Are you hungry? You should probably stop right now then. See, one thing I learned from traveling to Southeast Asia with two fun- and food-enablers is that delicious eating is everywhere. Cheap food is pouring out onto the sidewalks because the giant megaplex shopping fortresses can’t contain it all. Even in the unstoppable heat, the enticing aroma of sizzling garlic, or just-baked sweets, or the ripest, sweetest fruit possible stoke the fire of hunger and melt away any willpower.
First off, visiting my brother in Singapore (or as I call it, Asia Lite). This affluent island city-state is a beautiful stir-fry of many cultures and cuisines. If you’re not shopping in Singi, you’re probably eating.
The revelation that is cereal shrimp: the antidote to greasy deep-fried shrimp. These shrimp were plump, sweet and juicy and the breading stayed crispy and crunchy and dry with a just a hint of corn sweetness.
My favorite Singaporean breakfast/ snack/ all day eats is kaya toast: thick fluffy sweet white bread perfectly toasted or grilled and then slathered with pandan-flavored coconut curd. I got busted for taking this picture of making toast, lest I be stealing company secrets?
Sorry this is the best picture I got of our kaya toast because we devoured it in seconds. And then got a few more boxes to take home. Pandan is a grass that gives the coconut an aromatic vanilla-ish flavor. The key is to top this caramelly sweet coconut jam with a sliver of salted butter to melt all over it – think melted butter over maple syrup. Traditionally eaten with hot coffee and a bowl of runny eggs.
Another favorite: roti-curry. (I can eat this all day long). Hot, flaky roti paratha griddled in ghee is the perfect vehicle for delivering to your mouth the richest curry sauce. The secret combination of what tastes like 38 herbs and spices impart a deep complexity to the curry. Forget nachos, I’m bringing this to the next superbowl party.
The most incredible hot and sour soup to grace our palates. The softest of noodles and earthiest of broths rich with black mushrooms. And just look at all that black pepper on top! This will kill your cold for sure.
Lau Pa Sat hawker center in central Singapore is detailed with architectural flourishes. Just remember to bring a packet of napkins because there are no napkins there and also you can reserve your table by placing them on top while you go food foraging.
This gentleman has a a big ol’ flat top in his stand for making the Middle Eastern inspired murtabak. He stretches out roti dough into a giant rectangle and then fills it with eggs, tomato, mushrooms (and whatever else you want) and then the incredible envelope of goodness is cooked on the flat top for the perfect char.
Another favorite of mine, but I am a sucker for smoky rice noodles that are filled with crispy charred bits. Char kway teow is served up with shrimp and egg and bean sprouts and slathered in a sticky black soy sauce.
As my brother escorted us to the airport, we continued to gorge until the plane carried us away. B tried the famous Hainan chicken rice. Quite simply, chicken that is delicately poached in a gingery stock forming a crispy gel “skin”, with rice that’s cooked in the remaining stock. Seek this out if you are not a fan of the otherwise deliriously spicy and chili-filled treats in Singapore.
Throughout our stay in SE Asia I indulged in my favorite one-bowl meal: seafood noodle soup. This version is packed with prawns, chewy buckwheat noodles, and green onions in an umami-powered broth. Always get the condiments (fish sauce, soy sauce, chilis, and a fresh wedge of lime) for doctoring it up to your standards.