If I had to sum it up in one word, Singapore tastes sweet.
It’s got richness from buttery shellfish, stews and thick, steamy curries, and it’s spicy with a hint of chilli.
But condensed milk, palm sugar, and coconut pulse through the city like a major artery.
As chance would have it, even our lovely tour guide started a sweet treat side hustle during the pandemic and helped us survive the seven-hour time difference with samples of her moreish mini-cookies.
For someone with a sweet tooth like mine, the whole thing was positively dreamy.
Another thing I learned while I, jet-lagged out of my absolute mind and covered in sweat, ate my way through the shining, roasting city is that anyone who judges restaurants by their looks alone will miss out on some of the most extraordinary meals in Singapore.
Yes, that’s a rule to live by elsewhere too, but for me, it hit different here, where I sat outside on plastic deck chairs enjoying food people are known to queue for hours to eat.
In the traditional and beloved Heap Seng Leong coffee shop (think greasy spoon) on North Bridge Road, exceptionally runny eggs are served with toast covered in coconut jam and thick slabs of butter. You can get your coffee with condensed milk – which is very common in the city – as well as a glob of butter if you’re so inclined – which is not my favourite but definitely not bad.
In the Hawker centres (think big covered markets), you can get giant iced teas sweetened with condensed milk, huge chocolate drinks called Milo dinosaur, and bandung, which is bright pink and flavoured with rose syrup as well as (you guessed it) condensed milk.
In Keng Eng Kee Seafood, my favourite restaurant of the trip, you can get sticky sweet marmite chicken and coffee pork ribs, as well as a delicious version of the chilli crab – a famous dish in that part of the world and a must-try.
Their signature moonlight hor fun is absolutely superlative. It’s a dish of thick noodles made extra creamy thanks to the raw egg served on top. Before you eat it, you need to make sure the egg is thoroughly mixed in. It’s not the kind of thing you stop eating when you’re full.
Keng Eng Kee has a slightly similar vibe to the Hill Street Tai Hwa Eating House, a family street food stall that’s been going strong in various locations since the 1930s and became one of the first two such street stalls in the world to be awarded a Michelin star.
I tried the excellent gan mian pork noodles, in which I counted five different varieties of pork – from liver to dumplings.
Even when our little group went at 9am, the usual queue – which is liable to stretch on for hours – was starting to form.
In short, if you’re thinking of visiting Singapore, I’d absolutely recommend bringing a healthy appetite.
Of course there’s more to do in the city than just eat, but, frankly, that wasn’t the point of this trip, and if money and the environmental impact were no object, I’d go back for the hor fun alone.
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