Surprising Horizons

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Tag: food staples

Singapore Food Staples: Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak is probably the most boring looking plate you might get in Singapore but it packs a huge amount of flavour in its different elements. Trust me.
Originating in Malaysia, this dish brings together fried chicken, coconut rice, fried egg, dried/fried anchovies, and sambal (a sweet and sometimes slightly spicy sauce). If you’re lucky the odd cucumber slice might be tossed in for good measure.

I found my way to Changi Village (it’s out there Jerry) and queued up at the popular Mizzy Corner to grab my Nasi Lemak. They have a couple of different versions but I just went with the original fried chicken one at $3.50. You can see the different options beside each yellow letter on their stall display.

The fried chicken was succulent and the fried skin gave way into the juicy white meat underneath perfectly. I found that mixing up the different food types led to the best results taste-wise. A little chicken, a little rice, a little sambal? Lovely. A little rice, a little egg, a little anchovies, a little sambal? Beautiful. A bit of cucumber, some chicken, a little egg, and sambal? Not bad at all. The sambal binded a lot of the different foods together into cohesive taste bundles. The anchovies acted as a french fry of sorts with a hint of fishiness but mainly added some nice crunch to a mostly soft dish (even the fried chicken skin had a softness to it).

I just ended up blending everything together with my fork just to get all Forrest Gump on the dish (you never know what you gonna gid). Nasi Lemak is a great stop-gap dish to keep you going during the day as the different elements make up one satisfying but not overly filling dish and you’ll be ready to tackle dinner in a couple (or 5) hours. I recommend!

Changi Village is also a place that is pretty cool and steeped in history. I’ll let you read the small print. Click for bigger below.

Singapore Food Staples: Fish Head Curry

One of the ones I was not looking forward to on my Singapore Food Staples list was Fish Head Curry. I don’t deal well with seeing the once living creature on a plate. I have a very precise set of skills in disassociating live animals with dead meat. It’s how I survive. And now with my daily diet leaning heavily towards vegetarian/vegan and the seldom meaty splurges I dive into are the ones on this list, the disassociation is waning somewhat and I am feeling more guilty with every meat dish I try.

Onwards, though, I am still enjoying meat so onwards into the breach! And with Fish Head Curry I was Mariana Trenching this thang. We loped along to Samy’s Curry restaurant on Dempsey Hill to hit this thing…head on.

The dish is commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia but steeped in Indian and Chinese cuisine. The fish head is served in a curry which is quite spicy (but not overly so) with a strong tomato taste throughout. Some ochre and eggplant are floating around in curry. When the bowl arrives the fish head is nicely camouflaged in its own meatiness and it’s only when you start dishing out the meat that the true head form takes shape. There is no hiding from the fact that this dude was once living.

Served on a banana leaf at Samy’s, the obvious accompaniment for a curry style dish is some naan bread. Gathering fish, vegetable, and a slathering of curry within a pillowy cushion of naan gives you the perfect bite. The fish (white snapper so we were told) was more akin to chicken in mild mannered taste and not at all fishy; quite light and refreshing. Chicken of the sea?

Going, going…..

Gone. At least this fish was not wasted in any way.

The small Fish Head Curry at Samy’s goes for $21 and it was good as a starter for three people sharing. We did binge on some biryani dishes after this to fulfill all dinner expectations that were had.

Samy’s itself is an interesting place, hidden amongst the foliage and amongst some other eateries. It has a good reputation and for a reason; the food was solid, tasty, and of a good quality. The service was little so-so with English a little rusty on their behalf (and maybe ours) but nothing to stop going back to (although they did charge us for something that wasn’t delivered but it was easily taken off our bill). The interior is 1980s school cafeteria in, oooh let’s say,….Ireland?! But you aren’t going for the interior you are going for their menu contents. And the menu contents are something you will come back for.

Singapore Food Staples: Kaya Toast

It’s probably up there with other Singapore food staples like Chili Pepper Crab. Kaya Toast. A simple yet unique little breakfast/brunch dish that can be found throughout the island. Killiney Kopitiam is a well established franchised eatery…place which was founded back in 1919 in its original building on Killiney Road. Hence…the name. Right? Nowadays Killiney Kopitiam can be found in around 30 different locations around Singapore. They can also be found around different Asian countries including Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hong Kong.
We waddled along to the Siglap outlet to meet a passing friend. It’s quite small but seats outside were available and acquired.

If you’re going for Kaya Toast you need to get the set. $5 will get you the toast, tea, and two soft boiled eggs. The tea is sweeeeetttt. I’m not trying to be hip there, fellow kids. It’s sweet. It’s made with condensed milk so as you stir it up it gets even sweeter.  When you let the tea drop off your spoon it drips slowly and with a thick mindset. I had a few sips as tea is not in my daily intake radar and I can confirm its sweetness. The cup and saucer felt so nicely quaint though; memories of train station cafes and more substantial breakfasts of the past. The Starbucks age has ruined me.

All together it doesn’t look like much and, yes, the Kaya Toast disappears way too quickly due to my sweet tooth urges. But it was comfortable. Just right. Crack the two eggs into the bowl underneath and you have some dipping sauce for your toast. Result.

The kaya. What is it? It’s pretty much coconut jam. It’s nice. Too nice. Each slice of toast has also got a stow-away chunk of butter just to notch up the calorie count a little bit more – suggesting a long walk home is in order. Each bite is sweet and coconutty, if you get a chunk of butter in a bite this is balanced out with a salty buttery taste which creates the age-old salty-sweet battle over your taste buds. A war with only winners. Apart from the fat accumulating in the areas you don’t want it.

Listen, I don’t know if the soft boiled eggs are for dipping your kaya toast into. But I did it and it was great. So the egg flavour piled on top of the sweet kaya and the salty butter just ramped up each bite to another level. I enjoyed it immensely.

Yes, a recommended Singapore dish for sure. You can’t go wrong with Killiney Kopitiam for your Kaya Toast experience (or for any of their other Singapore staples either) due to their reputation and history.

Singapore Food Staples: Biryani

What comes into your mind when you hear and see the word “Bismillah”? I’ll wait. Yeah, I thought so. Will not let you go.

Anyway, Bismillah translates from Arabic into “In the name of God” so plop it before Biryani and place it above a restaurant and you expect heavenly things. And, actually, the biryani at Bismillah Biryani is good. Tasty and very very filling. We swam to Bismillah on a very rainy day on the outskirts of Little India.

Bismillah opens every day at 6pm. At 6:01pm we arrived with umbrellas in tatters. Perfect time to be there with both the timing and inclement weather meaning the service was in existence purely for us. On first impressions the interior of Bismillah is quite…red. A little run down looking with the upholstery on the chairs needing a good nuclear decontamination. Hazmat suits and power hoses would be good.

A little starter of some vegetable samosas ($1 each, good value) and some spicy dipping sauce. These were hearty, hot, and welcoming. The pastry was quite thick and the filling was a nice mixture of vegetables blended together for a pleasing bite. Or two.

The biryani that is dished up at Bismillah is of Pakistani and North Indian origin. More traditionally labelled Dum Biryani the main difference, so it seems, is that in Dum Biryani everything is steamed together over coals whereas in normal Biryani the meat is added separately later. The main difference to the diner is that the dish is mainly dry with no oily-ness with the gravies you find on normal Biryanis. Perhaps healthier? Who knows.

So what do you end up getting in a chicken biryani dish? A pile of basmati rice with two pieces of chicken (bones n all), a hard boiled egg, and fried onions. Obviously the chicken is marinated in a bunch of herbs and spices which adds another layer of complexity and deliciousness. You do get a bowl of yogurt based sauce to add a little bit of moistness to proceedings. If that floats your boat. It was nice to add it from time to time but not totally necessary if you had a nice mix of egg, chicken, onion, and rice balanced on your fork.

Having tasted the goat (it’s written as kid goat on the menu which is a little bit more ghoulish) biryani I would probably go for that next time as it seemed a little bit more flavorful. Chicken goes for $9 and goat for $15. You can get “double” versions of these which I find find crazy as I side-stepped through the open front of the restaurant and set off walking home to try and work off the fullness I was feeling.

All in all, a very tasty take on a biryani in a no fuss yet no frills restaurant.

 

Singapore Food Staples: Wanton Mee

Wanton Mee. Me want. Wanton Mee is basically Dumpling Noodles. Wanton=Dumplings in Cantonese.
Mee=Noodles in Hokkien.
∴ Wanton Mee= Dumpling Noodles.

I waddled along to Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House to taste their Wanton Mee offering. Contrary to their naming, they are not in the Parklane Mall nearby (they used to be) but in the Sunshine Plaza. Confusing. It wasn’t sunny when I visited either.

They have two small eating areas with a few tables set outside in the corridor. We sat ourselves down on a messy table just to annoy them. But they weren’t annoyed and they cleaned up our table quickly and we ordered the staple Wanton Mee dish. All good.

The food came extraordinarily quickly. I don’t know how noodles can be boiled that quickly to order. Hmm. The clumpiness of the noodles were a little meh on first impression too. The noodle dish came with a little broth bowl which included a little pork dumpling swimming nicely around in it.

The dumplings at Parklane are fried in their particular Wanton Mee dish and the noodles are served relatively dry in the Malaysian fashion. I felt that the fried dumplings on my plate were a little more…destroyed…than the other dishes. The pork pieces (char siu) were quite small and pretty bland. The noodles themselves with the dark soy based sauce were a muddle of tastes that really didn’t hit home and stand out to be in any way spectacular.

The fried dumplings themselves were the most enjoyable part to eat in the dish with a pork flavour being faintly present throughout each crunch. I ended up finishing the dish (it’s not bad it’s just not fantastic) without projectile vomiting around the joint like a garden hose but I plan on hitting up some more Wanton Mee joints to compare and contrast. On paper Wanton Mee should be a tastier treat than what Parklane are offering up.

 

Singapore Food Staples: Tau Huay (Dou Hua 豆花) Beancurd

Consistency is key in every facet of life. People who drive cars need to consistently not crash. And food needs a consistency that your brain is suited to. So with an innocent western palate, tackling Tau Huay (beancurd) will be fighting the consistency from the start.

Rochor Original Beancurd is one of the most popular and established bean curd dessert places in Singapore. Founded in 1955 by a married couple when Singapore was, itself, finding its feet. So props to them.

It’s a simple dessert. At $1.20 it’s an affordable after meal refresher if you can get past the consistency. Served in Singapore with a simple sweet syrup in a small plastic cup, this beancurd dessert has a number of different variations throughout Asia.
For me, the problem wasn’t the consistency it was the blandness of the syrup. Tofu, in essence, is pretty tasteless so it relies on what accompanies it. The syrup was just not sweet enough and instead of syrup it just tasted of mildly sweet water. Like a cube of sugar was thrown in to a bucket. Perhaps other beancurd joints have more tasteful syrups…

Rochor Original Beancurd has a space upstairs if the few seats downstairs are taken. Apart from it looking like a prison cafeteria it was fine once lights are turned on and a few fans are whirred into action.

Tau Huay can be served both hot and cold and maybe the sweetness of the syrup permeates more with a little heat? I don’t know and I don’t think I will be trying it to find out. So, in summation, consistency might be a challenge (think phlegmy) but, in my opinion, Tau Huay is just too bland to register as a refreshing sidewalk side dish for me. I’ll stick with water.

Singapore Food Staples: Carrot Cake

No, you’re wrong. You just are. This is not the affable dessert that you have scoffed down at your grandmother’s on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. This is, in fact, a savoury omelette type concoction made primarily with diced up white radish, preserved radish, eggs, and garlic (or other seasoning). With a nice dollop of chili paste on the side if you so desire (or mixed through it if you so desire that). “But where are the aforementioned carrots!?” I hear you warble. There aren’t any. So there. It’s a lost in translation sort of thing with the Hokkien name of this dish Chai tow kway meaning radish or carrot (chai tow) cake (kway).

I went to He Zhong Carrot Cake stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre to taste this particular dish. It’s a busy place with a 30 minute wait for the dish. No hurry. Let’s do this. You give your table number and they deliver your carrot cake and grab your money when the food is served. And served it was.

On first appearance it looks all omelette-ly. Only when you start pranging and probing away with your chopsticks do you get the chunks of radish appearing. The light brown crust are the pieces that are top of the taste tree on this one as it adds a little crunch to this quite soft and gooey dish. Each mouthful is a mish-mash of radish and egg and is quite a low key taste; at first you wonder if it’s all that it’s supposed to be. After a few mouthfuls, though, you begin to appreciate the balance of tastes and the ease with which you can just, simply, eat. This is all good. And adding a little chilli paste to proceedings elevates the carrot cake to new levels; the sharpness and the little heat that the paste brings to each bite is a perfect balance to the undertones of radish and egg.

I think I would probably get the chilli paste on top or mixed through if I was getting it again. It completed the dish for me.

As you can see above the carrot cake gets prepared in one big wok. This looks like the start of another batch with the radish chunks and a bunch of seasoning kicking off proceedings. The man that served us was very friendly and was delighted to see us enjoying his food. I would hope I can make it back again before the end of times.
On a side note Bukit Timah Food Centre is also a place where I can see myself heading back to as it has a massive array of different stalls to try out.

Singapore Food Staples: Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶

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I have a mission and I have chosen to accept it. 30 dishes that are quintessentially Singaporean. To be eaten before July 2018.

The first dish Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶, thankfully, wasn’t that displeasing when described on paper. It basically means meat bone tea. It’s not really tea but you can drink tea with it so stop worrying.

We headed to Song Fa Bak Kut Teh at 17 New Bridge Road.

They also have an outlet a few doors down on the corner at 11 New Bridge Road. I think they channel people to whichever one is less busy.

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Song Fa’s menu has a number of offerings but the first dish on their menu is their most famous and the one we were there for. You can order the Bak Kut Teh classic meat (pork) bone tea with two or four bones. The four bones were the order of the day as it was unseasonably cold (23c!) in Singapore and we needed some sustenance.

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So the Bak Kut Teh as a bowl in front of your face is quite plain visually but it packs a deliciously peppery broth which the pork bones lounge in. The meat on the bones can be pulled off quite easily with your chopsticks and the pork itself is flavourful and tasty. It’s the broth that wins in this dish though and the service staff come around and refill you a couple of times to keep the heat going. The broth, it is said, has a mixture of herbs and spices including cinnamon, garlic, and cloves. The garlic part is quite obvious as there were two whole cloves were present and were a nice textural contrast to the pork and broth. I felt that the overall taste was of pepper but there was a definite complexity behind it and every mouthful was tasty.

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Other side entertainment we ordered were a side dish of greens; fine. Some dough fritters which were amazing dipped into the broth and the ubiquitous bowl of white rice. A small pot of tea was ritualistically made for us by the service staff which was nice of them when they saw our deer in the headlights faces when presented with the tools to make it with.

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The decor at Song Fa (at least at 17 New Bridge Road) is made to be ye olde timey Chinese village eatery and it is cosy and welcoming. Service was attentive and friendly. Prices, below, weren’t too crazy and I would recommend it as a place to take visitors to Singapore as the food on offer isn’t unpalatable to noobish non-Asian stomachs.

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