So much food, so little time (2021 edition)

Despite the impending availability of a vaccine, it’s clear that leisure travel, for us at least, is out of the question for 2021. And even though we have a sizeable chunk of expiring Krisflyer miles, 2022 is increasingly looking like a stay-at-home kind of year as well.

The silver lining is that we live to eat, and Singapore is a great country to be in to sample all sorts of cuisine. There is a broad range of food from different regions across different budgets — from local Singaporean to regional Asian to global European; from affordable hawker stalls to value-for-money eateries to fancy fine dining restaurants.

Here are the meals that we’re eagerly anticipating over the course of this coming year.

Tze Char @Kam Jia Zhuang

Kam Jia Zhuang is a local tze char stall located in a coffeeshop at Blk 202 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3. That stretch of shops is probably most famous for a popular 4D outlet that has made several people rich, which we walk past before reaching our current favourite tze char stall.

They’re probably most famous for their pumpkin prawns (pictured above), which we order almost every time we’re there, but they also serve a wide variety of other seafood dishes, including the ever popular chilli and black pepper crabs that The Old Folks love.

The kicker is that there’s no service charge and no GST, resulting in a much better cost-performance ratio than large seafood restaurants and makes the relatively expensive dish lighter on our wallets for the occasional indulgence.

Hainanese Western @Prince Coffee House

Even though Prince Coffee House has been around for a long long time, it was a recent find for us. We walked past this old eating place along Beach Road on our way home from lunch at Si Chuan Dou Hua, and The Wife remembered that she read online somewhere that they sold very good orh kueh and chicken pie.

She bought some back that day from the very friendly uncle, and they were fantastic. A few weeks later, when we were in the neighbourhood again, we bought some more. If you’re a fan of orh kueh, go there and buy some back, it’ll be the best yam cake that you’ll ever have. Really.

We have yet to eat there and plan to make a return visit soon to try their signature oxtail stew and Hainanese pork chop rice. Expectations are high as we love the oxtail stew at Shashlik, which is also an old-school Hainanese Western restaurant.

Technically, it was old-school since the younger generation has taken over operations, but the food there remains consistently good. I fully expect Prince Coffee House to be of the same quality, if not better. Fingers crossed that I’m not disappointed.

Soontofu @SBCD Korean Tofu House

Tofu is one of my favourite foods, and the soontofu at SBCD never disappoints. The super soft tofu served in hot spicy stew kept warm in a claypot is wonderful on a cold rainy day, or for that matter, any other day.

Their set meals are particularly worth it as they come with a side order of dishes like beef bulgogi and spicy squid. The Wife is a huge fan of the fried yellow corvina that they serve as appetisers, and usually orders extra portions.

My only challenge eating there is their Korean-style flat metal chopsticks, which I’ve struggled with when dining in Seoul, and so I usually ask for disposable wooden ones. But I’m glad to report that with some practice, I’m now currently semi-proficient and won’t go hungry when we next travel to Korea.

Nanyang Chinese @Famous Treasure

Famous Treasure is one of the more interesting Chinese restaurants in Singapore. They specialise in localised Nanyang-style Chinese food and serve interesting dishes like their signature wok-fried squid with chinchalok and lady’s fingers. Chinchalok is fermented shrimp sauce and is an acquired taste that I’ve never acquired, but it goes surprisingly well in this dish.

Their salt-baked flower crabs are great, and even though it takes some effort to get to the limited amount of meat (as compared to the more muscular Sri Lankan mud crabs), it’s well worth the extra effort.

These two are just a small sample of their wide repertoire of dishes, and if you’re looking for a Chinese restaurant beyond your typical Cantonese, Hokkien or Sichuan, here’s where to go. And if you like your sambal belachan spicy, you definitely want to try the one served at Famous Treasure.

French @Mad About Sucre

One of our favourite restaurants in Singapore is undoubtedly Mad About Sucre, which we discovered courtesy of our good friend SL. It’s been five years and we’re still loyal customers, because of their good food and even better service. Owner/chef Eric continually innovates and has recently launched new vegetarian and vegetable-forward dishes, including the impressively yummy grilled cauliflower steak.

I had the chance to sample some when SL’s young daughter refused it out of principle, just because it was cauliflower. It didn’t even work when I told her that unicorns (she’s obsessed with unicorns, by the way) love to eat cauliflower, so I ended up splitting half a kid’s portion with her dad. Kids are smart nowadays.

The Wife missed her chance at the leftovers and after I raved about how good it was, it seems like we’re going back to Sucre for her birthday, where she will have the cauliflower steak and I, sadly, will have to settle for a nice thick slab of pork ribeye.

Steamboat @Haidilao

The most famous woman in Singapore is Heidi Lau. Almost everyone knows Heidi Lau and her name is prominently displayed in front of many shopping malls throughout the island. One day, we may be lucky enough to actually meet Heidi Lau. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for some steamboat.

Satay @Rahim Muslim Food (Chong Boon FC)

The best mee rebus in Singapore can be found at Rahim Muslim Food, located in Chong Boon Food Centre near the intersection between Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 and Ave 10. In addition to mee rebus, they also sell mee soto and satay. The Wife was patient enough to wait for close to an hour a couple of months back to buy back their chicken satay.

When we dipped the sticks of richly marinated, chunky and juicy meat into the viscous and peanuty satay sauce, it immediately became our favourite. So now, in our eyes, Rahim sells not just the best mee rebus in Singapore, but also the best satay. Which is not an easy feat to accomplish.

The satay grill only starts around 2-3pm and they usually sell out fast. But be prepared to wait because each batch is only 20-30 sticks and pakcik takes care to cook each stick patiently as he perches silently on his stool.

Tonkatsu @Tonkatsu by Ma Maison

Sometimes I crave for deep-fried pork, and when I do, I head down to Ma Maison at Mandarin Gallery for tonkatsu. There are several tonkatsu specialty chains in Singapore including the oldie Tonkichi and the relatively newer Saboten, but we keep going back to Ma Maison.

They specialise in curly black-haired Mangalitsa pork and offer a Nagoya-style option with an addictive miso sauce topping. Add an extra side order of their curry for a truly satisfying meal. And until Katsukura Kyoto decides to set up shop in Singapore, Ma Maison remains our go-to joint for Japanese tonkatsu.

Nasi Lemak @Selera Rasa (Adam Road FC)

Fast food chain Crave, that sells nasi lemak in numerous mall basements, started out from the Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak stall in Adam Road Food Centre. I remember eating there many many years ago and it was one of the better nasi lemaks in Singapore. When we started panda-ing Crave on a semi-regular basis, the familiar taste sent me googling and I found the link to Selera Rasa.

For fast food nasi lemak, Crave does its rice surprisingly well. It’s not soggy and clumpy, like what many shops serve, and the grains are well separated and absorb the rich lemak from the coconut milk it’s cooked in. The sambal chilli is also unapologetically spicy, just how I like it.

Quality recently has been a bit erratic though, and they’ve started getting stingy on the amount of sambal, so I think it’s about time to visit the O.G. stall at Adam Road to see if the roots are still well anchored. And since I’m there, might as well chase it with some sup kambing and teh tarik.

Mutton Soup @Hong Wen (Bukit Timah FC)

One of my enduring childhood memories is having herbal and gamey mutton soup at the fourth floor food court at Beauty World. It was an occasional treat because it was so zua (热) and having it too frequently could cause nosebleeds.

So, when I saw Hong Wen’s signboard proclaiming that it was from the “Old Beauty World”, I had to give it a try. Definitely brought back memories, and the next time my body is feeling too liang (凉), I’m heading down to Bukit Timah Food Centre.

Ngoh Hiang @Zhong Zhong Fine Spice (Bukit Timah FC)

There’s an uncommonly large number of good hawker stalls at the Bukit Timah Food Centre, and Zhong Zhong Fine Spice is one of them. Ngoh hiang is fairly common in many hawker centres and coffeeshops and they all taste kind of generic.

They’re all good (because how can everything deep-fried not taste good?) but they’re all sort of interchangeable. Somehow, Zhong Zhong manages to stand above them, and while it’s probably not the best out there, it’s pretty darn good.

Vegetarian @Elemen

Over the years, we’ve been consciously increasing our intake of vegetarian and vegan food. It helps that general interest and demand has picked up, resulting in many restaurants delivering interesting interpretations.

Elemen is one of them, a locally-grown restaurant by the Koufu foodcourt group, serving Chinese/Western fusion vegetarian dishes somewhat similar to those from the Taiwanese chain Sufood.

While they have staples on their regular menu, Elemen also offers limited seasonal menus that offer interesting takes on local food such as their Peranakan, Old School Singapore, National Day sets.

We usually go to their branch in Thomson Plaza, which closed sometime back down due to extended mall renovations. But they have another one at Millenia Walk, which conveniently is where the newly opened Meidi-ya is located, allowing us to kill two birds with one excursion.

Pancakes @Clinton Street Baking Company

Once a year, we go to Clinton Street Baking Company along Purvis Street for my annual fix of pancakes. Their blueberry pancakes come in a stack of three substantial pieces that are fluffy yet firm; not the strange soufflé ones that are the rage nowadays.

Pancakes are not soufflé, and if I wanted to have soufflé (which I happen to really like as well), I would order soufflé. Ok, rant over.

Anyway, the ones at Clinton come with a generous drizzle of blueberry sauce (compote perhaps?) and a side ramekin of their signature maple butter, which I always consume completely, using pieces of pancake to make sure I soak up every last drop.

The combination of carbs, sugar and bottomless freshly-brewed black coffee always results in heart palpitations, but since this only happens once a year, so I figure it’s perfectly fine. I hope.

Chendol @Old Amoy Chendol (Chinatown Complex FC)

The best chendol in the world can be found in Penang Road. Not the Penang Road near Dhoby Ghaut MRT, but Penang Road in Penang, Malaysia.

There are two stalls facing each other, but the one I’m talking about is beside the old kopitiam that serves char kway teow with duck egg. You can’t miss it because there is always a long queue. Just go to the back of the line and wait. It’s going to be worth it.

But since Penang is not in the neighbourhood, I’ll head down to Old Amoy Chendol in the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. To be honest, I haven’t actually tried it yet, but given the hype and numerous posts on social media, I assume it’s quite good. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation.

Claypot Rice @Lian He Ben Ji (Chinatown Complex FC)

Claypot chicken rice is the favourite Singaporean dish of my Japanese ex-colleague RM. When she’s next down in Singapore, I’ll finally bring her to try Lian He Ben Ji, also located in Chinatown Complex Food Centre. But since I haven’t tried it myself yet, I should do due diligence and do a proper recce, especially since I’m going to be there for chendol anyway.

Korean BBQ @Joo Mak

We ended up at Joo Mak on the fourth floor of Beauty World Centre one day because we were searching for authentic jjajangmyeon and online reviews pointed us there. We’ve never had it on our trips to Korea, so we couldn’t tell if it tasted authentic or not, but it was too sweet for our liking.

The eatery seemed to be run by Koreans, with an ahjumma serving the banchan, food and drinks. Most of the other tables were populated with Koreans, including some that were having BBQ and countless bottles of soju. The sizzling plates of samgyeopsal and beef looked, sounded and smelled really good.

So good that I told myself that we had to come back for it soon, but then Coldermort happened, followed by the months-long lockdown. But 2021 looks like it’s going to be a better year (fingers crossed), and we can celebrate with greasy K-BBQ cut with sharp kimchi.

Peranakan @Violet Oon

One of The Wife’s friends is a huge fan of Peranakan food and has tried most of what Singapore has to offer. In her opinion, Violet Oon is one of the best. I’ve walked past branches in Clarke Quay and Changi Jewel before, and always assumed that it was a high-priced tourist trap that prioritised marketing over flavour. But since it came highly recommended by a friend who knows what she’s talking about, we figured that it deserved at least a chance. We’ll see.

Spanish @FOC Restaurant

Our two previous trips to Spain remain as some of our best memories, and the wonderful Spanish cuisine plays a large part in contributing to that. From tapas bar hopping in San Sebastian to rustic village food in Elciego to the sheer variety and quality in Barcelona, our love for Spanish food will likely remain with us for life.

It started decades (yes, decades!) ago when we first tried Spanish food at the now defunct Sol Restaurant at the Goodwood Park hotel, and continued with OLA Cocina del Mar at MBFC and more recently at FOC Sentosa. The main FOC Restaurant at Hong Kong street is more formal than their totally laid-back output on Sentosa island, but the food looks no less exciting. This is one of our most anticipated meals for 2021.

Tze Char @Siang Hee Seafood (Serangoon Gardens FC)

Siang Hee Seafood is another tze char stall that we like, but because it’s slightly further away at Serangoon Gardens Food Centre, we don’t go there as often. Note: it’s not at the more famous Chomp Chomp, but a short walk away and across a few streets. The auntie cook with her goggles dishes up standard tze char dishes, but of consistently high quality, including har cheong gai, sambal sotong, pumpkin prawns and homely soups among many others.

Teochew @Chao Shan Cuisine

The Old Folks are Teochew and ever since Lee Kui (Ah Hoi) Restaurant along Mosque Street in Chinatown folded, we’ve camped out at Chui Huay Lim for our family meals.

Online reviews of Chao Shan Cuisine are good and photos of the food look appetising. It’s definitely worth a try to see how it stacks up against them incumbent. Chui Huay Lim, being part of the huge Jumbo Group, is probably not going anywhere soon, but it’s always good to have a backup that meets the approval of The Old Folks.

Indian @Daawat Tandoori

The stretch of shops along Upper Thomson Road is filled with restaurants and cafes and Daawat Tandoori can get lost among the crowd. It’s a nice little restaurant that serves mostly North Indian food, with particularly good butter chicken and dum briyani. It’s also where I get my Kingfisher when I’m in the mood for some good beer.

Their lunch sets are of particular value, where you get a thali of fragrant basmati, and depending on which set you choose, either a meat, seafood or veggie combo, plus the obligatory yoghurt which I’m still not a fan of. They serve their papadums with a light mint sauce which makes for a light appetiser. It’s a comforting and familiar place that we always end up going a couple of times each year.

Prime Rib @Lawry’s

What do we order when we go to Lawry’s The Prime Rib at Mandarin Gallery? The prime rib lunch of course. It’s a bit pricey, so we wait when they have special offers which can sometimes almost half the total cost for two persons.

Their Yorkshire pudding goes amazingly well with their re-fillable jus, and their creamed spinach is a must order side dish. While the wait staffs’ uniforms are from a bygone era and look stiff and formal, their service is consistently warm and friendly.

Oh, and their prime rib is pretty nice too.

Indian Vegetarian @Nalan

Nalan used to be at the corner B1 level of Funan Centre, before it was renovated from a computer-centric mall to a hipster “lifestyle” venue, complete with bicycle tracks (where you can cycle indoors!) and a huge-mongous rock climbing wall which is surprisingly popular.

A few months before the years-long Funan renovation started, they moved two blocks down to Capitol Piazza (wow, fancy name) to a slightly larger space with views of the indoor feature fountain, which I don’t actually remember ever being turned on.

The food has remained the same, with the staple Indian vegetarian dishes that you’d expect, including our regular favourites of thosai, idly and other carbs, onion pakora, dahl makhani, baigan ka bharta and plus our recent discovery of a sinful-tasting gobi manchurian.

Whenever we eat there, and we used to go there fairly regularly in the olden times pre-pandemic, we always tell ourselves not to order their baigan ka bharta, an addictive bowl of smoky, mushy, spicy brinjal. But we end up ordering it every time anyway, because it’s just so good. If you’ve ever had it, you’ll definitely know what I mean.

Peranakan @Novena Peranakan

The boss who runs Novena Peranakan comes across as quite grumpy, but once he recognises you as a regular, he changes and becomes, well, less grumpy. But that doesn’t put us off from going there for simple and traditional Nonya fare like bakwan kepiting, ayam buah keluak, sambal prawns, ngoh hiang, curry fish head etc etc.

The place looks a bit run-down, and the perpetual roadworks make it a hassle to get to the restaurant, but the prices are very friendly and the food is good. I somehow get the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they won’t be around for long, so we’ll have to make a return visit soon.

Sichuan @Old Cheng Du

Whenever I have a craving for mapo tofu, I immediately think of the one at Old Cheng Du. They have apparently done some renovation and made the place look more upmarket, and a friend who has gone there post-reno said that they also seem to have changed the chef. I hope that they don’t mess with their mapo tofu recipe, but the only way to find out for sure would be to try it first-hand. Fingers crossed.

Nasi Padang @Sinar Pagi (Geylang Serai FC)

Nasi padang is our happy meal and Sinar Pagi at Circular Road used to be a regular lunch spot when I was working in the CBD. That particular branch closed down some time back, and they seemed to have moved into the Geylang Serai Food Centre.

I’m so looking forward to having the sambal goreng, babat lemak, bergedil, tahu telor, beef rendang, sambal petai and so many other dishes that I used to have during work lunches with the team. For me personally, this ranks way up there in anticipation, just a close second to FOC Restaurant.

Herbal Soup @Imperial Herbal

Imperial Herbal sells some really way-out-there herbal soups involving strange body parts of deers and supposedly nourishing dishes like crocodile meat. But we go there for the more boring stuff like chicken cordyceps soup, boxthorn vegetables with wolfberries, beef with kailan and a very good crab beehoon. When we feel too zua (热) from feasting on heaty food, that’s usually when we head down to Imperial Herbal to detox.

Cheese Tasting @The Cheese Ark

We appreciate our cheeses but are still relative newbies when it comes to the wonderful world of fermented milk. To expand our palate, we’ve been meaning to make a trip down to The Cheese Ark, located in the Bukit Merah heartlands, and try their cheese platters.

It’s been on our list for quite some time, and we were supposed to plan a outing there earlier this year with some friends, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. Now that Singapore is officially in Phase 3 with loosened restrictions, that outing has a good chance of finally happening.

Korean Fine Dining @Meta

If you like an occasional fine dining experience, and Korean restaurants are not on your radar, you’re definitely missing out. Our Michelin-starred meals at La Yeon and Jungsik in Seoul were an eye-opener, and the closest that we have in Singapore is probably Meta along Amoy Street. We were there some time back for a very nice, and yet still affordable, lunch and plan to head back there again this coming year.

Porterhouse Steak @Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

There are a few famous high-end steakhouses in Singapore, including Cut at Marina Bay Sands and Morton’s at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. We celebrated my birthday at Morton’s many years ago but didn’t find it terribly impressive, especially given the high price tag.

I’m still waiting to be blown away by some amazing steak, and plan to give Wolfgang’s Steakhouse a try, especially their highly-rated porterhouse steak. If reality lives up to hype, we might even decide to splurge and try Cut out as well, and do a Wolfgang vs Wolfgang comparison.

Greek @Alati

We celebrated The Wife’s birthday at Alati earlier this year, our second visit there, and really liked the food, ambience and service. While her birthday is almost certainly going to be at Mad About Sucre in 2021, Alati is definitely worth a third visit for their excellent seafood air-flown from the Greek islands.

Turkish @Alaturka

Kunefe is a traditional Turkish dessert made with cheese wrapped in filo pastry, soaked in a sugar syrup and topped with chopped pistachios, not unlike baklava. It’s definitely a sugar and carb overdose which, I hope, doesn’t trigger heart palpitations. There are a handful of Turkish restaurants that offer it on their menu, and Alaturka near the Sultan Mosque is one of them.

Ok, I think I need to stop now.

I could probably add another dozen or two to the list, but there are only so many weeks in the year and gluttony, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. We won’t be travelling overseas this year, but we sure can indulge in some revenge eating.

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