Lately, a number of Singaporean restaurants have sprouted all over the metropolis. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, just like Japanese dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice becomes common in many Filipino tables, the way Sukiyaki, Teriyaki or Tempura has.
Just like other cuisines, there are some versions that don’t do justice to the authentic ones.
When I was still based in Vancouver, I used to frequent a place called Tamarind Hill, a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant with one of the best Mi Goreng (reddish spicy egg noodles), Char Kwey Teow (flat noodles with mildly sweet soy-based sauce with tofu and tiny oysters), Laksa (thin rice noodles in coconut broth, also spicy) and crunchy soft-shell crabs toasted in garlic and chili. We would go there at least once a week.
Just last week, I had to go to Singapore for a short meeting. I was more excited to experience their cuisine since I had not been there in years. A tip friends gave was not to eat the plane food, which I took to heart. What I could not resist for my early flight, though, was the piping hot arroz caldo with its trimmings at the Philippine Airlines Mabuhay lounge.
I first got a tablespoon of crispy mini dilis, then poured the hot arroz caldo, topped that with another serving of dilis, plus chopped red eggs and fried garlic. Mixed, it was a perfect dish to start the morning. So much for not eating on the plane; I had three servings of this. Heaven!
As soon as my plane landed in Singapore, I took a ride to the Katong Shopping Center on Mountbatten Road, where a food court stall is said to serve one of the best Hainanese Chicken Rice there is.
The dish is served with broth and cabbage on the side, and comes with three sauces—grated ginger, chili and sweet thick soy sauce. I noticed that not too many locals eat ginger with this specialty. They like to have it just with soy and chili.
My first bite didn’t really make an impression. But as I dug into it, the dish grew on me. Then I slowly understood all the fuss about it.
On the side, we were served pickled veggies. My drink was star fruit juice. All in all, a fantastic version of Chicken Rice from this stall.
From here, I went to a place that served its version of halo-halo—Ice Katchang, or another version, Chendol. It had more or less the same fillings as our version except muscovado was used, with colored and shaved ice instead of crushed. I find the shaved version a lot better than our own crushed ice. This is a must-try!
Food courts are all over the city. For dinner that evening, I had a Char Kwey Teow in a 24-hour food court near my hotel. I already planned my breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I couldn’t really make up my mind, so I’d walk the entire hawker center. Only then would I look back and define what my palate was craving for.
It can be very confusing. Here, even McDonald’s has a spicy version of chicken nuggets!
I also went to a grocery to browse. There were so many interesting food items I wanted to take home. I ended up buying boxes of instant or homemade versions of Laksa and Singaporean Chicken Rice. I am told these are quite impressive versions of authentic ones. Even the Bah Kuh Teh has easy-to-do packs.
And, at the departure area of Changi airport are stalls offering award-winning recipes of Laksa, Char Kwey Teow, Hainanese Singaporaen rice, Bah Kuh Teh (similar to our sinigang na spare ribs) and a few others. I had the chicken Laksa—perfectly spicy, I had beads of sweat on my nose. Amazing!