Humbled by Singaporean Cuisine.
IS SIMPLICITY THE ULTIMATE SOPHIS TICATION? SINGAPORES BEST LAKSA? THE FUTURE OF ST REET FOOD CHINESE IN CHINA TOWN Written By The Talking Stew
These wise words of Leonardo DaVinci have resonated with me as I have journeyed through the heart of Singapore’s cuisine. From the vibrant, local food meccas to the refined surroundings of the world’s best restaurants, my palate has been privy to sensations and flavours that until now have been incomparable.
“Simplicity is The Ultimate Sophistication”
As you may have surmised, I have spent the week in Singapore. The most memorable experiences and highlights, if you haven’t already guessed, are the varied culinary experiences that have excited my senses beyond belief. The sacrifice for over-indulging in such heavenly delights - my waistline. Let’s just say I won’t be leaving Asia the same shape and size I was when I arrived. But hey, you only live once, right?
he first of the exquisite food experiences took place at Sungei Road Laksa, located on Kelantan Road right next door to Little India. Now don’t be fooled by the appearance of this humble little family run stall. Cooking Katong Laksa for over 30 years, according to locals this is definitely the best Laksa in all of Singapore. And I must admit, it’s the best Laksa I have ever eaten. What makes this so unique and special, is that it is the only place left in Singapore that makes Laksa the traditional way; boiled over charcoal and cooking the rice noodles by repeatedly flushing them with the concentrated Laksa broth. Upon ordering your Laksa, you will be sternly told use a spoon No Chopsticks allowed!
Laksa done Right!
“Asian Beauty” sake
tesuyas right hand man in action
On the other end of both the dining and price spectrum is celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s fine dining restaurant Waku Ghin - named in the world’s top 50 restaurants. This restaurant, with it’s 3,000-bottle wine collection, sake bar and caviar lounge, delivers a fusion of Japanese and European cuisine that is sure to impress even the harshest of food critics. Here we were seated at the teppanyaki grill, where we were able to witness our multitude of courses cooked and prepared before our very eyes. We ordered the taster menu, and at S$400 per head you expect to be dazzled....and dazzled we were. Our private Chef was none other than the Japanese Sous Chef himself whose skill was an art that was mesmerizing. His dishes were so perfectly cooked that there is no way they could be outdone. Fresh King Crab, Grade 9 Wagyu and Tasmanian Abalone so fresh it was still alive up until the moment of grilling; just a few of the outstanding dishes we indulged in. 10 courses later and our stomachs full of some of Japan’s best sake, we were granted a private tour of the kitchen. Everything we ate was so fresh, so delicate and delicious, yet uncomplicated.
hinese and chilli. Two words that accurately describe our next dinner. Located in the heart of China town at 7 Neil Road (unfortunately the name is unknown), this local diner is not designed for foreigners. However despite our non-existent Chinese skills and their very limited English, they were nothing but hospitable and accommodating, and communication was humorous to say the least. We chose our dishes by pointing to attractive Chinese characters on the menu, and then we waited, in anticipation for what was to come. They delivered us the tastiest Chinese food, and probably the hottest food I’ve ever had, that was jampacked full of punch and flavour. We were given a fried chilli prawn dish and a spicey soup. These were so hot that it affected my vision, but this did not deter me from scraping the dishes clean. Needless to say the following day was a painful and emotional aftermath, for all involved...including the toilet bowl.
CHINESE FOOD IN CHINATOWN
One of the best things about Singapore are the variety of late-night eateries frequently scattered amongst secret enclaves and popular hot spots. Saint James Power Station, is as its name states, an old power station that has been converted into an entertainment venue that offers more than just a party. Their outdoor food court/beer garden is a great spot to visit for some fresh, quality local fare at anytime of the night. With a case of the late-night munchies, we decided to sample the dishes on offer at this interesting, local night spot. There are an assortment of food stalls located in this beer garden, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the seafood stall. Their fresh cockles, sea snails and sting rays that were on offer were so attractive that I just couldn’t resist them. The chilli cockles were so good that one portion was just not enough. The steamed sea snails were so fresh and tasted like they were alive up until we ordered them. Their taste can only be explained as a subtle infusion of fresh sea-water; sounds pretentious, I know. But that really is the best way to describe them. The generous portion of chilli and lemongrass sting ray had a soft flakiness that left you wanting more... Going there with only the munchies was a huge rookie-mistake. The vibrant hustle and bustle of both the Maxwell Rd Food Centre and Newton’s Food Centre, (also known as Hawker Centres), provided plenty of entertainment. Locals from everywhere seemed to congregate at these food stall centres which is usually an indication that the food being served is good quality local food. Maxwell Road Food Centre is located in Chinatown and is well known for their Hianese Chicken Rice (although, having sampled the same dish at a few locations I think the best one I had was next door to Sungei Road Laksa, mentioned above). Newton’s Food Centre is definitely a worthwhile visit, for both the food and the people watching. This late night market opens at 6pm and stays open until 4am- a great hangout for late-night owls and after-hours revelers. The local-style BBQ chicken wings are out of this world, the Chilli Crab is a unique tasty treat and the chicken satay is simple and tasty.
The most humble of all dining experiences was at a modest, little Japanese restaurant called Nogawa Restaurant. As soon as I entered a wave of nostalgia struck me and I was transported back to the little Izakayas of Japan. Here we were fortunate enough, (again), to be served by the Japanese sushi master and owner. We witnessed his ninja-like stealth and precision with his made-to-order Japanese knives, and his nigiri creations were made in the blink of an eye. The Toro sashimi was the freshest I have ever eaten, and its quality unrivaled. It’s impossible to choose a highlight; all dishes excelled in freshness, presentation and quality. The nasu (Japanese eggplant) was very lightly deep-fried then coated in a mouth-watering sauce that consisted of minced chicken and miso. The Anago (Sea-Water Eel) literally dissolved on my taste buds- the flesh, so perfectly cooked and seasoned, combined with the ala-minut rice, is a taste and texture that I am still savouring...Being in his late 60‘s, our sushi master’s humility and passion radiated from his food. These are things which cannot be taught; another reason why the experience was so enriching. Ordering the 10 course taster menu and his personal recommendations came to S$250 per head- significantly cheaper than Waku Ghin’s and Nobu, yet the quality was the same, if not better.
All of the food experiences I have had over the course of the week have been outstanding, yet so eclectic that I just can’t compare them to each other. The binding characteristic that these unique dishes share, however, is how fresh and unpretentious they all have been, and I think this is what has made them so special. So fresh, so simple and so perfectly executed.