Anyway, enough of the architecture and history lesson; this is, after all, a food blog! The reason for visiting Tiong Bahru was to check out Sin Hoi Sai (新海山). In local parlance, this is a zi char joint (煮炒), one step up from a hawker centre but still quite casual. To use an Italian analogy, think trattoria rather than full-blown ristorante.
The food at Sin Hoi Sai is a bit like Singapore itself: a fusion of traditional and modern influences. Dishes like cereal prawns (麦片虾) where deep-fried prawns are tossed in an amazing salty-sweet-spicy mix of oatmeal, butter, curry leaves and chilli. This is a true Singapore original, with the key ingredient being a breakfast cereal called Nestum (thanks to Goz for the knowledge). Sadly, I don't think Nestum is sold in the UK, which probably rules out ever seeing cereal prawns on these shores. This is a shame, as they're SO damn good.
Another Singapore classic is deep-fried prawn paste chicken (har cheong gai 虾酱鸡). Sod Colonel Sanders and his mix of herbs and spices, these have nothing on the pungent prawn paste (har cheong 虾酱) in which the chicken is marinated in before it's deep-fried. Moreish doesn't even begin to describe the super savoury-umami attack on the senses unleashed by this dish.
Although Singapore's ethnic Chinese have gone down their own culinary path, there are still plenty of southern Chinese classics such as steamed egg (水蒸蛋) to be found on the menus of zi char joints like Sin Hoi Sai. We ordered a deluxe version that was made with bits of century egg and salted duck egg. It was good, with the savoury egg custard being properly silky, smooth and wobbly, but I couldn't help but feel the salted duck egg element was a bit muted.
While zi char, in general, is seen as a good value casual dining option, that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. And as Sin Hoi Sai's calling card is its seafood, we went for steamed fish with coriander as the centrepiece of dinner. I can't remember what the fish was, but it was perfectly cooked. With some greens, rice, drinks, freebie dessert and, most importantly, great company, it was a cracking meal. So thanks again to Eunice for suggesting Sin Hoi Sai!
Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant, Block 55 Tiong Bahru Road #01-59, Singapore 160055
(Tel: +65-6223-0810) Nearest MRT: Tiong Bahru, Outram Park
Another locals' joint I visited was the modestly named Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice & Fish Porridge stall that's located in the Mei Ling Market & Food Centre in Queenstown. While I have no doubt that their fish porridge (congee/juk 粥) is excellent, I was here for the Hainanese chicken rice (海南雞飯).
As we were a large group, we ordered a whole chicken, which came on two separate plates, with the rice served in separate bowls. The chicken was nicely done to perfection, juicy and tender (although to some
To bulk out our meal we also ordered some fried dumplings (guo tie 锅贴) from a neighbouring stall serving Shanghai-style dim sum. These were bloody tasty, with their crispy exterior and juicy pork filling.
All in all, it was a fabulous lunch! And for that I am thankful to my long suffering Singaporean colleagues for taking me there, as I wouldn't have otherwise known about the food centre at Mei Ling Market. So much so, I feel really guilty that I had, occasionally, got hacked off with them for not always taking me to places serving local food.
Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice & Fish Porridge
Mei Ling Market & Food Centre, 159 Mei Chin Rd, Singapore 140159
Nearest MRT: Queenstown
For more Singapore tips, albeit from a couple of years ago, please check out my posts on the restaurant scene and the cheap eats scene.