On Sunday we did a food tour of Chinatown with the “Secret Food Tours” company. This will be the fourth city I’ve done with the same company (Paris, Amsterdam and Tokyo were the others) and this one did not disappoint. We started near one of the subway exits in the Chinatown section of Singapore and stated from there. Our guide (Helen) is a Singapore local with Chinese heritage, full of energy, exuding happiness and willing to answer any of the questions we had on Singapore-Chinese food and culture.
We started with BBQ Pork Bakkwa which is a dried flat spiced piece of pork that’s BBQ’d. It’s slightly chewy with a lovely Smokey sweet taste. Not really amazing to look at, but absolutely delicious. It’s similar to jerky, but way nicer.
We then headed into one of the massive Hawker centres in Chinatown. After finding a table (not really an easy task with the throngs of people about). Helen brought over some Singapore style coffee, which is coffee with condensed milk at the bottom which you stir through. This combination really works in the hot humid conditions of Singapore. We had some hot Chinese breakfast food, a curry puff and a “Butterfly Cake” which is similar to a donut or fried fritter with sesame seeds.
Next on the food list was “Popiah”- Chinese spring roll- peanuts, turnips, carrots- thin skin- all ingredients in roll are cooked (again delicious).
The next dish was one I’ve read quite a bit about and have been anxious to try it. It’s Hainanese chicken. It doesn’t look appetising by any means, as it’s poached chicken with the skin on. Helen mentioned the best way to order it is to ask for the skin removed and no bones. The rice is cooked in chicken broth and comes with a small bowl of extra chicken broth to pour into the rice. Condiments for the side are sweet duck sauce and garlic chilli. The dish has a very delicate flavour and with the duck sauce it’s delicious. I found the chilli sauce way to hot.
After these dishes we strolled through the hawker centre where Helen pointed out the various other foods on offer, which vendors were the better ones and the history of the hawker centres.
I don’t think any food tour of Singapore (or anywhere else in south east Asia) would be complete without discussing Durian. It’s a large fruit that smells absolutely foul and disgusting but apparently tastes delicious. I can’t get past the smell to even taste it, but I did taste some durian ice cream. Thankfully that didn’t smell at all. The fruit has such and overpoweringly disgusting smell it’s illegal to take it on the subway here and almost all hotels ban guests from brining it in.
The final hawker centre we visited was the Maxwell hawker centre on the edge of Chinatown. Here we we had some “Appam” which is a fine Indian pancake (closer in texture to a French crepe) with sugar and coconut. This was washed down with a local “Tiger” brand beer. The local tradition is to pour it over ice to keep it cool longer – it works
If you have a couple of hours to spare this is a really worthwhile tour, and you certainly won’t leave feeling hungry!