Debunking Tourist Traps In Singapore Part II: Industry Picks
In the second part of unshrouding hawker myths, we speak to local chefs and foodies on their favourite haunts. We’re not blatantly saying that these are the best in the land (because taste is subjective), but for those of you wouldn’t mind trekking across Singapore to try something new, this list may serve as inspiration for dinner tonight.
1. Wanton Mee
Google says: Eng’s Wantan Noodle
Chef Jason Tan’s recommendation: Koung’s Wanton Noodles (205 Sims Ave, Singapore 387506)
An Asian favourite, wanton mee has Cantonese origins but owing to nomadic cuisine, the dish has been recreated in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia with each country’s own interpretation. Still, it remains a prized hawker staple for its blessed simplicity of lard tossed noodles. One that has a loyal following; a telltale sign being the daunting long queues one faces any time of day, is Eng’s Wantan Noodle located Tanjong Katong. There is an abundance of fried pork lard cubes at the table and a grim bottle of hot and spicy chili sauce to add to the pageantry of the lardaceous affair. It’s good but we do prefer Koung’s Wanton Noodles in Geylang. It’s like tasting a bit of history and rightfully so since Koung’s is one of the oldest existing wanton noodles in Singapore. The bowlful throbs with life from a healthy inclusion of lard. The accompanying soup brimming with swashes of ikan bilis and pork bones simmered for hours on end that is piqued with a white pepper edge does not play second fiddle.
2. Duck Rice
Google says: Ah Seng Braised Duck Rice
Ian Low @thesilverchef’s recommendation: Cai Ji Boneless Duck Rice Porridge (Seah Im Food Centre)
First things first, duck rice falls into two distinct camps here in Singapore: the Hokkien style which is heavily sauced and served with yam rice and secondly, the Teochew style which carries a significantly lighter footprint in its braising liquid. Ah Seng Braised Duck Rice falls into the Teochew league and is well appreciated for its tender and ridiculously juicy duck meat doused in robust blackish gravy. Also on the same side of the fence is Cai Ji Boneless Duck Rice Porridge. The ‘lor’ or braising liquid permeates the duck meat like a warm hug. The add-on options are requisite, especially the pig’s skin for swine lovers.
3. Chilli Crab
Google says: Jumbo Seafood (East Coast Park)
Chef Han Li Guang’s recommendation: Eng Seng First Grade Seafood restaurant (247 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427935)
Honoured as one of Singapore’s unofficial national dish, the chilli crab is definitely on every tourist’s list. It’s not hard to understand why Jumbo seafood’s chilli crab—plump crab basking in a pool of tangy tomato-based sambal gravy laced with egg—is so immensely popular. Its stellar location is also paramount to its popularity. Occupying a sprawling complex along East Coast Park, diners are instantly lured to the idea of a seafood feast with the smells of ocean spray aloft. To experience more local vibes, make a beeline for Eng Seng Restaurant. The star of the show might be their black pepper crab but the restaurant does dish out a dizzying array of seafood dishes including the notorious chilli crab. No experienced diner would rock up to Eng Seng without calling first to check on the availability of crabs that night. For first-time goers, do expect snaking queues on the weekend and pro-tip: commit your order to heart before you reach the front of the line, the lady boss can be rather curt if you’re taking too long to verbalise your order.
Google says: 328 Katong Laksa
Our recommendation: Janggut Laksa (50 East Coast Road, Roxy Square #01-64, Singapore 428769)
The soul of Peranakan cuisine, laksa is a dish that seamlessly combines coconut milk and curry with noodles to create a piquant effect. As a result, it is the perfect antidote for rainy days in Singapore, or any other day for that matter. 328 Katong Laksa is definitely one that has been over-commercialised, but it is still good stuff with the coconut curry broth hitting all the right notes. For a more authentic taste of Janggut Laksa, the oldest version of Marina Parade laksa touted by Mr Ng Juat Swee (better known as Janggut) from a tricycle back in the 40s, we would suggest snagging a seat at The Original Katong Laksa. The concise menu offers one dish, which means you won’t need to utter a single word to place your order. The soup is equal parts creamy and spicy, tinged red and mixed with sambal chilli. Slurp it up and stain that white shirt (which you regret wearing) with some real Katong laksa gravy, and wear it like a badge of honour.
5. Carrot Cake
Crazy Rich Asians says: Heng Carrot Cake
Derrick Tan @sgfoodonfoot’s recommendation: He Zhong Carrot Cake (Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre)
After Crazy Rich Asians, Heng Carrot Cake in Newton Food Centre has seen a marked increase in patronage. Cold tiger beer, sticks of satay and turnip cake smothered in a black sauce egg mixture is the basic recipe for good times in this hawker institution and definitely one that is played up by Rachel Chu in the film. The stall doles out both the black and white version along with an equally fetching oyster omelette. The ‘homemade’ carrot cake is the point of difference, providing a more supple bite than those made by the suppliers. A little more to the west of the island lies He Zhong Carrot Cake. Here, the white carrot cake stalwart also subscribes to the homemade turnip cake which they fastidiously steam in-house. This lends a much firmer bite to their end product which is held together by a hearty amount of egg mixture layered with chai poh and garlic.
[Related: Debunking Tourist Traps In Singapore: Will The Real Chicken Rice Please Stand Up?]