Travel Tales: Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

When we made the decision to go to Sri Lanka for my cousin’s wedding, it was pretty much a no-brainer that we would stopover in other destinations (Singapore and Malaysia) on the way there and back. Breaking up a long flight with two shorter flights makes sense right? 

Well it did. And then it didn’t. The afternoon before we were due to fly out, Jetstar cancelled our flight to Singapore and calling their customer service centre for a replacement flight gave us two options:

  1. A direct flight to Singapore three days after we were supposed to arrive, at which point we would have to leave for Sri Lanka almost immediately and not have time to enjoy Singapore at all
  2. Flights to Singapore on the day that we were supposed to leave….via a layover in Hong Kong. We essentially doubled back to Singapore after flying to Hong Kong, adding around eight hours to the overall journey.

Jetstar are known as Shitstar for a reason.

A crappy start to the holiday was thankfully improved with each day we spent in Singapore. While we all suffered in the humidity (my family are not summer people), it was good that we were able to start acclimatising to the humidity of South-East Asia in the relative comfort of Singapore and its air-conditioned malls – we certainly wouldn’t be able to retreat to air-conditioned comfort quite as easily during our stay in Sri Lanka! 

That’s not to say that we didn’t venture out of the malls of Orchard Road, because we certainly did. We spent one day in the Gardens by the Bay, the futuristic vast nature park that they’ve somehow managed to squeeze into densely-populated Singapore. We went on the Singapore Flyer which I’d never been on before, and managed to time our visit so that we had an entire pod to ourselves, sandwiching in nicely between two overcrowded pods full of Chinese tour groups.

The highlights though, were when we just spent time wandering around different parts of Singapore, sampling local fare at different markets. Having only visited Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little India and Tiong Bahru, I feel as though we’ve only scratched the surface of what those Singaporean districts can offer us…let alone, what the rest of Singapore has to offer! What about areas like Kampong Glam, Katong, Geylang…and I’ve never even been to Sentosa Island!

I guess we’re lucky that Singapore is so (comparatively) close to Australia, and that it would make for a great stopover to wherever we may chose to go on our next trip. Over the course of a couple of years worth of two or three day stays in Singapore, we may finally get to see, and eat, more around the country. Singapore…I’ll always be back.

Eating in Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

Most travellers who have visited Singapore will cringe when I say this, but one of Dad’s favourite places to eat during our stay was the Food Opera food centre in the ION Orchard mall. I know, it’s not a legitimate hawker centre and you won’t walk out smelling like satay or prawn mee. But importantly, you do walk out feeling cool and refreshed after enjoying a meal in air-conditioned comfort, and that feeling is worth a million dollars in the overwhelming heat and humidity of Singapore.

We visited Food Opera a number of times during our visit, and never ate the same thing once. From chicken rice to bak kuh teh, yong tau foo to beef noodles, there’s enough variety at Food Opera to ensure that you can try something new with every meal. And while prices are slightly higher than what you would find in most outdoor hawker centres, you get your money’s worth in hygiene and comfort. The food isn’t bad either, and consistently reminded Dad of the kind of food he used to eat in the sixties in Hong Kong – truly traditional Cantonese cooking, without fancy modern embellishments. 

We did eat in outdoor hawker centres of course. We had Satay by the Bay after a stroll through the Gardens by the Bay, and cooled off with 2-for-1 weekday cendol from the same hawker centre. We made our way to Little India where we had murtabak and biryani. Kaya toast and roti breakfasts at random kopitiams along the road were not uncommon. 

The Chinatown markets were a hit as well, where we tried popiah, kueh pie tee, and what was literally THE freshest and most delicious wife cake I’ve ever had in my whole life- and I’ve eaten my fair share of wife cake! Shout out to Mini Toast House in Chinatown Markets (Shop #02-105) for their awesome wife cake. The other highlight of Chinatown was of course, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. The meals themselves may be simple, but the execution is brilliant – well worth a visit.

We’re lucky enough to also have the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in Singapore…expats / locals who can take us to fantastic places for dinner like No Signboard Seafood for amazing Singaporean chilli crab, salted egg yolk prawns, and chilli and garlic pippies, before finishing off the meal with some durian from a roadside stall. Or who can take us for delicious steamed buns (bao in Chinese, or strangely, pao in Singaporean) at Tiong Bahru markets before finishing off with matcha and almond croissants from the fancy pants hipster Tiong Bahru bakery.

In the few days we had in Singapore, I can honestly say that we never once had a bad meal. We didn’t plan ahead and book for fancy places, we really just stumbled across places and ate where we saw locals congregating. Our main goal was to always try something new at each meal, so that we could introduce my dad and brother to new dishes and flavours – and I think we succeeded in that as my dad absolutely loved Singapore’s food (though not the humidity!).

Singapore really is a foodie’s paradise, and I just know that the next time we go back, we’ll have just as good a time as we did this time. 

Review: Hawker Chan, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, Singapore

The Michelin Guide launched in Singapore in mid-2016. The one big revelation in the guide that got everyone talking was the awarding of a Michelin star to an unassuming little hawker stall in Chinatown markets, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. Costing mere dollars for a plate of their signature soya sauce chicken, it’s quite possibly the cheapest Michelin-starred eatery in the world.

Since it won the Michelin star, its fame has spread far and wide. The small hawker stall in Chinatown markets can no longer handle the amount of traffic it receives, and sells out by 2pm in the afternoon.

hkchickenrice-01

That’s why we found ourselves heading to the brand-new sit-down restaurant opened as a larger branch of the hawker stall for a very late lunch one afternoon during our stay in Singapore. It’s still located in Chinatown, and is just opposite the markets so not too far from the original hawker stall.

The line is still long, but manageable. With sufficient seating and more than a dozen staff bussing tables, manning the till and preparing food in the kitchen, you’ll wait less than half an hour for a seat. Not bad!

Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, $4.50SGD
Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, $4.50SGD

The Soya Sauce Chicken is obviously the star of the show, and I can see why. The meat is ridiculously soft and tender, with the slightest hint of the soy braising. Where the soy is really highlighted is in the sauce which comes with the chicken no matter if you decide to have it served with rice, noodles or hor fun. It’s a fantastically rich, dark soy which tastes beautiful mixed through the noodles.

Char Siew Hor Fun, $4.80SGD
Char Siew Hor Fun, $4.80SGD

I don’t know if the Char Siew is on the menu at the original hawker stall, but I do recommend it for those who dine at the sit-down restaurant. While I think the char siew was better at Tasty BBQ in Bentleigh because of the sliver-thin slicing, the smokiness of this char siew was quite remarkable. Again, the soy sauce was fantastic mixed through the fresh slippery hor fun.

Soya Beansprouts, $3SGD
Soya Beansprouts, $3SGD

I find it difficult to have a meal without vegetables and so ordered the Soya Beansprouts. Very barely stir-fried, these beansprouts were still fresh and crunchy, enhanced by the crushed nuts on top. There’s no need to rely on heavy sauces in a dish like this when the produce is still so fresh and delightful eaten as is.

2 Combination Platter (Roasted Pork and Char Siew), $6SGD
2 Combination Platter (Roasted Pork and Char Siew), $6SGD

Despite having already had about four meals each prior to arriving at the restaurant, I decided that our group of four needed one more dish in order to complete our meal. I ordered the Two Combination Platter with Roasted Pork and Char Siew – unfortunately they were out of the Pork Ribs (the fourth type of meat they serve), so I had to opt for a second serving of the char siew. Worth it! 

hkchickenrice-06

There are some who will argue that visiting the new sit-down restaurant isn’t as authentic as lining up for hours at the hawker stall. In most instances, I would probably agree with that statement. However considering the general heat and humidity of Singapore, I really don’t mind the occasional interlude in an air-conditioned restaurant when it means you don’t have to queue and wait for as long! 

Michelin-starred food at a bargain price. Surprisingly it’s not to everyone’s tastes – some German tourists sitting next to us actually ended up leaving the majority of their chicken on their plate when they left! I guess it really depends on your tastebuds and what you’re used to. For someone who’s grown up on this food though, Hawker Chan’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle not only tastes like the best of Singapore, but also like home.

The original Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, is located in the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre in Singapore. Their first sit-down restaurant is located at 78 Smith Street in Singapore.