Singapore food recommendations!
& a recipe for Teochew chestnut prawns
Happy new year everyone! Wex and I have landed safely in Melbourne from Singapore, and I’m typing this from my home in Daylesford. It is so nice to be back in your inboxes.
Last year, Apple Maps reached out and asked if I could share my recommendations of places to eat at in Singapore. While I still stand by those places, at that point, I had not been home for 3 years due to COVID and I’ve been dying to visit Singapore to discover new places and visit old favourites. Think of this post as an expansion of that list!
I’ve definitely eaten a lot of good food in the past three weeks as you can probably tell if you’ve been following my Stories on Instagram, but these are the ones that truly left an impression on me:
1. Raja Bojun Sri Lankan Food (665 Buffalo Rd, #01-280 Tekka Centre, Singapore 210665)
Two days after landing in Singapore, I got together with Hafi to host our very first Seasonings Magazine event! As it was held at her place in Little India, we thought it fitting to put together a feast in celebration of small businesses in the area (refer to this post for the full list of vendors).
Pictured below is cookbook author Lloyd Matthew Tan and his gorgeously outfitted sister Laura helping us with the set-up:
While everything was delicious, the standouts for me were the beetroot curry, black pepper chicken, and green mango pachadi from Raja Bojun, a Sri Lankan hawker stall at Tekka Market. I wasn’t intending on getting the pachadi, but the vendor was so confident of it that he told me he’d refund me if it wasn’t to my liking, and very generously gifted me an extra container of it. If I had more time, I definitely would have squeezed in another meal here to try more of their food.
2. Johnson Fish Soup (#02-494, 514 Bishan Street 13, Bishan Bus Interchange, 570514)
Wex and I both lived in the Bishan-Marymount area for almost our entire lives, so our dates used to be at places like the Bishan cafeteria above the bus interchange. Johnson fish soup holds many memories for us, so I’ll always have a soft spot for this place.
That is not to say that this stall makes the list only because of sentimental value, because their fish soup is top-notch. What sets it apart is the garnish of deep-fried egg floss and what tastes like a hint of liquor in the broth. I always ask for evaporated milk in my soup and get their tangy house-made chilli, which I either stir into my soup or leave on the side to dip the fish in. Very happy to see this family business making it through COVID and going strong, and hope that it keeps going for many years to come!
3. Chao Shan Cuisine (17 Phillip Street #01-01/02 Grand Building, Singapore 048695)
This is Wex’s grandma’s favourite restaurant, which says a lot because she is a phenomenal cook. Since dating Wex, I have eaten at this place countless of times because it is where his family gathers for almost every special occasion.
What I love about this place is that it holds firmly onto Teochew culinary traditions, and you get to taste things that you might not come across elsewhere. These dishes include pig trotter jelly (chunks of braised pig trotter bound in a soy sauce-based aspic), prawn and chestnut paste wrapped in caul fat and deep-fried until crispy (recipe below), and a water chestnut ‘pancake’ that is more fritter than pancake, sprinkled liberally with ground peanuts and powdered sugar. I believe that it’s gotten harder to get a seat of late, so make a reservation before you go.
4. Thunder Bowl Leicha (6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-125 ABC Brickworks Market, Singapore 150006)
It surprises me that many of my Singaporean friends are unfamiliar with thunder tea rice so I’ll explain what it is in a nutshell. This is a Hakka dish where you have rice topped with a variety of stir-fried vegetables, along with dried anchovies and dried radish for umami. On the side, you get a vibrantly green ‘tea’, made from fresh herbs, nuts and seeds, that you pour over the rice. Give everything a mix, and you get a very refreshing and cleansing meal that offers lots of texture and flavour in each bite. Because it is rather herbal, it might not suit everyone, but I love it. Perfect for eating in between meat- or seafood-heavy meals.
This hawker stall also makes Hakka yong tau foo that you can order to accompany your thunder tea rice. The Hakka variant is distinct from your usual assortment of stuffed tofu and vegetables in that the filling uses pork mince in addition to fish paste; this is somewhat more challenging to find in Singapore and worth a shot.
ABC Brickworks is one of my favourite hawker centres in Singapore because it has so much good food; it is especially great if you go in a group so you can order more. Try the hae mee (prawn noodles) from Jason Penang Cuisine (#01-112), Power Chendol from Jin Jin Hot/ Cold Desserts (#01-21), fried Hokkien mee from Yi Sheng (#01-13) (not my favourite Hokkien mee place in Singapore but Wex loves it), and roasted and BBQ-ed meat from Fatty Cheong (#01-120).
5. Hjh Maimunah Restaurant and Catering (11 Jln Pisang, Singapore 199078)
Always reliable, always comforting, always good. This is the place to go to when you just want to bliss out on solid Malay and Indonesian cooking. There are several outlets, but I like visiting the branch near the Masjid Sultan - after your meal, you can wander around and shop for some batik at Ratianah or Kiah’s Gallery, or pick up a pandan or durian roll cake from Rich and Good Cake Shop.
I don’t really have favourites here because everything is good, but I typically order the siput (sea snails), ikan bakar (grilled fish) with a side of kecap manis, ayam masak lemak cili padi (chicken cooked in a yellow coconut-based gravy) and tahu telor (soft tofu dipped in egg and deep-fried). A plus point: you can satisfy your sweet tooth after the meal - there’s a good range of house-made kuih and more than one type of goreng pisang (deep-fried bananas) which go well with the kecap manis that comes with the fish!
You’ll find part II of the recommendations here.
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Teochew chestnut prawns
My grandmother-in-law is such a regular at Chao Shan Cuisine (see above) that the dishes she orders are pretty standard. She knows what she wants and it is always the usual Teochew favourites, like lor ark (braised duck), heizhou (deep-fried prawn balls), and oyster omelette.
Once when we went, though, there was a special on the menu - prawn fritters. While its appearance looked like something you could get from any zichar restaurant in Singapore, one bite revealed smooth, delicately sweet paste surrounding each prawn. Someone at the table suggested that it might be orh nee and it did bear a similarity to taro paste, but its fragrance was earthier and nuttier – chestnut.
The Chinese love wordplay, and eating chestnuts (li zi in Mandarin) is taken to symbolise a smooth-sailing year (shun shun li li), so this dish is an appropriate one to prepare for Chinese New Year!
A note about caul fat: while it might seem like an exotic ingredient, it used to be a common ingredient in Singapore before people became increasingly health-conscious. It is essentially a fatty membrane which holds the smooth chestnut puree and prawn together in the oil. You can procure it by speaking with your butcher (you might need to order it in advance).