This is the second instalment of our mini blog series on Singapore. Have a look at the first post here, covering Chicken Rice, Roti Prata and an authentic North Indian dining experience.
Today we will be focusing on some eateries on the East Coast of Singapore, specifically the Katong Area. I must admit I have a soft spot for the Katong as both my parents grew up in the area. Hearing them talk about their youth, it is crazy to think how far Singapore has progressed over the last 50-60 years.
You will find a huge Peranakan influence around Katong. The term 'Peranakan' refers to the Chinese who immigrated and settled in the old British Straits Settlements. Peranakans are extremely proud of their culture, from their traditional dress to their distinct cuisine. There is a great Peranakan Museum in Singapore, which is worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about Peranakan Culture.
You might be asking why you are getting a history lesson? Well, Perankans have been very important in the development of one of Singapore's signature hawker dishe: Laksa. There are lots of different types of Laksa, with slight but distinct differences. The Peranakans take Laksa so seriously that there were actually the 'Katong Laksa Wars'. I'm not even kidding, ask any Singaporean. There have been numerous articles published in the newspapers detailing the 'war' . The war is between a few different hawker stall owners over who invented the Katong Laksa and who claims to have the best Katong Laksa. If you are interested in learning more about the Katong Laksa Wars, let us know in the comments below/Facebook/Twitter and I'll sit down with my folks to get the whole story.
Katong Laksa is a specific type of Laksa which you will find in Singapore, particularly Katong. It is a fish based stock with coconut milk added. The noodles are short as they are cut with scissors. Toppings include prawns, sliced fish cake, bean sprouts and cut laksa leaves. It is eaten with only a Chinese style spoon - a chopstick free zone. My mum's favourite stalls are Janggut Laksa and 328 Katong Laksa. There are outlets of both 328 and Janggut Laksa throughout Singapore. An interesting side note is that Gordon Ramsay recently visited Singapore for a hawker food cook off. 328 Katong Laksa was one of the stalls he took on and lost to. Check out this article for more details of the competition.
Back to the food! On this trip I stopped in at 328 Katong Laksa on East Coast Rd. There are two stores on East Coast Rd and both are run by the same owner, however the restaurant at 216 East Coast Road is air-conditioned. The walls are decked out in photos of all the celebrities which have come and eaten at 328 Katong Laksa. I'm not sure but judging by the photos, it looks like the owner was Miss Singapore back in the day.
There are three size options but I always opt for the small ($4.50), as the Laksa is extremely rich. This is also a tactical move as it allows you to squeeze in another meal. 328 also has the option of adding cockles to your Laksa, but personally I'm not a fan. Also, nothing washes down a Laksa quite like a freshly squeezed lime juice ($1.20). In fact, while in Singapore I recommend tucking into freshly squeezed Lime Juice or freshly pressed Sugar Cane Juice. They are perfect in the humid environment.
Another personal favourite of mine is Nasi Lemak, although it's not something high on the hit list as my Mum makes a damn good Nasi Lemak. The key to a good Nasi Lemak is the 'Nasi', the Malay word for rice. A side note on pronunciation: it's not naz-zee, it's nah-cee. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with pandan leaves. It should be rich, but not over powering, a common pitfall of a bad Nasi Lemak is gluggy rice.
A basic Nasi Lemak will come with Ikan Bilis (tiny little fried fish, similar to anchovies), roasted peanuts, a chilli sambal and egg (hard-boiled or an omelette). The sambal is made specifically for Nasi Lemak, it is a combination of chillis, shallots, belacan (prawn paste) and other miscellaneous goodies.
A Nasi Lemak can be 'pimped' up with a multitude of different additions, think Fried Chicken, Fried Fish (as in the picture), Otah ($1.20 and pictured above), Rendang, Prawn Sambal... the list goes on and on and on. Otah is a fish paste mixed with various spices and flavourings, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over coals. Trust me, it is more delicious than it sounds! Sadly, the Otah and Nasi Lemak from wasn't great, but then they aren't called 328 Katong Nasi Lemak are they?!
While waiting for the Laksa at 328, my mum ducked out. She had gone to her favourite childhood shop, Chin Mee Chin Confectionery (204 East Coast Road). CMC Confectionery has been around for a long long time and is a traditional Singaporean coffee house and bakery. I've been told that my Grandpa used to have his coffee and soft boiled eggs there regularly.
What was brought back was possibly one of the best things I ate during this trip, a little Kaya Bun ($1.50). Kaya is a custard like jam made with coconut and pandan. As a four year old it was what I missed most after moving to Perth. The buns are all freshly made in house and are served with a generous slab of butter! I've been told that their choux pastry is to die for as well.
Something which I forgot to mention in the last post is the Wonton Mee from Hock Thye Noodle House, the same building (Poh Ho Restaurant) that Mr and Mrs Roghans Super Crispy Roti Prata stall is located at 7 Crane Road.
Wonton Mee can be served either in a 'dry' or 'soup' form. I think a soup form is pretty self-explanatory. The dry option is as per the photos on the left, noodles (mee) in a sauce with thinly sliced char siu (barbecue pork) pieces and veggies on the side. The wontons are served in a broth.
You can also ask for extra chilli when you're eating a wonton mee. People will debate whether you should eat it with a chilli sauce or pickled green chilli but I think either option is good! The sauce of the noodles is savoury with a hint of sweetness. I found the sauce a bit too sweet at Hock Thye but the noodles were fantastic. The char siu could have been better as well, it is not quite up to the standard of some other char siu I had during this trip.
Another favourite spot of mine is the East Coast Lagoon Food Village for dinner. Here you will find over 100 stalls selling all the local hawker favourites. Don't let the surrounds put you off, It is quite the confusing place to go to! Luckily for me, my folks know where to go and did all the ordering. What I can recall is written below but what I do recommend is going through the guide books mentioned in the first part of this series to pick out where to eat. Each stall will have a number on it and you will be able to find the hawker you are after. If you forget your guide book just join the biggest line you can see... it will be worth it. Unfortunately I don't have any photos from this meal at East Coast Lagoon, we were too quick to tuck in. But I'd recommend eating the following:
Wonton Mee @ Hwa Kee BBQ Pork Noodles
- Sambal Stingray
- Hokkien Mee
- Oyster Omelette
The Wonton Mee from Hwa Kee is stuck in my head. The pork was absolutely delicious and the sauce was perfectly balanced between sweet and savoury. A word of warning though, the chilli sauce is super hot!
If you have any questions or want to know some more about anything Singapore related, feel free to do so in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. Otherwise hang tight until the next installment of this three part series.
In the meantime, you can find a map of the places I ate in Singapore right here or by clicking on the map below, The food in Singapore is damn shiok!
Places Featured in this review:
328 Katong Laksa
216 East Coast Road
Note: Various Locations throughout Singapore
Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
204 East Coast Road
Roxy Square, East Coast Road
Note: Various Locations throughout Singapore
East Coast Lagoon Food Centre
1000 East Coast Parkway
Poh Ho Restaurant (Hock Thye Restaurant)
7 Crane Road