Traditional Singaporean food and tastes are changing with a range of new culinary options now at the fingertips of the Territory’s FIFO diners
Long known as a food lover’s paradise for its melting pot Asian cuisine, Singapore is shrugging off tradition with a new breed of entrepreneurs mixing the Mod-Sin trend pot. It’s a movement that combines the flavours of the Orient with geographically disconnected partners, creating even more reasons for food lovers to explore this country that lives to eat.
Here’s where to find it:
Currently sitting at number 38 on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Wild Rocket is destination fine dining in the tranquil heights of Mount Emily. It is a playground for lauded chef-owner Willin Low who is credited with inventing Mod Sin.
“It started when I was eating Mexican salsa in London and thought a fermented shrimp sauce we have in Singapore would make it even better, and it did,” says Low.
“Now, it’s all about fresh pasta with a Singapore slant. We are serving fettuccine with Thai red curry confit duck. It’s French, Thai and Italian all in one dish but there is no fusion confusion.”
Imagine Singapore’s traditional breakfast of a kaya toast, (thick white toast spread with kaya jam made from coconut and eggs with a cup of tea and soft boiled eggs) turned into a cocktail.
Ernest Goh, co-owner of retro-inspired bar Bitters and Love, is another local who is putting a new twist on old favourites. Their Kaya cocktail is served in a kaya jam jar and comes topped with toast spread with kaya jam. The sweet but refreshing combo of English breakfast tea, Mount Gay rum, peach liqueur, honey, lemon juice and egg white make this a dessert cocktail worth seeking out.
The Mod-Sin theme continues through their toastie menu with corn beef combined with sambal sauce or mackerel with coconut chilli.
Widely acknowledged as the ultimate comfort food, Singapore’s chicken rice is in no danger of disappearing off menus but is disappearing from home kitchens.
When Roost chief executive Alson Teo, was a boy, preparation of chicken rice used to be a family activity. Alson and his sister would chop the garlic and chilli while his now 75-year-old mother would spend eight hours over two days to create Sunday lunch for the family.
While you might not score an invitation to sample home cooked chicken rice, you can taste something even better according to Teo at Roost, his simple city restaurant.
“No one would believe, not even my family, that a machine can cook chicken rice better than a person,” says Teo. “To them, it’s comfort food made with love, not science.”
It has taken 10 years to develop Teo’s innovative automated iKook chicken rice cooking system and achieve the flavour that locals expect, without the use of MSG which is a commonly chicken rice ingredient. Convincing Singaporeans that a machine can do the job might take even longer.
Roost is also where you can try the Mod-Sin combination of a durian crème brulee, which is a strangely addictive, sweet blue cheese custard or a panna cotta flavoured with traditional Asian Nanyang coffee. For another take on chicken rice, try the Fullerton Hotel’s Town Restaurant Signature Hainanese version where the chicken is poached for 50 minutes before resting in an ice bath for 20 minutes. Their chilli and ginger sauce is the perfect finish to the succulent chicken.
Although Singaporeans still make home property purchase decisions based on proximity to a hawker centre, keeping the hawker heritage alive is a challenge as an ageing generation retires and young hawkers are reluctant to step into the gaps.
You’ll find hawker-style Mod-Sin at the Amoy Street Food Centre where local coffee is fused with western flavours such as salty caramel.
Try their carrot cake which comes in black (sweet) and white (savoury) but is made with turnips not carrots, char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) and lor mee (noodles in starchy braised gravy then tuck into pancakes filled with freshly ground peanuts.
Singapore is a country where it’s tempting to plan your days around what and where you want to eat next, but fulfilling all those dreams might take longer than one visit.
The writer was the guest of Singapore Tourism Board and The Fullerton Hotel.
The Lighthouse Rooftop Bar, The Fullerton Hotel
The Fullerton Hotel mixes old with new