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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Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata (Singapore): Gold-Standard Prata

Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan's Suoer Crispy Roti PrataRoti prata is one of those staples of Singapore eating — this fried Indian bread paired with curry is so beloved as a breakfast or late-night supper dish that Singaporeans often love expressing strong opinions on which they think is the best in the country.

Recently, I’d been hearing about a tiny Indian stall a little hike from the beaten path that various food experts have waxed lyrical about, some even declaring it’s one of the best. What apparently makes this version special, I’d heard, is how crispy it is.

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ll know my massive love for all sorts of crispy foods. So as soon as I could persuade my mother, we hopped in her car and were on our way to Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata …

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Mei Wei Economic Bee Hoon (Singapore): Fried Chicken Surprise

IMG_6545Just after dawn on a weekday, my mother and I make a short trek to Joo Chiat, one of the sweet pockets of Singapore‘s laidback East Coast where you’ll still find pre-war townhouse-packed narrow lanes that feel like 1970s Singapore.

A dusty little corner kopitiam (coffeeshop) beckons — Poh Ho Restaurant, which we’d visited once for excellent plates of wanton noodles. When we left then, I had vowed to return — from what we could see, the handful of other stores there held much promise. One Indian hawker, for example, is constantly mentioned as one of the best makers of roti prata in the country.

Unfortunately, we had chosen to make the journey on one of the few mornings each month that the prata guys are off. Our disappointment was brief, however. A queue snaked around the front of the kopitiam, framing it like a necklace.

Singaporeans like queues — in a country filled with thousands of superb eating options, there’s no need to line up for good food. So if there is a line, something terribly good must exist at the front of it. Well, we immediately got in line …

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Selera Rasa (Singapore): A Classic Malay Breakfast

Selera Rasa

Breakfast in Singapore truly is something to behold.

For starters, it’s incredibly varied, with Indian, Chinese and Malay offerings ranging from rice and noodle dishes to piping hot roti prata and fried meaty treats. A classic must, however, is nasi lemak — a Malay dish comprising fragrant coconut rice with hearty ingredients such as fried chicken and crispy anchovies. It’s so popular and commonly eaten that some hawkers have it packed ahead of time into tightly folded banana leaves for a quick and tasty breakfast to go.

While I’m fortunate enough to live not too far from one of the great nasi lemak joints on the island — International Food Stall in Changi Village — I’d been hearing about another place for years, one that’s supposed to be the absolute best. Selera Rasa, in fact, is so well-regarded that the Sultan of Brunei supposedly pays a visit¬†when he’s in Singapore, ordering up dozens of packets for takeout.

“Look for the long queue,” Singaporean food personality KF Seetoh counseled, when I asked him about Selera Rasa a few years ago.

A long queue? Singaporeans, an impatient lot, don’t queue for anything unless it’s worth it. I knew right away that I had to get myself to Selera Rasa, to find said queue …

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