We focused on the top-end of Singapore dining in our November 2013 feature, but no trip to the island of the merlion is complete without a street-food hit, so we turned to some of the top local culinary names for their favourite crab, noodle and chicken-rice vendors.
Ignatius Chan, proprietor, Iggy's
Crab: I used to go to Sin Huat (659/661 Geylang Rd, Geylang), the famous eating house in Geylang made more famous by Anthony Bourdain, but I only go there for two dishes: the pepper crab and the crab noodles, the crab bee hoon. But the owner has a tendency to push you to order other things, which you should resist. Sometimes he also doesn't seem to want to take your order, so you sit down and you'll be waiting for 20 minutes and then he comes over, with his rubber boots and no shirt: "What do you want to eat?" It's a place with lots of character, and he serves one of the best crabs in town.
The other place I find really interesting at the moment is New Ubin (#01-174, Sector A Sin Ming Industrial Estate, 27 Sin Ming Rd). It's in Sin Ming, in a neighbourhood that's mainly car workshops, but I think it's an even better choice than Sin Huat because it's got a combination of other things. You can get satay there as well as crab, and it's a true Singapore-style stir-fried eating house. It's about 15 minutes from Orchard Road in a cab, just north of MacRitchie Reservoir. The guy loves food, he speaks English well and he even makes a chicken curry pie that's all his own innovation. Curry puffs, as you know, are normally small - he makes a super-huge one for communal eating. It's good fun. Be sure to ask for the giant crabs - you don't want to be served the small ones.
Noodles: I'm not a char kway teow man - I find Singapore char kway teow a bit too sweet - but in Singapore I like mee pok. There's this stall in Rochdale called Lau Sim (12 Rochdale Rd, MacPherson) which does shredded chicken noodles. The guy there makes these wonderful homemade fish dumplings that go with the noodles - it's almost like tagliatelle with chilli, a bit of vinegar, lard, shredded chicken and shiitake mushroom, tossed as a dry noodle dish with a bowl of soup on the side and some dumplings. Really good. I think it's unique - it's not like all these other dry noodle dishes you see in the food courts that almost feel like they've come out of a factory with the same chilli sauce.
There's also a laksa called Sungei Road Laksa (Block 27, Jalan Berseh, #01-100 Jin Shui Kopitiam) in Kelantan Lane that's very good, too. It's famous - it opened in the 50s and is still two dollars. It's on Jalan Berseh, on Kelantan Lane, and it's the most balanced laksa. The broth is lighter than the usual lemak style, and it's not thick - you can drink it up like a bouillabaisse.
And there's a prawn noodle up in the east coast called Da Dong Prawn Noodles (354 Joo Chiat Rd), and it's the mother of all har mee, prawn noodle soups. They use pork bones with prawn shells to make a very concentrated and intense broth, and they serve it with yellow noodles and big prawns. The stock is to die for. It's expensive - eight dollars per bowl - but I think he puts in a lot of effort.
Chicken rice: this is the big one. Tian Tian is convenient, definitely, but I'd go with Wee Nam Kee chicken rice on Thomson Road (275 Thomson Rd, Novena Ville). I have to say that the chickens we get in Singapore aren't really good. I like chicken for the flavour, but the chicken-rice chicken is usually just texture. If I could get the chicken they get in Hong Kong, but with Singapore's better rice and chilli sauce, it'd be perfect. The aficionados might judge it on the rice, but for me, as a restaurateur, if you're going to call it chicken rice, the chicken should be the star and the rice should be the supporter. Here, I think people eat more rice than chicken. But that's the Singapore taste. One man's meat is another man's poison.
Peng Loh, proprietor, Esquina and Burnt Ends
Crab: I'm not a huge chilli- or pepper-crab person, but I think Long Beach (1018 East Coast Parkway) is still the one. It's solid, reliable - they do a lot of crabs, and not a lot else there is great.
Chicken rice: Tian Tian - it's just down the road from me, my local. I'm there at least once a week. My tip is to always order extra chilli sauce.
Noodles: I like stir-fried noodles - specifically hor fun, the rice noodles. My favourite is Kok Sen (30 Keong Saik Rd, +65 6223 2005), a kopi tiam around the corner from Esquina and Burnt Ends. They do theirs with prawn and egg in a spicy sauce - they use the insides of the heads in the sauce, and it's really prawny, and very unhealthy, but it's the best thing ever. I try and eat there once a week too. They're packed on weekends - if you come here on a Saturday there'll be a hundred people crammed in there in seats in the back lane. It's insane.
André Chiang, chef-owner, Restaurant André
Noodles: Sungei Road Laksa (Block 27, Jalan Berseh, #01-100 Jin Shui Kopitiam) is one of my favourites. Normally laksa in Singapore is slightly on the sweet side and heavy on the coconut, and I prefer something more savoury and light. It's an old uncle who's been there for 40 years, and he still cooks over charcoal, and it's still less than two dollars. I still go now in the mornings for breakfast, and it's very different to a typical laksa lemak.
Chicken rice: Tian Tian (Stall 10, Maxwell Food Centre). Old school. It's our neighbourhood - respect.
Julien Royer, chef, Jaan
Crab: Chili crab! With the Chinese mantou buns to dip in the fragrant and spicy sauce. The one at Jumbo Seafood (Block 1206, East Coast Parkway #01-07/08, East Coast Seafood Centre, +65 6442 3435) is excellent; otherwise, I go to Newton Food Centre.
Noodles: For char kway teow, I go to stall 18 at Zion Road Hawker Centre. But for something unexpected, how about ramen? Uma Uma, which was opened by the team from Iggy's, serves delicious ramen - super-umami!
Chicken rice: Wee Nam Kee (275 Thomson Rd, Novena Ville) in Novena serves the best chicken rice in my opinion. The flavourful and fragrant rice is delicious with the delicately cooked chicken.