Singapore 2016, Part 1 – Singapore Food Festival

I was in Singapore from 15 to 19 July as a guest of Singapore Tourism Board. The timing of my visit was to coincide with the Singapore Food Festival (SFF) – this year’s theme being “Savour the Past, Taste the Future”.

Joining me on this experience was a journalist from Melbourne. Our local guide Suhail led us all around the island, taking in many tastes of Singapore including several SFF events; we had a couple of evenings free to pursue our own food adventures. This post features highlights from SFF events we attended over the course of our stay.

STREAT

The flagship event of the SFF was STREAT, held by the water at Clifford Square between the Fullerton and Fullerton Bay hotels, with a great view of the famous Marina Bay Sands ‘ship’. This was our Friday night dinner. There were food and drinks stalls plus the ‘Six Hands Dinner’ pop-up restaurant with celebrity chef Susur Lee and chef Ken Ling of Tunglok Heen, and chef Han Li Guang of Labyrinth collaborating on a special five-course menu featuring modern interpretations of iconic Singaporean street food dishes.

STREAT was on 15 and 16 July 2016
5pm to 10.30pm at Clifford Square, 1 Fullerton Road, Singapore
See the STREAT line-up and Six Hands menu

STREAT view of MBS

Teh tarik with scotchFriday night drinks – not so traditional teh tarik (pulled tea)… with scotch!

Tandoori chicken murtabak and satay ribs In the foreground, from Casuarina Curry – tandoori chicken murtabak with cheese and mushroom. In the background, from Mazlan’s Kitchen – satay ribs, unphotogenic but finger-licking awesome.

Jungle chicken curry From Mary’s Kafe – devil’s chicken curry, very tasty though not as fiery as it appeared.

Braised veal with mantou The Disgruntled Chef’s braised veal cheeks with Asian spice, served with fried mantou buns that tasted doughnutty but went remarkably well with the gravy.

Pork belly buns From Restaurant Ember, balsamic glazed pork belly with crisp ice berg lettuce in a chewy steamed bao

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STREAT crowdNo, the people looking at their phones are not playing Pokemon GO – the game had not yet been released in Singapore.

Pop-UpThe Six Hands pop-up restaurant menu included oyster omelette pie tee, laksa chee cheong fun, and a dish featuring Chef Han Li Guang’s signature chilli crab ice cream.

Chef Susur Lee at the pass Chef Susur Lee (with the pony-tail) was one of my favourite chefs to watch on the TV show Top Chef Masters. He was just as charming in person as he appeared on TV.

Satay eggWe tasted the Six Hands first course of ‘Singapore Satay’ – chicken satay and ketupat (rice cake) served in an egg shell, topped with a foamy peanut sauce, with a skewer of fresh cucumber, red onion and pineapple. A unique rendition and more fiddly to eat than traditional version, but the flavours of satay were all there.

View from water

One Farrer Food Street

One Farrer Hotel and Spa’s Food Street pop-up event recreated food stalls that once lined the streets of the Farrer Park district back in the 1970s and also included several not-typically-Singaporean offerings, such as seafood paella, Japanese kushiyaki (grilled skewers), SPAM musubi and SPAM fries.

One Farrer’s Food Street was on 16, 17, 30 and 31 July 2016
One Farrer Hotel and Spa
1 Farrer Park Station Rd, Singapore 217562

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Rojak Rojak, made to order – a fruit and vegetable salad with a sticky spicy dressing, topped with chopped peanuts.

Paella Food Street included other international foods, like this seafood-loaded paella

Carrot cake, pan-fried to order Carrot cake, pan-fried to order

Carrot cake ‘Black’ (sometimes called ‘dark’) carrot cake – There are no carrots in this dish, but in Singapore, it’s known as ‘carrot cake’. I’ve referred to this dish many a time here at the blog as “chai tow kway”. It’s made from a rice flour and white radish (the so-called white carrot) ‘cake’ that’s steamed and cut into cubes, then wok/pan-fried with garlic, preserved radish (“chai poh”) and soy sauce (light/white style) or sweet dark soy sauce (dark/black style), with an egg broken into the mix towards the end. Deluxe versions can include prawns and even oysters, but it’s generally a meat-free dish. I can eat this ANY TIME.

The chicken satay was served with plenty of peanut sauce, ketupat (rice cake), cucumber and red onion. The chicken satay was served with plenty of peanut sauce, ketupat (rice cake), cucumber and red onion.

Turnip and peanut fritters I had never seen/eaten turnip and peanut fritters like this before. They were extremely moreish, dipped in chilli sauce.

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Laksa stallThe Penang assam laksa stall was a popular choice.

yakitoriKushiyaki on the grill by Farrer Park Japanese eatery JINzakaya

Hokkien fried noodlesSaucy hokkien noodles

This wasn’t part of the official event, but we got to take a sneak peek of One Farrer’s urban farm, located on the rooftop of the hotel. Initially intended only to supply the hotel’s restaurants, the farm now covers 1,100 square metres, sells its herbs and produces a range of fruit and vegetable pickles and preserves. Regular cooking classes are held at One Farrer as part of its Farm to Table program.

FarmHerbs at the Farm at One Farrer

Farm

Pineapples Rooftop pineapples

Farm

The view from the farm The view from the farm is pretty spectacular.

The Heritage Town Trail – Peranakan Cultural Tour

This interesting tour began at Rumah Kim Choo, a boutique gallery that showcases nyonya fashions, vintage nyonya curios and souvenirs and promotes Peranakan culture.

Our host Edmond Wong gave an introductory talk on what it means to be Peranakan. While the term ‘Peranakan’ is most commonly used to refer to the descendants of Chinese immigrants that came to Singapore and Malaysia in the 15th and 16th century, Edmond explained that the word ‘Peranakan’ means “locally-born descendants of foreigners” and refers to the marriage of different cultures, not to particular races. This shared heritage is reflected strongly in Singapore’s traditions, language and (of course) food.

For the Peranakan Chinese, the word ‘baba’ refers to the men, while ‘nyonya’ refers to the women. Nyonya cuisine broadly blends Chinese and Malay cooking styles. Edmond demonstrated how to wrap nyonya rice dumplings, made with glutinous rice and marinated pork. We then had a tasting session featuring the nyonya rice dumplings, kueh lapis (steamed layer cake, made with glutinous rice flour) and otak-otak (aromatic, spicy steamed fish mousse wrapped in banana leaf), before embarking on the guided walking tour component which took us through the streets of the neighbourhoods of Katong and Joo Chiat. Along the way, we learned about the history and architecture of the area.

The tour ended with more food – a ‘tok panjang’ (long table) family-style feast of traditional Peranakan dishes for us to sample. For dessert, Edmond’s mum Helen showed us how to make ondeh-ondeh, little balls made of sweet potato and glutinous rice flour, filled with gula melaka (palm sugar) then boiled and rolled in shredded coconut.

Kim Choo Kueh Chang
109 East Coast Road, Singapore 428800
The Heritage Town Trail event for SFF was on 16, 23 and 30 July 2016.
Kim Choo Kueh Chang runs regular Peranakan cultural tours, nyonya kueh appreciation workshops and more.

zhong ‘Chang’- nyonya rice dumplings


Wrapping zhong Edmond demonstrating how the nyonya rice dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves.


Traditional peranakan Peranakan display upstairs at Rumah Kim Choo


Kim Choo kuehThe family business was started by Edmond’s grandmother Lee Kim Choo, who first sold nyonya rice dumplings under a banyan tree on Joo Chiat Place. Today, Kim Choo Kueh Chang is well known in Singapore for its nyonya rice dumplings and other Peranakan sweets and snacks – but more than that, they are proud promoters of Peranakan culture.

Terrace houses

Terrace housesThe Peranakan shophouses with colourful tiles and ornate facades reminded me of the famous row of houses in San Francisco nicknamed the Painted Ladies.


Cooking The walk over, it was time to eat again. The kitchen smelled like home.


Ayam buah keluak Ayam buah keluak, braised chicken with buah keluak, the ‘black nut’ from the kepayang tree, which grows in Indonesian and Malaysian mangrove swamps. The nuts are poisonous and must be properly treated to ensure they are safe to eat.


Sambal sotong Sambal sotong, or sambal squid.


Assam pedas Assam pedas – fish cooked in a tangy tamarind sauce with tomatoes and okra.


Chap chyeIf you’ve followed my blog over the years, you’ll have seen my family’s version of this dish, chap chye, made with vegetables, tofu skin, glass noodles and different kinds of fungus – we eat it every year at Chinese New Year.


Cooking ondeh-ondehEdmond and his mum cooking the ondeh-ondeh. Watch a video on Instagram here.

DSCF6139The ondeh-ondeh were the orange colour of sweet potato. Pandan paste or essence is often used to add flavour and make the balls green.

Hawker Spotlight, East Coast Lagoon Food Village

We joined a group of local media and bloggers at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, a hawker centre by the coast. I recognised our celebrity host Moses Lim from the Singaporean comedy series Under One Roof which I watched on SBS years ago. He led us on a trail showcasing Singapore hawker favourite dishes of fish head curry, popiah, char kway teow, bak kut teh and satay.

I really liked the feel of this hawker centre and will definitely return here with Jac on our next trip to Singapore. It is essentially open-air, but with covered seating – perfect (as we found) for short but intense bursts of tropical rain. Across the road were families cooking barbecues and relaxing on blankets on the beach. A cable water ski park is a short walk next door.

East Coast Lagoon Food Village
1220 East Coast Parkway, Singapore 468960

East Coast Lagoon Food Village East Coast Lagoon Food Village

East Coast Lagoon Food Village East Coast Lagoon Food Village

DSCF8714The beach is just across the road.

BeachLots of ships on the horizon.

Thank you for returning your tray Thank you for returning your tray

Sugar cane juice with fresh lemon I’ve had sugar cane juice before, but my first time with fresh lemon. It’s not as sweet as you’d think fresh sugar cane juice would be – it’s wonderfully refreshing. Believe it or not, this was not the largest drink size available.

Satay menHaron Satay (stall #55) is a second-generation hawker stall and has been in business for over 38 years. The satay, peanut sauce and ketupat (rice cake) from this stall are all hand-made. If only I could share the amazing smoky aroma with you…

Satay Satay fresh off the grill.

Fish head curry stallThe Eastern Red Seafood stall (stall #37) is renowned for fish head curry.

Fish head curryThe spicy fish head curry was fantastic, with chunks of meaty white fish, cabbage and okra. There are fish bones and skin to contend with, but well worth the effort.

Bak kut tehStall #42 is known for pork rib soup called bak kut teh, which translates to ‘pork bone tea’. The bak kut teh sold here is the light but peppery Teochew style; the other popular style of bak kut teh is Hokkien, which is darker and more herbal. It’s cloudy until you stir it, but don’t let that murky appearance put you off. The soup is richly flavoured and that pepper will unblock any nose! Yes, do eat the meat off the pork bones. Stall #42 is also known for its liver and kidney soup.

Popiah making competitionThree volunteers from our group gloved up to compete in a popiah-making contest. After much hilarity, a champion was crowned, and we got to taste the real deal – popiah from stall #40.

Tippling Club

Tippling Club’s owner and executive chef, British-born Australian Ryan Clift was formerly head chef at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde. He moved to Singapore in 2008 to set up his own venture and opened Tippling Club, a multi-award-winning, high-end establishment known for its experimental cuisine and original cocktails. For SFF, Tippling Club presented its modernist approach to classic Singaporean hawker dishes with a special five-course menu including matching cocktails for SG$140 per person. Dinner was held upstairs at Bin 38, a space encompassing Tippling Club’s R&D cocktail bar and test kitchen, lounge and a private dining room.

I began my day with kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs for breakfast and finished with fine dining at Tippling Club – such is the diversity of dining experiences available in Singapore.

Tippling Club
38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088461

Bar The Tippling Club bar

Tippling Club lounge We were welcomed with glasses of prosecco here in the lounge before we moved to the private dining room.

Chicken curry Chicken curry – not listed on the set menu, this surprise opening dish garnished with deep-fried coriander and curry leaves captured the flavour of chicken curry perfectly.

Oyster omelette platingTippling Club’s take on Newton’s oyster omelette included plump French oysters, 63 degree eggs, chives and garlic flowers.

Chicken rice The Tippling Club’s fine dining twist on Maxwell chicken rice. The harmonious flavours of chicken rice were delivered through the combination of chilli sauce and spring onion gels, pickled cucumber, tender sous vide chicken and ginger congee puree, but I found the puffed rice a jarring, unnecessary inclusion. The matching Ginger Yuzu Buck cocktail, made with vodka, ginger syrup, yuzu juice and soda water, was very easy to drink.

Cendol The Ann Siang cendol (pronounced “chen-dol”) included a number of non-traditional elements, such as the white chocolate Aero and popcorn, but the gula melaka and grass jelly granita were terrific and it was a lovely dessert overall. I did miss the green ‘worms’ though (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google ‘cendol green worms’). The Cheeky Uncle cocktail that accompanied the cendol was a potent concoction rather like a rum-laced kopi-o (Singaporean black coffee).

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My Singapore 2016 series

I was in Singapore from 15 to 19 July as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board. My flights, accommodation, and the activities/meals described in this post were all courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.

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  • Capri

    omg those skewers