Sunday, 15 August 2010

Singapore Part 2 - Cheap Eats

I love Singapore's hawker centres. There's something great about checking out the different stalls and buying a snack or two, as you decide what to eat next. One of the most famous hawker centres in the island state is Lau Pa Sat, which means 'old market' in the local vernacular.

Mixed satay
Lau Pa Sat satay stalls
You come here for one dish above all others, the satay. You know when you're getting close to Lau Pa Sat when you can see the plumes of smoke coming from the outdoor grills. First up bag a seat outside and watch the satay being grilled but try to not to get too close to the smoky grill.

We ordered a combo of chicken, beef, and mutton satay. I thought it was all good although some thought that the honey baste was too sweet. I didn't mind so much as the accompanying zingy sauce counterbalanced the sweetness.

BBQ stingray w/chilli sauce
fried bee hoon
We also ordered bbq stingray w/chilli sauce and a dish of fried bee hoon (rice vermicelli). I really liked the chiili sauce that came with fish; so much so, I stirred it into the vermicelli. My hosts were truly mortified when I told them that in the UK, curry powder is added to fried bee hoon to make 'Singapore noodles'.

We then went inside this fine Victorian building for more food. To be honest, other than the satay, I don't think the stalls at Lau Pa Sat are the best in Singapore. I had trouble finding a decent laksa stall so I played it safe and went with an old fave, a bowl of shrimp dumpling soup noodle (sui gow mein) – a mere S$3.50 for a giant bowl including six plump dumplings.

Bak kut teh is another iconic dish found in Singapore and the name literally translates as 'meat bone tea'. Originally introduced to the region by Hokkien Chinese, there are many different versions of this pork rib broth found across Malaysia and Singapore. I'd previously tried the darker medicinal version but this was the first time that I'd sampled this lighter peppery variant.

bak kut teh
We sampled the bak kut teh at Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha located on the ground floor of the PSA Tanjong Pagar complex on Keppel Rd. This was like a hawker centre stall-restaurant hybrid in that it had its own seating – we even reserved a table – but the ambience was very much like a hawker centre.

you tiao (fried dough stick)
I adored the bak kut teh, as the fatty meat fell away from the bone full of the flavour of the 'tea' (you can order lean rib but really what's the point in that?). This peppery version was quite different from the medicinal version I'd previously tried but enjoyable nonetheless. Some of the guys thought that it was too peppery but I didn't mind. I also liked dipping the you tiao (fried dough stick) into the 'tea'.

Whilst the bak kut teh may look like a meagre portion, there are unlimited top-up's of the 'tea' throughout the meal. We also shared loads of different dishes in addition to our individual bowls of bak kut teh and rice.

fish slices in broth
liver & kidney in broth
My favourites included separate bowls of fish slices, liver & kidney, and watercress – all served in broth. Oh and I managed to sneak in a crafty bowl of mee sua noodles! This rustic home-style food was a great counterbalance to some of the richer fare I'd eaten during the course of this trip.

The bak kut teh was my last lunch in Singapore and during the afternoon in the office, my thoughts started to drift to what to have for dinner. Although like many a Friday night, my plans for dinner were interrupted by an excursion to the pub. For a change I was vaguely sensible, as I still had to get to the airport that night. I stopped drinking, said my goodbyes and took a cab to the Maxwell Rd food centre.

I'd already had some nibbles at the pub so I didn't have room for a big meal. I went for an old favourite, chicken murtabak at a stall I vaguely remember visiting a couple of years ago, Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food. To the uninitiated, murtabak is a roti filled with meat (usually mutton or chicken), onion, and egg that's served with curry sauce.

This dish was introduced to Singapore by Tamil Muslims and you can't really get it in the UK, so I was glad that I managed to squeeze it in before I left. It was as good as I remembered, the flaky filled roti combining really well with the curry sauce. It was just what I needed before picking up my bags at the hotel. Now that I come to think of it, my last meal in Singapore was a curry after a few beers on a Friday night! Some things are universal.

As I left for home, I realised that there were so many other dishes I hadn't got round to sampling on this visit. In particular, nasi lemak, prawn noodle, laksa, and fish head curry. Next time, I hope there'll be a next time.


  1. Oh man...I wanna fly back to Singapore right now! I missed this place, I didn't get the chance to go because I was too busy eating my way through other hawker centers. You certainly ate your way through all the ethnicities in Singapore!

  2. Murtabak was available at the specialist murtabak stall at the late lamented Oriental City in Colindale. I understand that the stallholder has resurfaced at the new-ish Pacific Plaza food court at Wembley City, as part of the Malaysian food stall, so it may be worth your while to investigate this with your foodie friends at some time in the future (and the other offerings, naturally!), although I doubt if the quality would match the standards set by the places you visited in Singapore and Malaysia. Very happy to read this review (and your previous) of food in Singapore, where I lived the first 18 years of my life!

  3. This certainly has brought back memories of my days in Singapore. I used to lived a block away from Newton Circus and these are the dishes I ate almost everyday.

  4. sophia - welcome! There are so many hawker centres in Singapore, I wouldn't worry about missing out. If anything I was disappointed that I didn't get further out to try some of the less touristy ones. To be honest, this post isn't entirely representative as I didn't eat enough Malay or Indian compared to Chinese.

    Londonchinese - thanks! I need to check out Pacific Plaza and it''d great if there was murtabak. The only place I've had it in London was at Kiasu and frankly it was rubbish, think Greggs pasty and you wouldn't be far off.

    3HT - thanks! Newton Circus was on my list but it wasn't that convenient for me to get to.

  5. *love* bee hoon. Your Singapore posts led me to drop by Sedap the other night for laksa, char kway teow and roti canai. They were good, but at 6-8 quid a plate, the food's prices (low by London standards) would make anyone in Singapore cringe!

  6. If you're up for a trip to Pacific Plaza, I'd definitely be up for it! There's a Malaysian place and I think they offer murtabak but it's not like the old Roti Stall at OC, as Londonchinese says. At OC, it used to look like this:

  7. Last time I was in Singapore, I was staying right by Maxwells for a month or so. I really like the carrot cake there. Wish I'd tried the murtabak though! At least now I know I can potentially get some at Pacific Plaza - a trip is most definitely on the cards!

  8. A-in-L - still not been to Sedap, even though it's close to my work. I think I'll lay off the Straits stuff for a while, as the meories of my trip are still alive.

    Su-Lin - Pacific Plaza is on my list although I think I'll leave it 'til September after my memories of Singapore/Malaysia have faded.

    Sharmila - Maxwell Rd is good and I love stall-hopping there. The problem is you can get fixated on certain stalls thus negelecting other potential gems.

  9. That's that thing about hawker centres isn't it? There are so many stalls and you can only have these many meals. Inevitably, you'll end up frequenting a couple and that's it. A pity really.

    Thanks for the pictures. Perhaps I would order a delivery from Sedap for dinner tomorrow. Mmm.

  10. LChow - I hope the pictures aren't making you too homesick! I guess the best way to tackle a hawker centre is to get a group together and share some goodies. It's such a shame that hawker centres or at the very least decent food courts aren't that prevalent in the UK. With that in mind, I must check out Pacific Plaza.