Sin Heng Claypot Bak Koot Teh (Singapore): Peppery Pork Rib Perfection

Sin Heng Claypot Bak Kut TehThere are very few people I trust whole-heartedly when it comes to making food decisions. Especially if I’m in a city for a limited time, I find few things worse than a bad or even mediocre meal — that’s just one valuable eating slot needlessly squandered.

In Singapore, I’m fortunate to have several food gurus — among them, I have absolute blind faith in my dear friend Willin, who has never steered me wrong. He’s a chef, after all — check out his newly revamped Wild Rocket if you haven’t — so he is particularly discerning.

When I recently mentioned to Willin that it’d been ages since I’d had bak kut teh (which means “pork bone tea”), a peppery pork rib soup that’s a favorite dish of the Teochew Chinese of Singapore (i.e. my people), he immediately had a suggestion.

“Go to Joo Chiat,” he said, referring to a small neighborhood on Singapore’s East Coast that has recently become a hotbed for eats (and Vietnamese prostitutes). “That place on Joo Chiat Road is one of the best.”

Since this was Willin, I didn’t need to think twice. As soon as we found ourselves hungry again, my mother and I headed over …

[Read more…]

River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles: Rainy Day Fukienese

Snow, biting winds, ice chips pelting my windows — last weekend’s storm in New York City has had me wondering why I don’t just throw in the towel each winter and decamp to tropical Singapore.

What has gotten me through these past few freezing, sloshy days however, is my intense memory of and cravings for Singapore noodle soups.

These are harder to find in cosmopolitan New York than you’d think. Sure, Cantonese wonton soups and Vietnamese phos are everywhere. But beefy Teochew broths spiked with star anise or rich Hainanese curried noodle soups? I actually have never seen those on menus around here.

So when the weather starts turning in New York, the cravings begin. Which is how I haven’t been able to get Hoe Nam prawn noodles out of my head …

[Read more…]

Popiah: Singaporean Summer Rolls, Just Like Grandma Made

I’ve been thinking a lot about popiah, a Singaporean-style summer roll, recently — not just because temperatures have been creeping up in New York City and the foods of my tropical native country are starting to beckon once again.

As you may know, I’ve been on a bit of a book publicity blitz with the February publication of “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.” And in all the interviews and signings I’ve done, popiah — a roll filled with ingredients such as julienned jicama, shrimp, shallots, tofu — has been a recipe that has come up frequently.

It’s a roll my grandmother used to make when I was growing up in Singapore — and it’s one that I crave in the U.S. as you don’t see it often on restaurant menus. Because it’s light, a little spicy and the filling has a nice crunch to it, it’s the perfect snack food or appetizer for warm weather — in Singapore, people often have popiah parties in which the filling, summer roll skins and various condiments are set out and guests mill about, casually making their own rolls whenever they feel like eating one.

During my research for the book, however, I made sure to learn how my grandmother and chef Simpson (of Cafe Asean in New York) make theirs — so when my Let’s Lunch group of virtual lunch buddies decided on small spring bites for our March date, popiah immediately sprang to mind …

[Read more…]