Of course we couldn’t visit Singapore and not write about the food! Eliza graciously held off to give me a chance for a guest post.
Food was definitely the impetus for our stopover, which turned out to be a blessing as it was pretty much the only activity we could afford. Singapore is known for its shopping and expensive restaurants but in our book, it’s real claim to fame is hawker centers: open air complexes lined with rows of food stalls, packed with locals grabbing lunch and tourists sampling the local fare. Singaporeans take their food seriously, and it’s not uncommon to wait half an hour at the most popular stalls. I certainly hate lines as much as the next guy, but as the tour books are quick to point out, the long lines are the key to finding the best food!
Similar to Malaysia, Singapore has a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay food. Depending on the neighborhood, hawker centers skew toward either Chinese or Indian food, with a smattering of the community’s take on Malay dishes. This ensures you’ll never exhaust Singapore’s bounty of culinary delights, as dishes by the same name are prepared differently depending on where you get them. Char Kway Teow, an “everything but the kitchen sink” sweet and spicy fried noodle dish ranged in color from tandoori-chicken red to soy sauce brown, and we’re still not sure what Rojak is since, as far as we could tell, it was a curry at one stall, and a salad at another!
Not missing an opportunity to eat biryani and dosas, we stayed in a hostel in Little India, and did much of our eating at the nearby Tekka hawker center. Tekka’s piece de resistance was Tulang Power, mutton marrow bones in a sweet and spicy dye-your fingers red broth. Eliza slurped up the devilishly rich marrow with a straw while I stuck to the few scraps of flaky meat left on the bone, drenched in the tasty sauce. We mopped up the remaining sauce with Murtabak, Malaysia’s take on the culturally ubiquitous stuffed bread. (By the way, if you’re in Singapore and looking for Murtabak, our far and away favorite was ZamZam restaurant in Kampung Glam neighborhood, thanks to a tip from our friend Kim.)
We also made it to the Maxwell hawker center, one of Chinatown’s more popular hawker centers, and used the opportunity to try one of Singapore’s hallmark dish, Chicken Rice. To the unsuspecting observer it may look like a bland chicken breast with plain steamed rice, but it still astounds me how much flavor and texture is packed into such a colorless dish. The chicken is drenched in a sweet and salty sauce that while simple is too tasty not to love, and the seemingly plain-jane rice is in fact cooked in chicken broth. To top it all off, the real masterpiece of the dish is the velvety-ness of the chicken, by far the most moist and tender chicken breast I have ever had.
Overall, Singapore definitely lived up to its culinary reputation. Our 3 days there were quite a feast, and like any truly great trip, left us with plenty to come back for. We didn’t get a chance to try the famous chili crab and the mystery of Rojak remains unsolved.