Sunday, January 6, 2008

Die, Die, Must Try in Singapore

If you have read the excellent"Nasty Bits" by Anthony Bourdain you must be familiar with the title of this post since it is also that of a chapter in his book. Bourdain describes his encounter with K.F Seetoh, the founder of the Makansutra food guide and TV show, and also his experience eating chicken rice at Tian Tian (more on that below).

And there are indeed lots of good eats to die for in Singapore where locals are even more food-obsessed than in Hong Kong (can you imagine that?). Among the various delicacies available for sale, you definitely have to taste the national dish: chicken rice. The one at Tian Tian hawker stall at Maxwell Rd. Food Center is simply out of this world. You could argue that it is only boiled chicken served with rice, a chili condiment, a sticky and dark soy sauce and a chicken broth. That's right. But everything in that dish is executed so perfectly that it turned out to be one of the best thing I've ever eaten. No wonder that it is listed as the best chicken rice in Singapore by Makansutra in its Top 10 ranking and was granted its highest award (the above-mentioned "die, die must try").

We were fortunate enough to stay at an hotel right next to Maxwell Rd. Food Center and needless to say that we went there as often as possible. The funny part was reading Bourdain's lines about Tian Tian when coming back to New York. We had really felt the same way not only about what we had eaten there but also about Singapore itself (an average first impression, compounded by a suffocating humidity, rapidly replaced by the urge to stay for a long time). Note by the way that Travel Channel will broadcast his No Reservation show shot in Singapore on Monday, January 8. Don't miss it.

The other great experience of this trip was eating char kway teow at Outram Park Fried Teow stall at Hong Lim Food Center. The ingredients (noodles, chilli paste and cockles among other things) and the perfect wok stir-frying technique of the chef combine to make for an unforgettable (and spicy hot!) dish. In keeping with our several lunches at Tian Tian, another great thing was also the kindness of local diners who explained us how to eat the dishes ("add this, dip into that sauce, ..."), wondered how we had learned about those places and shared with us their culinary views in general.

My only regrets? Not being able to taste dishes like laksa or chilli crab. I guess it will have to wait for my next visit. Because there will definitely be a next time.

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