From Casino Español’s paella to Boon Tong Kee’s Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore–this is golden | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

To mark my in-laws’ golden wedding anniversary, we brainstormed on where to go and celebrate.

First celebration was at Casino Español in Manila, the old Spanish Club that has become an institution through the decades. I had heard about the place many times but when I got there, I realized it was my first time to set foot in this institution.

This place is a hidden culinary treasure of our country. Specializing in traditional Spanish cuisine, this has to be one of the best I have tasted here. This is the way I remember old Spanish cooking.

The place is in an old well-maintained building near Taft Avenue. The staff consists of children of the original cooks and waiters from the ’40s when the place opened.

Our evening menu had Spanish-style onion soup. That was not bad. Then came the Paella Valenciana. Not too much tutong (burnt rice crust), which I love, but fantastic nonetheless. It was loaded with chicken, pork, Spanish chorizo, clams, mussels and authentic saffron-flavored orange rice. A must!

The Lengua Financiera was outstanding. Melt-in-your-mouth tender, it had rich brown sauce—I won’t mind if I have it every day.

There was fish fillet with butter sauce. Also good.

We ended with a wobbly gelatin  leche flan, which looked so ordinary but was also exceptional. My gosh!

These dishes are the staple of many Manila restaurants, but what we had at Casino was on an altogether higher level of quality. My brother-in-law Tonichi was sure we would rave about the food.

There were other dishes that looked very interesting—Fabada, Callos, Bacalao and other Spanish dishes.

This place is a must. (Tel. 5257604 and 5245508)

The next day, we were at Naia 1 boarding a Jet Star for Singapore. I wasn’t too crazy about this place based on my experience. I wanted Bangkok. I’m glad I kept my thoughts to myself, otherwise we would have been swimming. Bangkok was flooded.

As soon as we set foot in Singapore, we took a maxi taxi to Fairmont Hotel—a gorgeous, complete, classy and ideally located home away from home. It is also connected to a nice food-loaded mall. The airline did not serve any food, which I wasn’t planning to take anyway for I was excited to discover dishes and share the new experience of local food with our food-curious group.

We just dropped our bags and headed for the nearest food court beside the mall. We had Laksa, Bak Kuteh (their version of sinigang), Hainanese Chicken Rice, Char Kwey Taw, Indian pancakes with curry sauce, Mi Goreng or red Indian noodles. Good but not the best.

That evening, we were at the touristy hawker place of Newton Circus. It was indeed like a circus with all the people and vendors trying to get your business. Most of the dishes were good but I knew there were better ones. I didn’t know where to start. We had more or less the same dishes as lunch except for the grilled stingray, sate, black pepper crabs and others.

We ended with a perfect dessert—the ice Katchang, shaved multicolor ice with a lot of sweet filling. Very refreshing!

The next day we were at Suntec and we all took a city bus tour.  I wasn’t too crazy about this, too, but, wrong again, I enjoyed that, too.

We ended up at the terminal, where we did the unthinkable. Eat a foreign cuisine in Singapore. I tried to resist but failed. I’m glad I did. My wife Tessa saw it in a picture first. It was grilled foie gras (fresh goose liver) sushi drizzled with teriyaki sauce. They cut a slice of foie gras, put it over burning charcoal, drizzled salt over it, combined it with Japanese rice and nori, put it in front of us and voila! It was gone in a blink. Out of this world! One cannot imagine the level of satisfaction a dish like this takes you to.

The next day, we were invited by my foodie sister-in-law Charina and her hubby Caloy to Pizzeria Mozza at  Marina Bay Sands. My thought bubble—“Now why will I want to have Italian in Singapore?”

I’m glad I was wrong—the third time. First, it is the first restaurant of celebrity chef Mario Batali in Asia. The chef is a good friend of Charina and is Pinay! I was so proud to see one of ours as the conductor of this kitchen that’s open 24/7.

Executive chef Karla Mendoza has not taken a day-off since this place opened early this year. Everything that landed on our table disappeared like magic. Textures, combinations, colors, creativity were just out of this planet.

She relies a lot on the best and freshest ingredients. Everything was delicious. The desserts, which I thought I had no room for, found space in my packed tummy.

Pizza was superb, fresh mozzarella with tomatoes drizzled with excellent olive oil was also worth a travel. Karla took us around the kitchen and showed us the simmering sauces that take as long as a day to prepare. Many of the staff are Pinoy! Makes you proud! This is a must-visit!

That evening, we were still full but I had gotten a tip from a taxi driver. We all wanted something simple. Hainanese Chicken Rice. Boon Tong Kee! A must-try in this bustling city! This version is in a league of its own. The chicken here is loaded with a thicker layer of skin fat.

From a perfectly simmered whole chicken, I watched and took a video of  how the chef deboned every piece and served it on our table. With spicy chili; thick, sweet and sticky soy sauce; and pandan- and chicken broth-flavored rice, this to me was the highlight of the celebration. Simple, straightforward and just simply divine. (They don’t serve it with shaved ginger unless you ask them). With many awards displayed on its walls, Boon Tong Kee certainly is a winner. Loved it!

At the departure lounge, I was hoping to take off from the new airport that has various food stalls with award-winning outlets that specialize in Laksa, Bak Ku The, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Kwey Tiao, etc. But, we took off from the old one so we settled for hawker-level Hainanese Chicken Rice. I thought, might as well lower our expectations since I’m sure I will be having cravings of those Singapore specialties back home. What a trip! Worth a celebration after 50 years!

This is my most memorable trip to this culinary paradise. Great food and people you love with you. What else can beat that?


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