Category Archives: hawker

Katong Laksa

Why has it taken me so long to finally eat at, and have my visiting parents introduce me to Katong laksa ??

Apparently there are several stalls who claim to be “the original Katong laksa”.  The one my parents found was tucked away in the basement of Roxy Square in a small coffee shop. There are other stalls selling food but I honestly could not tell you what they were after having my first bowl of laksa.

Katong laksa serves Peranakan-style laksa, so the noodles are cut short which means you only need to eat it with a spoon. Great for people like me who don’t have the best chopstick skills and usually end up wearing half my soup from the noodles slipping back into the broth with a splash. And doubly great because it guarantees that every mouthful is a true combination of all those amazing flavours.

The broth is what makes it so special. It’s a complex broth of coconut milk, stock, homemade chilli paste. The coconut milk is made from squeezing freshly grated coconut, which keeps the broth from being too rich and cloying. Each spoonful packs a creamy, spicy punch, yet the flavour still manages to be delicate at the same time and you’re not left with an overwhelming thirst from overseasoning.

In the broth is a combination of the noodles, fresh prawns, cockles, fish cake and the bowl is topped with fresh curry leaves and a smear of extra chilli paste for those who want a bit more spice.

This has got to be one of the best comfort foods Singapore has to offer.

Thanks mum and dad for the introduction !

Roxy Laksa
48 East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Tel: 9630 2321

Mon-Fri: 10.30am to 9pm
Weekends and PH: 8.30am to 9pm

Penang Feasting

Apom balik – Crispy Indian pancakes

My mother is from Penang, and although we migrated to Sydney when I was just four years old, my family still has strong roots there. Over the years though, my visits have tapered off and the Penang I know has become a memory – rapid urbanisation has fundamentally changed the city so much I don’t recognise it any more. The city has fortunately been declared UNESCO protected so the the city has been cleaned up, but the traffic is still congested, which makes getting around to the best places to eat that little bit more difficult.

Penang has long been lauded as having the best food in Malaysia – particular hawker food. It’s hard to explain why – the best I can give (based on a thoughtful discussion with a fellow Penang-ite in Singapore) is that each hawker is his/her own artist in the way they prepare and cook their dishes, achieving a distinct character, so much so that a certain dish does not taste the same if it’s been cooked by the owners son even when all other variables are constant.

Malaysians in general are quite obsessive about eating the best food and will often drive for an hour to get to “the best [insert food here]” – chicken rice, crab, fried noodles – you name it. Some have become so famous that there are often lengthy queues, which, in the blistering Penang heat, is something even I am not willing to do.

Penang curry noodles

When we were recently in Penang, we stayed close to a massive hawker centre called Supertanker. It’s a bewildering, bustling, noisy, crowded, mass of hungry people in for a quick bite – this I guess is the Malaysian equivalent of a fast food court. It’s quite difficult to explain the whole experience. There are maybe 200 tables and on the perimeter of the area are tiny little food stalls that usually sell just one or two types of dishes – fish soup, Penang char kuay teow, congee, drinks etc. You queue and order your food, pay the hawker, gesture in the direction of where you are sitting, and somehow your dish manages to find you just a few minutes later. They seem to have an amazing capacity to remember who ordered what.

The pace that these hawkers prepare the food is astounding. They are literally human machines – when you’re only charging the equivalent of US$1 for a bowl of noodles, turnover is critical, and these hawkers work hard and fast to feed the masses.

It’s open air but with plenty of fans and I was so happy to enjoy a few of my old favourite that I haven’t had for possibly over ten years. It’s amazing how smells and sounds and tastes can bring back fond memories.

Two dishes I am thrilled to have eaten: curry noodles and “apom balik”. The curry noodles are a Malaysian speciality. I guess the most easy way to describe it is as a laksa, but here, they somehow manage to extract the flavour of the coconut but with none of the thick creamy consistency of some laksas I’ve had outside of Malaysia. The broth is rich yet almost white in colour and the dish comes with a generous spoon of chilli sambal, tofu, squid, fresh cockles and most importantly, cubes of pig’s blood. Now I know that might sound horrifying to many of you, but I just love the squidgy, squeaky, springy texture of these and you can’t get this easily at all outside of Malaysia. It adds a richness to the entire dish that I just love.

The second dish is probably much more palatable – it’s called apom balik, and Indian speciality, essentially a pancake batter that’s cooked in a mini-wok, so that the edges are thin and crispy and crepe-like, with a small “bump” of lightly cooked spongy batter in the middle. Sometimes they are filled with a mixture of sugar and crushed peanuts which are also delicious but I think the simplicity of the plain ones appeal to me (perhaps because I can justify eating more?).

With my gran passing away I’m not sure I will have as many opportunities to sample the amazing food in Penang. But I can take the wonderful memories of the food with me and they come attached with the even more wonderful memories of enjoying it with her.

Master Crab

Master Crab’s salted egg crab

You had better cook a good crab dish if you want to call yourself Master Crab. That’s what I thought when my friend told me where they had had incredible crab recently. The “restaurant” is actually a tze char stall in a coffee shop. Tze char literally means “cook and fry” and it means that you order off a menu that is similar to a restaurant, just in a coffee shop environment.

There is no airconditioning, cheap plastic tables and chairs and fluorescent lighting that makes you feel like you can get a tan while you eat. Absolutely no frills, and where you can call to book a table, but when you get there, you get the feeling that it’s on a first come, first served basis, as this stall is all about turnover.

We were on a crab mission, though – in particular salted egg crab, so luckily it was a cool evening and they had a table for us to eat. We tried to order two crab dishes – salted egg and white pepper crab, but we were told that there was a minimum of two crabs per type of sauce, and each crab weighed just under a kilo.  With just three of us, we thought we’d stick to one (salt egg) and then order other dishes.

Some of the dishes we had were pretty disappointing – the sambal kankong – chilli water spinach – was really overseasoned and overcooked, and the crispy baby squid was too sweet.  The fried rice, on the other hand was delicious. Lots of wok hei (see my attempt at an explanation of this here).

Now to the crab.  I’ve subsequently heard that other crab dishes here are only so so, but the salted egg crab, my goodness, it’s worth it to visit just for this dish alone.

Firstly the crab was super fresh. The meat was flaky and sweet and smothered in a golden yellow sauce that is finger licking good. It’s rich and thick and has a wonderful balance of salt (presumably from the salted egg) and sweet and it is, quite simply, magnificent. I love pretty much anything with salted egg, and I wondered if it was too Asian for D’s more Western palate, but he loved it almost more than I did !

I am now wanting to try Let’s Clap ! At Railway Mall where they apparently do a dry version of salted egg crab. That would be such an intense taste sensation.

So is Master Crab the master of all crab places ? Absolutely, if what (and all) you want is salted egg crab. Leave everything else for another place.

Master Crab Seafood Restaurant
Blk 19 Ghim Moh Road #01-229
Tel: +65 6314 1868

Open Daily 5pm – 10.30pm

Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice

Roasted chicken rice with bean sprouts

We used to have one of those stores just downstairs from our apartment that sells everything.  For those in Asia, you know the ones I mean – mountains of takeaway containers, rolls of kitchen paper, party decorations – a real mish mash or wholesale goodness that I used to love poking around in.

It recently closed down and we have passed it each day for the past two weeks, watching the renovations come together and finally two days ago it was “revealed” that the store was to become another outlet for Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice.

I’ve been trying to find the history/background of the chain, but all I can find is that there are two other outlets – a store at Longhouse Food Centre on Upper Thompson Road, and one at Lorong Sarina.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with chicken rice, it’s a dish of succulent chicken, steamed until it is just cooked with a little pink remaining on the flesh near the bones. Alternatively, dark brown roasted chicken can also be served with specially cooked rice.  The rich flavour of the rice comes from the grains that have been pre-fried in chicken fat and then cooked in chicken broth.  The dish is accompanied with a chilli sauce made up of chillies, chicken broth, garlic, and ginger.  Additional kecap manis a thick sweet soya sauce, can also be added. A broth of chicken stock garnished with a sprinkle of spring onions is a must.

Anyway, D and I went downstairs to have lunch there yesterday.  I ordered the steamed chicken and D had the roast chicken.  Both types of chicken were tender and sweet – we had breast meat (for an extra 50c you could have drumstick meat which has more flavour) and the rice tasty and not too oily.

Chicken rice is everywhere in Singapore – many often claiming to be “the best”.  For us, the one downstairs, that we can enjoy in air conditioned comfort, that’s also delicious, works out the best for us.  We just have to exercise self-control as chicken rice is Chinese fast food at its best.

Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice
21 Tan Quee Lan Street
Near Bugis Junction

From croissants to…chwee kueh

Chwee kueh – steamed rice cakes with preserved radish and chilli paste

It rained early this morning in Singapore and I love rare mornings like this, especially on weekends, when the late-to-rise Singaporeans are still asleep, the traffic’s minimal and it’s relatively cool.  It’s just so peaceful in this usually frenetic city.

I took the opportunity of all of the above to take a 20 minute stroll to Mackenzie Street to Mirabelle with the intent of picking up a bag of buttery goodness – from light and flaky plain croissants to pain au chocolate to croissants baked with ham and cheese. All delicious, artery-clogging treats which we are lucky to get in Singapore.  Mirabelle’s pastries rival the best we’ve had in Paris.

However, when I got to Mackenzie Street, all I saw were metal roller doors.  The friendly girl who worked next door told me that Mirabelle was closed till mid Feb.  Guess even the best bakers have to take a holiday, no matter how much we want them not to 🙂

So I took a slow stroll back to Bugis, enjoying watching the town slowly wake up, and ended up at Albert Centre Food Market. I don’t know what I expected to find there that I wanted – it’s a tough switch from french pastry to local fare – I thought I actually fancied nasi lemak, until I chanced upon a chwee kueh shop.

Chwee kueh literally translated is “water rice cake” and is Teochew dish of steamed cake of rice flour that is most importantly served with preserved radish or chai por.  The rice cake itself has no flavour but it is the vehicle with which to eat the chai por.

Chai por is radish that has been cooked with salt, dried shrimp and sugar in pork lard (hence why it tastes so good).

It was so delicious it pretty much erased the taste of croissant from my mind !  I’m thrilled that I have access to this local treat so close to home and will definitely be going back again.

Le Chasseur

Claypot chicken rice

In the never-ending hunt to find good local food, I went on a recommendation of an ieatishootipost post to Le Chasseur on North Beach Road, just opposite the Central Shopping Centre.

For a place where the main write up was about claypot chicken rice, the restaurant itself is simple (and not at all what I expected from a claypot restaurant) and there is only one claypot dish amongst two walls where the entire menu is printed out, every dish with pictures.  It’s essentially a Singaporean cuisine cafe/restaurant.

Pork hock and ginger in soya sauce

I was impressed that this place advertised no MSG as well as no artificial additives and is testimony to the fact that you can get food that tastes great, that isn’t overly seasoned or with MSG added.

Between the four of us, we ordered far too much, but the portions are small, which means you can get away with tasting more dishes – always a good thing.

Chicken curry

The service is pretty appalling, but the food turned up all at once, which I was pretty impressed with, especially as I know the claypot rice is made fresh and takes 20 minutes whereas the rest (like the pork and curries) would have been made much earlier in advance.

Duck with salted vegetable soup

We had claypot chicken rice (which I have decided I cannot taste the difference between a good one and a bad one and don’t like it enough to continue the search), sambal eggplant, which was tender and not too oily nor smothered in sambal sauce, curry chicken, which D mopped up with toasted bread, pork hock in dark soya sauce with ginger, fall-off-the-bone sweet and sour pork ribs and a duck and preserved vegetable soup.

Sweet and sour pork ribs

All solidly good dishes and despite the number of dishes, we did the chef justice and finished everything on the table.  My favourites were the pork ribs, which certainly had a sweet and sour taste to them, but lacked the eye-squinting punch and ruby red colour that I am used to seeing in other Chinese restaurants, and the soup which was simple and delicious.

I’m very much looking forward to going back again to sample the rest of the food on the menu…walls.  Stay tuned.

Le Chassuer
31 North Beach Road
Tel: 63377677
11am to 11pm daily

Straits Kitchen

Chicken satay

Whenever we have visitors to Singapore who ask for local food during lunch, we always end up at Straits Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt.  Where else can you enjoy local delights like Hainanese chicken rice, satay, laksa, popiah and Indian curries in a civilised and most importantly air-conditioned environment ?

Chinese roast duck

The alternatives are the big hawker centres like Newton Circus or Maxwell Markets which are all good and well, and probably serve much more authentic hawker fare, including pork – Straits Kitchen is halal – but these are not the sorts of places where I wouldAdd Videochoose to go to catch up.  It’s where you go to eat and leave.  Perhaps that’s just me.

Deep fried cempedak

The last time we went we had a rare treat – battered and deep fried cempedak – a fruit that tastes like a mix of jackfruit and durian (both of which I love).  It’s a very traditionally Malaysian snack and I remember buying these from street vendors when I was a young girl visiting my mother’s hometown of Penang.  These are harder and harder to find, taken over by the more popular banana or sweet potato fritters.  At any rate, I was thrilled and I wished my mum was there to enjoy it with me.

All up, Straits Kitchen doesn’t serve the most authentic food, but the environment is just so pleasant and the choices abundant, it will remain one of the staples where we take visiting friends and family.

Straits Kitchen
Ground Floor, Grand Hyatt Hotel Singapore
10 Scotts Road
Tel: 6732 1234

Open Weekdays 12pm-2:30pm, 6:30pm-10:30pm; Weekends 12:30pm-3pm, 6:30pm-10:30pm

Oh for a simple breakfast

It’s amazing how a difference of just 3 blocks can dramatically change the breakfast options you have.

When I was working closer to Chinatown, little coffee shops abounded with offers of simple good food – freshly fried beehoon noodles with srumptious sambal, gooey sweet sticky peanut butter spread on to thickly cut and freshly toasted bread, or my personal favourite, nasi lemak with a squid curry and an egg with crispy sweet and salty fried anchovies- a throwback from my days working in KL.

So my new role has me right next door to Lau Pa Sat – “the Festival Market” – the hawker centre that had locals in an uproar when it was even suggested that the prime location, in the middle of the business district, on which it stood be replaced by commercial office space.

I was a little confused at the variety of food that you could get at 8.30am – I did a few sneaky rounds around the tables to see what other people were eating and was amazed that you can get Indian dosai for breakfast ! Anyway, I ended up with fried glass noodles, with fried beehoon noodles and some vegetables and my confusion led to me having the oddest and most dissatifying breakfast I have had since i tried to eat a bowl of muesli for breakfast.

But I’m not giving up ! I’m going back there for lunch today so that the Festival Market can redeem itself in my eyes…