild and fragrant, dotted with okra and other vegetables. When you order it, a man comes around and dishes out some rice and pickled salads onto a banana leaf (rather than a plate – and hence the name). And then comes the pièce de résistance – the fish head!!! It really is a lot better than it sounds and I’d recommend it to anyone. And yes, it’s so good that I ate it with a bad belly and just didn’t care what the consequences would be.
That night was a lay-low kind of night. Maybe it was the fish head curry, maybe we just needed a rest. Let’s not dwell on it.
Day 3 was a big day. We had a fancy dinner lined up at Waku Ghin that night so we wanted to take it a little easy on our stomachs during the day. It’s difficult to fully enjoy an expensive, eleven course meal when your belly is full of other yummy delights. So we woke up early and headed off to Sin Ming Roti Prata (another revisit). We chowed down on a couple of these unbelievably good roti prata’s each, making sure to dunk them sufficiently equally into the fish curry and chicken curry on offer. (Yes, I was still almost doubled over with stomach cramps but this stuff is most definitely worth the pain). If I had to call it, I’d say this was hands down the tastiest dish in all of Singapore. Simple, yet perfect. All hand-made at the store, all fresh. Must try!
Day 4 was Geylang Claypot Rice day! We had been here with our friends earlier in the year as part of our Anthony Bourdain tour of Singapore and loved it. So we came back. It was just as good. They make the claypot fresh so it can take up to an hour. No worries, we spent the time reading our books, watching the cars drive past and drinking (you guessed it) Tiger beer! Also: sweating. It was HOT! But that’s part of the fun.
Later on that night we went and had a few drinks on Ann Siang Road – a very cool district full of great restaurants and bars. Later we headed out to a couple of Chinatown markets (Maxwell Road and Smith Street) but unfortunately our research let us down a little as most of the stalls we wanted to try were closed. We did still manage to get some good eats though.
Day 5 is my best (and worst) day. Best because we visited Old Airport Road Food Centre and all the stalls we’d come to see were open. Worst? Well, you’ll find out later. But that was for dinner. For lunch we actually went to a different part of town for our third attempt at Kway Guan Huat popiah. Popiah, for the unititiated, is a rolled up skin (hand-made from ground rice) filled with all sorts of different things like lettuce, carrots, fried shallots, shredded omelette, shrimp and ground peanuts for crunch. We had heard of this place the last time we were in Singapore and made the trek across town to find it. Alas the lady said they were closed as it was Chinese New Year at the time. This time we tried again only to find it not serving to the public on that day!!! WHAT? So, the third time we made the journey we were thrilled to find it open. Alas, nothing can withstand the punishment of such high expectation, and while the popiah was of very good quality – it didn’t really seem worth all of that trouble (and probably close to SGD100 in taxi fares).
Old Airport Road on the other hand DID meet (and exceed) expectations. Here is where we had the best food, best atmosphere, best beer (it was still Tiger, but it just seemed better so we had lots and lots of it). Here are some of the dishes we had.
So, you know how I said Day 5 was best and worst?? Best because of the food, and worst because of… well, the booze. We really went crazy at Old Airport Road, chugging down Tiger beer by the jug whenever we discovered a new dish to inhale. When we left at the end of the night to go back to our hotel we were well and truly sozzled! At the Wanderlust Hotel, where we were staying, the bar happens to be in the lobby. Dangerous. We figured we’d stop for a nightcap. We ended up staying another couple of hours just shooting the breeze with the AWESOME bartender/manager Ben who made us many wonderful cocktails. He also comped us a couple of shot glasses of his very own lemon infused grappa (delicious – and I normally hate grappa).
The big trouble probably occurred when David just happened to mention in one of our conversations that he’d never had Belvedere vodka and asked Ben if it was really better than Grey Goose. Ben proceeded to set up a blind tasting for us so we could figure it out for ourselves. We figured it out (it is better, smoother). I spent the next day in bed (figuring out that we shouldn’t have drunk so much the night before). I felt like death. I doubt I’ve ever had a worse hangover and I hope I never will. It was so bad that we completely forgot about a Champagne Dim Sum brunch that we’d booked months earlier. We only remembered the next day when we flew out. Oops! Perhaps it was for the best. To console ourselves though we did have a little dim sum at Crystal Jade Dining In.
And thus ended our food adventure in Singapore. I was sick the whole time with some kind of bug but had a great time anyway. Can’t wait to go back and do it all again sometime.