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.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Cixi, Zhejiang Province, China, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Finishing our long European honeymoon with a quick stopover in China to see the maternal side of my family only helped to emphasise how ridiculously lucky we were to take the trip and to have the opportunities that we had. It’s not just that a trip of this magnitude would be entirely unaffordable for most of my Chinese family members. It’s also the education and the worldliness that we had growing up in Australia that has contributed to us wanting to go overseas to explore different places.

My family members are all entirely content living where they live in China, and never venturing outside of the country. “You don’t have this ingredient in Australia do you,” is a frequent sentence uttered at my grandmother’s dining table as they take delight in serving up strange sea creatures up for dinner. The idea of having to travel overseas and only eating hamburgers and steaks is horrifying, because they simply don’t know that there’s anything else available.

They’ve never been taught about the nuanced differences between different “Western” countries, and so French, Polish, Greek and English cuisines all meld together as a homogeneous cuisine of hamburgers and steaks. Why go overseas for that when you can have fresh fish and clams for dinner every night? After all they believe that it’s not like there’s any other historical or cultural things of interest to be found in other countries, because China is the greatest country in the world with the best culture and history.

This insular world view is made all the more ironic by the fact that the village where my family live is now more developed than ever with a greater exposure to the Western world. I even saw Westerners on local business in the hotel we stayed in! I spent a lot of time reminiscing to K about how things used to be whenever I visited as a child, and how different it now is.

Where we once had to do our business in a chamberpot, now there’s indoor plumbing. Where my grandfather once toiled in the fields, now the fields have been turned into factories and tiny one-room homes for the migrant workers flocking to the area for factory work. Where we once had to take an overnight ferry to the area from Shanghai, now there’s a new bridge that cuts the travel time to two hours on a public bus.

Just the fact that there are now restaurants and street food stalls in the area highlight how things have changed. They never used to exist because everyone cooked at home – what was the point of going out to eat? It’s only with the growth of the migrant worker population (now outnumbering the ‘locals’) that cheap restaurants and street food stalls have opened up to cater to those who don’t have full kitchen facilities in their tiny one-room residences.

I guess it just goes to show that even as the country develops at a breakneck pace and the standard of living is raised in China, it will take much longer for people’s mentalities and worldviews change. It certainly doesn’t help when the local CCTV news station reports on news the way that they do. My relatives remarked to me at one point, “Oh, isn’t it lucky that China doesn’t have shootings the way America does? We’re so safe here.” Yes, if you ignore all the corruption, human trafficking, drugs and domestic violence statistics…

I love China, the food, and my family of course. But I can’t help but wish for them to have greater exposure to the world and different ways of thinking that aren’t dictated to them by the Communist Party.