The Singapore food scene

One of the things that’s hard about living in Europe is the number of times you get told that you can only eat French in France, Italian in Italy etc. You can’t even eat Vietnamese in France without being told upon complaining of how dreadful it was, ‘What did you expect?’. Well, I expect a respect for food that goes beyond national and cultural boundaries. Australians will know exactly what that means. Europeans won’t have a clue. They think it is normal and acceptable that Italian food in France will be execrable and vice versa.

Singapore is like Australia. It’s a fantastic mix of ethnicities with a common respect for food. The respect is there irrespective of the price you pay. Singapore is becoming awash with expensive high-end eating of a Western or fusion kind. But you can pay several dollars for a bowl of soup or chicken rice or noodles – hawker’s food – and the arguments will rage as to the best place to go for any one of these things. The arguments will take place at the refined blog level or with your taxi driver and everywhere between. It is normal to CARE about food. Even on the way to the airport to come back to Geneva yesterday the driver was giving us advice about next time we are in transit. ‘Get a taxi to the East Coast Food Centre for chilli crab. But if you want Char Kway Teow ask the driver to take you to….it’s local food centre. Where the locals eat. Write that down. Remember it.’

So the food scene is not only incredibly diverse in every sense of that word, but it is important to be good. No wonder Australians and Brits are setting up shop in droves there. Let me explain by describing the meals we experienced after my laksa experience was over.

Blue Ginger is a Peranakan establishment, I would say a little more traditional than Candlenut, but in similar vein. Also known as Nonya, it is the cuisine that resulted from the mixing of local Malays and Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. I could never tire of eating Nonya, so our second dinner in a row saw us eating this cuisine. It was so frustrating having such little meal time in Singapore. You will recall we over-ordered at Candlenut and here we were doing it again. I hadn’t even got to the seafood when our waitress said we’d already ordered too much. Indeed we had. So we cut it down to:

Otak Otak
Prepared in our kitchen, our homemade fishcake recipe will tantalize your taste buds with turmeric and lime leaves enriched with galangal, chilli, candlenuts and shrimp paste.

Ayam Buah Keluak
Braised chicken flavoured with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass cooked with Indonesian black nuts # additional Buah Keluak nuts at S$1.50 each

Tauhu Nonya Style
Deep-fried beancurd topped with our very own homemade concoction

Juhu Kangkong
Stir-fried kangkong with cuttlefish and sambal

You can see from their menu how much we’d missed out on. My idea of heaven. No pictures – but their site tells it all, so take a look. The prices were similar to Candlenut; our meal came to $70 or thereabouts. Opinions vary on the Buah Keluak. I’d never tried them before. We both liked them and I’m more than pleased we tried this dish, but with so much else to tempt on the menu, next time we’ll be trying other things. Rice was replenished as required and achar were provided.

Next morning saw us at

The Lokal. I am separately reviewing this. For now, the point to make is that it is impeccably executed Australian cafe breakfast food. The prices are of Australian cafe level.

Early afternoon and it was Maxwell Food Centre for chicken rice, which I will also review separately. The price $3.

Evening and the famous Telok Ayer market also known as Lau Pa Sat for satays. Twenty sticks for $12. Wonderful roti, three for a few dollars. A plate of green beans. A beer. $30 altogether.

Dessert. Sofitel So Singapore. I don’t know why the Xperience restaurant, headed by French chef Anne-Cécile Degenne, has no menu online. Even when you look at the printed menu, it isn’t at all clear what you are getting. We got two things. One, a bill for tea and dessert that far exceeded our layout for dinner and chicken rice combined. Two, creative desserts that looked spectacular and tastewise lived up to that. I see that this restaurant is getting mixed reviews in the local press. There is a sense that Degenne is being too complicated – complicated for the sake of it, perhaps. We need more than a taste of dessert to join that discussion.

Banana and passionfruit creation at Sofitel
Banana and passionfruit creation at Sofitel
Chocolate dessert at the Sofitel
Chocolate dessert at the Sofitel
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