SEE: Third time’s a charm with a return to Gar Lok Eating House, a place we’ve visited twice before! Our Makan Kaki Lyn Lee of Awfully Chocolate & Sinpopo brand (check out their gorgeous Lunar New Year hampers, cookies and cakes here!) had such a fascinating time the first time she went for her father-in-law’s favourite Hakka Beef Balls, she had to return to check out the other goodies on offer, including their hand-made Hakka Yong Tau Foo and this week’s recommendation, excellent Economical Rice!
De Ji Shen Cai Fan, serving up hot plates of white rice with a tasty selection of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, is one of the three stalls occupying the small but charming old school coffeeshop (but is of no relation to the other two Hakka stalls run by the same family). The day Lyn visited, she noticed that even though it was lunchtime, many of the dishes had already been snapped up. What was left on display, in large metal pans, were twelve to thirteen dishes and behind them, already plated, were what she assumed were single leftovers from what had already sold-out – tofu, fish, ngoh hiang and veggies. Definitely more a breakfast place, be sure to get there early to guarantee first dibs on the best variety of dishes!
Say you’re starving but you still want variety – something quick, tasty and wallet-friendly. Say those hunger pangs hit hard whilst you’re in the Orchard Road area. Nasi Padang might not be the most obvious choice to fulfill those criteria – unless your Makan Kakis Farah & Claudinho de Morais (behind Brazilian home business Claudinho’s Kitchen) recommend you try one of their favourite hidden gems, tucked away in a quiet fourth-floor corner of Far East Plaza.
Mansor D’Cafe is a mini makan place that can barely fit more than 12 diners (thanks, safe distancing!) in its compact premises. But what it lacks in space, it makes up in masses of flavour and choices. There, classic Malay lunch plates are served cafeteria-style (just get in line and point at what you want) by a charming couple, Mr Amin Mansor and his wife Jamilah Md. Daud.
“Our Nasi Padang is Singapore style! You really cannot find this in other places. All home recipes,” said Mr Amin, affectionately calling Madam Jamilah the “chief chef” and main pillar of their restaurant. Home and heart were never far from his lips when Mr Amin spoke. Respectfully named for Mr Amin’s father, they’ve been keeping Mansor D’Cafe in the family for more than fifteen years at Far East Plaza.
The whole Mansor D’Cafe experience – from the kampung spirit, through which customers were warmly welcomed and treated as more than friends, to the delicious home-spun recipes using fresh ingredients and celebrating local flavours – was like a home-coming.
Tired of healthy hipster grain bowls? Yearning for more comforting local flavours? Then lei cha fan, or thunder tea rice gives you the best of both worlds. This ancient Hakka invention of veggie-garnished grains in an astringent pour-over soup is certainly healthy, comforting and local, even with additional toppings of tofu and ikan billis. However because of its bitter herbal taste, traditional lei cha fan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Literally. Enter a crowd-pleasing version that’s been given a surprising vegan twist.
I first discovered this humble Bukit Timah stall during Singapore’s circuit breaker, when I was online hunting for affordable food delivery. What arrived (delivered personally by stall owner Wayne Tan) far exceeded my expectations. His vegan thunder tea rice may be meat, dairy and garlic free, but bland and boring it was not. Impressed by how rich, aromatic and packed with protein the dish was, I plotted my visit to Living Wholesome Vegetarian at Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre when restrictions were lifted.
There, I met the Wayne again, along with his girlfriend Agatha Teo, as they were busy serving the last of their lunchtime customers. Interestingly, as the owner of a vegan thunder tea rice stall, Wayne isn’t vegan nor Hakka himself. Rather, it was a business opportunity he took up when the previous owner decided to emigrate. Previously from the IT industry, Wayne was already thinking of swopping the late nights and heavy entertaining for a more regular, balanced lifestyle when Living Wholesome opportunely beckoned.
It seemed almost like kismet, so with zero F&B experience, Wayne took the plunge. He spent a month learning the ropes from the previous owner and then he found himself on his own. All the previous regular customers had left, business was slow and he was a one-man-operation slogging for survival. But Wayne stayed the course, welcoming feedback from customers and taking on pointers from mentors in the industry. Seven years later, he’s grateful. He learnt a lot from the tough times and not just about F&B. He actually found his passion through this experience. But that’s not all he found! His lovely girlfriend Agatha has been helping him for the past year and shares his passion for serving healthy food.
So what exactly is so special about their signature vegan thunder tea rice? Basically Wayne threw everything he learnt out the window, took the recipe and made it his own to save on labour, but not sacrifice taste. He thought hard about how to give a niche dish like that mass appeal, but yet keep it vegan to boot. His solution? Nuts. Lots and lots of nuts for fragrance and flavour…
Peanuts and sesame seeds are a given in most thunder tea rice recipes, but Wayne decided to really bump up the variety by adding cashews, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. No oil is added, just herbs like mint, basil, coriander, mugwort and ku li xin, then everything is blended into a concentrated paste. Many customers enjoy it served thick like that, but traditionally, the sauce is diluted with hot water to create the requisite green soup.
Either ways, it’s lush and creamy, intensely fragrant and undeniably delicious. Delivering maximum nutty flavour and a wonderful balance between savoury, sweet, and mildly bitter notes, thanks to the clever combination of the aromatic herbs. All the sharp edges have been knocked off, leaving a rounded, crowd-pleasing flavour profile that pairs beautifully with the organice brown rice and vegetables.
$6.30 gets you a regular rice set with soup on the side. It’s an attractively-arranged bowl full of vibrant colours. They only serve veggies that are in season, so I got finely chopped orange carrot, string beans, cabbage and cai xin in a varying shades of green. Then there’s whole brown beans, golden-fried firm tofu and bronzy preserved radish or chye poh. A scattered topping of whole sesame seeds and peanuts completed the picture perfect display, enough to rival any hipster grain bowl. The veggies were perfectly seasoned and cooked just right to retain a juicy crunch. In contrast, the brown beans were creamy-soft and the cubes of tofu were bouncy and crisp-edged.
Pour the bright green soup all over, mix and be prepared to get blown away! The garnish of sesame seeds and and peanuts amplified the gorgeous nuttiness of the soup. Ditto the toasty fragrance of the organic brown rice, flavoured with a little sesame oil. The bits of sweet Thai chye poh emanated sharp little bursts of umami, compounding the exciting play of flavours and textures.
Honestly, what more could you want in a rice bowl? It’s super tasty, full of fresh vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and herbs that pack a mighty punch of healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. And if you’re a noodle lover, you can even substitute the rice for bee hoon braised in mouth-watering mushroom sauce – so good!
TASTE Living Wholesome Vegetarian Food 生活天然健康素食 Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre, 51 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, #02-188, Singapore 588172. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10.30am to 2pm & 5.30pm to 7pm. Closed on Mondays. For deliveries, text + 65 84266033.
Hello Makan Kakis! Welcome to the first installment of our National Day special, featuring the 5 top local eats (worthy of “national dish” status), as voted by our Gold 905 listeners. The clear favourite, coming in head, shoulders and tail feathers above the rest, was chicken rice. Unsurprising, since nobody can resist tender chicken and toothsome rice, all bathed in mouth-watering aromatics. Add condiments of chilli sauce and thick, sticky-sweet black soya sauce, sliced cucumbers and a bowl of soup, chicken rice is a complete, affordable meal that truly reflects our country’s culinary history and development.
Initially brought to Singapore in the late 1800s by early Hainanese immigrants from China, chicken rice has evolved to suit local palates. Cantonese influences have crept into its preparation, from the tangy red chilli dipping sauce, to the traditional way of poaching whole chickens, then plunging them into cold water for that distinctive smooth, tender meat and gelatinous skin. The poaching liquid is also used to cook the fragrant and flavourful oil-coated rice, which some insist is the most important element of the entire dish.
When Gold 905 listeners were asked where they like to go for their favourite chicken rice fix, a few popular players emerged, of course – famous names like Tian Tian, Boon Tong Kee and Wee Nam Kee, as well as stalwarts like Yet Con and Chin Chin. Honestly though, discussions about where to find the best of this beloved national dish won’t reach any satisfactory conclusions. It’s impossible to find the “best”, simply because every self-respecting Singaporean has their own preference when it comes to the fragrance, flavours and textures of chicken rice. That said, here are a few we think are delicious for different reasons.
As we count down to the easing of the circuit breaker, how about a charcoal roasted meat feast? This week, have a gorgeously smokey set meal from RV Roasted Delight delivered straight to your doorstep at a reasonable price! Their meal sets for three to 8 people range from $21.80 to $71.80 and set meals for two range from $18.80 – 20.80, which is the one I chose. Package C for 2 consists of ¼ roast duck (upper quarter – which means I got a lovely juicy leg, breast meat and a little rib meat), plus an extra choice of 2 meats – choose from roast duck, chicken, char siew, roasted crispy pork belly or sausage. I went with the classic combo of roasted pork and char siew. White rice and oyster sauce vegetable with fried shallot rounded off the meal.
The roasted duck, in my opinion was the clear winner – really beautifully seasoned, with quite a refined taste that wasn’t too game-y or overpowering.
Are you looking for a yummy, affordable circuit breaker meal you can have delivered or pick-up quickly? If you’re craving something deep-fried and delicious, you’ve got to try har cheong gai, or shrimp paste fried chicken – our local version of fast food – from Ah Tan Wings.
I have to say, what an excellent find! Their fried chicken is super-tasty, reasonably priced and pre-ordering was easy via WhatsApp for next day pick-up and my meal tuned out to be impressive.I ordered 2 Atas Cutlet Sets at $6.80 each, which came with a massive piece of crispy, golden-brown chicken thigh coated in their signature shrimp paste batter, served on top of a mountain of chicken rice, a fried egg boasting a still slightly runny centre & lots of crunchy-fresh Japanese cucumber slices.
‘Tis the season for roasted turkeys, glazed hams and other festive eats. But why not embrace the flavours of Asia instead and celebrate with Cantonese-style roasted meats?
After hearing about this place from my Gold 905 Makan Kaki Chef Lim Yew Aun of The Cicheti Group, I hurried over to Keong Saik Road for some season’s eatings in the form of char siew (barbequed pork) and siew yoke (crispy pork belly), with some roasted duck thrown in for good measure. One bite and I knew I was going to have myself a tasty, er, merry little Christmas, thanks to Foong Kee Coffee Shop.
TASTE: Foong Kee Traditional Charcoal Roasted is located at
Foong Kee Coffee Shop, 6 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089114.
It’s open Mondays to Saturdays, 11am – 8pm. They close on Sundays and public holidays.
Babas and Nyonyas, stop me if you know this one: What do you get when you cross a herb salad with rice? Any true-blue Peranakan will tell you the answer is nasi ulam. The combination of aromatic Asian herbs, rice and, sometimes, seafood, is what makes nasi ulam such a wonderful, cool dish for our Southeast Asian climate.
Found all over southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and here in Singapore, recipes for nasi ulam differ from location to location, family to family, but this Peranakan version was recommended to me by KF Seetoh, the founder of renowned food guide Makansutra.
Chendol Melaka at Soy Eu Tua Coffeeshop along Upper East Coast Road is run by the irrepressible Daisy Tan and her husband Colin Yam. Once the regional director of a shipping firm, this self-confessed “200 per cent” bibik is now wholly dedicated to preserving her Peranakan culture through her culinary delights, like delicious chendol, kueh-kueh and her signature dish, nasi ulam.
TASTE:Chendol Melaka is located at Soy Eu Tua Coffeeshop, 15 Upper East Coast Road, Singapore 455207.
It’s open 10am-5pm (Tuesdays to Fridays) and 9am-5pm (Saturdays and Sundays). Closed Mondays.
To “reserve” your nasi ulam, call Colin Yam at 9777 6471.