If the jets roaring overhead or distant strains of ‘Stand up for Singapore' drifting through the air haven’t clued you in yet—National Day is upon us again, folks.
Except, unlike any other year, 2019 marks Singapore’s bicentennial anniversary. Translation: even more reason to celebrate the values that tie us together as a strong, united and independent nation…with our insatiable passion for food.
Food is our national anthem, and it’s no secret. Much like Nicholas Cage embarking on his dramatic-as-hell quest to steal the Declaration of Independence, Singaporeans will go to the far-flung ends of the earth, from Pa(sir) Ris to Tuas, to track down our very own national treasure.
Singapore cuisine is notoriously tricky to replicate and devilishly hard to get right, as even Gordon Ramsay would concur. You can’t just throw random Asian ingredients together, hastily park curry powder on a heap of vermicelli noodles, brown it up with some bean sprouts and parade it about as a Singaporean creation (I'm looking at you, Singapore Noodles). Following up on our fellow resident Snacktivist’s golden rule: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Yes, I am fiercely protective of my favourite obsessions: spicy Nyonya laksa with an exquisite velvety coconut broth from 328 Katong Laksa, Portuguese egg tarts with the perfect custard to egg ratio nestled in a flaky crust from Tong Heng Delicacies...honestly, the list goes on.
So imagine my equal fascination and suspicion when I heard of chee cheong fan ice cream and dry laksa (can you even call it laksa without its signature broth?). This National Day, we’ve put together a list of local restaurants and eateries that have given iconic Singapore dishes a modern twist, creating new memories and, indeed, national treasures for a new generation.
Dry laksa from Violet Oon
In contrast to the classic version we are familiar with, Violet Oon’s dry laksa boasts a laksa pesto based on a family recipe from her Aunty Nona. Why use a pesto gravy instead of the soup that we all know so well? Oon’s daughter, Su-Lyn Tay, quipped: “It was because she didn’t like the laksa soup splattered on her blouse—so this was a good way to serve the dish for parties.” Oon adds: “I have always enjoyed the rich homemade Nyonya versions as those sold at hawker centres are sometimes watered down.”
The rempah spice paste is made with galangal, lemongrass, shallots, dried chillies and belacan shrimp paste. Hearty base notes from the ground-fried shrimp mingling with the sweetness of coconut cream and fresh laksa leaves are used to create the laksa gravy’s signature lemak creamy flavour before being reduced to a bold, thick and aromatic pesto, tossed with fresh rice noodles and generously topped with prawns, fishcake, bean sprouts and tau pok (beancurd puffs).
Violet Oon’s Dry Laksa is available at National Kitchen by Violet Oon, 1 St Andrew's Rd, #02–01 National Gallery, Singapore 178957. Opens Monday to Sunday from 12pm to 5pm, and 6pm to 11pm. To make a reservation, call 9834 9935.
Nasi lemak ayam goreng berempah from The Coconut Club
At a time where the passion for making quality local food has quietly dwindled, the owners of Coconut Club found inspiration from a roadside stall selling nasi lemak in Brickfields, Malaysia. Setting out on a mission to deliver good, honest food made with attention to detail, the owners revived classic nasi lemak with their nasi lemak ayam goreng berempah. I was impressed at the substantial portion of crispy ayam goreng berempah, and even more so at its perfectly seasoned, crisped (yet not oily) skin, which complemented the incredibly fragrant and soft coconut rice.
Accompanied by homemade sambal chilli with just the right level of hurts-so-good, the nasi lemak was certainly the star of their menu.
Finish off the meal with some old-school kueh muih, or indulge in a bowl of their famous chendol, reminiscent of the kind your grandmother probably had in her childhood.
The Coconut Club is located at No. 6 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069787. Opens Monday to Sunday from 11am to 3pm, and Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 930pm. To make a reservation call 6635 2999.
Locally flavoured ice cream from Tom’s Palette
Contemporary ice cream flavours are given the local treatment at Tom’s Palette. Known to its burgeoning fan base for their quirky and locally inspired menu, Tom's Palette offers old-time favourites such as salted egg yolk, kueh dadar, chee cheong fan and, more recently, their pi pa gao and tau cheong rocky road ice cream. I was keen to try fan favourites nasi lemak and chee cheong fan (after all, how does anyone recreate either of these in ice cream?). One bite in and I was hooked.
This, folks, is what we call luxury—when simplicity is executed with precision. Containing coconut, lemongrass, pandan, curry leaves, peanuts and white chocolate ikan bilis (dried anchovies), it was surreal experiencing the medley of coconut, pandan and ikan bilis distilled into ice cream without actually eating nasi lemak itself. In particular, it was the umami taste from the ikan bilis which did not at all taste fishy as I had anticipated (presumably balanced out by the cleansing notes of lemongrass) teasing out the other notes and there it was; the unmistakable lemak taste.
The Chee Cheong Fan too was spot-on with ribbons of sticky dipping sauce laced throughout, topped by a scattering of toasted sesame seeds.
With the menu changing weekly, this week's offering from Tom’s Palette includes chrysanthemum tea, Milo dino and kueh bangkit, amongst others.
Find Tom’s Palette at 100 Beach Road #01-25, Singapore 189702. Opens Monday to Thursday from 12pm to 9.30pm, Friday to Saturday from 12pm to 10pm and Sundays from 1 pm to 7pm. To make a reservation call 6296 5239.
Wagyu beef hor fun and crab bee hoon from Sinpopo Brand
Born as an ode to Katong’s Peranakan heritage, Sinpopo pays homage to 1950s Peranakan cuisine with their cooking philosophy, inviting customers to re-discover local cuisine. What makes them stand out from the crowd is their ability to elevate local favourites with premium ingredients.
Case in point: tuck into their bestselling Sinpopo sliced wagyu beef hor fun, featuring a bed of tender wagyu beef slices, red chilli, sliced onions and a dusting of ground peanut and coriander leaves resting atop delicately crisped hor fun noodles, served with a lime wedge. Their secret? The noodles are left to soak in a semi-salty beef broth before being cooked.
Other crowd-pleasers include their crab bee hoon: wok-fried vermicelli noodles packed with a whole lot of wok-hei 'breath of the wok' and braised in a rich broth with teased crabmeat, finished with red chilli strips and lemongrass.
Sinpopo is located at 458 Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore 427671. Opens Monday to Thursday and Sunday 12pm to 10pm, Friday to Saturday from 12am to 12pm. To make a reservation call 6345 5034.
Bonus: Order locally flavoured sorbet online from The Ice Cream and Cookie Co.
Run by its founder, Natasha Chiam, this delightful homegrown business is serving up locally-inspired flavours as a nod to National Day—rojak, onde onde and peach teh ‘o’ sorbet. I’ll admit: I usually find the combination of fruits and vegetables with shrimp paste slightly cloying, leaving me scrambling in vain for the refreshing notes of fruit to offset the fishiness of the shrimp. However, the rojak sorbet was unexpectedly refreshing, with the coolness of the apple-cucumber sorbet complementing the nuttiness of the crushed peanuts.
The onde onde ice cream offered a creamy pandan base laced with sticky gula melaka sauce and anointed with coconut mochi balls, giving me the sensation of biting into an actual onde onde. I was most excited to try the peach teh ‘o’ sorbet and I am delighted to report that I was not disappointed. Featuring a peach sorbet infused with black tea, the slightly smoky tones of the tea contrasted nicely with the brightness of the peach, lending a subtle edge to its finish.
The Ice Cream and Cookie Co. also features other classic favourites such as chendol and coconut ice cream, or for those looking for a lighter option, there's also a calamansi sorbet. And the best thing? You can order all this online.
Get these local flavours delivered to your door by ordering them online at RedMart.