I’ve now been in Southeast Asia for about 2 months and one thing I still haven’t figured out is how to eat chicken with a spoon. I’ve encountered this a number of times when I’ve headed out to lunch to one of the little hawker centers or food courts near my work and it’s strictly chopsticks, forks, and spoons. There are also no napkins given anywhere which is a uniquely Singapore thing – not sure what they have against napkins here.
These lunchtime venues are usually frequented by the blue collar construction or ship workers who never seem to be phased by the absence of modern day plastic knives or remembering to stash tissues for napkins.
Now, give me chopsticks and I’m catching flies better than Mr. Miyagi but when it comes to cutting chicken with a spoon, let’s just say I’m still practicing my technique. Despite my table fare setbacks, the last week and a half have been filled with some delectable meals that put my tastebuds into unchartered territory.
The meal in the featured picture is one of many where I was attempting to cut chicken (in this case chicken masala) with a spoon – I actually managed okay here because the chicken was so tender that it easily fell off the bone.
This was one the spiciest dishes I’ve had here in Singapore and it wasn’t even a result of the the chicken, but the rice. You can see the little chili peppers in the rice which gave it the mean kick. The pickled vegetables were quite mild and balanced the heat of the rice while complimenting the rich Masala flavors with a light, clean bite.
The Indian stall where I grabbed this meal was located in the basement of the Yishun Sun Plaza mall. My colleagues both had the mutton masala which was also cooked in the same masala sauce and they gave it very high reviews.
Variation of Chicken Masala with some hot biryani rice. Delicious. Hard to find this for lunch in the U.S.
One thing to mention here is if you’re eating chicken AND rice together, you’re actually doing it all wrong unless you use only your hands. It’s a common site to see people digging in to a meal like the above with just their fingers.
The lunch spots I go to have essentially 5 different kinds of food: Chinese fried, Chinese noodles, Malay/Halal, and Indian. Cultural note: Halal food means that the meat is blessed in accordance with Islamic law where they say a prayer before the animal is killed and it has to be slaughtered in a certain way with the knife. Since Malays are predominantly Muslim, most of the Malay food in Singapore is branded as “muslim” or “halal food”.
I like to try and switch it up between them all and try a little bit of everything during the week.
Chinese vegetables and fried chicken. Only thing missing is noodles.
This plate is an example of what I call “Chinese Fried”, where you go up and pick out what entrees you want from about 10-15 different dishes they are cooking up that day. While not all of it is fried, it’s usually very oily and heavy, but still very good with rich flavors. Here I had the fried chicken with a smoky seasoning batter (you can tell from the orange color); teriyaki eggplant -my favorite!; steamed spinach; and curried greens.
Standard lunch in Singapore
This was a halal plate my co-worker got that consisted of a terrific looking red fried fish with basil leaves; okra – which surprisingly is found everywhere in Singapore; long gain biryani rice that looked mighty good and flavorful; some corn and carrots; topped off with a some sort of curry dipping sauce. My colleague didn’t go native and eat this mound of food with his hands but he also didn’t leave any for waste – a sure sign it was good.
Chinese Noodles and Dumplings
After a couple of heavy meals, for my next lunch outing I went with something more simple. I had a chinese noodle dish called Spicy Dumpling La Mian (a kind of thin noodle). One thing I really like about Chinese food is when you finally translate it to English, it’s very obvious what you’re eating e.g. spicy noodle with dumpling; though it may not taste anything like you’re expecting. The brownish sauce was a soy sauce based dumpling dipping sauce and underneath the La Mian noodles was a spicy red chili sauce, which wasn’t too hot. It was the perfect light lunch. The best part about this dish was the authenticity of the dumplings. On point!
Traditional Indian Bread: Dosa
My next meal was a traditional Indian bread dish called Dosa, a lightly baked thin bread served with curried potatoes, greens, and a number of dipping sauces.
Dosa has an almost crepe-like texture as it’s made with yogurt and egg. This was an amazingly different spread with a yellow curry and white/green hummus (on the bottom left) that had one of a kind citrus-y and tangy flavors. It was very good and it was served on a banana leaf so that’s when you know it’s legit. The banana leaf was absolutely enormous!
Later in the week I was really just craving a burger but decided to try out a Vietnamese place that got great reviews called Sandwich Saigon in the Katong area of East Singapore. So as a substitute for a burger, I went with the beef Pho bowl instead. This was your standard Vietnamese Pho dish (beef broth, thin rice noodles, served with bean sprouts, basil leaves, lime, onions, and various other vegetables). This bowl of Pho was topped with a nice thinly sliced cut of meat, along with two special “beef balls”. I coined this dish the “HEARTY MAN PHO”. What a great meal it was, one where you walk out feeling like.. a new man. This place lived up to it’s good reviews.
I fit right in, right?
This is me at one of my favorite lunchtime hawker centers near my work that has a this great Thai stall and an excellent little Chinese shop that serves vegetarian food. It’s called the Yishun Industrial Food Plaza or Huat Leo Eating House. I really like this place because the little old Chinese lady I go to is so sweet and nice to me when I order and tells me what I should get that day. The first time I went to her she yelled at me “EAT THIS! TRY THIS! YOU LIKE!!”. Nothing beats fine customer service.
Chinese Fried: Honey Chicken & Baby Kai Lan with oyster sauce
Self explanatory Chinese / Thai dish. Chicken with rice and veggies.
Sometimes you just need some good Japanese food.
Everywhere you go in the world you can find always find decent Japanese food. Other than China, I literally don’t know anywhere you’re not guaranteed to find some variation of average to good Japanese food. Why? Because its so dang simple and yet so good! There also seems to be this weird fascination with Japanese culture and food in a lot of places. Sushi, anime, emojis, video games, ramen..the list goes on.
Singapore is no exception to this obsession with all things Japanese. Luckily this means I can always find a ton of Japanese places.
Last week I was really craving Japanese and decided on some black pepper pan fried chicken. Later in the week I also grabbed yakitori and gyoza at a ramen place with a friend in the Novena area called Ramen Bari Uma (literally translated as “very tasty” in Japanese). The picture above is the pork ramen bowl, which was described simply as “good” by my friend.
Nothing like craving a certain kind of food, in this case Japanese, and it tasting exactly as expected. Maybe that’s why I love Japanese food so much: it’s so simple and you know exactly what you’re getting when you order it.