Singapore’s Local / Asian food scene

I’ve written so much about my travels and food around the world, but I’ve not written a post about the food in Singapore. All year round we get lots of visitors from all over and the responsibility falls on me to plan all the meals to showcase Singapore’s worth as a food paradise. Besides the occasional tourists, friends and colleagues constantly ask me, “what to eat ah?”.

The pressure of immediately having a good recommendation on the tip of my tongue sometimes gets to me and I freeze! It’s time to put my stomach on paper and list my favourite eating haunts in my hometown.

These are places that I’ve eaten since I was a child or places that has caused me sleepless nights craving for their food. I’ve been to all the places below more than once and would definitely go back again. The list below ranges from hawker food to fine dinning.

Local / Zhi Char

Sik Wai Sin
287 Geylang Road
steamed fish head, prawn bean curd

Lor 9 Beef Kway Teow
Geylang Lor 9
beef kway teow

Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
593 Havelock Road
bak kut teh, pig trotters

Nan Hwa Chong Fish Head Steamboat
814 North Bridge Road
pomfret steamboat, fried bean curd, ngoi hiang, breaded pork

XO Fish Bee Hoon
Blk 19A Dover Crescent #01-05
XO fish bee hoon, prawn paste chicken

Tiong Bahru Market
30 Seng Poh Road
Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice #02-82, Wanton Noodles #02-30, Hwa Yuen Porridge #02-74

Zion Road Riverside Food Centre
70 Zion Road
No 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow, Noo Cheng Adam Road Prawn Mee Stall 4

Newton Circus
500 Clemenceau Ave North
#66 Sin Sin Seafood BBQ for sambal stingray, #73 Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, #69 for fishball noodles, #72 for BBQ chicken wings

Longhouse
183 Upper Thomson Road
Boon Pisang Goreng, Prawn noodles, braised duck rice

Ghim Moh Market
20 Ghim Moh Road
Hakka Yong Tau Fu #01-14, Fried Bee hoon and chicken wing from stall opposite

Chinese 

Beng Hiang
112-116 Amoy Street
This traditional Hokkian restaurant has been around for ages. Must try: fish maw soup, oyster omelette, kong ba bao

Chui Huay Lim
190 Keng Lee Road #01-02 Chui Huay Lim Club
Jumbo’s group upscale Teochew restaurant serves excellent cold crab, steamed pomfret, ngoh hiang

Silk Road
165 Tanjong Pagar Road, Amara Hotel
Sichuan style cuisine which could be quite spicy for some. I absolutely love their snow flake dumplings

Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck
290 Orchard Road #05-42 (Paragon)
This peking duck is the best I’ve found – the skin is cut with chunks of meat, to be wrapped in the traditional pancake skin. Their menu is extensive but I prefer to stick to the basics like spinach bean curd and crab meat fried rice.

Royal China at Raffles Hotel and Crystal Jade Golden Palace in Paragon are great for afternoon dim sum

Imperial Treasure Steamboat and Jpot are my favourite places for hotpot.

Crabs

Melben Seafood
232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
Famous for their crabs, this place draws big crowds every night. Be prepared to wait up to 1.5 hour for your food. The butter crab and crab been hoon are superb.

Ming Kee Live Seafood
556 Macpherson Road
This place does the crab bee hoon dry – the noodles are soaked with the flavour of the crab roe… And the crabs are huge! Every table orders the same couple of dishes: steamed bamboo clams, steam soya sauce clams, fried fish skins

No Signboard
An institution by itself. I’ll always bring first time visitors to Singapore here to try their chilli crab and white pepper crab.

Japanese
Tomi Sushi is definitely value for money, the quality is one of the best for that price range. A cheaper option is Itacho Sushi at ION or Plaza Singapura. Or treat yourself to a sushi lunch set at Aoki, prices are sky high at dinner! Kazu Sumiyaki at #04-05 Cuppage Plaza and Shunjuu at 30 Robertson Quay are my favourite places for yakitori and Yakiniku Yazawa hits the spot for melt in the mouth Japanese beef.

Peranakan
Trust me, I’m half Peranakan… Ivins at 21 Binjai Park and Guan Hoe Soon

Indian
Eat with your hands like a pro at The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India. Their fish head curry is not so spicy but can cause your stomach to burn for the whole afternoon. Another place for fish head curry or chicken / mutton biryani is Samy’s. Housed in an old open aired colonial building in Demsey.

Vietnamese
Finally a decent place to satisfy H’s Vietnamese cravings. Long Phung at 159 Joo Chiat Road serve up the tastiest pho bo and bun thit nuong on the island. It’s located in the middle of the red light area so be prepared to share tables with some seedy characters.

Check out my recommendations for western food and chilling/partying locations in my other posts.

USA

We’ve been to USA twice together, once to the east coast for our honeymoon in 2007 and the west coast in 2010. Road trips are a great idea in the USA as the roads are wide and the highways are endless. Don’t stinge on renting a GPS, it will save you lots of time and energy quarrelling and getting lost.

East Coast
We drove Miami – Key West – Florida, and flight to New York

West Coast
We drove Las Vegas – LA – Carmel by the Sea – Napa Valley – San Francisco

Things to do

(Key West) Drive to Key West
The 150 mile drive from Miami to Key West on Highway 1 is scenic. It is a straight road of bridges with the longest at 7 mile, and at some point of the drive, the road seems endless, and you are surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. Go on a sunset cruise while you are there and visit the Southernmost point of continental USA for a kick.

(Vegas) Visit the Grand Canyon by helicopter
What better way than helicopter to see one of the 7 wonders of the world? This was my second time visiting the canyon but seeing it from the air and landing in one of the canyons was an amazing experience. We sat right up with the pilot and the views are breathtaking. We landed in the canyon and had a picnic packed lunch.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters at $300/pax with pick up and return to your Vegas hotel

(Vegas) Be entertained in Vegas
Vegas does not sleep! Your senses are overwhelmed with endless entertainment choices other than parking your bum at the casinos. There are many Cirque du Soleil shows staged at different hotels, magic shows, theatre musicals, the list is endless! We watched O at the Bellagio in awe and Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian. We went out of our way to visit the Rio (not on the main strip) just to visit the WSOP site and buy some souvenirs.

(Los Angeles) Visit a movie studio
Take a tour of a movie studio while in Hollywood. We visited Warner Brothers Studio and they explained all the basics – movie and series making, onsite filming, screenwriters and the costumes. Each tour is different depending our your tour guide and which studios are free that day. We visited the old coffee house set of Friends and the office of The Mentalist. If you are lucky you might chance into a live filming of a series and see some actors.
Warner Brothers Studio VIP tour $48 /pax

(Orlando) Be a kid again
There is no shame behaving like a kid in Disney Land! I wanted to buy a Cinderella costume but it didn’t come in my size. If sugar and spice is not your thing, America is the land of amusement parks so you can take your pick from Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Sea World… there will be something for everyone of any age! We visited Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort in Florida but gave the two a miss when we were in California.

(Monterey) Take a 17 mile drive
Pebble Beach is famous for 2 things: golf and the 17 mile drive. The windy picturesque road starting from Carmel takes you through golf courses, huge mansions, the coasts, the beach and you end up in Monterey. Spare a few hours at Monterey Bay Aquarium – it’s a good way to spend a couple of hours, as there isn’t that much to do in Monterey anyway.

(San Francisco) Take a tour of Alcatraz & shop at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Plaza

(Napa) Try some American wines
Napa Valley is probably the most famous region for American wineries. Call in advance for wine tastings as most houses require advance bookings. We didn’t find anything particularly exciting about the wines and felt they were overpriced as they had the Napa brand. One winery we enjoyed was Honig, and it’s advisable to drink with your eyes closed to the price.
Honig Vineyard & Winery 850 Rutherford Road Rutherford, CA 94573

Shopping
Outlets in Orlando Premium Outlet at Vineland Ave, NY’s Woodbury Common and LA’s Desert Hills were the best. These were the outlets that had the most premium brands, and we bought the most in NY.

Food
We didn’t find American food particularly impressive and it’s definitely not healthy! Here are a few places that we liked

Pizza Mozza & Osteria Mozza
The pizzas here were awesome and we were thrilled to know they were opening a branch in Singapore. The potato pizza is surprisingly good – who thought carbs on carbs would work?! The Osteria next door is super packed and we star spotted Jack Black at the bar while waiting for our table.
641 North Highland Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036

Bazaar by José Andrés
Hands down our best meal in the US
465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Spargo
We initially wanted to try Cut in our hotel the Beverly Wilshire but it was fully booked out. The concierge suggested Spargo, the flagship fine dining restaurant by Wolfgang Puck. The 2 star restaurant served good food but it was nothing impressive. A bit biased but I find that no one can compete with the French for fine dining. The highlight of our dinner was a surprise visit by Wolfgang himself!
176 North Canon Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210

COI Restaurant
Contemporary California cuisine that was heavily Japanese influenced. Tastes were very delicate on the palate and each dish was complex except one which was just an odd egg chawanmushi style.
373 Broadway San Francisco, CA 94133

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Caramel sea salt ice cream is to die for and they have a grocery store that sells quality produce which is well farmed

Bouchon Bistro
I tried every humanly possible means to get a reservation at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry but no luck – I had to content with a drive past and a walk around the restaurant. We settled for dinner at his bistro Bouchon down the road, and it was good casual bistro style food and service. Keller also has a bakery next door that had good pastries as well.
6534 Washington Street Yountville, CA 94599

San Francisco

Golden Gate bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, cable cars and Lombard street are things you can’t miss in San Francisco. This was the last leg of our USA West Coast road trip so we returned the car and explored the city by foot and public transport.

The weather can be chilly and I remember spending a few days here on a family vacation as a kid and the bread bowl clam chowder we shared in Fisherman’s Wharf brought comfort in the cold winter. This time we went in Aug and it was still cold! I don’t think I could live here… Another drawdown are the steep hills, it seems we always have to walk downhill and then uphill again to get to our destination.

At the end of 2 weeks in USA, we were tired of the usual American food. Luckily, we found that SF had a healthy and organic approach to the food culture, a trend I find is more pertinent in a more affluent city. The emphasis on wholesome food and sustainable farming practices is something I hope to see more of back home.

Things to do

Shop at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Plaza
The farmers market is open three days a week—Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with Saturday having the biggest showing of suppliers. We enjoyed walking outdoors and wishing we had a real farmers market back home. We bought some truffles, dried porcini mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes… everything sealed to survive the journey back home. There are restaurants and shops in the Ferry Plaza and do not walk past Cowgirl Creamery without checking out their artisan selection of cheeses, and Hog Island Oyster for the oysters and grilled cheese sandwich (cheese from next door’s Cowgirl Creamery)

Walk along Fisherman’s Wharf
I had to return for the clam chowder! I remember it tasting so good as a child but 15 years later I find it laden with starch and not many clams! It’s messy but go for the steam crabs as well if you are adventurous. Walk further down to Pier 39 where you can see the sea lions lazing on the docks. This area is a bit touristy but was still fun to see.

City tour on Urban Safari
We never do city tours, preferring to explore a city on our own. The only reason we took this was because the tour included a trip to Alcatraz and that was they only way we could go as all tickets to the prison were sold out. It is more expensive than the other tours but we felt it was well worth the money. The 4 hour tour in an open air zebra stripped bus brought us to all the major sights like Twin Peaks and Golden Gate Park, places we might have spent a lot of time getting to. The tour guides were fun and shared a lot of local information about the city that was not in the guidebooks.

Take a tour of Alcatraz
Reserve your tickets well in advance online as they get sold out very fast. A boat takes you to The Rock, a prison that is famous for keeping in notorious criminals like Al Capone. You can explore the prison building and compound at your own pace with an audio guide that gives you a rundown of its history and tidbits of information. I had expectations that it might be creepy, but it felt very peaceful, almost serene.

Food

COI Restaurant
Contemporary California cuisine that was heavily Japanese influenced. Tastes were very delicate on the palate and each dish was complex except one which was just an odd egg chawanmushi style.
373 Broadway San Francisco, CA 94133

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Caramel sea salt ice cream is to die for and they have a grocery store that sells quality produce which is well farmed

Where we stayed

The Mandarin Oriental SF occupies the top 11 floors of an office tower and has breathtaking views of the city. As always, service is impeccable and the concierge went out of their way to help us. The hotel is a 5 min walk to the Market Street and the Ferry Plaza.
222 Sansome Street

The Bazaar by José Andrés

José Andrés’s tapas style restaurant in the swanky SLS hotel was easily the best meal we had in the US. The hotel is dimly lit and the restaurant takes up 80% of the hotel lobby. We found the furnishing rather quirky, imagine weird animal wall ornaments or a 6 foot dog headed army general statue. The Philippe Starck furnishing adds to the baroque tone of the hotel and the restaurant.

Reservations must be hard to score after winning many awards, but we didn’t have a problem when we went in 2010. The crowd was casual chique, with most ladies dressing more for the after party and we definately felt under dressed in our casual jeans and hoodies. Try to get a counter seat so you can observe the chefs at work and the seat is perfect for people like me who prefer to see how the food looks before ordering it.

José Andrés has an impressive resume, starting out as a young chef under Ferran Adrià at elBulli. The menu consists of small portions of traditional and modern Spanish tapas. The traditional tapas were executed well but there wasn’t anything to shout about; the draw here are the modern tapas. The creations are his modern take on classic dishes, and no doubt the molecular gastronomy influence at elBulli was evident. Each dish was interesting and creative and the it was an interactive atmosphere with the chefs explaining the creations as they were making them.

465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Santorini

Santorini is postcard perfect. When we arrived at our hotel along the caldera and saw the view, it was so overwhelming that we needed time to soak it all in. The locals must be used to seeing dead weight tourist like us standing still, luggage in hand, with our mouths open just gawking. Everything is so peaceful and quiet, it is almost a shock to our rat race programmed system.

It is a beautiful place. We stayed in Imerovigli, a small village along the coast in between Fira and Oia and was a less touristy choice. A 45min leisure walk along a dirt path leads you from Imerovigli to Fira and we were rewarded with stunning views of the Mediterranean sea and the caldera along the way. The port is at Fira and the town was crowded with cruise ship tourists that docked for the day. Oia on the other end of the island is accessible by bus (too far to walk!) and is another tourist magnet and is touted as the best place on the island to see the sun set.

I strongly suggest taking a sunset cruise around the island and a half day cruise out at sea is more than enough. The view of the whole island is breathtaking when you see the cascading slopes of blue and white houses along the caldera. We enjoyed a half day cruise with Santorini Sailing Center which do semi-private cruises on their catamaran. They usually limit the number of customers to 10 but on our trip there was only us and another couple. It is slightly more expensive than other tour groups, but the little extra we paid was worth the exclusivity and personalized service we had.
Santorini Sailing Center Imerovigli Santorini

We rented a car for the day to drive around the island and visit some wineries. I suggest to give Greek wines a miss, and don’t even bother about visiting the wineries.

Where we stayed

Artemis Villa
Prices are ridiculously expensive for anything with a view and we found this very well priced small family run hotel. There were cheaper rooms but we took a superior studio with outdoor jacuzzi with a terrace at €205 a night, although I think we dipped our toes into the jacuzzi once just to say we used it. I suggest having breakfast on the terrace and the airport transfer. Angela and Chris were very friendly and we enjoyed our stay tremendously.
Imerovigli 84700

Getting there

At €215 return on Aegean, it’s pretty expensive for a short flight from Athens to Santorini. For budget flights, you can consider flying in from neighbouring countries, like from Italy via Easyjet.

Hong Kong

HK is a 4 hour flight away and we travel there often for both work and holidays. A typical itinerary consist of cramming as much shopping, eating and partying into every day that we are there. We usually stay in central and the airport express brings you into the city in 45min.

The city works hard and parties harder, perfect for single people. The partying scene is very vibrant in Central area and once the sun set, Lan Kwai Fong fills up and the crowd spills on to the streets as the night goes on. The pace of life is very fast and you feel it immediately walking around Central. HK people walk really fast, it seems like they are in a rush to go somewhere to do something. It feels like I’m operating at snail speed even when I’m there on business walking from meetings to meetings.

HK is a top destination for celebrity chefs to open a satellite restaurant outside of their home country. It boasts big names like Amber, Zuma, Joël Robuchon and Mario Batali’s Lupa and there seems to be a new restaurant opening every month. All serve excellent food, but here is a list of my favourite local haunts

1. Sang Kee Seafood Restaurant
A local brought me here and I’ve been back ever since. It is famous with the HK people so make reservations and reserve the famous dishes as they run out quickly. Must try: soya sauce prawns and salt baked chicken, the congee is good and they have many types but I like the fish.
1F/2F Hip Sang Building, 107-115 Hennessy Rd, Wanchai

2. Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant
This is a good place to have dim sum and the char siew is a must try
1F 353 Lockhart Road, Sunshine Plaze, Wanchai

Wellington Street is a street perpendicular to LKF and has lots of good food. Yung Kee is probably the most famous on the street, and their specialty is roast goose. Prices are a bit steep and I found their goose very oily and not miles better than other normal shops. I do like the better valued take away and dried Chinese sausages to bring home. Wong Chi Kei Congee & Noodle has excellent beef brisket noodles and crab congee. And further up the road, Tai Cheung Bakery makes the best egg tart.
Yung Kee 32 Wellington Street
Wong Chi Kei Congee & Noodle G/F 15 Wellington Street, Cental
Tai Cheung Bakery 32 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central

3. Sen-Ryo
The quality of the fish at this conveyor belt sushi joint is very good and the prices are very reasonable. I load up on the otoro sashimi and uni, both high quality stuff. There are not many tables so try to go during off peak times as the queues during peak periods are very long and a wait up to an hour is normal.
Shop 3099-3100, Podium level 3, IFC mall, Central

4. Hui Lau Shan Desserts
I need to get my mango fix at this place. They serve all sorts of mango desserts with sago or pudding or with glutinous balls. Many outlets around the island but I usually go to Causeway Bay opposite Sogo

La Tour d’Argent

We had lunch at La Tour d’Argent in the summer of 2008 with H’s parents. This was our first foray into the French gastronomy scene and to be honest, it was intimidating. I am writing this 4 years after our visit, so much of the experience is hazy and not too detailed.

This place is an institution, founded in 1582 and its reputation precedes it having served royalty and politicians. The restaurant used to have 3 stars but lost them and now is comfortably sitting on 1 star. The dinning hall is very grand, with big chandeliers and heavy draping. A few of all the waiters were dressed in tailcoats which seem a little extreme to me, and the service was bordering on the line of pretentious. It made us uncomfortable, though I have to say we were probably too immature to embrace it then.

Tour d’Argent is famous for 2 things – pressed duck and their wine cellar. The wine list arrived in the form of a 3 inch thick book and their cave under the restaurant is a treasure chest of close to 500,000 bottles. An auction in 2009 saw the restaurant selling 4% of their bottles to pay for the refurbishment of the restaurant. The wine prices are a bit silly, but it is expected of a restaurant of this standing.

The pressed duck is the speciality here and each duck is tagged with a serial number. Every customer that orders the dish will receive a postcard with their duck number attached. The duck is served in a sauce of duck blood and bone marrow (hence pressed duck). I remember it tasted delicious as I was oblivious to the preparation and it was only after lunch that I felt queasy when I found out about the blood sauce.

The restaurant boasts breath taking views of the Seine and Notre Dame so reserve tables by the windows if you can. I can imagine it being very romantic at night with Paris lit up, but its equally beautiful in the day if the weather is sunny.

There is also an épicerie on the ground floor where you can buy some of their in house pâté or confiture.

15 Quai de la Tournelle