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Eight Great Places to Taste the “Real” Singapore

08.04.09
Many of us Singaporeans avoid the tourist-filled Newton Hawker Center. We don’t often wrestle with the ubiquitous chile crabs either. Why should we, when there’s a melting pot of rustic flavors waiting to be explored elsewhere on the island?
singapore

1. Good Old Frog Porridge

At this spare, concrete-floored restaurant, you choose the way you want your frog done—in pungent rice wine, swimming in curry, or, most popularly, in a dark soy sauce brew with heaps of ginger and spring onions (blistering dried chiles are optional)—then wash it down with smooth clay-pot porridge. A side order of blanched choy sum topped with fried shallots is all you need to make the meal complete. 249 Outram Road (65-6536-9515)

2. Ng Ah Sio

Just four months after the 2007 military coup, the ex-Prime Minister of Thailand allegedly made a lunch stop at this nondescript shop during his short stint in Singapore. The draw? The highly addictive ba kut teh, pork rib broth flecked with crushed garlic and pepper. It’s served with hunks of pork ribs and a bowl of piping hot rice, plus a choice of side dishes, such as deep-fried dough fritters and stir-fried lettuces. 208 Rangoon Road (65-6291-4537)

3. Guan Hoe Soon

This no-frills restaurant on the eastern fringe of Singapore has been churning out intensely flavored Peranakan fare since 1953. Choosing favorites here is impossible, but you won’t want to miss the ayam buah keluak (a rich, highly spiced stew of chicken and Indonesian black nuts) or the beef rendang (plump, tender cubes of meat slow-cooked with coconut milk and spices). If you go on a Saturday, you can try the babi panggang—you won’t find anyone else in Singapore serving this dish of barbecued pork with pickles and a sweet and sour sauce; it takes four hours to grill. 214 Joo Chiat Road (65-6344-2761; guanhoesoon.com)

4. Sik Wai Sin Eating House

For four decades, crowds have been drawn to this dilapidated shophouse in the bustling Geylang red light district for heart-warming Cantonese food. It’s the grand dame of the restaurants known as zhi char, where home-style dishes are wok-cooked to order. Everyone comes for the same thing: steamed song fish head drenched in bean paste and garnished with pork lard and spring onions. The steamed minced pork with pungent salted fish and the satiny-soft fried tofu tossed with prawns are excellent, too. 287 Geylang Road (65-6744-0129)

5. China Whampoa Homemade Noodle

Said to have originated from Fujian in China, ban mian noodles are kneaded, then stretched and cut by hand into irregular-sized flat sheets before being quickly cooked in a robust broth perfumed with ikan bilis (fried anchovies). One of Singapore’s best versions can be found in a cramped hawker stall at the Whampoa Market. Served with balls of minced pork, crunchy bits of ikan bilis, heaps of vegetables, two tiger prawns, and a small dish of tongue-searing chiles on the side, these noodles are ambrosia. Blk 91 Whampoa Drive, #01-24 (65-9625 6692).

6. Union Farm Eating House

Within the bucolic confines of this farm-like compound, you dine al fresco in a kampong house supported by stilts, with free-roaming chicks and hens clucking down below. The sparsely decorated restaurant saves the bells and whistles for its “paper chicken”—ginger and soy sauce–steeped chicken wrapped in parchment paper and deep-fried. Moist and succulent, it is best eaten with a plate of sesame oil¬–scented noodles, in between sips of hot Chinese tea. 435A Clementi Road (65-6466-2776)

7. Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle

Tucked away in the Cambridge Food Center, this tiny hawker stall may have become infamous for its bad-tempered owner, but people keep coming back for the bewitching hei mee (prawn noodle soup). The secret lies in the strands of noodles that are cooked al dente and served in an unctuous prawn shell–infused broth with shrimp, bean sprouts, and crisp bits of deep-fried pork lard. A few tacit rules: Do not order until you are asked, and make sure you get a table within serving distance of the stall. Blk 41A Cambridge Road, #01-15 (65-9688-3633)

8. Joo Hing

This 16-year-old zhi char eatery in the Joo Chiat precinct occupies two adjoining units, one marked by peeling paint, the other adorned by Chinese calligraphy. It doesn’t matter which one you choose because both are served by the same kitchen, which sends out sterling examples of Canto-Teochew cuisine. Homey favorites include fried pork in a thick sweet and sour sauce and claypot bean curd with shrimp and cabbage, but the well-executed seafood delicacies are not to be missed: steamed red tilapia topped with pungent fermented bean paste, pork lard, and spring onions, as well as the juicy steamed baby squid bathed in a savory cocktail of plum sauce, oyster sauce, and crushed garlic, and topped by mounds of ginger. 360 Joo Chiat Road (65-6345-1503)

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