Digging in Singapore-Style
Downtown Singapore may be lacking in anything but corporate culture, but its individual neighborhoods are alive with the cultural habits and daily activities of the city state's predominately Chinese, Malay and Indian population. With so many different ethnicities all together, there's a huge assortment of religious institutions, architectural styles and fashion sense, but if there's one thing these people can all agree on ~ it's food. We wandered the city's top neighborhoods to sample cuisine from a variety of backgrounds in hawker centers, restaurants and food stalls. Here's what we found:
A little while ago, I shared my Top 5 Food Destinations, but I missed one of my all-time favorite cuisines due to the fact that I've never been to India yet. Indian food is just so bomb. When I lived in London in 2011, I spent most of my time in the Shoreditch neighborhood, which is just a stone's throw away from Brick Lane ~ home to the best Indian food in the city. But if we're talking about bests here, I've got to hand it to the team at Banana Leaf Apolo in Singapore's Little India. Best palak paneer EVER. And made so much better by the fact that we ate it from a banana leaf. Casey's chicken tikka masala was his favorite meal of the trip as well. At the Boon Keng Hawker Center (next to Boon Keng MRT station), we tried an Indian Muslim dish known as murtabak, a multi-layered pancake with shredded chicken, garlic, onions and egg dipped in a spicy red curry, that's very popular in Malaysia. Yum!
We stayed in Little India during our trip, but next time I'd definitely like to say in the Kampong Glam neighborhood, home to the city's famous Arab Street. Maybe then we'd actually eat more Arab cuisine! I admit, we didn't get any on this trip unfortunately. Instead, we were all about Chinese and went for the Hainanese chicken rice at the Golden Mile Hawker Center on Beach Road. It may seem like a simple dish, but the pillowy rice is cooked in chicken stock, giving it strong flavor, and the chicken is so tender it just seems to fall to pieces in your mouth. Topped with chili and soy sauce, this dish is nothing short of delicious.
The hawker center directly off the Chinatown MRT stop was by far our best dining experience. First, it was the cheapest: those Tiger beers were only $4.80 SD ~ a real bargain in this city. And that fat plate of dumplings only set us back $5 SD. Second, it housed the liveliest bunch of characters in all of Singapore. Old Chinese men covered the glaring yellow tables with empty Tiger and Raffles bottles, shouting jovially and chuckling away while clutching their round beer bellies. When they'd finished scarfing down noodle soup, they gathered together to watch each other battle it out in Banqi, also known as Dark Chess or Blind Chess.
This isn't technically a neighborhood, but as one of the most popular hawker centers in Singapore, Newton Circus deserves a mention. It's actually very near to Singapore's largest shopping street Orchard Road,so it's usually a hot spot for tourists and locals to go after a long day of shopping. Of course, we prioritized eating over shopping so we did it the other way around. Casey went right for the Perankan specialty laksa, a coconut-based, spicy noodle soup with chicken, bean curd puffs, shrimp, fish sticks and cockles. I opted for braised duck noodles with a dark, sticky sauce and a hint of chili. I could have put the sauce on anything and loved it, but the duck added the perfect flavor.
It's incredible to think that some of the stalls at these outdoor food courts have been around for decades and they're owners have been developing their culinary crafts and passing techniques down for generations. No wonder everything tastes so damn good.