Balestier Road is an odd one. You can go there with a very wild and varied shopping list (freshly ground coffee, light fittings, a fancy new toilet, and you could stay in a cheap but dingy hotel if all the shopping wore you out). I will miss walking down Balestier.
It is also known for it’s wide variety of food offerings. Balestier Food Centre is a small but well stocked hawker centre. When I arrived in Singapore back in 2011 it was being refurbished (it does have some decent toilets there it has to be said).
I went there one evening during the World Cup to grab some eats and found the Miao Sin Popiah stall run by two very friendly ladies. Popiah wasn’t on my mind but it certainly was one of the foods I hadn’t tried yet so when I saw it I had to get it. I saw it and I got it. Along with a reacquaintance with carrot cake (white) and an introduction of black carrot cake. Popiah was $2 and the medium sized carrot cake was $4.50.
First up popiah. It has it’s origins in the Fujian province in China and it takes the form of a crepe type of spring roll with a filling of thinly sliced tofu, chopped peanuts or peanut powder, fried shallots, and shredded omelette. The fillings change per establishment. It’s nice, light, and has nice combination of soft and crunchy. The crepe wrapping is thin but has some substance to it which adds a little sandwichy feel to the eating process. Mechanism.
I’ve talked about carrot cake before; the white variety. So when I saw the black variety I had to get to sample the dark side too. The blackness adds a sweet dark sauce to proceedings so along with the white carrot cake flavours of eggy and white radish goodness (with a little spicy kick). I actually would get the black one over the white one. Once you go black…
I was very happy to get the small little dish of popiah scraped of my list before I left Singapore and I would definitely pick it up again as a nice little light snack or starter to a main meal.
“You must try rojak before you leave Singapore” some crazy person said to me at some point. So with my days dwindling down on the red dot I wandered many a hawker centre and decreed that if I saw it I would eat it. I saw it. I tried to eat it.
The venue was the Golden Mile Food Centre on Beach Road which is quite a large eatery you can browse through to find your poison. I found rojak.
Rojak is a fruit and vegetable dish. Rojak means “mixture” in Malay. It’s a mixture of fruits and vegetables but it’s totally ensconced in a gritty paste mixture of water, shrimp paste, sugar, chili, and lime juice. Singapore rojak tends to have cucumber, pineapple, puffy, deep-fried tofu and youtiao (cut-up Chinese-style fritters) and raw mangos and green apples. All topped atop with crushed peanuts. They were all apparent in my dish in abundance.
At first, I was surprised by the taste and I thought I actually liked it. That passed. I just didn’t like the combination of contrasts between sweet and sour and fruity and savoury. I chose the $4 dish which was the equivalent of a Starbucks Grande. I guess. I valiantly tried to battle my way through it and attempted to find a combination of tastes that I liked. I kind of liked the apple bits and the tofu bits but that’s if you forced me.
Anyway, sadly, this was one of the last dishes I tried and it was my least favourite. But I’m glad I tried it. Like I tried to ride a skateboard once. I won’t be trying it again. It’s just not nice. But try it if you like the culinary clash of sweet and savoury from time to time.
After purchasing a rather long strip light bulb in Home DIY, I was hungry. LCD light bulb I’ll have you know. And I would need to replace the ancient starter that my old strip bulb had. The salesperson had faith in me to do so. Alone. I didn’t. Anyway, I needed some sustenance before proceeding with the massive light bulb operation that was awaiting me in the shadows of the kitchen back home.
I took the swift moving people dodging trail underground from ION Orchard to under Tangs to the small and relatively quiet quasi-hawker centre there. Tang’s Food Market. As I perused the pictures telling the individual dish stories I rested upon Chili Ban Mian. I like the word chili. I had to Google Ban Mian.
Ban Mian originates from the Han Chinese and manifests itself as a bowl of flat egg noodles, vegetables, mushrooms, dried anchovy, fish/meat (in this case minced pork), soup/dried (in this case soup), and a very softly softly boiled egg. And it’s delicious. And the chili approach makes it extra delicious.
At $5 this is a good deal for prime real estate food eating in the underbelly of Orchard Road. You get a small bowl of broth which was quite underwhelming and tasted mainly of the chives/onion that was floating around lifelessly inside.
To the main dish. Now I don’t know if mixing everything together is something that should not be done ever but I did. I didn’t regret it one bit. It was amazing. The crunch of an occasional anchovy was magnificent. The chili burned merrily away with each mouthful. The minced pork were of a decent portion and mixing them up into the entire bowl allowed for the soft and delicious morsels to be in nearly every mouthful. The egg disappeared into the noodle and soup concoction to become one be-a-utiful soft component to counterbalance the dried anchovy. The sporadic greens were fine and the mushrooms which are not really friends with my digestive system were just OK but were relatively flat in the taste symphony.
I will be eating this again. I left with a pleasant burning mouth and happy taste buds. I then proceeded home to change my starter and light bulb successfully. Thanks Ban Mian.
THE national dish of Singapore. Probably. Capital “the”. Just in case you thought I was being liberal with the shift key.
“Chicken rice, really!?” I hear you scoff and mumble around your KFC. Listen up. It’s good. Better than finger lickin’. Trust me.
You can get chicken rice everywhere. I went to a hawker centre that was near me. No reason other than location. Everyone has their favourite; don’t bother me. So I went to Zion Food Centre and was drawn towards Boon Tiong Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice and their $4 Chicken Rice Set Meal. A steal. I didn’t steal it. I paid for it.
I went for roasted chicken because I like that more than steamed. With the set you get a small bowl of broth, a side of green veggies, and a dome of rice. Keep an eye out for the vat of spicy chili sauce to add to your dish. Highly recommended addition.
I was very happy with all of this for just $4. That’s the thing about Singapore; you can eat cheap if you want to. And it will be delicious. Hopefully. This was.
The broth was of undetermined origin. I would guess chicken bone broth or something. It had a volume to it; it wasn’t just chicken flavoured water. It was more chicken than water. More machine than man.
The veggies were nice. Probably the least flavourful in the set but a nice counterbalance to the chicken flavoured everything else.
The roasted chicken itself was nice. Nothing spectacular but nice. $4 nice. Resting on a sleeping bag of cucumber slices.
The rice was tasty. With chicken rice dishes the rice is usually infused with garlic and chicken stock so it really elevates the usual rice flavour to something is more entertaining to the palate. Your palate. Adding a little chili sauce (which is usually quite thin) adds a little bit more pop to each bite and leaves a nice mouth buzz.
Mix it all together in one and you get some nice mouthfuls of different textures and tastes throughout. I can’t stress enough how much good value can be found in Singapore’s hawker centres. I’m cramming in as much as I can before I shuffle off.
Forgive me for being biased but I believe Asian food has the most willingness to surprise, scare, delight, and excite the weary eater. One of the most low key foods you can have in Singapore is laksa. I mean low key in a way that it’s a nice gate-way to the world of Singaporean/Asian dishes. There’s a lot more scarier dishes out there.
But, of course, there are different versions of laksa. But, of course.
I’ve had many. I like them all. I won’t stand in the corner and fight for one in particular but I will tell you why I like katong laksa. Because I had that today and that’s what I remember.
After walking back from the Istana where I had my improptu photoshoot with Donald Trump I wandered in a post-presidential daze to Janggut Laksa on the 4th floor of Wisma Atria. The Food Republic there is quite reasonable (for Orchard Road) and has an excellent range of local fare.
Ignoring and laughing at all signage directing me towards a meagre small bowl I opted for the $7.50 large bowl. Again, not cheap by hawker centre standards but cheap enough for Orchard Road.
On first slurps of a Katong Laksa you get a gritty texture to the soup base. Which is nice. It adds a bit more depth to the taste and feels more wholesome. The grit is ground up dried prawns for your curiousity. Maybe you didn’t want to know that. Another difference between other laksas I have had is that everything is spoonable in a Katong Laksa; the noodles are cut up into more scoop-upable sizes. Which is why they only gave me a spoon until I asked for some chopsticks. Which probably insulted them on many levels. Then I realised I didn’t really need it. Laksa lesson learned.
This laksa was delicious. Both sweet and spicy. Both gritty and smooth. The Laksa noodles, coconut milk, curry soup base, chili, dried shrimps, cockles, prawns and fishcake marry each other perfectly. The fish cake slices with a hint of faint fishiness contrast the punchy cockle taste which hits you with an ocean wave flavour. Getting a mixture of everything with each spoonful is the beautiful part of eating a laksa; and one that I will miss when I leave Singapore.
You should leave a laksa behind with slight spicy after burn on the back roof of your mouth from the spice and sambal, with the remnants of sweetness on your tongue from the soup and shrimp, and with a salty aftertaste from the cockles. And all of those tasty memories are very much welcome.
There is a building in Singapore called Orchard Towers. It goes by another rhyming moniker… It has four floors. And certain females “work” there. Do the math.
It’s a dodgy building which you can’t really walk around as a lone male without getting cajoled or cat-called into a darker realm.
Nestled between the business emporiums on the third floor is Thai Tantric. Out of the way, tucked into a corner, it stands alone and looks very very average. At best. Behind the banality though lies a very authentic and very very tasty Thai food experience.
Having been there twice now I have seen two sides to the Thai Tantric experience. The first time it was around 500pm or so and the place was empty and we had the pick of seats (so we chose to sit outside in the dank corridor).
The second time visiting there was about 7pm or so and the queue snaked outside as every table was bursting at the seams. We waited thirty minutes to get a table. And it was worth it. But give me no wait any day.
The service is fine but it’s the food that will linger long in your memory. On both occasions I had the Thai Spicy Chicken Wings and they are. Truly spicy. The kind that stings but gives you that pleasure soon afterwards. The burn lingers. And it’s welcomed.On the first visit there one of the surprisinghorizoners got the Tom Yum Soup I believe and it nearly blew his brains out. But in a good way. On the second occasion we shared some other dishes; the green curry was tasty and flavourful, the phad thai juicy and succulent, and we got some sort of shredded beef which was also delicious. Beer wise you can wash everything down with a Singha beer.
On a forgotten and cold January evening back in 2008 after a long day at work I took two trains from mein Zuhause in Düsseldorf through Köln HbF to Koln-Nippes. The destination was the Kulturkirche Köln and an Iron and Wine performance. The fact that I almost fell asleep standing up was not entirely up to Sam Beam’s lullaby-ish crooning vocals slathered atop soothing drifting melodies. As I mentioned it was a long day at the office and the venue was manically centrally heated (which was unusual for an ex-church). The commute was a killer too.
After writing all that out I now realise that I actually saw Iron and Wine along with Calexico in Krefeld (on the back of their collab album In The Reins) which is a little northwest of Düsseldorf back in 2006. From what I remember I had a sick stomach. So, man, I have not had a lot of luck with watching Iron and Wine.
So I was happy to test out my stamina and sickness levels now in 2018 in Singapore after a long day at work to see Iron and Wine again. Ten years later. At least there would be air-con to keep me sitting up-right. But sitting is more conducive to sleeping so I was worried.
Before getting into the concert allow me to….allow myself…a minute to dissect why I like Iron and Wine. I have no clue how I got into them. Their first release The Creek Drank the Candle in 2002 was followed up in 2004 by Our Endless Numbered Days. I guess Iron and Wine just clicked with me on an emotional level; most of the songs are melancholic and soothing. I think I needed that type of music in my listening repertoire. Songs like Sodom, South Georgia, Bird Stealing Bread, and Love and Some Verses still stand out to me as meaningful over 16 years later. I’ve lost track somewhat of Iron and Wine’s offerings from 2009 or so on (the last album I remember delving into was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and then I just lost track) until 2017’s Beast Epic but I’ve put in some listening time recently to get back into the Iron and Wine listening mood. There is a mood involved. It’s not work-out music.
So to the concert then. The last time I was in the Capitol Theatre was to watch The Force Awakens. It’s an historic theatre which dates back to 1930 or so and has been renovated numerous times with the last face-lift taking place only a few years ago. There are no food or drinks available once past the ticket collectors. The sound seemed to be very good. The seating is quite flat so you end up craning your neck around whoever sits in front of you.
Iron and Wine came on stage with a subtle musical nod. Starting off with the meandering Trapeze Swinger the scene is set for the rest of the night. Sam Beam’s vocals are like polished wood. Not mahogany or something heavy; more like willow or ash. Yeah, that’s it. His vocals carry each song to places where they wouldn’t go without him. He is a great talent and it was a pleasure to hear him perform.
But wait. I had a problem with the performance.
It’s just that every song is warped into new and weird melodies and in different keys to the studio albums. I love live music and I appreciate artistic expression but I’ve never witnessed any artist radically change the melody so much as Iron and Wine. Bird Stealing Bread, which is one of my favourite songs, lost it’s sweet chorus line which brings together the song beautifully. The live version just aimlessly went along with no central hook. Does Fever Dream really need to plod along any slower? It’s one of Iron and Wine’s slowest songs on track and the live version just stretches it out and again the melody gets warped into something unrecognisable. Call me old fashioned but I want a live version of the album song. Sure, tweak it a bit but don’t make it a mutant.
Anyway, that’s my gripe but I did enjoy the night. Musically it was very polished and Sam Beam’s voice is something to behold live (even if it’s a twisted version of the album songs!).
I will leave you with two versions of Bird Stealing Bread and you can decide which one works better.
I donned my ranger’s jacket, compass, backpack, hiking boots, and a grimace to make my way over to the far west of Singapore to catch Stereophonics this week. The [email protected] in Jurong East has become a popular event venue in recent months for small to medium bands to visit. A lil’ out of the way for the core city citizens but off I went.
Again, as I’ve been in Singapore for what I would call an expanded stretch of time this was the second chance I got to see Stereophonics in Singapore. The first time was way back in the nose bleeds of 14th August 2013 surrounded by the humid green confines of Fort Canning park on the back of their Graffiti On The Train tour. The [email protected] venue is an interesting one; it’s on the third floor of a department store. “Where are they playing? In the kitchen appliances section?” I quipped to nobody as I escalated my way through household sundries. I was wrong, the event hall is nearest to the sofa set section.
Stereophonics put on a good show. It’s all on the shoulders of Kelly Jones’ vocals it has to be said. If he caught a bad virus that ruined his vocal chords somehow that would not be good for them in the long run. His voice can be raspy and melodic, soulful and soft, high-pitched and sweet. All at the same time.
Their songs have amassed over time like stones (not the Rolling Stones, just stones). Their albums have been rolled(!) out every two years since 2013’s …Train. Before that there was a 4 year break back to 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On which had been their last release in their first series of pumping out albums every two years (Pull the Pin 2007, Language.Sex.Violence.Other 2005, You Gotta Go There To Come Back 2003, JEEP 2001, Performance and Cocktails 1999, and Word Gets Around 1997). That’s some regular workflow right there but perhaps that 4 year break was good as 07’s and 09’s releases are probably the weakest in their tome..
Anyway, the concert. Very good. Great pace and a great mix of the better parts of their back catalog. Starting off with a couple of the more recent hits they get into their set-list with a laid back swagger. C’est La Vie, in particular, getting the size nines a tappin’. They dip forward and back in time throughout the main body of their show and it’s quite a confident selection of standout songs from their oeuvre. Stand outs for me were Have A Nice Day, Step On My Old Size Nines, Grafitti on The Train, and Traffic. Which is quite a varied selection from over the years. One song which was played due to technical songs was Bill Davey’s Daughter (which can be a major highlight of their set list if they wish) which rarely gets a run out usually. Nice. It has to be said a Stereophonics songs are best when Jones can spill his emotional guts out with his amazing vocal range and all these songs are prime examples of this.
Rounding out the main set list were a trio of older classics that take me back to 1999 and college in Dundalk. The aforementioned Traffic, Just Looking, and Local Boy In The Photograph. I slipped back to the back for a sneaky taxi run as I knew they only do a two song encore (thanks setlist.fm). Their usual encore are the raucous Bartender and the Thief followed by the sweetly sugared pumped up rock love song Dakota. Both excellent send off songs.
Wild Honey has two branches in Singapore; one in Scotts Square and one in the Mandarin Gallery. We rolled into the Scotts Square establishment early on a Saturday evening. Decor is quite homely and living roomy. We were greeted by a hostess at the door and in a brain spasm I said we had a room booked instead of a table. That was fun. And also the last form of non-robotic human interaction we would have.
Wild Honey’s raison d’etre is an all day breakfast menu. It’s a wide ranging menu with a lot of choice. These were our choices:
I opted for the Norwegian to get my brain ready for the type of fare I’ll probably be stuffing my face with for the coming few years.
Here’s what they looked like when served ala expectation vs reality:
Not bad again.
So Mrs. Horizons was very happy with her bowl of grains but I was less so with my Norwegian. It tasted fine, don’t get me wrong (Pretenders, 1986) but it was just too soft of a dish. Gloopy. Mushy. Sloppy. Everything had a runni-ness to it. “What about the asparagus and brioche bread?” though I hear you yell. Didn’t help. The bread has a nice initial crunch but then that had the soft vibe to it. Then the asparagus was just too hard in the midst of all the splurge. Balance is what is needed. Remove the hollandaise, remove the salmon pearls, remove the avocado (tiny portion that is is). The poached egg yolk is all that is needed for a sauce component. The salmon ends up drowned in egg yolk and hollandaise. Respect the salmon!
Anyway this is what it looked like when you cut one portion in half. Nsfw.
It has to be said the beer choice is not wide; one IPA and one Belgian ale. A mojito was chosen under duress here. Both dishes were steep on cost and were in the mid to high $20s.
Service, as I alluded to earlier, was to-the-point and monotone when ordering the food. It was fine just not overly friendly. Getting the attention of the servers to pay the bill was more work than I wanted to put into it. And I was full of gloop at that point too. Wild Honey is also cashless so don’t bring your birthday money. All cards that exist accepted. Probably.
I would go back again to appease the veg(etarian)an but would choose another dish. And grow a fondness for drinking Mojitos more.
A number of years ago if you mentioned ramen to me I would initially muster up visions of lid peeling and add-boiling-water-to-sachet-contents endeavours. Followed, naturally, by the depressing and soul sapping wait for all the processed ramen things and dried up sachet contents to congeal together to form a cheap and instant artificial flavour buzz to keep you going.
Perhaps those instant ramen cups are one of the worst slights ever bestowed upon a cultural dish in the world. Ever. If we are to point fingers we have to point them at Japan as not only did they invent the insanely delicious fresh and flavourful traditional ramen dishes but they also kicked off the instant ramen industry too. You can even visit the Instant Ramen museum in Yokohama if you so wish.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that ramen in its traditional form and actually created fresh and from scratch with no artificial flavours or cellophane is an amazingly flavourful and filling eating experience.
Sanpoutei Ramen sits underneath the bustling and busy Shaw Plaza on Orchard Road. It’s quite Japanese looking on first impressions, and we managed to get into a booth near the back past the more open front of house. The decor brought me back to being in Japan. Well done interior designers.
So basically ramen is delicious. Good ramen is better than mediocre ramen. Most ramen will hit the spot regardless. But good ramen is what you want. Obviously. And Sanpoutei Ramen has good ramen, in my opinion. Specifically the Tonkotsu ramen variety with which I am most familiar with. I fell in love with this type in Fukuoka and I don’t see why I would try any other types! I will but it will take a lot to deter me from ordering Tonkotsu.
What is Tonkotsu ramen then? Primarily the main difference is the broth which is made of pork bones (tonkotsu actually means “pork bones” in Japanese). It transpires into a creamy, soupy broth which is rich and highly flavourful. Plopped into this amazing base is a heap of noodles (Sanpoutei Ramen uses a beautifully soft noodle), some strips of pork, hard boiled egg, mushrooms, and some green onions. Filling? Yes. Tasty, yes? Filling? Yes.
After my 10 years in Asia and as I look forward to my impending move back to Europe I will always endeavour to hit up a ramen place from time to time to refresh my love for this dish that never fails to delight me.