Jul 132014

I’ve been distracted for the last little while and have not published a thing – not on a blog anywhere, anyhow.

Things haven’t really calmed down – work is still work, Liz and I have a baby on the way – but we’ve moved out to the Heartlands again. Things seem a little more real out here away from the noise and the tourists. That, and perhaps I have finally worked through all the excuses :)

Anyhow, please expect to see more posts soon.

Jan 182013

Regular readers would have noticed that the blog has been a little quiet lately – I’ve started a new job and the hours can be a little intense. This has also led to fewer food excursions, and less material for new posts. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, we’ve been exploring the wonderful world of home delivered cuisine.

I haven’t had a lot of Mexican food since moving to the north east of Singapore – Bugis had a couple of good options (one good restaurant and a Baja Fresh outlet), but Tampines less so. It sounds odd, getting excited about Mexican food in Singapore – but when you haven’t had something for a while, it can be a real novelty.

One home delivered outlet that has really impressed me is Cafe Mexicana – we order via the Foodpanda.sg site for home delivery. My personal favourite from Cafe Mexicana is the Chimichanga – basically a deep fried fajita – pictured below slathered with bean dip, pico de gallo, and chili sauce:

cafe mexicana chimichanga

The food from Cafe Mexicana is delivered in moulded plastic trays – these seem fairly effective in keeping the various dishes separated. Here are a couple of side dishes – Jalapeno Poppers (jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese, then breaded and fried) and a trio of dips with corn chips. The Poppers come with pico de gallo, chili sauce, and a green salad.

Jalapeno Poppers and Corn Chips Dips

Apart from structural integrity, the plastic trays are also microwaveable.

Pictured below is the Chicken Quesadilla – and sorry – the photo does not adequately capture the tastiness of the food :) The Quesadilla is accompanied by guacamole, bean dip, and Mexican rice.

chicken quesadilla

As an aside, we have used Foodpanda.sg a few times and have nothing but good to say about the site or the service. Some of the outlets they cover have no delivery charge or minimum order (while others definitely do!) but they are pretty up front about this.

Oct 272012

Before coming to live in Singapore last year I had spent some time in the region with work. One of the local dishes that I came to love was Ice Kacang – basically a shaved ice and fruit/sugar syrup dessert. I even found a couple of places that made it in Australia – but like many other Asian delicacies there it was sadly of inferior quality at a somewhat superior price.

This version of Ice Kacang is topped with Mango and Durian fruit:

Mango Durian Ice Kacang

This is the more common form of Ice Kacang, topped with sweet red beans – layers of shaved ice, palm nuts (like jelly beans), pandan jelly threads, red beans, gula melaka (palm sugar), and some sweet fruity sauce:

Ice Chendol is named after the green pandan jelly threads made by dripping into water – they look like little green glowing worms:)

One of the local Kopitiams does a sundae-like Ice Chendol in a glass – it is served with a plastic spoon and thick bubble tea straw:

This picture shows you detail of the layers – from the bottom up, they are gula melaka, shaved ice, chendol threads, red beans, more shaved ice, and more gula melaka syrup. Very tasty and refreshing – and also very sweet :)

This shows you detail of the chendol threads and the two types of sweet bean used in this particular Ice Chendol – many just use the smaller red bean, but this one includes larger kidney beans as well:

The cost of both is minimal – normal Ice Kacang is usually around SGD1.80, the Durian version around SGD2.70 – and Ice Chendol is rarely more than SGD2.00.


Oct 192012

Most Singaporeans are as honest as the day is long. Drop your wallet here or leave your purse on a table and walk away – someone will run after you to hand it back. However, there are those few who take their commercial zeal a little too seriously and resort to touts – those annoying souls who harangue (and even chase) passersby in the hope of securing business. These annoying insects are thankfully rare, and easily avoided – I hope that in mentioning this somewhat distasteful topic you can bypass them and ensure that your Singapore food experience is a positive one.

In the Weekend Food Getaways Manila post I mentioned that I try to avoid touts wherever possible. Someone has to pay the touts – in my experience, touted food is always more expensive, and usually nowhere near as good as you will find just down the street.

Live seafood, Boat Quay, Singapore

There is a difference between a greeter handing me a menu at the door of a place I have walked up to (acceptable) and someone chasing me down the street offering me the same overpriced seafood as the place next door (unacceptable).

My top three most annoying tout spots to be avoided in Singapore are:

  • The seafood and Indian places in Boat Quay – other people have commented on this – my suggestion is that if you want to experience seafood on the river, walk 10 minutes further along to Jumbo at Riverside or the Jumbo Gallery in Riverwalk (at opposite ends of Clarke Quay) – and if you want Indian fine dining please jump in a taxi and go to Race Course Road in Little India (the taxi will cost you less than the money you will save on far superior food).
  • The seafood vendors at Newton Circus hawker centre – there is some good food in this place, but you’d never know to find it while being annoyed by touts trying to usher you to this seat or that. You will be presented with a seafood-centric menu and pushed repeatedly toward grilled king prawns or other seafood. Be warned, these are sold by weight at tourist prices – the bill for four large prawns, two beers, and some grilled squid will be around SGD100. Please, if you want seafood, go somewhere reputable or seek the advice of friends – for less than a hundred bucks a couple of people can fill up on good crab and a variety of other dishes – or if you want authentic local cuisine, walk 10 minutes up Thomson Road to Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice (better food, and chicken rice for two with a bottle of Tiger beer is around SGD15).
  • A couple of spots along Serangoon Road in Little India – I saw a tout for one of these places elbow a lady walking next to me out of the way in his haste to get to me, astonishingly bad form. If you want good North Indian food please, go to one of the places on Race Course Road, or BBQ Tonight near Mustafa on Serangoon Road. And any of the Southern Indian places on Serangoon Road that do not use touts will be good (some better than others – Saravanaa Bhavan close by is a personal favourite, but please also try Komalas or Sakunthalas).

So – Andrew’s advice on touts: Please Just Say No. Rewarding businesses that use touts is like feeding the seagulls at the beach – it encourages others to poor behaviour.

While not touting per se, there is something else that the newcomer may find confronting – there are some hawker centre vendors who can be very abrupt even when there is no line – repeatedly being asked “What you want? What you want?” while trying to decide which noodles I want with what protein takes a little getting used to. My only advice is to explain politely but firmly that you need to be left alone to read the menu.

Oct 172012

Note: this post contains an odd collection of pictures, from my phone camera and Flickr – there were some excellent street vendor and other tourist-y shots from two visits that I carefully edited and compiled into one place (the now defunct hard disk of my Toshiba laptop, a model apparently renowned for issues of this nature). Lesson learned – there will be no more Toshibas and there will be more regular backups from this point on. Anyhow – after a month of soul searching I have decided to go ahead with the article anyway with the available images. It is not the article I set out to produce, but it is something I can still take a little pride in.

Manila is great. It is a wonderful city with much to see and do. And parts of it are scary. I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but I would only be giving you half the story otherwise. It is a big, sprawling, gritty, real, alive place. That is part of the charm for me. And it has history.

The obligatory tourist-y shot – Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

Personal safety is a concern for some Singaporeans when they think about going to Manila. Yes, there are armed guards at Starbucks – and they are nice people, who smile when they open the door for you. The number of firearms on the streets can take a little getting used to. And in all seriousness, there are times and places where personal safety can be an issue – awareness is the best defense.

Mid afternoon break with San Miguel Light, Manila

Cuisine at street level is pretty varied – you can get burgers, hotdogs, and grilled fish balls from the pushcart guys on most city streets – the cleaner more open modern areas like the CBD of Makati and around Mall of Asia seem to discourage them, but get into the real Manila of narrow streets and honking jeepneys and there they are. The brave can try balut – duck eggs with a more or less developed embryo, hard boiled – I’ve tried it, and let us just say that it’s an acquired taste I haven’t quite acquired yet :) The adventurous can try various preparations of offal and bone marrow – some of these are surprisingly good. I haven’t sampled the grilled chicken intestines yet, and perhaps I never will.

Western- style fast food, and a distinctly Filipino equivalent, are very popular. I may have left hipster foodieland forever in saying this, but I had to try the unlimited gravy at KFC for the sheer novelty value. This is apparently not unusual in the US, but a first for me.

Gravy Station, KFC, Pasay City, Manila

If you are a first time visitor to Manila and a little worried about crime at street level, there are a number of air-conditioned malls that are fairly similar to those you might find here in Singapore (but be prepared for a weapons check at the door – segregated by gender – and the aforementioned armed guard at Starbucks). The biggest and brightest of these is Mall of Asia, and it has an amazing array of food choices – for real Filipino food, I can heartily recommend Gerry’s Grill and the unfortunately named KKK. Must try dishes for the carnivores are Crispy Pata (roast pork knuckle), Adobo (usually pork and/or chicken cooked with soy sauce – there are many regional variations) and Sisig (finely chopped pig face – yes face – from what I understand, mostly snout/cheeks/ears).

Sisig, Gerry’s Grill

This was one lunch at KKK – Seafood Rice with salted egg, Squid Adobo, and Mangosteen Coffee – delicious! The squid was one of the nicest I’ve had ever – salty, richly flavoured, and cooked until slightly crunchy not chewy.

If you go across the road from Mall of Asia to the seafood places on Manila Bay, you will be annoyed by an amazing array of ladyboy touts, several at a time, wanting to drag the passerby into this place or that. In my experience, any place using touts is overcharging the customer to pay for said touts, so I avoid them like the plague.

Traffic. Oh, the traffic. It is nuts. You have to try it at least once to believe it. Luckily, taxis are cheap – but there are a few scoundrels out there. A metered cab (who is prepared to actually turn his meter on) seems to be the best bet – provided the guy is prepared to turn the meter off while he gets petrol and chats with his friends for 10 minutes :) The difference between metered cabs and unmetered minibuses is that the latter can cost five times as much (and still pull the “are you sure you paid for this fare at the desk?” scam, seriously).

And it can be very noisy – the jeepneys honk their horns continuously to let customers within a two block radius know that they are there – this runs for most of the day or night, and if you are lucky enough to have a hotel with good acoustics, you may find it hard to sleep (even 19 floors up).

Could I live in Manila? I’ve thought about this. Sticking to the whitebread air conditioned malls is not really me – and getting anywhere around town is a real hassle. That said, the wider Philippines has so much going for it. And I think that it is fair to say that the Filipino people love their food – perhaps not always with the intense and obvious passion shown here in Singapore, but it is very obvious nevertheless. It is my kind of place.

Will I go back? Most assuredly. Apart from personal ties, it is a three hour flight from Singapore, and like other weekend getaway destinations, those flights are cheap if you plan ahead.

Oct 122012

Sometimes, I eat food from the local supermarket. Prepared food, that I just reheat. One of my favourite breakfast meals is the humble Ngoh Hiang Roll – and these usually come in a packet from the nearest supermarket.

According to the Makansutra Guide, Ngoh Hiang properly refers to a selection of deep fried snacks traditionally served with bee hoon (rice vermicelli) of Teochow Chinese origin. The fried snacks include prawn fritters, tofu, little sausages and fishballs. I’ve had similar a few times – a plate of mixed fried morsels can be the perfect beer snack on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

For me the term “Ngoh Hiang” has mostly meant the tasty fish meat rolls derived from this traditional snack family that I obtain from – yes – the supermarket.¬† The fish/prawn mixture is wrapped in tofu skins then fried and allowed to dry. These are then reheated by steaming for 5-10 minutes. This photo shows the large ones from my local supermarket – for size comparison, that is an 18 centimeter steamer.

These are incredibly cheap – SGD1.15 to SGD1.30 a packet depending on where you look – that’s around AUD1/USD1. They are also an easy thing to unwrap and pop in the steamer on the way to the shower in the morning. Each packet will contain three large (in roll form shown above, or flatter cake form) or around eight small rolls.

The average Singaporean supermarket usually has these smaller ones. Note that the skins are very wrinkly – these are yet to be steamed:

I usually drop them into a bowl and add a little soy and chili sauce.

One more word on supermarkets in general. I know that this might sound like heresy to the foodie purists – but I would encourage anyone coming to Singapore for the first time to find a supermarket and look at what is available – you might be pleasantly surprised. If you carry a copy of the Makansutra Guide with you (or have access to a data plan for your phone) you can spend hours wandering around learning about new foods. It is a passion I have had wherever I have traveled – the everyday foods will be found in the coffee shops and the hawker centers here, true, but you will learn a lot about a place through its supermarkets.

Oct 112012

I used to eat a lot of Thai food before coming to Singapore. It was one of those regular staples for working lunches with clients and colleagues – and I still think fondly of my favourite places back in Canberra (chief among them, Two Sisters in Dickson).

I’m not sure how this changed so much in coming to Singapore. My local (at the time) Bali Thai outlet at Novena just wasn’t quite what I was used to, so the desire for red duck curry and Beef Massaman¬† slowly faded. I found out soon after that a lot of the chain Thai places precook most the food in a central location first thing in the morning then give it a quick reheat in the wok prior to serving – and it tastes like reheated leftovers as a result (not that there is anything wrong with microwaved leftovers – anyone that knows me knows how fond I am of them, but I do resent paying restaurant prices for reheated food).

I have to say that I have enjoyed many fine meals at Phad Thai in Mackenzie Road -¬† I know the owners, they are good people, and provide a good dining experience. Apart from that, Thai food in Singapore has been something I’ve had every so often but never really raved about.

And so it was with an open mind but no great expectations that I entered Ah Loy Thai (in Tampines Mall Basement 1) today for lunch. When the Pineapple Rice came out, my low expectations were confirmed by the presentation – even the chain places go to some effort, but this looked well, not so wonderful:

But how did it taste? Actually rather good. Better than good. Great. Well flavoured, good texture, fresh ingredients. I think I could eat a whole plate of it as a lunch option for myself alone – that good.

Next came the Garlic Pork with Lemon Leaf:

This dish looked much better than the rice, and the taste was very good indeed – hot, full of spicy flavour, big chunks of lemon grass adding to the taste, with the odd chunk of well caramelised garlic scattered throughout it, superb.

Next, Mango Crispy Chicken:

I have to say that I am fond of mango in Thai food – the fish in mango sauce at Phad Thai remains my favourite Thai dish here in Singapore. This is a close second – despite the large chunks of red chili obvious in the photo above, the taste is pretty mild compared to the Garlic Pork. And the chicken is very crispy, very well flavoured, sweet, tasty.

Last came the Fried Calimari:

The Calimari is served with mayonnaise and chili sauce. Of all the dishes, this was probably the one that did not stand out – it was not bad, it just suffered by comparison to the rest of the dishes.

At meal’s end, the two of us had put in a creditable effort:

And the cost? Readers have asked me to include prices in my venue review posts – so here is the bill showing all-in costs:

Please note Ah Loy in Tampines Mall is a cash-only establishment – meals are paid for on ordering. I am not sure if their other outlet in Beach Road is the same, but take sufficient cash just in case.

Would I go again? Yes, I think I will. The menu has dishes yet untried, and if they were as good as today’s lunch, I will be back there again and again until I have sampled them all.

Oct 102012

This blog is about food in Singapore – and while most posts cover decidedly Asian foods, there is a huge variety of Western style fare here (and hey, you want a good steak? You can find one if you look).

I thought I would do a quick roundup of one of the most popular Western alternatives here – the hamburger. This is purely a reflection of my own journey through the food of Singapore to date – I know that there are many rivers yet uncrossed (and burgers yet uneaten).

Starting at the top, I have to say that I am a big fan of the Beef Sandwich at Kookaburra Cafe (Albert Court Village, Cnr Selegie Road and Bukit Timah Road) – the home-made tomato relish and super fresh ingredients make it easily the best burger (or burger like sandwich, to be fair) that I have eaten in Singapore – the main textures are succulent beef and well caramelised onions:

Kookaburra also makes a fine Breakfast Burger – but the Beef Sandwich wins on flavour every time.

A very close second is the Southern Big Mouth Burger from Chili’s:

Be warned, the Big Mouth Burger is just that – a BIG meal even for those with healthy appetites:

Carls Jr would come in third for me – the burgers are available at fast food prices, yet the size and flavour are generally very good.

Equal winner in the fast food class would have to be MosBurger – I am a big guy, and their burgers are small, so I’d normally order two (and I get to have two different flavours, which is good, as they are very tasty).

Triple Os burgers (Asia Square in the financial district, behind One Shenton Way) are in fourth place purely because they’re 25% more expensive than Carls Jr for comparable size, flavour and quality.

I feel bad about placing Wendys so far down the list – they are good value for what they are, just not as flavourful as the options above.

In last place, sadly, McDonalds. This is the promise:

And the reality – while it looks considerably better than the McDonalds I remember from my earlier years, it fails on the tender and flavourful part of the description:

For Western-style burgers, you get what you pay for. Going to somewhere like Kookaburra or Chili’s and playing SGD20 or more will get you a premium burger experience. In the fast food stakes, Carls Jr and MosBurger win out on flavour alone. The Clown and the Colonel, well, maybe they are the same the world over.

And to keep it local – one of my favourite burger like things sold at the local coffee shops is the otah bun. Otah are spicy steamed fish patties, and they are sometimes served on small sweet bread rolls like this:

And did I mention cheap? You’ll pick up an Otah Bun and a Kopi/Teah for around SGD2.50-SGD3.50 – a perfect snack half way through an afternoon’s shopping or sightseeing.

Oct 082012

Regular readers will know from Urban Bites – Good Lebanese Food that I am fond of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam, Singapore

The joy of living in Bugis for a year was proximity to both Little India and the Kampong Glam district (also known as Arab Street) – both were only 10 minutes walk away.

Many an evening in Kampong Glam starts with a drink or two at one of the little bars on Bali Lane. These places are small, dark. and usually pretty friendly – a good transition point between the working day and a relaxing evening with friends.

Down the end of Bali Lane is the Blu Jaz bar – usually reserved for drinks at the other end of the evening prior to heading home, but a nice place to sit and watch the world go by at any hour, time allowing.

As you can see from the photo above, it is very well supplied with plant life :) Blu Jaz supplies good pub food – not fine dining but better than you will get in a lot of similar establishments in the more touristy Boat Quay area. They do have a pretty good cocktail menu – and these are very reasonably priced by Singapore standards.

Down an alleyway and you are in Arab Street proper – a street of many silk and carpet dealers. If you cross the road and head down Baghdad Street, you will see the Sultan Mosque on your left (first image above) – and on your right is Bussorah Road, home to some good eateries. My favourite remains Amirah’s Grill:

Amirah’s has rooms upstairs for large groups – but if I am in a small group I’d prefer to sit outside with the passers-by and the scents of shisha smoke in the air – the shisha (a large pipe used exclusively for flavoured tobacco here) is not harsh like cigarette smoke at all.

Two things Amirah’s does better than anywhere else I’ve tasted – grilled seafood and lamb kebabs. The grilled seafood is slathered in a rich buttery sauce and includes prawns, scallops, fish, mussles and potatoes:

The minced lamb kebabs are coated in a rich gravy and served with vegetables and spiced rice:

If you’d like to sample a wider range of kebabs, Amirah’s also serves a mixed kebab platter with lamb, chicken and beef kebabs.

Please note that many Kampong Glam eateries are fairly strictly Halal – no pork, and no alcohol. There are a couple of places on Baghdad Street that serve beer and wine (and the aforementioned Bali Lane/Blu Jaz) – for myself, I’d rather have a drink or two before, go to where the truly great food is, then go back to a bar afterwards if so inclined.

And what would an evening in Kampong Glam be without a stroll around afterwards, possibly to stop and have a glass of mint tea and some Apple/Grape shisha?

The Kampong Glam/Arab Street district is well worth a visit if you have a couple of hours to visit on a trip to Singapore – just take the MRT train to Bugis and take the Raffles Hospital exit. Head up Victoria Rd past the hospital, turn right onto Ophir Rd, left onto North Bridge Road, and you’ll see Bali Lane across the road. Enjoy.