Sunday, January 27, 2013

Good morning Singapore! Breakfast in the Lion City

People I used to know when I lived in London actually ate this.  They actually did!  It's a full English fry up in a can, including "chopped egg nuggets".



Thankfully, breakfast in Singapore is vastly more interesting, different and delicious.  The quintessential Singaporean breakfast is kaya toast - thick-cut toast spread with chartreuse coconut jam and obscenely large pats of butter, served with dangerously wobbly soft-boiled eggs.  Sprinkle some white pepper and squirt on some dark soy for a sweet/savoury breakfast treat.  Actually, these just-cooked eggs, boiled in metal mugs by stern-faced workers, are suspiciously like the fancy 65-degree poached eggs sweeping Melbourne's trendoid brunch scene.


Just across from my hotel in Chinatown was Tong Ah Eating House, an open-air kopitiam or coffee shop that has been run by the same family for four generations.  Kopitiams were established in the early 1900s to provide cheap sustenance to a growing working class.  Because the cooks could only afford cheap coffee beans, they perked them up by frying them with butter, lard and sugar.


The resulting kopi is strained through a long "sock" to create a sweet, powerful brew that is utterly delicious.  On the bottom is a layer of sweetened condensed milk that billows up as you stir with your plastic Chinese soup spoon.  And if you want to be a real ah chek (old uncle), tip the kopi into your saucer and slurp away.  A "set" with coffee, eggs and toast costs around AUD $2.65.


Another much-loved Singapore breakfast is roti prata.  Arriving in the Lion City via south India, the roti begin as small balls of dough before being twirled and twisted into impossibly thin sheets of pastry.  A few quick folds later, they're thrown on the hotplate to become crispy roti bread.


You know how I said anything with a skull floating in it has to be good?  Well, I reckon anything served next to a freeway on-ramp has to be good.  In spite of less then scenic location, people flock to this roti stall for this winning breakfast - crispy roti dunked in lip-smacking mutton curry.


Skulls.  Freeway on-ramps.  Another clue to good food is if you see a granny queueing to buy it.


And indeed, this chee cheong fun or filled rice noodle roll at Chinatown Complex hawker centre was worth waiting for.  Filled with minced pork and mushrooms and topped with smoky dark sauce, these tender, floppy noodle rolls were miles away from the claggy prawn-filled versions often seen at yum cha.


I'm telling you, if you're one of those people who doesn't eat breakfast, you'll seriously miss out in Singapore.  If you can only manage a small bite, make it steamed rice cakes from Jian Bo Shui Kueh at Tiong Bahru Market.


Upon ordering, silky steamed rice cakes are popped from silver moulds with lightning speed before being showered in a moist, crumbly topping of fried preserved radish and friends.  The topping is so umami, almost Marmite-like in flavour, and married with the warm, cloud-like rice cakes underneath, these breakfast kueh are simply divine.


But the pièce de résistance at Tiong Bahru was congee with raw fish.  Between spoonfuls of delicate, soothing rice porridge, spiked with shredded chicken and cuttlefish pieces, we nibbled on exquisite Chinese-style sashimi, dressed with sesame and julienned ginger.


...and here's where to get your ticket to Cloud 9.


  1. You've brought back some fond memories. You aren't staying at Hotel 1929 by chance? This is where we have always stayed as its lovely and in the best the middle of china town. If your looking for some good Indian, try Banana Leaf Curry in Little India. Cheers Lori.

    1. Hi Lori! Yes, I was staying there! How great! I was so indecisive about where to stay. My old travelling self of ten years ago said, "Pah, stay in a hostel. You'll never be there anyway!" but the harried mother said, "...but I want a bit of luxury!" Hotel 1929 was a great blend of funky fitout and touch of lux in an awesome location.

      I stayed in Little India for two nights before coming home again - that was at the Parkroyal on the 16th floor, just so I could pretend to be Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. Didn't get to eat enough Indian, but murtabak at Tekka Centre was a step in the right direction.

  2. What do you think of Singapore in comparison to Malaysia?

    1. Hi tytty, sorry for delayed reply but I have been working out how to answer! It's hard for me to compare as I only spent two days in Malaysia. My impression is that Malaysia is generally more raw than Singapore. The fact that Singapore has no countryside means it just isn't as rustic. I loved both though - I really think that people who say Singapore is sterile and boring haven't been to the right parts. I mean, on the last day I was there, there was a hardcore Indian parade down the street with people balancing bowls of milk on their heads as offerings, heading to the temple to see devotees with swords and needles threaded through their bodies! I would go back to Singapore in a heartbeat but am also now extremely keen to explore more of Malaysia. It has more culinary diversity in a way as there are multiple regions to visit...although in Singapore, you just go to multiple hawker centres!


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