Some may say that considering our proximity to Singapore, good Singaporean food is poorly represented in Melbourne. But in a place with such ethnic diversity, Singapore has taken on the traditions of various cultures; Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, Sri Lankan and European. It’s a phenomenon of globalisation that has affected the cuisine in Singapore as much as the landscape.
After a recent stint there we found ourselves craving the rich noodle broths, silken chicken rice, egg roti and sweet tea, the smells of tamarind, the colour of turmeric and the flavours of cooking with ghee we were consuming every day at hot, outdoor food courts. So we decided to hunt it down back home.
Here are a few dishes that best satiate our Singapore hawker-food hankering in Melbourne.
Char Kway Teow at The Old Raffles Place
A native favourite in Singapore, Char Kway Teow is a noodle dish made from flat rice noodles, stir fried over high heat with prawns and shrimp, bean shoots, egg, chives, soy sauce and chilli. True to the traditional Singaporean style, the dish at The Old Raffles in Collingwood is fried in pork fat with pork lard croutons (or peanuts) for texture. This place does its with a special Penang sauce, but it is about as true to the real thing as you can get – dark, rich and steaming.
Chicken Rice and Curry Puffs at Mr Loys Puff
Mr Loy, as you might guess, is big on curry puffs. His South Melbourne shopfront is a small, takeaway venue with limited seating and a bain-marie style set up. From here Mr Loy serves various curry puffs made with delicious, aromatic rempah spice paste and crispy pastry. But these are really just a taster to get you started. Mr Loys Hainanese Chicken Rice, another hawker-food favourite, is done in typical Singaporean style. A simple dish of chicken poached in chicken stock, with lots of ginger, onion, garlic and lemongrass, served on a bed of rice (also cooked in chicken stock), with cucumber slices, coriander and sweet chilli and soy dipping sauces.
Roti at Roti Road
Making roti requires serious skill. If you’ve ever watched someone stretch, flip and twirl the oily dough at high speeds, thinning it to within an inch of its life (without making holes), then folding it carefully to be fried on a hot plate over high heat, you’ll feel the energy. If you haven’t, visit Roti Road in Footscray and watch the roti rollers as they flick their wrists to pump out tin plates of roti served with spicy sambal, dahl and curry sauce. Mop it up quickly while it’s hot and crisp on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. Then order a laksa.
Nasi Lemak at Jalan Alor
Named after a the former red-light district and major tourist destination in Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Alor is nestled in the Village Arcade on Bourke Street. It serves authentic hawker-style food and Nasi Lemak is our dish of choice here – fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fish or chicken, pieces of cucumber, peanuts, egg, sambal and fried anchovies. Though traditionally wrapped up or served in a pandan leaf, this one comes on a plate. Often eaten for breakfast in Singapore, Brunei and Thailand, this nutritious dish works at any time of the day, and is served at Jalan Alor for lunch and dinner.
Mi Goreng at Mamak
Originally from Sydney, Mamak is more strictly a Malaysian restaurant, but is serving some of our favourite cross-cultural Singaporean dishes. And just like at the best hawker stalls, queues snake out the door as the scent of bold flavours and spice waft down Lonsdale Street. At the front window, peer into the open kitchen where cooks are rolling and stretching roti wide and thin. While typically Indonesian, mi goreng (fried noodles) has been taken on as a signature dish in Singaporean cuisine, too. Mamak’s version is simple and clean, made with spring onions, shallots, prawn and egg. Order with stir-fried water spinach (kangkung belacan), a serve of roti and BYO beers.
Sock-Filtered Coffee and Kaya Toast with Eggs at Killiney Kopitiam
The only sweet dish on our menu, kaya toast with eggs and coffee is great for a late breakfast or dessert option at this Malay coffee house in the city. The equivalent of the rather English tradition of dipping toasted soldiers into your soft boiled yolks, Kaya toast is a sweet, coconut-milk jam infused with pandan leaves and served between bread. You then dip the toast into two soft poached eggs, which can be seasoned with salt, pepper and a dark soy sauce. With it drink Killiney Kopitiam’s strong black coffee (kopi is Malay for coffee) that has been filtered through a sock-like fabric and is sweetened with condensed milk. Only open from 11am, Killiney Kopitiam has plans to for open for breakfast soon.