Our Fave National Eats Revisted (Part 1)

HEAR:
Click to listen/ download podcast of this encore episode of our Nation’s top eats (Part 1).

Hello Makan Kakis!

In the lead-up to National Day, we’re revisiting a special feature on top local eats!  The clear favourite (as voted by our Gold 905 listeners), coming in head, shoulders and tail feathers above the rest, was chicken rice – a complete, affordable meal that truly reflects our country’s culinary history and development.

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’s one that’s surely a worthy contender!

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Started by Mr Cheong Weng Wah in 1988, Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice is a must-try for those visiting Tiong Bahru Market. In particular, his poached chicken was outstandingly moist, tender and very clean-tasting. Staying true to its name (lazy eaters rejoice!), a whole drumstick was deboned, then beautifully sliced and served on rice but still with all the best bits intact – dark meat, silky skin and crunchy cartilaginous ends.

Mr Cheong first learnt how to make his signature dish from a friend who was a cook at The Mandarin Hotel, famous for its Chatterbox chicken rice. In the three decades since, Mr Cheong has slowly experimented and improved on the recipe to great success and many accolades, including a Bib Gourmand mention in the Michellin Guide Singapore.

The condiments are also worth mentioning, from the deceptively pale chilli sauce that packed a really spicy, well-seasoned punch, to the surprisingly mild and mellow ground ginger sauce (I’m guessing he uses young ginger). Sliced cucumbers and sweet pickled vegetables were included on the plate, for freshness and crunch, along with a bowl of simple chicken broth on the side. The rice was also on point – firm-to-the-bite and tastily infused with onion, garlic, ginger, pandan leaves and spring onion.

But ultimately, it was the chicken that really stood out for its pristine texture and flavour. Mr Cheong really let the meat speak for itself, gently enhanced by the merest whisper of light soya sauce and sesame oil. Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice is a value-for-money all-rounder and undoubtedly one of Singapore’s finest.

TASTE:
Delivery: Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice 
Address: 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-82, Singapore 168898
Opening hours: 10am – 8pm (closed Mondays)
Tel: +65 97509846

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Following close behind chicken rice was chilli crab – an obvious choice, perhaps, but this is one dish we can proudly say was created in Singapore and as island-dwellers, our tables never go too long without the succulent, spicy seafood treat of mud crabs wok-fried in a piquant, savoury-sweet gravy, served with bread or buns on the side for maximum sauce-absorbing purposes. Here, we revisit to the birthplace of Chilli Crab. Or as our photographer put it, “The OG Chiili Crab”.

Roland Restaurant began life in the mid-fifties by the Kallang River as a humble seafood stall, with just few wooden tables, stools and kerosene lamps. Run by husband-and-wife team Cher Yam Tian and Lim Choon Ngee, business began booming with Madam Cher’s signature creation of crabs stir-fried in a combination of tomato and chilli sauces. The stall evolved to a restaurant initially called Palm Beach along Upper Changi Road and in 1985, their son Roland took over the family business. The eponymously named restaurant has made Marine Parade home ever since.

The chill crab served at Roland Restaurant is still made according to inventor Madam Cher’s recipe, so if you’re hankering after taste of those good old Bedok Beach days, you know where to find it. Long-time customers still return to ask for this off-menu item. According to Roland, his mother’s original recipe was sweeter, with more of a tomato ketchup flavour and always served with a side of crusty local-style French loaf.

However, their signature on-menu chilli crab has gone through some minor tweaks. These days, the sweet tomato ketchup has been dialled down, the chilli paste ramped up for kick and egg has been added for extra texture. The French loaf is also gone, having made way for the now requisite mantou (Chinese wheat flour buns).

At Roland, you can order the buns either steamed or deep-fried. But chilli crab is already such an indulgent feast, you might as well go all the way with the deep-fried variety, for added taste and textural dimensions. Those buns ($2.40 for four) were dainty and pale, but quite the opposite flavour-wise. The thin, fried crust of the bun was like a crispy candy shell that shattered on contact with teeth, melting away to reveal a soft, fluffy centre. Dipped into chilli crab sauce, the sweet buns drank up the savoury, spicy elixir and released a lovely milkiness that made a wonderfully balanced combination.

The sauce is all about a better balance of flavours. It wasn’t excessively ketchupy or sugary and its fiery chilli heat tickled the back of my throat in the most stimulating way. Brininess, spiciness, a touch of tang and a hint of sweetness all worked harmoniously in the gravy, expertly thickened by threads of egg white.  As for the crab, full marks on freshness, flavour and size. Roland Restaurant usually serves a mix of Sri Lankan crabs and mud crabs, depending on the season – mine were Sri Lankan and perfectly cooked. The naturally sweet crustaceans had a kissed-by-the-wok smokiness, with juicy yet firm pincers, all lovingly bathed in the excellent sauce.

There’s always something quite ceremonial and special about sharing a meal of chilli crabs, especially at a stalwart like Roland Restaurant, which calls to mind classic Chinese banqueting halls and childhood family feasts. Eating chilli crabs is such a sensuous experience – you have to be prepared to get hands-on messy, cracking through shells, sucking out hidden morsels from nooks and crannies, sopping up pools of gravy. It can be such an investment of time and effort, but Roland Restaurant’s chilli crabs are definitely worth getting your hands (and everything else) deliciously dirty for.

TASTE:
Roland Restaurant

Address: Block 89, Marine Parade Central, # 06-750 Singapore 440089.
Open daily: 11.30am – 2.30pm for lunch and 6 – 10.30pm for dinner.
Tel: +65 6440 8205

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Of all the dishes in the world that can be classified as “ugly delicious”, rojak comes pretty close to the top of the list. Rojak, in all its various forms, may not be the most visually appealing of dishes, but looks aren’t everything when taste and texture more than make up for it. Perhaps more importantly, rojak has also gone beyond the menu to mean something greater.

Symbolically, rojak reflects the Singaporean culture and identity – a little bit of everything thrown together with a pleasing result. In colloquial Malay, rojak also means “mixed”. No wonder then, that Gold 905 listeners voted the dish as one of the top five local eats that best represents Singapore.

Of all the recommendations we received, here’s one serving Chinese-style rojak in Clementi that is extremely popular. The duo behind the relentlessly busy Brothers Rojak stall really are brothers, and the balancing act driving a family business that has spanned more than six decades, three of which at its current location. Tan Boon Hwa and Tan Boon Heng are possibly the two most jovial hawkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, with the younger Tan sibling (on rojak-making duty at the time of my visit) calling out to each customer with a smile and a “Hello Lao Ban” (boss in Mandarin).

The very antithesis of subtle, rojak is a love it or hate it dish. In my mind, it tends to launch a punchy assault on the senses, a full-on mix of sweet fruit clashing with the savoury funk of pungent prawn paste, spicy notes combating with smoke from a charcoal grill. But at Brothers Rojak, they have managed to mellow that battle into a well-rounded, beautifully balanced dish, with all of the familiar flavours, but none of the jagged edges. Nothing really jarred or competed for attention on the palate.

For a standard plate of rojak (prices range from $3.50 to $9.50, I ordered a $5.50 portion), I got a heaped serving of thinly-sliced bang kuang (jicama), pineapple, cucumber, scissor-snipped torch ginger flower and you tiao (fried dough crueller), all tossed in a sticky concoction of hei ko (prawn paste), chilli sauce, assam (tamarind) and sugar. The oozy mound was then sprinkled liberally with crushed peanuts.

The joy of eating Brothers Rojak came from the harmonious mingling of flavours and textures. As expected of a fruit salad, there was the refreshing burst of crunchy cucumber, sweet and tart pineapple and the earthy jicama. That juicy freshness was chased by the toasty peanuts, charred you tiao with crispy edges and the briny caramelized flavour of prawn paste. The sour zing of tamarind and gentle hint of chilli rounded the dish off beautifully. The glorious marriage of flavour profiles, that didn’t fight or overwhelm, played most agreeably on the palate.

Good as is, I highly recommend the menu extras to really enhance your standard rojak experience. I added pressed sheets of cuttlefish, taupok pau (fried beancurd stuffed with cucumber and bean sprouts), more you tiao, as well as century egg with pickled ginger on the side. These came on a separate plate, tossed in the same moreish rojak sauce and garnished with more crushed peanuts. I especially appreciated how the grilled cuttlefish echoed the savoury-sweet flavour of the prawn paste, its salty taste of the sea developing more and more as I chewed.

However, it was the century egg that really elevated the rojak. Its super-charged green-grey yolk added a luxurious creaminess and unique earthy-ammonia whiff to the dish. Meanwhile, its gelatinous soy-brown albumen teased wth its jiggly coolness. Eaten with the pickled ginger, each mouthful of rojak had a bonus sweet, spicy and floral bite, which made up for what I felt was a smidge lacking in the torch ginger flower. I had seen it being added into the mixing bowl, but the fragrance and flavour seemed to have dissipated into the milieu.

Interestingly (though not unwelcome), their prawn paste was more understated than others I have encountered, with just a modest waft of pungency. It didn’t reek of fermented shrimp, but had an almost yeasty, Bovril-esque quality, which was by no means unpleasant.

Perhaps therein lies its popularity. Brothers Rojak isn’t overpowering or olfactorily offensive. Mild, with a good balance of fresh, chewy, crispy and juicy textures, as well as sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours, it definitely had mass appeal. Just as appealing was the uplifting, happy vibe the brothers exuded, which made this rojak experience all the more gratifying.

TASTE:
Brothers Rojak (Chinese Rojak)
Address: 449 Clementi Ave 3, #01-211, Singapore 120449.
Open: 10am to 9.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays (closed on Sundays).
Tel: +65 9710 2700.

Makan Kakis Best of 2018 – Part 1

It’s time once again for Season’s Eatings and as we celebrate the end of another delicious year, welcome to our Makan Kakis special – we’re looking back at 2018’s most popular makan recommendations!

So let’s kick off the festive feasting off with these yummy gems:

For a little extra fun, head on over to Facebook now and vote for your favourite makan place out of these three selections!
To Listen/ download the podcast of this week’s Best of 2018 episode, CLICK HERE!
And do tune in to Gold 905 every Thursday all this December for our four-part special, featuring the best eats of the year!

Of Burgers, Chicken Rice & Prawn Mee

Greetings, Makan Kakis! This week, our newest foodie friend is Moe Ibrahim, the founder & CEO of Deelish Brands, the restaurant management company that has brought Californian fast-casual chain Fatburger to Singapore.

As a hotelier and entrepreneur, he’s especially passionate about the quality of the ingredients and the service at Fatburger Singapore, so have a listen to what he has to say about their Fresh, Authentic & Tasty burgers here:

Originally from Jersey City, USA, Moe has had 20 years of living in Singapore to really get to know our local food and develop a love for chilli & spice.  A self-confessed East Coast boy, he has a couple of neighbourhood favourites to recommend:

First of all, the hawker classic that everybody loves, Chicken Rice! Moe loves the stall at the corner of Upper East Coast Road & Jalan Tua Kong – mainly because of the people there. The Uncle used to race cars and is a real character, while the Auntie always serves him extra chicken. To Moe, it’s all about the service and people putting in that extra touch.

Peking Roasted Chicken Rice
Soy Eu Tua Coffee Shop
15 Upper East Coast Rd, S(455207)
Open Daily: 9am – 7pm

Another favourite of Moe’s is the Prawn Mee along East Coast Road, which sees long queues all the time. He prefers having the dry version and with the smaller (not giant tiger) prawns because they have more flavour.

Beach Road Prawn Mee Eating House
370 East Coast Road, S(428981)
Open: 8am – 4pm (Closed Tuesdays)
Tel: +65 6345 7196

 

 

THIS CHICKEN RICE WILL HAUNT YOU!

WATCH:

HEAR:
Listen or download the podcast for this week’s interview with Chef Ming Tan, Guest Judge on Masterchef Singapore:

SEE:

This week, our Makan Kaki is F&B consultant, Co-owner of Park Bench Deli & guest judge on Masterchef Singapore, Ming Tan. His favourite chicken rice is one that his family has followed for decades since he was a young boy, from one location to the next, until its current home at Holland Drive. This rice is what Chef Ming calls “WORLD CLASS”. It is a rice that haunts him and he craves when he’s away from Singapore. So much effort and thought has been put into the making of this rice, that it simply blows him away.  This is Cantonese-style rice and it’s the fragrance & texture achieved through a judicious cooking process that gets him every time.

Continue reading “THIS CHICKEN RICE WILL HAUNT YOU!”

Unbeatable Kampung Chicken Rice

Greetings, Makan Kakis, we start 2018 with a brand new foodie friend, one who’s no stranger to the F&B business, having successfully started his own Chinese casual dining restaurant that broke even within 3 months of its opening, probably due to their signature recipe for saucy, succulent Char Siew (which you can see and read about here). Please meet Anthony Ung of CHAR Restaurant

CHAR Restaurant first appeared on the dining scene in Singapore in 2014 when it was launched by Vietnam-born, Birmingham-UK-raised Anthony & his brother Alvin, a chef by profession. With his 30 years of experience working in Chinese restaurants in Birmingham from dishwasher to head chef in traditional Chinese cooking, Alvin’s culinary expertise combined perfectly with Anthony’s meticulous science and IT background & passion for experimenting with Western food preparation techniques on Asian ingredients and produce. They definitely hit on a winning formula and after a wildly successful run at their original location along Guillemard Road, Anthony and his Singaporean Wife are delighted to have moved CHAR to a bigger, brighter space along Jalan Besar.

HEAR:
Click here to listen to Anthony’s story about fleeing Vietnam to the UK and how Char got started in Singapore
Click here to listen to Anthony’s culinary influences, childhood food memories and why he loves Chicken Rice
Click here to listen to Anthony’s recommendation for his favourite Chicken Rice in Singapore

SEE:

Anthony professes an obsession with our local Chicken Rice, which he ate everyday for 3 months when he first moved to Singapore, leading to a 5 kg weight gain, which also means he’s eaten his way through many plates, many brands and many types to arrive at the conclusion that this is HIS FAVOURITE Chicken Rice and in his humble opinion, THE BEST in Singapore.

Continue reading “Unbeatable Kampung Chicken Rice”

Chicken Rice to usher in the Rooster Year!

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HEAR:
Click here to listen to this week’s fragrantly fowl episode!

SEE:
This first week of the Chinese New Year, what better way to usher in the Fire Rooster than with a luscious plate of Singapore’s favourite chicken rice? Our intrepid Guru of Gluttony and Makan Maniac behind the Makansutra, KF Seetoh is excited to reveal his die-die-must-try recommendation. Arguably, chicken rice is a subjective thing – everyone has their favourite, but you simply cannot dispute the fame of the Sin Kee name. Seetoh waxes lyrical about the famous stall run by the Leong family in Margaret Drive back in the 70s – anyone else remember it? Sadly it disappeared, then reappeared in Mei Ling Street under the skills of one of the sons, Benson Leong. But then again, that disappeared too. Seetoh chooses not to speculate on the story, although he was pleased to find the other headline-grabbing brother Niven Leong operating his version, called Uncle Chicken in Bedok and that’s where he found Benson helping out briefly. But foodie friends, rejoice, because Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice is back, alive and clucking in Holland Drive!

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Benson Leong, like his brother Niven, with years of training under the watchful eye of his late father, has reopened in a koptiam and within the first week of his stall reopening, Seetoh was there to give the chicken rice a try. Things weren’t quite in fully operational mode then (they are now), but the chicken rice was exactly as Seetoh remembers it back in the good old Margaret Drive days.

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Benson uses BIG birds (over 2kg), so that the cuts of chicken parts are chunky and substantial. He uses a bold hand and with his trusty blade, those thick, juicy chicken breasts get a special “slam & chop” that tenderizes the skin-on meat, flattening it and making it slightly crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth.

As for the rice, this is tried and true, from scratch, quality stuff! The rice is first dry-fried with chicken fat, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, pandan leaf till all the aromatics penetrate the grains, before a sinfully rich chicken stock is added. The result, a gently steamed chicken rice that’s firm to the bite, slightly oily (but not unpleasantly so) and packed with “chickeny” flavour!

The chilli is also on point. Though, watery-looking, it packs a punch with its balanced combination of dried and fresh chillis, garlic, ginger, kalamansi and vinegar. It’s tangy, sharp and spicy with a bite, all at the same time!

So if you’ve been searching for that old Sin Kee taste you’ve yearned for and you want a chicken rice that ticks all the boxes, you’ll find it in the ressurected Sin Kee Famous Cantonese (yes, NOT Hainanese!) Chicken Rice, run by Benson Leong.

You’ll find more details the 2017 edition of Makansutra or online here.

TASTE:
Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice
Blk 40 Holland Drive, Chang Chen Mee Wah Coffeeshop
Open daily: 11am – 8pm

* all photos courtesy of Makansutra.com

Balestier’s Best #1: Chicken Rice

HEAR:
This week sees the return of one of our original Makan Kakis, food consultant, award-winning cookbook author and now founder-owner of a new food manufacturing business, Shermay Lee!

SEE:
Our foodie friend also wants to kick off a little tour of the Balestier area and some of her favourite places for all things delicious. At our first stop today, Shermay recommends classic and traditional Hainanese-style cuisine at Loy Kee Chicken Rice. Of course, all passionate Singaporean foodies may argue that’s not the best chicken rice and sure, Shermay concedes – if you have a favourite, support it! For Shermay, Loy Kee is her go-to for Chicken Rice for these reasons:

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  1. Location – Loy Kee is in a charming stretch of shophouses, very traditional, nostalgic and even better, air-conditioned! Also, Loy Kee is not some soulless franchise, there are only 2 outlets – one in Woodlands and one along Balestier Road. IMG_8528
  2. They serve both the poached and roasted versions of chicken, which means you don’t have to choose – have both!IMG_8530
  3. Taste and quality, but more on this later!

The story goes that the senior Mr Loy came to Singapore from China’s Hainan Island in the ’40s and then in 1953, together with his wife, perfected their recipe for chicken rice & porridge to open a stall at Raymond Market. Since then they’ve moved to Balestier and opened another outlet in Woodlands using that same traditional recipe to great success. The business is now run by Mr Loy’s son James & his wife.

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So back to taste & quality – in Shermay’s opinion, for $7+ they offer a lot. Get the Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice Set which is Item #1 on their menu. Just look at that, beautiful, smooth, tender & juicy poached and roasted chicken, along with a mound of fragrant rice, oyster sauce veggies, watercress soup and all the condiments. They have got the flavour balance just right and simply put, this is value-for-money, delicious Chicken Rice in a wonderfully historic part of Singapore with great ambiance.
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While you’re at Loy Kee, you’ll get true-blue Hainanese cooking, so why not branch out from the Chicken Rice and try their porridge, signature Beef Stew and other Hainanese-style dishes off their extensive menu?

TASTE:
LOY KEE BEST CHICKEN RICE
342 Balestier Road
Singapore 329774
Open Daily 9:30am – 8:30pm
Tel: +65 62522318

*all pictures courtesy of Shermay Lee

 

Don’t Miss This Chicken Rice.Porridge

HEAR:
Click here for this week’s steamy good episode!

SEE:
Hello Makan Kakis! This week, our new foodie friend, Awfully Chocolate’s Lyn Lee wants to share with us another hidden gem that shares the same space as another much more famous neighbour, Eng Seng Pepper Crab at the coffeeshop on the corner of Still Road & Joo Chiat Place. You’re in luck if you love chicken rice, ‘cos this little, nondescript stall serves up, what is in Lyn’s humble opinion, some of the best chicken (than some more well-known names) in Singapore. What’s also unusual is this self-confessed non-porridge-lover’s love for the porridge from this stall. Why? Read on…

Good Old-Fashioned Porridge with the works

Most people think porridge is something you eat when you’re feeling under the weather, but the good old-fashioned flavour and texture of Rong Ji Chicken Rice.Porridge (yes, that dot is deliberate – look at their signboard below!) has won Lyn over! Manned by an uncle who does the chopping of the chicken and two other aunties who serve up the rice & porridge, together they dish up breakfast from 7am till they sell out just after lunch. You can choose between chicken, pork or fish porridge, which are all very tasty. And the texture is just right, somewhere between the watery Teochew kind & the stickier kind you get in a dim sum restaurant.

Lurking behind this tiny, nondescript stall, is some culinary magic!
Watch the Auntie in pink fling delicious spoonfuls of hand-shaped meatballs into the boiling pan of porridge

However, Lyn recommends you go for everything, including pei tan (century egg). You have got to catch the auntie making meatballs – she’s so fast, you can’t even see her hands flying, as she flings spoonfuls of meat into her pan of boiling porridge. These are tasty little meaty morsels with good bite. For a wholesome, satisfying & complete bowl of porridge, you’ve got to have the raw egg cracked right over the top. Then it’s up to you to churn up the piping hot porridge, mix that egg right through to cook it and watch the porridge turn a golden yellow – what fun!

Order at least half the tender-smooth Chicken with your Porridge!

The piece de resistance is definitely the chicken, which as Lyn has mentioned, is really outstanding. Smooth, tender, glossy, juicy and a little chilled, it’s a beautiful thing, You CANNOT visit Rong Ji without ordering at least half a chicken. Make sure you put copious amounts of their fiery-red chilli on everything too.

The folks behind Rong Ji have been plying their trade for many years, but never at one place, in fact, they’ve only been in this location for a few years. Please, please, PLEASE go try their superb breakfast chicken rice & porridge before they up and move again! They are good people, work so hard, serve wonderful food and deserve your patronage!

TASTE:
Rong Ji Chicken Rice . Porridge
Dunman Food Centre, 271 Onan Rd, S(424768)
Open Daily: 6am – 3pm

P.S. CHINESE NEW YEAR IS 2 WEEKS AWAY!
And Lyn’s other restaurant, Sinpopo Brand, has put together a lovely festive Prosperity Hamper that’s unique and undoubtably delicious, perfect for the forthcoming CNY celebrations.

2016 CNY Hamper
Sinpopo Brand’s Prosperity Hamper 2016

You’ll find in this hamper the requisite eight mandarin oranges for the season, their best selling Gula Melaka cake, sugee biscuits and Sinpopo’s brand-new Salted Egg Yolk Cookies, which combines the best in a sweet butter cookie with the much loved savoury fragrance of salted egg yolk and curry leaves.
Order before Friday 22nd Jan 2016 to enjoy an early bird 10% discount!
Check it all out here: sinpopo.com

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Best-selling Gula Melaka Cake

Salted Egg Yolk Cookies 05 Sugee Biscuit 05