Hello folks. I have decided to take a little break from work on job applications to write a long overdue blog post! I am still job hunting but I have a couple of opportunities on the go which, fingers crossed, may lead to my being gainfully employed again. I will keep you posted…
Anyway, back to the important stuff – the Makansutra Food Safari. Thanks to my pals over at notatourist I got invited to go along on their latest food safari with KF Seetoh. I was lucky enough to meet KF Seetoh back in December last year when I went on a cooking masterclass, but this time, it was all about discovering local food. I really enjoy a lot of Asian food, but sometimes I can get a little bit overwhelmed by all the choice on offer at hawker centres, and also not really knowing what some things are, so I was really looking forward to having my eyes opened and trying some unusual things. I invited along my friend Anna, who will try anything once!
Our first stop was the Lucky Valley Food Court, up near the East Coast road. We tried the Muah Chee, which are tiny rice flour dumpling cooked in palm oil and then rolled in different types of chopped nuts. The stand is tiny, tucked away and looks like nothing on first appearance. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! The owner here takes pride in that each dumpling is hand pulled. He starts with a bowl of dough and then uses a ‘plucking’ motion to create the dumplings. We tried the peanut and black sesame versions.
The dumplings were delicious and moreish. They were warm, sweet, nutty and crunchy. Each mouthful is bite-sized, meaning that it is really easy to eat lots in a short space of time. While we were there, we also got to sample some Cheng Tng. I’d never heard of this before, but its a light refreshing soup, made with a list of ingredients as long as my arm! All of the ingredients are said to have cooling qualities, and it is served cold. The soup is sweet with rock sugar, and then ginko nuts, wintermelon, sago balls, longons, persimmons and sweet potato is added. There were other ingredients but I can’t remember them all! I enjoyed the soup – it was something really different and unusual. It is odd to a Western palate to have a cold, sweet soup, but it was very refreshing, and Anna & I agreed that it did a great job of cooling us down, on a muggy evening.
Sweet, cooling Cheng Tng
You can try both of these dishes at Bedok Avenue 3, Block 69
After enjoying some sweet treats, we headed off towards Geylang, to visit Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant. This restaurant is dedicated to serving authentic Peranakan cuisine, and has been doing so since 1953. First up, we tried some otak otak, which is a kind of fish cake, which is made by mixing fish paste with things like garlic, chillies, lemongrass and coconut milk. It is then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until its cooked. It was soft, fishy and spicy – a great starter – although I would’ve liked it with something fresh and crunchy to add a little contrasting texture.
After that, we tried a really special dish – Ayam Buah Keluak. This is a chicken dish that is served with the Buah Keluak nut. This nut is actually poisonous and needs to be soaked at least overnight before being served. It has a black shell and to make the dish, the nut is soaked for 24 hours, then cracked open. The contents is then mixed with minced chicken and spices, before being stuffed back into the nut shell. It is then cooked with the chicken in a stew. The nut has a very distinctive earthy flavour – KF Seetoh described it as tasting like eating mud! It’s definitely earthy, but I actually found it very tasty and I’d like to try it again.
Ayam Buah Keluak
You can try both these dishes at Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant, 38-40 Joo Chiat Place.
Our final stop was the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. I’d not ever been up to East Coast park for food before, except to eat chilli crab at the Jumbo’s up there with Will’s sister. I had no idea there were so many eateries to be found there. When KF Seetoh had said we would be eating chilli crab, I think we all rolled our eyes slightly. Despite being one of Singapore’s famous dishes, I’ve not been overwhelmed with chilli crab. I enjoy it, but I don’t think I’d eat it all the time as I find the sauce a bit sweet and lacking in kick. Boy, was I about to be proved wrong.
We went to another innocuous looking stall – Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe. We tried the chilli crab and … OMG. The sauce was full of chilli! It was super spicy and even two Singaporean guys that ended up on our table said it was spicy for them! The sauce tasted completely different to any chilli crab I had tried before. Apparently this is because they are one of the few places that still make their sauce from scratch, and don’t buy it bottled. I know understand why chilli crab has such a legendary reputation – the sweet crab with that super punchy sauce gives a massive taste explosion in the mouth.
Chilli crab, with actual chilli!
You can try this yummy chilli crab at Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe, 1220 East Coast Parkway, Stall 6, East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Before trying this dish, I’d never really understood the Singaporean thing of travelling all the way across the island to enjoy what they think is the ‘best’, but I have to say I’d definitely make the journey out east to try this again.Whilst we were eating our dinner, Anna & I made a new friend of the granddaughter of the stall owner. A budding photographer from the looks of this shot!
The next David Bailey and Anna
Thanks to notatourist and SingTel for the kind invitation, and for the lovely Anna accompanying me and sharing some of her photos. She has actually just launched her own styling company, Polished Presence, complete with its own gorgeous blog which you can check out here.