SINGAPORE, March 12 — For all the petty debates we have about Singaporean versus Malaysian food, there is no denying the fact that Singaporeans love the tasty fare our neighbours across the Causeway dish out.
How else would you explain the longevity of a promotion like York Hotel’s Penang Hawker Fare, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year?
Since 1986, the hotel has showcased Penang street food in all its delicious glory by inviting a clutch of Penang’s most popular hawkers to cook at its White Rose Cafe. (The first leg of this year’s edition — there are three each year — runs until March 27.)
Over that time, it has drawn an enthusiastic set of regulars who can’t get enough of dishes such as assam laksa, cuttlefish kang kong and ban chang kueh (crispy peanut pancake). The success of the promotion has also attracted an increasing number of hawkers each year. “(The hawkers) now see it as a platform to promote their specialities abroad,” said the hotel’s general manager Jessie Tan.
“They are chosen based on their popularity with their customers — we usually find out about them through word of mouth; and we assess them based on the quality of their dishes,” she added.
The promotion now boasts 12 hawkers and a new show kitchen from which they whip up dishes such as lor bak and oyster omelette right in front of you. At S$29 (RM85.96) on weekdays and S$33 on weekends (children pay S$20 and S$23, respectively), the buffet provides exceptional value (and you don’t have to make a trip all the way up to Penang).
This instalment also features two exclusive cooking workshops by the hawkers themselves on the intricacies of making Hokkien prawn mee, assam laksa and ban chang kueh. (The hotel charges a nominal S$12 fee for these workshops but participants will receive a S$12 dining voucher in return.)
While the Singaporean affinity for Penang food has spawned scores of restaurants here — from stalwarts such as Penang Kitchen and Penang Place Restaurant, to newer additions such as Penang Chiak at Food Republic Wisma Atria — Malaysian food in general is enjoying its moment in the Singapore sun of late.
There are outlets all over Singapore serving it up. Take the concept food court Malaysia Boleh at Jurong Point: The Fei Siong Group has brought together 17 stalls and pushcarts serving food from well-known hawkers in Malaysia, such as Petaling Street Famous Claypot Chicken Rice, Klang Bak Kut Teh, KL Hokkien Mee and Sister Curry Chicken Mee.
Other Malaysian-style eateries that are wildly popular at the moment include chain stores such as Ipoh Lou Yan Bean Sprouts Chicken (with branches in White Sands, IMM and Junction 8); the not-for-the-faint-hearted JB Ah Meng in Geylang, serving Johor Bahru-style zi char dishes; famed nasi lemak restaurant Madam Kwan’s at VivoCity; and the herb-infused Port Klang Bak Kut Teh in Jurong West.
And let’s not forget Resorts World Sentosa’s perenially popular Malaysian Food Street, which constantly buzzes with hordes of food lovers queuing for dishes such as Malacca Chicken Rice Ball, Penang Chendol and Heun Kee Claypot Chicken Rice, cooked over traditional charcoal braziers.
Just what makes Malaysian food so enduringly appealing to Singaporeans?
Some, like JB Ah Meng regular Su Mei Ting, say that it is down to the extra oomph of flavour. “Our (Singapore-style) bak kut teh typically has a light and very peppery broth, but the Klang version is heartier, with a very rich herbal flavour,” said the 35-year-old accountant and avid foodie. “Similarly, our wanton mee in Singapore tends to be tossed in a simple chilli dressing, while the Malaysian-style wanton mee is doused in a dark soy-based sauce.”
Indeed, variety is the spice of life, and Malaysian food offers exactly that — and without need to endure the long wait at the Causeway too.
Six Malaysian food haunts we like
1. Gurney Drive Signatures (Level 3 Mezz South Changi Airport Terminal 3, Tel: 6441 1690)
What started as a Penang food court dedicated to dishes from Penang’s famous hawker centre of the same name has since expanded to become an empire of Penang food in Singapore ― it also runs two Gurney Drive Signature branches, four Penang Culture restaurants, and a Penang St Buffet restaurant at Causeway Point. The dish to try: The Claypot Assam Curry Fish Head.
2. JB Ah Meng (New Good Eating House Geylang Lor 23, Tel: 6741 2418)
This hotspot may serve Johor Bahru-style zi char dishes in a grotty location, but that hasn’t stopped hordes of drs from all over the island from making a beeline for dishes such as JB Sanlou Fried Bee Hoon, white pepper crab and fried fish head.
3. Penang Seafood Restaurant (76 Geylang Lor 25A, Tel: 6841 3002)
Prepare to get in line for the usual Penang suspects — assam laksa, fried kway teow and prawn mee — along with a superb menu of Penang-style zichar dishes. The assam fish head and Hot Spicy Red Grouper Pot (fried grouper doused in a belacan-based sambal) are dishes not to be missed.
4. Port Klang Bak Kut The (#01-07 Jurong Point Shopping Centre, 1 Jurong West Central 2)
This is one of the few places you can get your fix of Klang-style bak kut teh, which is a distinctly more herbal alternative to the lighter and more peppery style we usually get in Singapore. That said, the stall’s herbal chicken soup and bean paste pork ribs are a must-try as well.
5. Malaysian Food Street (Resorts World Sentosa Waterfront Level 1)
The authentic dishes from around the Peninsula served here range from Penang Lim Brothers’ char koay teow (the food street’s bestseller), to Heun Kee claypot rice from Kuala Lumpur, to the noted Jalan Alor Hokkien mee.
6. Penang Street (#01-09 and #01-19/20 [email protected], 1 Lower Kent Ridge Road, Tel: 6334 6023)
The cheap and cheerful menu of familiar favourites hits the right spots when the craving for assam laksa, beef rendang and Penang chendol strikes. Besides its flagship at [email protected], it also has branches at Funan Digitalife Mall and Eastpoint Mall. ― TODAY