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 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.