London Street Foodie On Tour: Singapore street food Part 1
Writing about Singapore street food is not like writing about London street food. It is a beast of a thing, made up of many markets, hawker centres and stalls on the streets. It is not trendy, as it is in London (oh come on!), it is just a way of life; all sorts of people from teens to grandparents eat hawker food. I admit I had done very little research so I just took to Twitter and asking my friend, whose mother grew up there, for up-to-date recommendations, and off I went.
Here is what happened…
WHAT I ATE
(ratings: * yeah, alright, ** mmm, *** now we’re talking, **** yeehaa, ***** I’m going back for more)
* Pick-n-mix broth, Orchard Ion
I was staying near the gigantic Orchard Ion shopping centre, so the foodhall in the depths of that mall was our first port of call. Now of course some people will say there are heinous numbers of shopping points with a foodhall in each, meaning not all of them can be very good. But I found that if you walked carefully through this particular spaghetti junction, you can pick out a few things that will be what you’re looking for. I came back here a number of times and found lots to fill up on…. Jumping off the escalator you are hit by a vast array of everything from fried dough to “Hong Kong style” chicken, to Malaysian chicken rice, broths, spicy beef, snow cones and jelly desserts. That first night, I stayed simple with a watery broth filled with seaweed and fish balls from one of the many places that offer a pick-and-mix style of dinner. I don’t remember the name but it was at the back…
** Ginger tea/teh o halia
Easily the best thing about Singapore is that you can end up in one street and then another and it feels as if you have travelled whole continents in minutes. So the following day, I went to the Middle East; I wandered around the colourful bazaar and centre of activity that is Haji and Arab Streets, near to the Masjid Sultan mosque. Here Caz and I ate meze from a corner restaurant on Baghdad Street before sitting down for a lovely sweet-bitter milky tea made with ginger called teh-o halia from one of the little cafes next to it. It’s a good eye opener, leaving you completely alert after just a few sips. Good for jet lag I’d have thought but even better for Caz who had to go back to the office afterwards. NB: ask for it without sugar or you will soon crash.
*** pork floss bun, supermarket (pictured at the top)
Yep, they actually make a thing called pork floss. You can buy it off the street on most, er, streets, but the one I had came from the supermarket at the bottom of the even bigger mall next to the Orchard Ion one (they all look the same to me). This was like an plain puffy bun, probably just pumped with water and sugar, and topped with sweetened pork shavings. Not crackling, more like a sort of porky mush with a crumbles on top. It is quite something.
**** Satay meat, Satay Street, CBD
Oh, OH. Now I get the satay thing. I had tried a lot of it in Malaysia on another trip but cleverly deleted it from my mind. One evening, my friend George and I ventured into the CBD (not exactly where you’d expect to find a little street market) and bang next to the gorgeous Lau Pa Sat market (currently closed for refurb), is Satay Street – that is, an entire night market dedicated to satay chicken, beef and lamb on sticks. You choose your stall (There is no telling which is better than the others so George picked this for the simple reason that it “had nice dingly dangly decoration attached to it”), then your size (number of sticks) – there is no veg on offer although it comes with a stick or two of cucumber – you watch it sizzle on the barby and then you just munch. It is fabulously finger sticking, but sweet and nutty and the meat tender. Golly gosh.
****Cereal prawn / Grilled stingray / Baby Kallin / fresh coconuts and their juice, from Sin Hoi Sai Eating House
Now this lot I am grouping together because it was a fantastic meal. I kept suggesting places I’d been told to visit, and Caz would just nod and then a few seconds later she’d say: “Right, that’s all great but scrap that because we’re going somewhere else and I think you’re gonna like it.” In this case we got a cab along the East Coast of Singapore, ending up somewhere conspicuous that her mother used to take the family when she was little. We began with fresh coconuts, slurping all the juices out and then scraping all of the flesh out. Then out came the cereal prawn, a curious idea of adding sweetened breadcrumbs to prawn. This is a brilliant idea and almost better than deeply frying them. You get a squish and a crunch and a touch of sweet chilli at the end. Yum. After that came the stingray, a huge morsel of flesh just lightly grilled and served with fresh lemon. It’s hunky meat, and so full of flavour. I haven’t forgotten this one.
***Banana fritters, Lim Kee, Maxwells Food Center
A banana fritter is not going to change the world, but this particular stand is famous for making very, very good ones, as I discovered after I’d eaten one. For $1.60 you have a frittered pisang rajah banana (the Malaysian king of this fruit, I am told), which leaves a super sweet slightly caramelised and crispy top, with batter slightly soggy underneath and a completely squidgy delicious banana inside. It is simply put in very hot oil for three minutes, and the batter is a trade secret. It’s a father-and-son business and they sell hundreds per day.
***Tom Yam Ban Mee, Qiu Lan Ban Mee, Orchard Ion foodhall
This operation, started by a housewife Madam Ong Qiu Lan who learnt to cook from her grandmother, opened in 1988 in the Tampines and it now has 20 outlets. It is made from slithery flat white mee noodles, a baby fishy broth made with fried Okan bilis, each one giving you a salty sea blast, fried shallots, pork mince, pak choi, homemade chilli sauce and an egg to thicken the soup. Everything is mixed up and it is as wholesome and “tummy warming” as they say. It splashes everywhere, the heat makes my nose run, I slurp like a crazy person and by the end I look like I’ve been through a washing machine.
Part 2: what I won’t be eating ever again
P.s. LSF has a new Facebook page so do like it or share it with friends if you approve…