Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Excess, Part 1

If I had to sum up my recent trip to Singapore and Melaka, Malaysia—or my recent Thanksgiving holiday meal—I think that “excess” would be an appropriate theme, especially when it came to all of the sights, sounds— and foods—that I took in.

Before my trip, I assumed that a lot of eating would be involved. I mean, I’ve seen enough episodes of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations”—and read enough of his interviews— to know that Singapore is home to some amazing foods and cuisines. I just didn’t anticipate how good all of that food would be—or how many pounds I would pack on in the process.

(A brief note to any travelers headed to Singapore or Malaysia: pack your “eating” pants. That is, any and all pants/shorts/skirts with easily expandable waistbands. Ladies: invest in some flowy dresses.)

Aside from the fact that I am a naturally voracious eater (you don’t earn the nickname “trash compactor” for nothing) and there might be scientific evidence for my ravenous appetite, the real reason why I ate so much was simple: this food is hard to find, even in L.A. Oh, and it was really delicious, too.

What also helped? Sage advice from friends and family members. To them, my stomach and I are eternally grateful—and overly stuffed.

Here are just a few of my favorites … and where to find them:

Beef Rendang
Beef rendang is similar to your favorite beef stew, only better because it’s made with coconut milk and/or paste and simmered with tons of savory spices. True meat lovers that we are, my cousin and her boyfriend, Coco, and I made numerous attempts to eat beef rendang whenever—and wherever—we could, even Burger King.

Tasting my first BK Rendang Burger

The Burger King Rendang Burger is no ordinary burger. Travel + Leisure named it as one of the world’s best burgers in 2009. So, of course, we just had to try it. I ordered a single which was good, but not life-changing (I think I prefer my animal-style Double Double from In-N-Out, to be honest). Chris and Coco both ordered the double which is a much better value, since it comes with more beef rendang sauce.

Beef rendang from The Blue Ginger in Singapore

If you’re really hankering for beef rendang, it’s best to look for it at Peranakan or Indonesian eateries. Peranakan-style beef rendang, like the one I had from The Blue Ginger Restaurant in Singapore was a little saucier than the Indonesian-style beef rendang that I had at Rumah Makan Minang, also in Singapore. Either way, though, it was pretty delectable.

Beef rendang (far left) from Rumah Makan Minang in Singapore

Where to Get It:
The Blue Ginger Restaurant
Burger King
Rumah Makan Minang


Cendol from The Blue Ginger

If you’re a fan of Hawaiian shave ice, you’ll enjoy cendol. Cendol, like shave ice, is made with (you guessed it) shave ice, but it also comes with a heaping helping of coconut milk, palm sugar and tapioca-like rice flour toppings. While the cendol that I had at the Blue Ginger was a little prettier than the one that I had at the Chinatown Night Market in Melaka, Malaysia, I liked the one in Melaka much more, simply because of the use of sweet-but-not-too-sweet gula melaka (palm sugar from Melaka).

Cendol from the Chinatown Night Market in Melaka

Char Kway Teow
I take my noodle dishes pretty seriously and, I have to say that the char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) that I had in Melaka was probably one of the best that I have ever had. Maybe the best. It wasn’t part of a special meal or outing; it was simply something that my cousin had recommended on the way back from one of our grocery shopping trips.

This char kway teow was indescribably good.

Famished— even though we’d already eaten a huge breakfast of roti canai—we stopped off at the food court located directly across the street from the Old Town Guesthouse where we were staying. We ordered from the only stall that was still open—the kind where they basically cook up whatever it is you want on the spot, to order. The wait, however, was agonizing. As each dish came out of the kitchen, I eyed them with envy, hoping they might be mine since everything looked—and smelled—so good. And finally, when my noodles came, I couldn’t help myself but dig right in. I honestly don’t know exactly what made the noodles so good—maybe it was the heat, my hunger, the heavy-handed use of dark soy—but whatever it was, it was simply amazing.

Where to Get It:
Tang Fong Food Centre (located across the street from the Old Town Guesthouse)
Look for the stall at the very right of the food court.

Chicken Rice and Chicken Rice Balls
Chicken rice is pretty self explanatory—it’s chicken and rice, with some broth and chili sauce on the side. But when done properly, this rather simple dish is the perfect example of minimalist comfort food at its very best. I ate a lot of chicken rice during my trip, but my hands-down favorite was the chicken rice from the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stall at the Maxwell Hawker Centre in Singapore’s Chinatown.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

My second favorite rendition was in Melaka, at Ee Ji Ban Restaurant, where I had Melaka’s unique variation on chicken rice: chicken rice balls (the main difference is that the rice is formed into rice balls).

Chicken Rice Balls from Ee Ji Ban in Melaka

Where to Get It:
Ee Ji Ban Restaurant
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

Chili Crab and Pepper Crab
Crab eating, by nature, is a hands-on activity that involves patience and fortitude. For that very reason, a number of my friends (Coco being one of them) wouldn’t normally order crab for fear of having to use their fingers to extract just the tiniest pieces of meat. Not worth it, they’d be thinking.

Chili crab

Pepper Crab

Well, after tasting chili crab and pepper crab for the first time in Singapore, I think Coco’s changed his mind. It’s just that good. The sauce for both preparations is what makes both dishes so good—and so worth all the extra effort. And when you’ve got piping-hot, fried mantou (Chinese bread) to sop it all up, it makes it even better.

Where to Get It:
Jumbo Seafood

Durian might be known as the “King of Fruits” but I also know it for another reason: for being one of the few things on this planet that Andrew Zimmern from television’s “Bizarre Foods” simply cannot stomach.

Durian, aka the "King of Fruits"

I’ve had durian before in ice cream form in the States and didn’t think much of it, but when I had a chance to taste the actual fruit in Singapore I was surprised to find out how much I actually loved it.

Who knew? It’s certainly not for everyone—the smell is awfully pungent—but I think that once you get over that initial repugnance, it’s really not so bad. And who knows? You might actually enjoy it, like I did. At least, I think, it’s definitely worth the try.

Ice Cream Sandwich, Singapore Style
Here in the States, when we normally think of an ice cream sandwich we envision vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookie wafers. Well, in Singapore, an ice cream sandwich is a little more literal: it's a block of ice cream, sliced from a thick slab, and wrapped around sandwich bread, most often sweet pandan bread.

An ice cream sandwich from Singapore's Orchard Road

You can buy these ice cream sandwiches almost anywhere in Singapore, especially when strolling down busy pedestrian thoroughfares like Orchard Road. I decided to try an ice cream sandwich combo that involved sweet corn ice cream, which, not surprisingly, tasted a lot like creamed corn.

Kaya Toast
When deciding on what souvenirs to bring back for family and friends, I didn’t opt for T-shirts, jewelry, silks or traditional tchotchkes. Instead, I bought out one woman’s entire supply of homemade kaya jam from the daily wet market in Melaka.

A kaya toast set from Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Kaya jam is basically made up of eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves (which give it its unique green coloring). It’s a little on the sweet side and, when paired with butter on a simple slice of toast, it’s really delicious. It gets even better when you have it with a cup of kopi (coffee with condensed milk) and a bowl of runny, soft-boiled eggs mixed in with sweet dark soy and a sprinkling of white pepper.

Fellow press trip writer Kim enjoys her first taste of kaya toast, too.

In Singapore, my favorite place to order kaya toast was from Ya Kun Kaya Toast. A close second was Toast Box. (If you opt for Toast Box, it’s worth ordering the chili crab toast set for a heartier breakfast meal.)

Where to Get It:
Toast Box
Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Kueh Pie Tee
If it’s true that we feast with our eyes first, kueh pie tee would be one of my top picks for a dish that’s both beautiful in its presentation and mouth-watering in its taste. These bite-size Nonya appetizers are made up of a crisp, fried-flour “top hat,” filled with shrimp, jicama, carrots, shallots and other garnishments. And yes, these kueh pie tee from The Blue Ginger really were as delicious as they were pretty to look at.

Kueh Pie Tee from The Blue Ginger

More favorites to come later ...


  1. I was surprised how much I enjoyed durian as well — though I wouldn't want to have one in my hotel room. Thanks for this mouth-watering review!

  2. I don't know about other readers, but I certainly am hungry after reading your descriptions of all the yumminess.

    I must go to Singapore!

  3. Your absolutely right, beef rendang is one of my favorite foods in Indonesia.

  4. Wow, it all looks amazing. Reading this post has made me hungry and I've only just eaten dinner!