Planning Singapore this summer? We tell you how to eat your way to foodie heaven
When I let my nose guide me around Singapore, I’m re-confirmed in my belief that the city smells like a delectable, ever-shifting feast. But my eyes reveal that the culinary landscape since I visited five years ago is morphing rather rapidly — that while street food and fine-dining continues to thrive, innovative concept restaurants and bars are also beginning to bloom.
The Hawkers Centres, like the beautifully smooth, silky hair of the majority of the population, are national treasures around these parts. Bypassing these kiosks would be a little like touring the Arctic and leaving out the ice-fishing. But the reason why these courts, with their bright plastic chairs and flashy stalls selling a litany of everything from flaky roti to large meaty chili crab to spicy beef rendang to crumbly egg slice to thick rice noodles soaked in creamy curry called laksa, are so important is because the variety of culinary influences speaks volumes about the historical traditions of the land as a trading post and gateway to South-East Asia.
Although there are heaps of food courts to choose from, if I had to pick a favourite, it would be the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in Chinatown. In Maxwell, it’s well worth asking for directions to get to the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice Stall. At Rs. 150 a bowl for the rice alone, you can mix and match a full meal with starters, mains and desserts from various stalls for no more than Rs. 400 a head. People reel off a list of celebrities including Anthony Bourdain who swear by the place. And when you taste the first spoonful of rice suffused with garlic, ginger, chicken stock and the tender sweet meat with chilli sauce, you realise you were right to believe the hype.
Singaporeans vote with their feet, so even if you’re not sure which stall to go to, or what the Chinese rice porridge, herbal grass jelly juice or calamansi drink is really all about, follow the longest queues and you are unlikely to go wrong.
The other great equaliser in this town is the Ya Kun Kaya Toast Cafe on 18 China Street. Both suits and hippies sit side-by-side to proclaim that the traditional cheap, hot and delicious breakfast of crisp brown toast sandwiching a layer of butter and Kaya, the sweet creamy green custard made of eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaves, is the toast of the town (Rs. 175 a head for the full Kaya toast monty). It’s best accompanied with a half-boiled egg and a cup of dark coffee. There’s something to be said about eating food in the place of its origin that lets you taste everything else that goes with it — in this case community feeling and the laid-back vibe that goes with the repast.
The next entry sounds a tad exotic but the jungle breakfast (Rs. 550 a head) with orangutans at the zoo can be fun, especially if you’re with the family. The jungle buffet does some good bao buns and you watch the orangutans with their cuddly babies being fed on a perch a few feet away. No lacy tablecloths or muted conversations here but eminently enjoyable.
For fine-dining that epitomises attention to detail and care lavished on food, Wild Rocket (wildrocket.com) on top of Mt. Emily Park hits the spot. Chef Willen Lowe uses local ingredients and herbs, retains essential flavours and yet manages to push the boundaries. Small portions, big on taste and innovation, are what it’s all about. Make a reservation and tell them if you’re vegetarian and how much (no eggs, for instance). (Meals with starter, mains and dessert are from Rs. 2,800 upward)
Jaan at 2 Stamford Road (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a perfect venue to taste the brewing revolution in artisanal cuisine, built around fresh ingredients and creativity. Classic French bourgeois cuisine and impeccable service meets stunning views of the city. Think wild-caught langoustine and avocado cannelloni, bresse pigeon done with organic beetroot, and rosemary-smoked organic egg. (A five-course dinner without beverages is around Rs. 8,600 a head).
What French food is to Europe, Cantonese food is to China. And it’s served with flair at the New Majestic Restaurant (newmajestichotel.com, 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road). Steamed lobster in stewed noodles. Crispy durian ice-cream. Wasabi prawns. Peking duck. (Mains from Rs. 870) The friendly, familial atmosphere is made even more enticing by the fact that the Majestic has interesting art interventions and assorted regional book pop-ups to watch out for.
A good place for a drink and great views over the city after the day is done is Super Tree by Indochine (indochine.com.sg). Of course the longer I linger at this alfresco rooftop bar, with its unobstructed view of the Gardens by the Bay on one side and the Singapore Central Business district on the other, the more I end up chatting with friendly Singaporeans, who advise me just how I should be eating my way through the next day. This particular session ends with, “While eating Nasi Pedang, an Indonesian dish made of steamed white rice and assorted meats and vegetables, you should mix everything together in your plate. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
When it comes to dining out in Singapore, I have to agree.