When you’re traveling alone, finding a place to eat is a little like gambling: you can base a choice on the smell of the place, the number of people eating there and whether they are enjoying it (ie eating INTENTLY), the length of the line or the price… But sometimes you’re still going to strike out (my strike out involved a deep fried mealworm in Kota Kinabalu). But Singapore is a whole different ball game! Here, I feel like I’m in a week-long episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, getting the local treatment, but even better. My local guide, Keira Herr, is a former Chun labbie and total foodie with a nose for only the best options, at restaurants and hawker centers alike. Hawker centers are THE places to get the cheap local fare- each hawker center has dozens of stalls several rows deep, with tables sandwiched between.
The regulars know which dishes to get from which stalls, and which are reasonable alternatives when the best stall is closed. My first night, Keira and her father deftly navigated Old Airport Road for prawn mee, kueh pie tee and BBQ stingray. I’ve joined her and her husband Deron (another Chun lab friend, he’s the beer expert to Keira’s food knowledge, tho Singapore has limited options on that front) for fish head in garlic sauce and Singapore laksa from the Smith Street hawker center in Chinatown. Earlier that same day, Keira showed off the best chicken rice in town from the Maxwell hawker center (Bourdain actually DID eat there, and the shop flaunts it).
It’s been particularly nice to visit these with folks in the know- there’s so much you could miss, just by virtue of trying everything else!
In restaurants, it’s been a whole different set of delights. We’ve had dim sum: flaky pork buns, eggplant two ways (fried with pork floss on top, or stewed in delicious sauce), shrimp wontons, salted egg yolk buns (which I like very much despite the egg, the yolkiness was like butter), roast pork with a crispy outside layer.
We’ve had marvelous seafood, from garlic bamboo clams (long and thin, with a light brown color like a bamboo stalk) to whole goby cooked in a soy sauce with crispy fried scallions, to tofu with scallops, sea cucumber and more pork floss (think tiny shavings of pork jerky).
And crispy fish skin too! More food than I can tell you about here (Japanese hot pot! Fish ball dumplings! Buns with pork floss!), and I have enjoyed it all immensely.
I don’t know as I can have a favorite, but at most given moments (when I’m not consuming some other scrumptious morsel) it’s the soup dumplings I had my second day- Keira took me to the two best places in the city. At the first, we had a beautiful selection of flavors like crab roe, truffle and ginseng, each a different color.
You bite off the little twist on top and slurp out the broth, then pop the rest into your mouth to savor. How do they make these perfect mouthfuls? They have a team in the kitchen, mixing dough, shaping and weighing out the proper dough balls, flattening them into super thin disks, spreading them with a solidly condensed form of the desired broth and twisting them up- each must have 14 folds.
I will not be trying to make these at home. The second dumpling shop also had chili crab dumplings to offer, only available during certain times of year (lucky me!!). Also these shops are busy- we went at funny hours to avoid the crowd and there was still a 15-20min wait.
Tonight is my last meal in Singapore, and Keira and Deron have been saving one of the best things: Sri Lankan butter crabs! They really are going to have to roll me to Thailand- I’m not the least bit sorry!!