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When we are down and out, or craving a little taste of home, many of us reach for comfort foods. And let’s face it; everyone has a favorite. They are imbued with memories, celebratory identities and soothing associations that are more than just about food.
One of my earliest memories as a child of comfort food is the fragrant bowl of Hakka Yong Tau Fu my grandma made in the kitchen. The taste, alongside the accompanying memory is priceless.
In this era of food anxiety and rapidly changing restaurant fads, it is no wonder we feel the need to tuck into foods that remind us of simpler times and homegrown staples. Comfort foods never go out of style.
The Americans have their Grilled Cheese Sandwich, the British crave for Fish and Chips with aromas of vinegar and caramelized batter, and in Hong Kong, thick toast with butter and condensed milk washed down with milk tea (奶茶) never fails. We list down eight of the Best of Singapore’s Comfort Foods.
Roti prata literally means flat bread, but more like a savoury slightly crispy pancake eaten a thousand ways. It is eaten with fish curry, mutton curry, sugar, or plain as it is (also known as ‘kosong’ in Malay). With egg, cheese, onion, mutton or beef . There are more ‘exotic’ versions over the last few years that include toppings such as ice-cream, chocolate, banana…the list goes on.
Sequels are never better than the original. And this is true too of prata, but there are always exceptions (Toy Story II, Godfather II). Versions spawned off that are better forms than the original include the plaster (kosong topped with a sunny side up egg) and bomb (condensed milk).
But for the purist, prata is kosong. And eaten with either curry or sugar.
Comfort factor: It’s the go-to food for Singaporeans. The champion of breakfasts.The hangover cure for party-goers. Its wide appeal to ALL Singaporeans is also a winner. But most of all, prata, usually enjoyed with friends after a night of partying or the ever dependable breakfast food, triggers loads of warm fuzzy and happy memories.
Yes, they come in threes and usually in a set. It’s hard to beat this trio of perfect a combination – sweet and savoury with a cup of traditional coffee amidst a familiar coffee shop (kopitiam) atmosphere. Kaya is made from a recipe comprising coconut milk, sugar, eggs and fragrant pandan.
Comfort factor: From humble beginnings since forever, the kaya toast, along with its counterparts, the half-boiled egg and kopi have won many hearts. Certainly, it is difficult to dislike something so simple and comforting.
Everyone who’s tried this combo is nodding their heads in agreement. What’s not to love about you tiao? Crispy skin on the outside, feathery airy soft on the inside. And they come in a pair!
Comfort factor: Dunking of course. Did we say how warm soybean milk just transports you to another universe?
Balls. They’re warm, soft and sweet, especially comforting for the emotionally wounded, the homesick, the insomniac. We’re talking about rice balls (in case you think otherwise). Glutinous rice balls that are soft and chewy, cousin of the Japanese mochi. These are stuff dreams are made of, symbolising wholeness and content. Choose from a myriad of different fillings – crushed peanut, red bean, black sesame, or sweet yam in a bowl of ginger or pandan soup.
Comfort factor: Sink your teeth into one of these off-white, slippery pillows of delight. Till then, sweet dreams.
Commonly enjoyed over breakfast but equally delectable any time of the day.Traditionally a Malay classic but is also a hit among the Chinese, Indian and even ang moh communities. There’s something about rice cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with pandan leaves along with the special sambal chilli make nasi lemak a choice option for the young and old.
Comfort factor: A truly remarkable nasi lemak is not to be taken lightly. As Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say – “it is LEGENDARY”.
Herein lies the irony; the truth is out. There is no carrot in carrot cake. The main ingredient of the dish is radish “cake” (steamed rice flour), water, and shredded white daikon. But this is a dish that delights many.
Comfort factor: For this list, the blackened version wins hands-down because nothing beats a savoury dish that is slightly sweet, full of the lovely taste of burnt caramelized sweet sauce held together by eggy goodness.
The first time I ate chicken rice, I was hungry and broke, on the day of my final paper in primary four. Back then I was of course, unaware of its cultural importance and certainly uninitiated in the layered charms of the world of flavours trapped within this heavenly dish. Hailing originally from the island of Hainan, China, the preparation involves the poaching of chicken and rice cooked in fragrant chicken stock. Whether on a rainy day or a sunny afternoon, this dish will make bellies dance.
Comfort factor: The fragrant rice and the wonderful chilli sauce make the difference between a great chicken rice stall and a legendary one.
Sound triggers memories and the tinkling of a brass bell would bring most of us back to a time when old uncles would pedal their ice cream carts and be immediately surrounded by a throng of school children thrilled to purchase an ice cream before heading home. The vendors prepare ice cream in a very unique,localized fashion unlike any other. Who can forget the colourful, almost tie-dye slabs of bread, or thin wafers as perfect accompaniment to the ice cream?
Comfort factor: At only $1.50, you get ice cream bread wrapped with fun, laughter and nostalgia.