Singapore: Eating her curries and kway - Lucid Remark


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Singapore: Eating her curries and kway

Here’s a guide to the food heritage of the Lion City

Singapore: Eating her curries and kway:- A 2016 survey by Singapore’s Department of Statistics lists 7,679 establishments — 2712 restaurants, 477 fast food outlets, 450 caterers and 4041 ‘others’ — that make up the food and beverage services industry in the island nation. It’s hard, therefore, for visitors and residents to go hungry here for long.

Food discovery tours have made eating out a part of the tourism industry, as the nation hosts restaurants from all parts of the globe.

Eating centres

Hawker centres are a hallmark of eating out in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. These open-air food halls with shared seating offer a more sanitised option to alfresco dining and mobile street food shops.

In the Wok ‘n’ Stroll Hawker Discovery tour that we undertake at the Tekka Market in Little India, we are introduced to familiar friends — masala dosa, idli-sambar and samosas.

Guide Abdul Rahim takes our group of five on a laid-back exploration of this residential-cum-shopping complex of Little India, peppering his talk with nuggets of food history, stopping only to connect the dots in the world’s spice trade.

The ginger in the Teh Tarik (a frothy ‘pulled’ tea made with condensed or evaporated milk and served in mini glass tankards) helps us digest the yummy samples we are served.

Located in what was once an area of cattle slaughterhouses, the modernised Tekka Market opened for business on Buffalo Road in 2009.

But it still remains a melting pot of cultures and cuisines — Chinese shopkeepers are fluent speakers of Tamil in this little enclave of Indian-origin business establishments, says Rahim.

The market has a host of hawker stalls selling delicacies like biryani and ‘prata’ — the Southeast Asian version of our maida parotta — and also snacks like wheat flour crepe rolls with fillings of peanut butter, Nutella and jam.

Treading carefully through the wet markets inside Tekka, one can see fish and meat stalls getting their stock ready for the day, while a distinctly pungent corner announces the presence of dried seafood stores, much before you see them.

In another corner, machines make quick work of coconuts — grating, grinding and even extracting milk from the pulp as required by customers.

Some of the less odorous cousins of the durian are on sale at the fruit market, besides fresh produce from all over the world, and ethnic stores that specialise in ingredients like fried tofu skin and handmade egg noodles.

“Look out for the certification before you decide to eat at a restaurant,” says Rahim, as we trek down towards Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India. “An ‘A’ is excellent… ‘C’… maybe not so much,” he chuckles. The certification by Government authorities is a way to ensure that smaller eateries maintain hygiene standards.

The next day, there’s more history to come, at Lau Pa Sat centre on Raffles Quay. The 24-hour hawker food centre is buzzing when we drop in close to midnight, looking for nourishment after a hard day of trekking through museums. The intricately-filigreed wrought iron frames of the arched building were cast in Glasgow, Scotland, and shipped to be assembled in Singapore, when the market was relocated from its original waterfront site in 1894, by the country’s Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie.

Hainanese Chicken Rice, nicknamed Singapore’s national dish, is flying off the counters at a restaurant, as famished visitors queue up.

The combination of steamed chicken and sticky rice cooked in broth, that is eaten with sides of clear soup, chilli and soy sauce, is delicately spiced.

Plates are colour-coded according to diets: white for non-Halal and green for Halal, and washed in separate facilities for the Lau Pa Sat’s eateries.

Right behind the food hall is the ‘Satay Street’, a night-time eating spot that opens for business when both ends of the Boon Tat Street are blocked off and vendors set up tables and barbecues selling marinated meats on bamboo skewers.

Peranakan treats

As our trip draws to a close, there’s still time to squeeze in some ethnic cuisine before we leave. At Joo Chiat Place, Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese immigrant) culture comes alive through its quaint little stores and heritage shop houses painted in candy colours.

The Guan Hoe Soon restaurant has been serving Peranakan dishes since 1953, and is considered to be the oldest such place in Singapore. We order beef rendang for lunch. The dry curry is cooked to perfection, the spice paste and coconut milk-infused meat falling off the bone.

Ayam (chicken) curry and stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts bring to mind, traditional preparations of Chettinad cuisine. Sambal terung (eggplant sautéed with spices), is a crunchy surprise, and a homely treat when eaten with steamed rice.

We wash it down with barley water, and for dessert, order a chendol made with coconut milk, rice flour jelly, shaved ice, palm sugar syrup and red beans. It’s a combination of unlikely ingredients that, quite like Singapore, leaves a lasting impression.

The writer was in Singapore on the invitation of Singapore Tourism Board.


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