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Google “must eats in Singapore” and every lists will spit out a Top 10 or 50 Must Eats, which will include the usual suspects of chilli crab, Hainanese chicken rice and char kway teow. I don’t have an issue with that other than the fact that it crowds out unfairly, other must eats of the smaller variety.
Where would desserts like tau suan and ice kachang feature, or little bites like curry puff. What about kuehs like kueh salat and ondeh ondeh? Where are they on Singapore’s die-die-must-eat lists. Surely this oversight and omission is considered a Food List travesty of the highest order. *Gasp*. This would be akin to awards for acting for TV and movies being lumped as one and there were only Oscars and no Emmys?
So here’s recognizing the small bites, or anything that fits in the small plastic bags and bowls. The little guys that get us through 10.30 am. hunger pangs or give us a reason to sneak out at 3.30 pm tea time. We salute you!
♫ Oh curry puff, my curry puff, my dear ol’ friend.
You come in all shapes and sizes, skin types and fillings, but I love em all.
Chicken, beef, mutton and potato, even sardine.
Dunkable in mee siam and rebus, but best on your own.
With a teh in my hand, you’re one crusty friend♫
(clearly losing my marbles making up a song about our beloved curry puff)
Look at the amount of oil on this bad boy. And like all baddies, they come in 3s. So take one, take ’em all!
OYSTER CAKE “UFO”
Affectionately called UFOs (imagining an uncle at a coffeeshop coming up with the name) for its flat and round likeness, oyster cakes have another thing in common: they are seldom spotted and therefore rare. A strong candidate for the Singapore food endangered species, I cannot even count more than two stalls making these. The two that come to mind are 209 Jalan Besar at Da Jie Famous Wanton Mee. The other is Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake at Maxwell Food Centre. Try it before it becomes extinct!
So named because of its shape. Is it the same uncle who came up with the name UFO?
This another fast endangered species as less and less Goreng (means “fried”) Pisang (“banana”) stalls exist today than in the 1980s. Not sure why. Besides the main star (the banana), other great side shows not to miss include the green bean, chempedak and sweet potato versions. Best stalls to try this?
1. Million Stars Goreng Pisang #01-49 Changi Village Market and Food Centre
2. Chi Shuang Shuang #01-51 Blk 51 Old Airport Road Food Centre
3. Boon Pisang Goreng (formerly from Longhouse) #01-18 411 Balestier Market
ANG KU KUEH
Look closely at the pattern and shape of this delicacy. What does it look like? It is molded to resemble a tortoise shell. Reason: Chinese believed that eating these will bring longevity. So this tradition continues today and Ang Ku Kuehs are given out on occasions like a newborn baby’s first month and on birthdays of the elderly.
Today, thankfully for lovers of AKK, you don’t have to wait till these occasions as it is sold all year round.
Photo by Chong Yap
These delightful snacks are as nostalgic as they come for Singaporeans missing a bite from home. Visually, they are pretty. Aroma wise, the whiff of the fragrance of pandan tempts you. And texture and taste wise, magnifique!
Photo by Debbie Teoh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
So underrated this fabulous kueh kueh, it’s articles like this one that puts kueh salat on the pedestal it deserves. What is it? It’s glutinous rice topped with a soft eggy kaya and pandan custard goodness. Tip: Do not go for the super unnatural looking green ones. The paler green they are they better they are!
I’ve not met someone who doesn’t love ondeh-ondehs. There are just some foods out there that are universally loved. First, is because these little balls are bite-size and perfect to pop-in-the-mouth. Second, an explosion of gula melaka completes the fun factor. Finally, the combo of soft chewy mochi-like pandan together with coconut and the gula melaka is heavenly. They too come in 3s. But they cannot be considered baddies, can they?
Unlike the Laksa wars, or other food battles like chicken rice, bak kut teh and nasi lemak where there is a legitimate battle between five kings, in the world of tao sar piah, there is only ONE king. Loong Fatt. This one is unanimous.
EGG TART 蛋挞 (PRONOUNCED “DAAN-TAAT”)
Silky smooth egg custard goodness on flaky perfect crust. The only way to eat it: Warm. The only place to eat it in Singapore: Tong Heng Confectionery.
Actually the regular less puffy ones are more common. These above are hollow inside and found only at dim sum restaurants like Imperial Treasure Restaurant.
MEAN ZHANG KUEH
These poorly taken pics certainly don’t do justice to the MZK at 121 Telok Ayer Street. This easy-to-miss stall was my weekly indulgence when I worked nearby a few years ago. The man there is super nice, super generous with his peanut filling. Best of all, it is super value going for $0.50 and taste like a million bucks! 50c. Damn it. I feel like I’m robbing the nice man each time I buy one.
“OLD SCHOOL MOTORCYCLE” ICE CREAM
On a blazing hot day, these uncles on bikes may as well be superheroes that have come to save mankind. They may as well charge $5. And lifesavers these delightful ice-cream bars. Have it between super thin wafers, colourful bread, in a cup or cone (). If you’ve grown up here, nostalgia + cool ice cream with local flavours + supporting uncles on bikes = TAKE MY $$$ any day.
Photo by Shu Han Lee
Literally it means “black glutinous rice”. And it’s a dessert served warm. For those from the region, this is familiar territory and Pulut Hitam has different variants in Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines. In recent years in Singapore, some of the hip restaurants have elevated this humble dessert and incorporated pulut hitam into ice cream, cake or simply heap vanilla or better yet coconut ice cream on top of it. Most creative use of pulut hitam? As risotto in a fancy restaurant in Seattle! Wonderful!
Photo by Chong Yap
Another warm sweet dessert. Eaten with you tiao (fried dough sticks).
There are now TWO versions. The evergreen traditional tau huay is simply tofu-soft beancurd served in a sweet syrup. Usually eaten with you tiao or butterfly bun. The new curd on the block (couldn’t resist, I’m sorry) is also silky soft sans the sweet syrup. The difference is in the consistency. The new version is more like a custard pudding. Yet light and less sweet. Don’t make me choose. It’s cruel. Some day you lean more towards one child over another. What?!
BLACK SESAME/ALMOND PASTE AND AH BOLING
Ok I am cramping three desserts here. They’re all different. Ah boling is glutinous rice balls served in ginger soup or peanut soup. Like ondeh ondehs, these balls bursts upon bite with filling that oozes out, so watch where you aim.
Another in the category of who doesn’t love this dessert. Mountain of shaved ice, ladled with colourful syrup, gula melaka, condensed milk. Buried deep in the mountain are treasures like sweet corn, red beans, jelly and attap chee.
This dish is having a revival of sorts judging by the number of people looking putu mayam. It is really vermicelli-like thin noodles steamed and served with grated coconut and bright orange sugar. Admittedly, this one is tough eating on the move in a plastic bag or in a bowl. But it’s becoming too much of a cult favourite to ignore.