13 April 2012

China Tour ~ A Final Feeding Frenzy in Singapore

On a one day stopover in Singapore we attempt the Street Food record for the number of food court visits in a day.

After the cold of China the heat of Singapore hits like a brick. We arrive in Singapore hot, cranky and hungry, breakfast in Hong Kong was years ago. Just as our brains are about to explode, we find this little bunch of hawker stalls\restaurants near the Outram Park subway station on New Bridge Road, near Chinatown.

We pick this joint because we could really do a North Chinese 'hamburger' - but hamburger there was none.

The pick'n'mix stuff looks good but it's not what we're in the mood for.

This noodle soup is an insanely good random punt - flat thick chinese noodles with chili, bean sprouts and veggies. The noodles have the perfect amount of chew and seem handmade.

For afternoon tea we pick the Hong Hock Eating House in Chinatown at random.

Kopi susu es - iced coffee.

Roti canai - or roti prata as they say in Singapore. It's quite good but not the best in town, we've had better at Sydney's famous Mamak. It's funny how at home we compare such dishes to only the very best versions we've had overseas, we somehow forget the average ones.

Roti tissue - a skyscraper of thin crispy sugar coated goodness.

Ondeh-ondeh - Google tells us these are sweet stodgey rice flour balls with a lovely gooey surprise in the middle.

We hit the infamous Maxwell Food Centre.

You know your an Asia-phile when you like beer with ice - it works so well in the heat.

Chow time at Maxwell Food Centre.

We grab a chicken rice from a random stall - so good. All the usual chicken rice superlatives apply: juicy, tender, silky.

We peak too early with a late lunch and we've got no stomach room left for dinner. Which kills us because there's so many great places around. We love these little restaurants come mini-hawker centres with two or three or so vendors in the one spot.

These little joints have a nice open-air vibe to them and are nicer spots to sit than the big hawker centres, which can be a bit overwhelming and grungy to some folks, particularly in the heat.

There's food everywhere.

Random resto.

There was such a geat buzz here but our tums were so full. Oh how we wish we could fire up the flux capacitor and dive into this photo for some claypot frog porridge. Oh how we love frog porridge (tastes like chicken).

Pre-Chinese New Year shopping in full swing.

Lim Chee Guan maintains a constant, huge queue as folks get their BBQ pork for Chinese New Year. The queue is always at least twenty deep while a similar shop right next door is dead empty.

The next day we meet up with our host for the day, fellow food enthusiast Eve, who we met through this blog. This is one of the more pleasant parts of slogging away and writing about food you love. Eve has an amazing stomach bursting itinary lined up for us, all we have to do is follow and eat. After three weeks of independent travel it's wonderful to have someone do the thinking for us. Eve even went to the trouble of having prepaid trains passes ready for us, how thoughtful and kind is that? This is pretty much our idea of the perfect day!

Breakfast 1.0 is at Ya Kun Kaya Toast, this joint has been around since 1944.

Toast smothered with kaya, a sweet gooey spread of eggs, sugar, coconut and pandan. It is served with ; and a small heart-bypass of butter. You can buy kaya jam in a jar but it simply doesn't compare to the real thing. It's so yum. It is served with a small heart-bypass of butter, folks here love a bit of lard in their tucker.

Kaya toast comes with a lovely soft boiled googie. Iced coffee in the background.

The googie is mooshed and mixed up with soy and salt for toast dunkies.

For breakfast 1.1 we head a couple of doors down for beef kway teow.

Beef kway teow is a thick, gravy-ish, dark, beefy soup with noodles, beef and tendons. It has those magic sweet beefy notes that Shawn goes all girly giggly for.

For breakfast 1.3 we nip up back the Maxwell Food Centre for some famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. Anthony Bourdain came here and gave it the thumbs up, which means bugger all really, is he Singaporean? But it is touted as one of the best chicken rice stalls in Singapore.

And yeah, it is freaking good, insert chicken rice superlatives here: juicy, tender, silky, yum. We must admit the not-so-famous chicken rice we had the day before tasted just as good to our untrained tastebuds.

Eve clears up something we've always been curious about: foodies in Australia often get upset if Hainanese chicken rice is served without soup. Yet we've had chicken rice in Singapore & Malaysia without soup. In Dr Leslie Tan's seminal book on Singaporean food, The End of Char Kway Teow, he rates chicken rice all over Singapore, yet doesn't even mention the soup. So is the soup important in chicken rice? "No" says Eve, "We call it dishwater."

After three breakfasts it's time for some sweeties for morning tea.

With three breakfasts and morning tea under our belts we head up to Chinatown Complex hawker centre for morning tea #2.

Chilled tofu turns out to be one of the best things we ate on our trip: a cool, not-too-sweet, simple dessert that's heavenly in the heat. You can actually taste soybean in it. So good we try more later in the day.

Random sate stall.

Random stall.

We're going back for glutton bullfrog.

Random chicken rice shop we see as we leave one Hawker Centre for another.

Next stop is this hawker centre near Singapore General Hospital. Sounds like the setting for a local soap opera.

The place is busy with the lunch time crowd.

Dig the queue at this stall. If you're never sure what to eat in Singapore, just look for a queue.

Pig's organ soup. Piggy innards in a light, peppery. Alison loves it. We call this a Barry Morgan soup.

Bak kut teh - a Singaporean classic, a slow cooked pork rib soup with wonderful herbal flavours. Shawn is over the moon with this one. This is something we just don't get back in Sydney.

Har mee - prawn noodle soup. We eat so much of this at home that we have to try a proper Singapore version. It's delicious. The broth has that lovely prawn-heady flavour we love, but without being too heavy. Love it.

Pig tail soup. Little phalic stumps of swine end in a porky broth. Eve also hunts around the hawker centre for pig armpit, which she'd heard about on net. She finds the the pig armpit stall but it's closed. Next time.

After three breakfasts, two morning teas and four lunches, Eve appears a with a snack. She is unsure of the English name, we call it 'that bloody yummy ricecake with sambal thingy'.

Iced lemon drink from the drink stall, sweet and heavenly in this heat.

Coffee making aparatus from the drink stall.

 Eve is concerned that we might be hungry as we've only had three breakfasts, two morning teas, four lunches and an after-lunch snack.  So we head to the Old Airport Road hawker centre.

Chow time!

Drink stall dudes counting out bottle tops, must be some form of accounting. We noticed this at a couple of hawker centres. We also noticed that old uncles hang out at the end of the foodcourt slowly knocking back a Tiger beer or three. Next time we'll join them.

We're super excited to try a Singaporean char kway teow from one of the best stalls in town.The char kway teow tastes more of sauce than the smoky 'breath of the wok" flavours we seek back home. We sheepishly admit we prefer the smoky wok version from home, it was interesting to find our friend Miss Piggy said the same thing when she visited Singapore around the same time.

We were most excited that the dish came with cockles. Foodies can get snarky when their char kway teow comes without cockles. We love cockles but it's not for everyone, they taste like tiny little warm oysters. Apparently the health department isn't so keen on cockles in char keay teow, nor the use of pig lard, which stiffens arteries at the mere mention. On a previous visit we saw notices from the health department telling Singaporeans to go easy on the char kway teow, and to eat it without the pig lard. We believe the collective local response translated as "pigs arse, mate!".

As we write this we're leaving for Malaysia in a couple of days, we're most excited to try the KL version of this dish.

Otah - minced fish steamed in coconut leaves, we try spicy and non-spicy versions. Yum! We also slip in another chilled tofu dessert, almond flavour this time. But we don't show a photo of it because we don't want to give you the impression that we're a pair of piggies ;-)

Shawn is highly impressed with this Hello Kitty collection on display at one of the hawker stalls. The hawker is most impressed that Shawn is impressed. Our love for Hello Kitty started when we heard about the Singapore Hello Kitty Riots of 2000.

Pigeon hole apartment blocks. Singapore is so squeaky clean.

We find the concept of Kenny Rogers Roasters infinitely amusing, which puzzles locals we've met in Singapore and Malaysia. It's difficult to translate how utterly daggy Kenny Rogers is. Though we must admit, Newman from Seinfeld is right, Kenny makes a mean bird.

After three breakfasts, two morning teas, four lunches, a post lunch snack, a second lunch, a post second lunch snack and a secret dessert, Shawn reckons he could make room for an ice cream sandwich.

A slab of raspberry ripple (or the flavour of your choice) between two slices of bread. Surprisingly delicious.

Eve rolls us Augustus Gloop style back to the Maxwell food centre. Just one more snack, it's wafer thin... sweet potato balls with a lovely pandan filling, deep fried in oil that is swirled around to stop them sticking and for even cooking we assume. These are sensational.

Eve has an iced longan dessert. Longan is renowned for it's cooling effects. This has a lovely medicinal flavour to it.

Iced lemon is delicious but iced soursop is incredible.

After three breakfast, two morning teas, four lunches and a post-lunch snack, a second lunch with snacks and desserts, plus an ice cream sandwich before some afternoon tea, we somehow manage to find a tiny compartment in our stomachs, hidden under the couch, where we could put a little carrot cake.

Carrot cake has no carrot but steamed radish. The cakes of steamed radish are then fried into a lovely, stodgey comfort food. Even when absolutely stuffed to the eyeballs in thirty degree heat, we found this was delicious. Shawn is craving one right now as he stares at the picture.

Man, what a day, we can't remember ever being so full in such a long time. We must admit we did cheat, we sampled most dishes rather than eating them all to conserve valuable stomach space. And that's the beauty of eating in Singapore, most of these dishes were around $3, you can eat all day and hardly dint your wallet.

Singapore has a reputation for not being the most exciting place in the world, but by golly gosh, it's one of the very best spots on the planet for food. The range of dishes on offer is simply mind-boggling, plus it's easy to find and accessible, and without the health worries of less developed countries.

While it's great to visit and sample the food we can't help but feel jealous of Eve. It's fun to taste-test all this amazing food on holiday, but to live here and have it available when those particular food moods strike, to have it as part of our everyday lives, that's something else altogether. But we count our blessings for we live in Sydney, where we can find many of the treasures we find overseas.

This is our last view of Singapore on the way to the airport. We were so full that we didn't eat anything in the Qantas club, well not much anway. A big thanks to Eve for such a wonderful day that we will remember always.

This is the end of our trip through China, Hongkers, Macua and Singapore. It's been an amazing, frustrating, belly filling, sleep depriving, people loving and gob smacking adventure.

As we write this we could almost cry, but there's no time for tears as we're off to Malaysia in two days time, woohoo!

[ADDENDUM - We meant to give a shoutout to the late great actor Ben Gazarra who passed away recently. Ben starred in one of our favourite movies, Saint Jack, which was shot pretty much guerrilla style in Singapore in the early 1978, and has some great footage of pre-makeover Singapore.].


  1. Hahaha...wow...did we really do all that?? I don't remember! It was fun showing you around my playground. The white stuff with sambal..its called Chwee Kueh or steamed rice flour cakes with preserved radishes. Breakfast for the champions! Onde Onde is soooooo good...it has gula melaka centre and coated with coconut.
    Lim Chee Guan has the best Bak Kwa in my opinion..but then in Singapore we often fight over such stuff as in which has the best. I usually would only eat from them.
    As for the CKT...mmm interesting...we never really consider the smokiness of it...For me at least the "Wok He" (breath of wok or smokiness) is only applicable to Hor Fun (this is the test of skills) and Fried Rice.
    Oh Loo Hainanese Curry Cut rice is famous!!
    I went back and had my pig's armpit char siew.Mmmmmmmm sooooo good. Also ate at the fishball noodle stall that had that long queue.

    Man, looking at all the photos i am hungry!!! I can't wait to go home and feed!!! Hey next time you are in Singapore for stop-over we will do it all over again...different stalls and hawker centres!!There are so much i have yet to introduce to you...namely my personal favourite..peranakan food.

    Can't wait for your KL post!!!

    1. Mmmm Peranakan - for some reason I had it in my head that you could only get Pernakan at home or fancy-pants restaurants - or can you get it in food courts?

      The CKT in KL had the Wok He thing happening as well - I wonder if it's a regional difference?

  2. There are no photos of cats in this post

  3. Yes, please post photos of Singaporean cats. Can't wait for your Malaysia post :)

    1. Alas we met no pussycats in Singapore, but we're including all the kuchings in our Malaysia posts, just for for you flapflap :-)

  4. Another fantastic post, I feel very very full from looking at what you guys managed to stomach in one day! lol

    If we were ever in HK at the same time, or if you ever come to London, I'd love to be able to show you guys around too :)

  5. Look out for Seamus in KL, he will be there next weekend...

  6. I reckon Eve should start her own food tour business - I'd so be there! Everything looks fantastic...man, I loved our eating trip in Singapore. Fell in love with Kaya Toast with the soft boiled googy egg.

  7. Hahaha...Miss piggy next time you are heading to Singapore, let me know. I will be glad to take you on a similar feeding frenzy! Btw we actually hit the visited the 3 favourite hawker centers in Singapore. Too bad it was such a short time and we had limited stomach space... So much more to eat! Tiong Bahru market has lots more good food stalls. And we didn't even go to the best roti in town, the best ayam goreng. I do miss my kaya toast and eggs! That is my favourite breakfast when I am home.

  8. Wow you had Hainanese chicken rice. If you will travel back to China in the future,you should go to Hainan island to try the authentic Hainanese chicken rice in there. There are also hundreds of kinds of delicious street food in that island!

  9. Yes we've read about Hainan Island, it sounds wonderful, we will get there one day.

  10. I scrolled all the way looking for that ice-cream sandwich XD

    Everything looks amazing!


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).