Courtney in Southeast Asia: Part 1 - Singapore Eats Review
Please tell me you’ve seen the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”. It’s a beautiful and hilarious movie that came out last year and was filmed in Singapore and Malaysia. So, when it came to planning our vacation destination to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, we knew it had to be someplace unique and one that we’d never been. Southeast Asia, here we come! This post is all about part one of our Southeast Asia vacation which started with Singapore.
Let’s start with the EATS
Hawker centers - A way of life in Southeast Asia and Singapore, these typically open-air spaces house a variety of food stalls. In America, think food court but much, much better because they consist of entrepreneurs, “mom & pop” owners with recipes that feel like they’ve been handed down from generations. I read that hawker centers were originally established to control the less than sanitary operations of street food vendors. Subsequently, I found the hawker centers to be overall cleanly and the stalls to offer delicious (even Michelin quality) food at low prices. Plus, I loved the community feel, from suit-wearing folks to tourists to families, all rolling up their sleeves and chowing down on the overwhelming quantity of good eats.
Tiong Bahru Market - this hawker center in the eclectic Tiong Bahru neighborhood was our first stop for eats upon arriving in Singapore. It caught my attention because of the wet market (produce vendors, etc.) on the first level and the hawker stalls on the second level. We were visiting during Lunar New Year so many stalls were closed on our first day. However, Tiong Bahru Market had a couple stalls open including Tong Kee Cooked Food (stall 24) and L21 Cafe Hot and Cold Beverages (stall 21). It’s recommended to have Sing cash on hand.
Tong Kee Cooked Food - we enjoyed the wanton noodle with pork char siu and soy chicken
L21 Cafe Hot and Cold Beverages - we enjoyed the barley water which was a surprisingly refreshing choice and paired well with the spicy food
Makansutra Gluttons Bay - in the Marina Bay, we spotted this hawker center as we were taking in the nightly fireworks put on by the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. It’s much smaller than other centers but very well-kept and in a popular location.
Syifa Satay - marinated and charcoal grilled skewered meats served with peanut dip, rice cakes, cucumber, and onion
Xing Fu Yum Cha - Chinese dim sum like steamed bbq pork buns, shrimp
Sweet Spot - Cendol, an icy sweet dessert with green rice flour jelly droplets.
Carrot cake - not what you think! It’s cubes of rice flour and white radish (sometimes called white carrot) that are steamed and fried with garlic, eggs, and preserved radish. I opted for adding prawns. The dish has a savory and spicy soy flavor that was satisfying.
Lau Pa Sat - located in the Financial District, the building alone is worth visiting with its octagonal shape and eye-catching, historical architecture. The food choices here were overwhelming and my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach.
Seng Kee Local Delights - Hokkien Mee, the Singaporean variety is stir fried egg and rice noodles with prawns in a light sauce. This was one of my favorite dishes and I enjoyed watching it being prepared in the giant wok.
Pig’s Organ Soup and Kway Chap - Braised Duck Rice
Chinatown - again, we visited during Lunar New Year so Chinatown was exploding with festive decor and looked quite beautiful, day and night. I always love exploring any city’s Chinatown because the streets are sure to be lively and the food sure to be inviting. There are four major food areas: Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Food Street, Chinatown Hawker Centre, and People’s Park Complex. We walked through all of them and ended up selecting whatever struck our taste buds at the People’s Park Complex. This way we were able to try several small bites to make our meal on that particular day and it was a great decision because you’ll be tempted the entire time. Some items we chose: scallion pancake, Chinese sauce pancake, sour cabbage and pork steamed buns, and Super Dream purple rice yogurt drink.
My Awesome Cafe - on Telok Ayer Street which is a Chinatown precinct with a lot of history. I can’t say enough good things about this vintage cafe. From it’s funky tables and counters made out of pipes to the creative lighting and atmosphere from rehabbing a historical building to food choices that are thoughtful and health-oriented.
My Awesome Salad
Kaya French Toast
My Awesome Breakfast
Liho Tea - CHEESE TEA. We came across Liho while taking a shortcut through the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands on our way to the Gardens by the Bay. It stood out because of the long queue (line) and bright signage advertising fresh Korean strawberries being flown in weekly. But, what ultimately surprised and delighted us was the cheese tea. We opted for the avocado smoothie topped with the fluffy cheese goodness as well as the advertised strawberry tea. The name cheese tea can be misleading because, for example, with the avocado smoothie there was no tea. Basically, you could order the cheese topping (cream cheese, whipping cream, salt are the basic ingredients) on a variety of beverages. The sweet + salty contrast is addicting.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast - This gem started as a Singapore coffee stall in 1944. One of the most popular places specializing in the unique dish of Kaya toast with now numerous locations in Singapore and Asia. Being the classic Singaporean breakfast and a breakfast lover myself, this was one of the dishes I was most looking forward to trying. It didn’t disappoint! I opted for the Kaya butter toast value set which came with toast sandwiching butter and the sweet kaya jam (made out of eggs, coconut milk, sugar, pandan leaves), along with two soft boiled eggs and a hot cup of coffee (Kopi).
I noticed most patrons drizzling their eggs with soy sauce and dipping the sandwich pieces into the eggs - being committed to the experience, this is what I did and now my cravings for Kaya toast will live on. The contrast of flavors and textures was highly enjoyable. *Pro tip: almost all Ya Kun locations we came across were crowded but the line moved fast. We dined with another family because tables were scarce but, unlike the U.S., no one needed elaborate space. We were there for one thing and one thing only - the Kaya toast experience.
*Also pictured below is Killiney Kopitiam, another popular spot for Kaya toast. I absolutely had to do a comparison. The butter and Kaya jam was more prominent which I didn’t necessarily like better. However, Killiney’s coffee was more enjoyable.
Fun fact: Kopi tiam’s are coffee shops in Singapore and Malaysia. There is a certain way to order coffee (Kopi in Malay) by using certain terms from different languages. So, I would order “Kopi Si/C” or coffee with evaporated milk.
Din Tai Fung - Chinese food at its best. Great quality, value, and atmosphere! Now, I know there are American locations but I found the Singapore locations to stand out maybe because the menu had the regional chili crab in steamed bun form. WOW. Everything listed below was amazing and memorable.
Steamed Pork Dumplings
Oriental Salad in Special Vinegar Dressing
Steamed Chili Crab and Pork Bun
Sticky Rice Stuffed Dates (served warm)
Pork and Cabbage Noodles
The Fabulous Baker Boy - at the base of Fort Canning, we were told about this cafe bakery from our in-law’s parents who live in Singapore part of the year.
Chef’s Salad - the crispy thin sweet potato chips and sprouts really made this salad special.
Almond Encrusted Salmon with Mango Hollandaise - this was tasty, the mango sauce really put it over the top.
“Takeshi San” cake - black sesame and Madagascar vanilla sponge filled with black sesame buttercream and topped Madagascar vanilla buttercream - delicious and impressive looking! The bakery had over 15 cake varieties when we visited so it was a tough decision.
Limaa - a healthy and clean eating (also Halal) cafe with sandwiches, smoothies, salads, and more. Located in the hipster Kampong Glam neighborhood on Haji Lane. This narrow, pedestrian only street is lined with funky shops, bars, and cafes. It stands out because of it’s colorfulness and “Instagram worthy” buildings, it was fun to explore to the street and dine al fresco at Limaa to people watch.
Chicken Rendang Sandwich - slow cooked chicken in spices and coconut milk. However, the owner told me they don’t use coconut milk in their version to keep things lighter. I couldn’t tell as the chicken was so deeply flavored and seemed decadent.
Mint Smoothie - refreshing smoothie combined with some tropical fruit, lots of fresh mint, and honey.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Singapore Sights!
I hope you get to travel near, far, and often!