Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Makansutra Singapore 24 Hr Street Food Safari Tour - Prelude to World Street Food Congress 2015

I was drafted into Makansutra's 24 Hour Street Food Tour in Singapore. The official name is the more descriptive and dramatic 24H Street Food Frenzy Safari. It's wild and a world first. The groundbreaking 24 Hour food marathon was in conjunction with the coming World Street Food Congress which will be held in Singapore from 8 to 12 Apr 2015. 

When K.F. Seetoh mentioned the crazy tour to me a few months ago, I jumped at the idea without a second thought or any idea what I was getting into. I just knew it was crazy, audacious, it was about good food, and I wouldn't want to miss it for anything.

Seetoh created and led the 24 hour tour for 50 media representatives from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia with his Makansutra team. Andrew Wong, Catherine Ling (of Camemberu blog) and myself were co-hosts.


Warning: This is a very long post. 24 hours is really very little time to showcase the breath and depth of Singapore's diverse street food and it's culture. But, here it is - a cross section of Singapore's best street food, personally handpicked by K.F. Seetoh, Singapore's makan (eat) guru.

I joined the 24 Hour Street Food Tour at Hill Street char kway teow stall located at Bedok South food centre. This is one of Singapore's best known CKT stalls, started in the 1960s at a food stall along Hill Street (hence the name).


The young Mr. Ng (Ah Kiat) was manning the wok today at Hill Street char kway teow stall.

The founder, Ah Kiat's dad, is retired now. The huge crowd did not intimidate Ah Kiat at all, as long queues at his popular char kway teow stall is just another day at the office.


Ah Kiat's char kway teow was perfectly executed. Anthony Bourdain said it best when he declared this the tastiest ugly mass.

There was plenty of wok hei, and layers of savouriness from the lard, soy sauce, cockle blood and larb cheong (Cantonese waxed sausages) juices balanced with sweet sauce. The flavours were robust, though some felt it was a tad too sweet.

Texture was good too. Soft noodles with seared bits buried unpredictably here and there in the heap, enveloped in gooey flavoursome juices, punctuated with crunchy bean sprouts, chewy larb cheong, and tender blood cockles.   

Our next stop was a short hop away at Bedok Food Centre.


This was my first taste of Mee Kuah Upeh at Mamu Kitchen in Bedok Food Centre.

The yellow noodles in the upeh leaf boat were fully submerged in a thick gravy of well balanced tangy, sweet and mildly spicy flavours. Holding the flavours together was an underlying seafood and mutton broth.

(Upeh is sun dried betel palm leaf.)

This mee kuah also comes with three fresh good sized shrimps.


The friendly owner of Mamu Kitchen enthusiastically explaining his signature Indian Muslim Mee Kuah Upeh dish.


From the same Bedok Food Centre, just stalls away, we had Cuttlefish Kang Kong from 夜來香 or Yue Lai Xiang (the famous 70 year old stall has no English signboard).

A local salad of crunchy fresh cucumber, pineapple, and greens mixed with gummy chewy cuttlefish and jellyfish tossed in a dark savoury sweet spicy sauce. Great mix of textures and tangy, sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. The bits of roughly crushed fried peanuts added nutty flavours and more crunch to the dish. 

Hard to find outside of Singapore, and even here, this dish is slowly disappearing from food centres.


Cheng tng (known as cikong in Malaysia) also from 夜來香.

It was welcome relief from the robust tasting food and the humid tropical Singapore evening.

I drank up the whole bowl as the cold concoction was just mildly sweet (not overly sugary) and the jumble of refreshing ingredients inside had interesting soft textures and flavours. Some of the interesting ingredients were dried longan flesh, lotus seeds, dried persimmon, snow fungus, sago, gingko nuts, and strips of candied melon.

夜來香 has been around since 1939 (before World War II) and to many Singaporeans, it still serves the best cuttlefish kang kong and cheng tng on the island.


No Singapore food trail is complete without the iconic Singapore style chili crab which many consider is the island's National dish.

The Makansutra team brought the participants to Dragon Phoenix 龍鳳 for a taste of this Singapore icon.


The thick gravy was a blend of tangy, sweet and spicy. There were eggs in the gravy to give it body but the egginess was a little shy in the assertive presence of the tomato puree, onions and sambal chili. 


The fresh Sri Lankan crabs were perfectly executed. The succulent flesh protected from the hot oil by the shell, stayed juicy, and refreshingly sweet and slightly briny. 


Our next stop was Immigrants Gastrobar in trendy Joo Chiat.


We had chilled tofu - a chilled mish mash of mushed tofu, premium century egg, crunchy diced pickles and chopped scallion held together by a sauce based on sesame oil. Didn't really worked for me but everyone around me, locals and visitors alike were raving about it.


We stopped at Candlenut restaurant for tasting portions of Ayam buah keluak or chicken cooked with black pulp hollowed out from an Indonesian black nut. Most of the visiting media were encountering the bitter, earthly, savoury flavour of this unique Peranakan (Straits Chinese) dish for the first time. Some were delighted and all were curious about how this black nut is prepared and enjoyed. 


Candlenut's buah keluak ice cream is a world first. It's an interesting innovation but I need to taste it at least once more to appreciate it better. Right now, the sweetened bitter earthly taste didn't captivate me, let's say like my first taste of matcha ice cream or sesame seed ice cream did.


We arrived well behind schedule and well past Keng Eng Kee (KEK) restaurant's closing time. But, the entire clan waited to host us, all smiles and happy. All hands, founder and patriarch Liew Choy and his children Wayne, Paul, Geraldine were all on hand, preparing and explaining the dishes that the guests were enjoying. 


Keng Eng Kee's Ming Zhu roll 明珠卷 
created by the restaurant's matriarch. It was salted egg yolk, chopped black mushrooms, shrimp and egg wrapped in tofu skin and then deep fried.

The roll was expertly executed, so the skin was crispy but not greasy, while inside, the fillings were tender and moist. Some of the guests declared that Ming Zhu roll was their favourite dish of the day.


Coffee Pork Ribs.

When this dish was served, the air around the restaurant was perfumed with a sweet, rich Arabica (coffee) aroma.

I bet that if we take someone blindfolded to Keng Eng Kee when this dish dish is served, many would guess that s/he is in an espresso bar.


This Marmite Chicken was actually not one of the planned dishes for the visit.

But, conversation at our table with British and Hong Kong media somehow drifted to how the quintessentially British beef essence is used as a marinate in Singapore and Malaysia. The gracious host Liew Choy immediately asked Wayne to whip up three large plates to show the guests what is Marmite Chicken.

I take my hat off to Liew Choy for his outstanding hospitality.

Back to the Marmite Chicken.

What can I say?

It was simply brilliant! Perfectly executed with crispy savoury sweet batter outside wrapping a juicy succulent piece of chicken inside.

Everyone was impressed :D

KEK is consistently ranked among Singapore's top 5 Chinese zhi char restaurants by credible review panels and reputable food writers/ bloggers. I have absolutely no question about that.

Next stop was Singapore's far, far West.


Queueing at the legendary Power Nasi Lemak at Boon Lay Place Food Village.


I guess a staple dish well loved by all communities, good location, quick service, above average tasting food (everything was OK) and competitive pricing worked together to attract the long queues at Power Nasi Lemak.

The coconut rice was infused with aromatic coconut milk, and the grains had a soft, yet slightly nutty texture. The sambal chili was savoury, spicy and sweet. The fried chicken wings had a crispy, tasty rempah batter wrap while the flesh inside was tender, moist and juicy. The spice marinated Ikan Kuning had just the right texture and flavours.

Get the coconut rice, sambal chili, fried chicken wings and fried Kuning right and you have a winner of a power nasi lemak stall :D 


Next stop, Makansutra Gluttons Bay. Opened in 2004 by Makansutra, the strategically located, popular food hub features fine Singapore street food curated by K.F. Seetoh.


Har Cheong Kai from Hong Kong Street Chun Kee stall.

Invented in 1960s Singapore, Har Cheong Kai is chicken wings marinated in fermented prawn paste batter and then deep fried. Generally similar in concept with the fried chicken wings at Power Nasi Lemak, each just using a different marinate.

Perfect beer food.


Banana fondue, K.F. Seetoh's invention.

Sliced banana wrapped in batter, fried and eaten with kaya (creamy coconut milk and egg jam) dip.

Layers of sweetness and soft textures.

Brilliant tea time snack.


Duck satay! 

From Alhambra Padang Satay stall.

The meaty duck saturated with savoury sweet marinate were skewered with tiny wooden spears and expertly barbecued over slow charcoal fire.


If you come to Singapore, and you didn't try Sheila's juicy duck satay before going home, you ought to regret it  :-D


After Glutton's Bay, the evil food lord herded the innocents to Singapore's red light district for their initiation to dark, back lane dining.


K.F. Seetoh with Johor's permanent food representative in Singapore, JB Ah Meng.


JB Ah Meng's signature Salted Egg Yolk Prawn Tempura 咸蛋黄炒虾球.

The thing that fascinated me most about this dish were the pop corns.

Pop corns that don't pop. 

But, the sweet corn enveloped in a crispy salted egg yolk crust bursts savoury sweet aroma and flavour in the mouth. 

It was love at first bite. But hey, I am not the only starry eyed one.

Three Michelin Star Chef Ferran Adrià was so taken in by this dish that he wanted to buy the recipe from Ah Meng there and then, on the spot. The owner of 3 Michelin Star, El Bulli, 5 times winner of the best restaurant in the world award wanted to make a deal with JB Ah Meng, right there at that dingy red light district back lane. 

Many other celebrity chefs have dropped in on Ah Meng, including Anthony Bourdain who made a film here. 


JB Ah Meng's signature fried ewww Eel skin 香炸鱼皮 with tangy spicy Thai style dip. Crispy like an al natural cracker.


Crispy fried lotus roots on a bed of snake beans 蛇豆炒莲藕.


Well executed stir fried la la mussels. Very clean, fresh, simple and very delicious.

The food at JB Ah Meng was so good, the guests were oblivious to the goings on around them in Singapore's colourful underbelly.

We next visited the Jurong Fish Port and Pasir Panjang Vegetable Wholesale Centre which gave us the much needed relief from the day's non stop eating :P


Next stop, Thasevi Food for their famous Jalan Kayu roti prata (known as roti canai in Malaysia).


To know if a stall is making good roti prata, take a look at the chef. How big can he spread the dough? The bigger they spread the flour dough, the more layers there will be when the dough is folded into a small "envelope". The more layers, the crispier the outside, and the fluffier the inside. 

The best roti pratas are crispy outside and fluffy inside, and eaten with rich spicy curries of fish, chicken, mutton or just vegetables (mostly chickpeas).


夜來香 in Singapore's far north is an example of how Makansutra will track down good food to the ends of Singapore. When the food is good, no corner of the island is too far for Makansutra.

This laksa has the level of lemakness (coconut milk creaminess) to surpass any on this island. The creaminess somewhat muted the flavours of the spices and hae bee (dried shrimps). Scooping in a couple of dollops of sambal chili would help a little to rise it's spiciness. 夜來香 uses skinnier rice noodles which hold up better to boiling and soaking in broth better than their fatter, mushier cousins. Surely, one of the better laksa in Singapore.

I was not able to join the entire 24 Hr Street Food Trail. I manged about 70%. Here are those stalls/ restaurants which I didn't visit during the trail but I list them here for the benefit of readers.

Food on the 24 Hr Street Food Trail which I had eaten before (but not during the trail).


Chey Sua fried carrot cake 青山菜头粿

Humble stall in Toa Payoh, one of Singapore's oldest satellite towns, well loved for their simple fried carrot cake dish. There are various versions of this dish - black (with savoury sweet soy sauce), white (without soy sauce), with/ without egg, and so on. Here at Chey Sua, the carrot cakes are cut into tiny pieces and fried with egg, crunchy diced chai po (preserved raddish) and served flattened almost like a pancake. 

Soft, moist, savoury sweet and eggy with a slightly crisp outside. Interesting textures and flavours but I can't really detect the carrots. 


Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh is famed for their prime pork rib version of this popular dish. Rong Cheng's BKT is cooked in the Teochew style which uses only pepper and garlic to cook the prime ribs in water. This style of BKT pioneered by Rong Cheng in the 1970s is uniquely Singapore.


Tian Tian Chicken Rice 天天海南雞飯 is a good representative of a staple dish found in every coffee shop and food center, in every corner of Singapore. Nowadays made with standard American broilers weighing over 2 kilos each, the chicken meat is tender, succulent but short on "chickeny" flavour. All chicken rice stalls using American broilers face this issue.

The key to Tian Tian's popularity is their unique blend of savoury, sweet, velvety, syrupy texture sauce. The bland American broiler flesh becomes delicious when bathed in Tian Tian's special sauce. 

There you have it.

The world's first 24 Hour Food Tour.

Want to know how great this tour is? Gather a few family and friends, and try this yourself.

You will be glad you took up the 24 Hour challenge :-D

List of all the shops and stalls on the 24 Hour Street Food Trail.

Restaurant name: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice 天天海南雞飯 
Address: #01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, Maxwell Road, Singapore 
Map: http://goo.gl/maps/TQZZC 
GPS: 1.280412,103.844286 
Hours: 11:00am to 8:00pm (Closed on Monday)

Restaurant name: Hill Street Fried Kway Teow stall 禧街炒粿条 
Address: Blk 16 Bedok South Road #01-187 Bedok South Market and Food Centre 
Map: http://goo.gl/maps/XVWLt 
GPS: 1.32057,103.93589 
Hours: Tues to Sun 10:30am to 5:30pm (Closed on Monday)

Restaurant name: Mamu Kitchen

AddressBedok Food Centre, Blk 1 Bedok Road, #25, Singapore
Hours: 5:00pm to 12:00 midnight

Restaurant name: 夜來香 Cuttlefish Kang Kong and Cheng Tng

AddressBedok Food Centre, Blk 1 Bedok Road, #31 & 32, Singapore
Hours: 11:30am to 8:30pm

Restaurant name: Dragon Phoenix Restaurant (Novotel Clarke Quay) 龙凤大饭店

Address: #06-00, Novotel Clarke Quay, 177A River Valley Road, Singapore
GPS: 1.291277,103.844082
Hours: Mon - Sat: 11:00am - 3:00pm | Mon - Sat: 6:00pm - 11:00pm |  Sun: 10:00am - 3:00pm and 6:00pm - 11:00pm

Restaurant name:  Immigrants Gastrobar

Address 467, Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore 
Hours5:00pm to 12:00 midnight

Restaurant name: Candlenut

Address: 331 New Bridge Road, New Bridge Rd, Singapore
GPS: 1.279508,103.839763
Hours: 12:00pm to 2:30pm, 6:00pm to 10:00pm

Restaurant name: Keng Eng Kee Seafood Restaurant 琼荣记海鲜

Address:  #01-136, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, Singapore
GPS: 1.285598,103.803752
Hours: 11:00am to 2:00pm | 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Tel: (+65) 6272 1038

Restaurant name: Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak 

Address:  #01-06, Boon Lay Place Market and Food Centre, 221 Boon Lay Place, Singapore
GPS: 1.345736,103.713332
Hours: 5:00pm to 4:00am

Restaurant name: Makansutra Gluttons Bay

Address8 Raffles Ave #01-15, Singapore
Hours 5:00pm to 2:00am

Restaurant name: JB Ah Meng 新山亚明小厨

Address 2, Lorong 23, Geylang, Singapore
Hours: 5:00pm to 4:00am

Restaurant name: Thasevi Food

Address239 Jalan Kayu, Singapore
Hours: 24 Hours

Restaurant name: Ye Lai Xiang Laksa 夜來香

Address: Blk 4A, Woodlands Centre Road Food Centre, Singapore
Hours3:00am to 3:00pm (Closed on Thurs)

Restaurant name: Rong Cheng (Sin Ming Road) Bak Kut Teh 榕城(新民路)肉骨茶 
Address: Blk 26, Sin Ming Lane #01-117, Midview City, Singapore 
Map: http://goo.gl/maps/DgcCA 
GPS: 1.359301,103.834630 
Hours: 7:00am to 9:00pm

Restaurant name: Chey Sua Carrot Cake 青山菜头粿

Address: Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre, 127 Lorong 1, Toa Payoh, #02-30
Hours: 7:00am to 1:00pm (Closed on Monday)

Restaurant name: Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang

Address#02-166, Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, 1 Geylang Serai, Sinagpore
Hours8:00am to 7:00pm (Closed on Weds)

Restaurant name: Fishball Story 鱼缘

Address: 505 Beach Road, #01-85 Golden Mile Food Centre, Singapore
GPS: 1.302835,103.864037
Hours: 10:30am to 5:00pm

This 24 Hour Street Food Trail is created by Makansutra and was first conducted on 18 to 19 Oct 2014.

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I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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