A delicate discussion on the edibility of foodtsewei | November 9, 2008
We both love food. When we both head out for a meal, we eat a lot. Everyone’s always horrified that such a small person like me can eat so much all day long. I’m like lil’ gojira, chomping on food all the way.
That being the case, living in Singapore thus becomes sort of a daily struggle when it comes to food. I never know what to eat even after living here for 7 years. Not because there’s “so much great food” like all the lying coniving TV food shows always say, but that there isn’t anything nice to eat here!
I’m serious. For us, food here has only two classification: Edible & Not Edible. And this problem exists perhaps only for people like us who grew up eating food Malaysian style – oily, more flavours, less starchy, and less sweet. Which is entirely not the style here in Singapore.
You see, the problem is, Singapore and Malaysia share similar cuisine in that you can find wan tan mee, curry mee and char kuey teow in both countries, but they taste totally different! Which brings us to a childhood memory of mine.
When I was 6, all I ate everyday was wan tan mee. I never ate anything else when we’re out at hawker places. So when I came to Singapore on a trip, naturally I asked for wan tan mee when my dad brought us out to eat. Usually, I’d devour the noodles and polish the plate even of all its sauce. But when I tasted my Singapore wan tan mee, I couldn’t eat. To my 6-year-old mind, it looked like wan tan mee, but it did not taste like wan tan mee! There was tomato sauce in it and it was sweet! *horrors* So I broke my record finally, and did not finish my wan tan mee for the very first time.
Coincidentally, Au Yong had a similar experience as a kid with the same wan tan mee. Now every time we return to KL, we’d head straight for the following things:
- wan tan mee (no tomato or chilli pls)
- char kuey teow (dry and fried with lots of egg, not dripping wet with sweet black sauce)
- hokkien mee (KL style, not the limp yellowy-white ones)
- Bak kut teh (thick soup cooked with herbs, not pepper soup)
- Curry mee (with a cube of pig’s blood)
- Penang prawn mee (the spicy sort, not the clear soup ones)
- roti canai
So on our last last trip in Aug, we had a pork fest. We usually have bak kut teh at this shop that’s situated in the middle of nowhere between 2 storage warehouses off the highway near Subang Village. It’s super cheap and really delicious. With bak kut teh in Singapore, you get a soup that’s peppery and light. While it’s okay, it’s not really what I want when I eat bak kut teh. Bak kut teh is meant to be oily, unhealthy and flavourful! Pepper soup is something I can make on my own. The thick herbal soup? That’s something only the best bak kut teh shops know how to cook up, so that when you first walk in to the shop, you can smell it and you’re already drooling for it.
Also, you haven’t tasted pork heaven until you’ve been to this place – Elcerdo, at Changkat Bukit Bintang in KL. Promising “nose to tail” dining, this little restaurant serves nothing but pork. There’s even real bacon bits in your potato or vegetable salad. It’s a little costly, but both the food and service is fantastic. They even gave us ladies little stools to put our handbags so that we can sit comfortably and enjoy our food!
For the main course, we shared a bacon-wrapped pork knuckle, stuffed with herbs and served with watercress. Needless to say, we really pigged out at that dinner!
The real McCoy
Besides going to mamaks for a nice supper of teh special and roti canai, we sometimes head out to a coffee shop near Jln 222 for hokkien mee. The KL style hokkien mee is basically thick fried noodles in salty black sauce and tons of pork lard. Every night, this coffee shop is filled with patrons, and nobody orders anything else except hokkien mee. Again, the pork lard probably isn’t the healthiest, but it’s what makes it taste sooo yummy and you only live once.
People who haven’t smelt or eaten it might say it doesn’t look nice, but seriously, this is hawker food, and hawker food is the kind of thing where you gotta be able to smell it and eat it. Aesthetics is secondary because you’re paying the fella only a few bucks for a delicious plate of food.
Wan ton, two ton?
Of course, my perenial favourite wan tan mee is a must have on my trips back to KL. The thing with KL hawker food is, it doesn’t matter where or which coffee shop you’re at. Just pick anything, and chances are it’ll taste good. Not great, but definitely way beyond merely the Edible classification that I give to most hawker food in SG.
On that trip back, we also drove to Ipoh to visit Au Yong’s grandparents. And there, I had the cheapest wan tan mee ever for only RM2.40! Heck, even in KL it’s almost double of that price. The cost of living in that town is insanely cheap!
Ipoh is also famous for its Ipoh Hor Funn, which you can also find anywhere else in M’sia but Ipoh’s version tastes the best. And to my horror, stalls selling “Ipoh” hor fun in Singapore, serve it “dry” with starchy black sauce. omg. Ipoh hor fun is supposed to be in a light flavourful clear soup, not thick sweet and starchy black sauce. If it has to be eaten that way, then just call it ’something-else’ hor fun, not Ipoh hor fun. X_X The stalls would also have the soup option, but clearly it isn’t a popular option as most people order the starchy black sauce, and with valid reason — the soup option is served clear, with no flavours except pepper!
Anyway yes, this blog post is the culmination of my seven years of eating local food in Singapore. X_X
Of course, I gotta give credit where it’s due. When it comes to international cuisine and fine dining, Singapore is a great place for it. CafÃ© Le Caire @Al-Majlis at Arab Street offers good Middle Eastern fare (mmmm lamb) at a decent price, while Sage at Mohd Sultan Rd serves up the most delicate french-inspired cuisine in a non-pretentious setting. And I have come across a great place serving good hawker style food – the yong tau fu shop at the end of Amoy Street. I used to go there every week, because it tastes almost like home.
p/s: I’ve also uploaded some shots of that August food trip: Go to Gallery, and click on Fooding in KL to view.