Debunking Tourist Traps In Singapore: Will The Real Chicken Rice Please Stand Up?
Visiting Singapore for the first time? Obviously, we have our opinions. Firstly, save up some serious moolah for the trip, even if you’re bunking over at your bestie’s apartment. Secondly, apart from pursuing ‘The Hangover’ experience, maybe it’s best to do it after you fill your belly. I mean this is Singapore after all—and eating is our national pastime. In fact, Singaporeans feel a very strong sense of patriotism towards their favourite hawkers. Don’t believe me, make a suggestion for the best chicken rice and watch as your host allows you to soak momentarily in that self-congratulatory gloat before donning a patronising smile as he or she steers you towards their choice—the better choice, obviously.
Before you counter with “the Malaysian version”, know that we do subscribe to the ‘authentic’ penal code. Singapore is a melting pot where immigrant families have had their fair share of impact on the culinary landscape, teaming together to form hybrid innovative dishes. So we’ve come up with a list of quintessential dishes, but with our recommendations that maybe even better than Google’s top search options. Let’s get down and dirty.
1. Chicken Rice
Google says: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Our recommendation: Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice (Block 40, Stall 7, #01-39, Holland Drive, Singapore 270040)
Made popular by bad boy TV personality and author, Anthony Bourdain, Tian Tian Chicken Rice sees its fair share of lines at the already filled to the rafters Maxwell Food Centre. After receiving Bib Gourmand recognition by the Michelin guide in 2018, the popular chicken rice has taken flight across international waters to Hong Kong where diners clamour after the ubiquitous Singaporean delicacy. No doubt authentic by any means, we would steer you in the direction of Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice in Holland Drive instead, where the lines are a little less intimidating and second-generation owner, Benson Leong’s amicable smiles help to soften the wait. Here, chicken is poached in a flavourful stock using chicken bones, resulting in a glistening gelatinous skin and succulent flesh. The ginger dipping sauce is a bona fide Cantonese consideration and one you should relish in.
2. Nasi Lemak
Google says: Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak
Our recommendation: The Coconut Club (6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787)
Cloaking the hawker centre in a veil of coconut aromas and the magnificent sounds of chicken wings hitting the sizzling hot oil, a visit to Adam Food Centre can be particularly aggressive on the senses. You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy great nasi lemak, but you do need to have plenty of patience. Waiting time can be anything from 15 minutes to a full hour during lunch. If not up for that, the plusher version: The Coconut Club should be on your radar. Straight away, you’ll notice the upgrade in ambience; air-conditioned surroundings, hipster weathered brick walls and robin blue melamine plates framing neat servings of lemak rice and sides. Priced at $12.80 a serving, the restaurant justifies its value by using Old Crop Thai Jasmine Rice and coconuts sourced from a single plantation in Sabak Bernama that are squeezed in house. They also have an extremely good chendol if your cholesterol levels allow.
3. Kaya Toast
Google says: Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Our recommendation: Tong Ah Eating house (35 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089142)
Off the Beaten Track: Heap Seng Leong (Blk 10 North Bridge Road, #01-5109, Singapore 190010)
A classic breakfast staple is the Kaya Toast, served alongside cups of sock coffee runneth over and two soft boiled eggs. With over 60 outlets dotting our island, it’s easy to reminisce the bygone era of coffee shops of the sixties in Ya Kun Kaya Toast. However, if you’re on the lookout for something more immersive and authentic, we would strongly suggest trekking to either Tong Ah Eating House or Heap Seng Leong to experience the valour of early Hainanese coffee shop proprietors in idyllic kopi joints that have played a pivotal role in weaving together the cosmopolitan society of mixed races in Singapore. Have a seat on rickety chairs at marbled table tops, order a kopi gu you (coffee with butter), and experience time standing still.
4. Roti Prata
Google says: Springleaf Prata Place
Our recommendation: Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s super crispy roti prata (7 Crane Road, Singapore 429356)
Fit for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drunkard suppers and pretty much any time of the day, roti prata is a dish that can be eaten in a variety of ways. And nobody panders to the fickle mindedness of consumers as successfully as Springleaf Prata Place—a joint best recognised for their famous Murtaburger and pioneering #eggporn on their Plaster Blaster (Prata disguised as a regular Eggs Benedict—it works). But for the true foodies, there’s Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata stall tucked away in the clutter of the Joo Chiat precinct. It’s not a casual spot you stumble into. It’s a pretty well-guarded secret, mine you. Fresh prata are snapped up faster than you can say Jack Robinson on weekday mornings, so be prepared not to snooze that alarm.
5. Bak Kut Teh
Google says: Song Fa Bak Kut Teh
Our recommendation: Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh (Blk 26 Sin Ming Lane, #01-114, Midview City, Singapore 573971)
A dish that rewards hard labour, Bak Kut Teh was introduced in the early 1900s by enterprising Chinese who saw the opportunity to use cheap cuts in combination with nutritious broths powered by medicinal herbs. Ask any food-driven tourist in Singapore and bak kut teh will be on the tip of their tongues and more likely than not, Song Fa Bak Kut Teh or Legendary Bak Kut Teh will be on their agenda. Yeah, they are both good, but you’ve not given the defining local dish a fair chance if you’ve not visited Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh. Owned by one of the pioneers of this traditional dish back in the mid-70s, the business continues to thrive in the suburbs of Bishan. Prepare for nirvana as you slurp on piping hot bowls of peppery Teochew-style bak kut teh, crowned by massive dragon ribs.
Stay tuned for part 2: a similar food hunt across the island with recommendations by self-proclaimed foodies and chefs. Only the best in the business.