Ting Thai Caravan (Edinburgh, Scotland): Southeast Asian Street Eats

IMG_6805I’m often intensely skeptical of Thai food made in a western city with no sizable Southeast Asian population.

It’s a cuisine that’s incredibly hard to pull off well — the numerous ingredients that go into many dishes need to be present in just the right amount, or the balance and flavor are likely to get thrown off. Even in New York City, I don’t regularly seek out Thai meals because they tend to disappoint — well, unless bland and saccharine are your thing.

So when a new friend in Edinburgh suggested meeting for a Thai street food lunch, I balked. This city has surprised me though, with its Korean deliciousness and outstanding Indian. So I thought, hey, why not?

And shortly after, I found myself stepping through the glass door of Ting Thai Caravan and into an intense cloud laced with all the scents that immediately push my buttons: garlic, chili, lemongrass …

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Cheok Kee Duck Rice (Singapore): Seaside Surprise

Cheok Kee Duck RiceMy mother and I often find ourselves jumping into the car and heading for the beach in Singapore.

We’re not surf-bound or bikini-clad though — what we are is hungry.

Bordering the sand is a lovely outdoor hawker center, East Coast Lagoon Food Village. On weekends, this place can be a zoo, as Singaporeans come from all over the country to canoe, windsurf or bike along the water, then stop for a little nibble or sip.

On weekdays though, this hawker center is charmingly sleepy. The stalls hawking curry puffs, soursop drinks and coconuts freshly hacked open and delivered to your table with a festive straw are all open. But there are few lines at lunch, making this the perfect time to go.

The thing Singaporeans tend to crave in this salty air is often grilled — satay, glistening chicken wings, barbecued stingray (skate) slathered with fiery sambal chili. But there are several other non-beachy foods of note at this hawker center, too — the best laksa in Singapore (Roxy Laksa) is located here, for example. And recently, I’d been hearing about a little stall that’s been serving up some terrific duck rice

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Sum Kee Food (Singapore): Simple Does It

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One of my Singapore cravings is a simple dish: Fried braised tofu with a big pile of minced pork on top.

You can find this in some hawker stalls — but you’ll likely find the better versions at zi char restaurants, which are casual Chinese eateries that serve inexpensive homespun dishes. (“Zi char” means “stir-fry” in Hokkien.)

As much as I adore this tofu dish, I hadn’t had a good version yet this trip back, so when my father mentioned liking a little zi char place his old schoolmates had taken him to recently, it was settled. Dinner at Sum Kee Food it was …

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Feng Kee Hainanese Curry Rice (Singapore): A-List Rice

Feng Kee Hainanese Curry RiceOne of the great joys of Singaporean cuisine for me is Hainanese curry rice.

I had my first taste of this as a teenager, at a small stall in Singapore where you pointed at troughs of items in a glass case then watched as the hawker quickly used a big pair of scissors to snip everything you’d picked into bite-sized pieces, piled it onto rice and then sloshed a ladle of curried gravy over everything, turning it into a brownish yellow mound. The final product may look like swill, but each mouthful of this heady combination of flavors and textures is divine.

So when Singaporean writer Colin Goh, a friend whose tastes and appetite I respect, mentioned having a go-to curry rice place in Singapore, I knew I had to check it out. “It opens at 4 am, and you eat with the port workers,” he said. “Make sure you drench your rice with ALL 3 GRAVIES.”

Well, he certainly didn’t need to tell me twice …

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Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tang (Singapore): Scratching a Noodle Itch

Meepok taMy mother and I sometimes have to do a little sneaking around when we go to our neighborhood wet market / hawker center in Singapore.

You see, if we’re spotted sitting near or even just passing by a certain noodle stall, a sweet lady will pop her head out with a wave and chirpy “Ni hao ma?” Which always makes us feel so bad we’ll drop all other breakfast plans to dutifully belly up to her counter and order a bowl of noodles.

It’s not to say that we don’t like her noodles — sometimes though, I may crave something else for breakfast. My sister, on the other hand, always craves the one dish this hawker makes — mee pok ta, a dry Teochew style dish of noodles with fishballs, fishcakes and minced meat — and has been a faithful fan for years. And that is why this mee pok lady stalks us.

Naturally, for my sister’s first breakfast after landing in Singapore, she has meepok on her mind. So, off we went …

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