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Reading this will make you crave Hainanese chicken rice as they have it in Singapore

Published November 25, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Sandy Daza

TURNING HAINANESE Clockwise from top left: Green veggies with superior oyster sauce, fish head curry, fried tofu, and Hainanese Chicken

There was a belief I used to hang on to. Countries with tropical weather like we have here are usually third world. I blamed the weather for the lazy attitude of the people. This lasted until my first visit to Singapore. My jaw dropped. I was fascinated with this tiny country that had the same weather as we do, yet I found it so clean and beautiful, an attraction to tourists from all over the world. So here I go again analyzing what they have that we don’t. The tourist destinations are man-made. They have shopping, the place is safe, and they have great food—and most important—they have discipline!

I had an invite from a classmate from Cornell, Steven Lim, who was then resident manager at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel on Orchard Road. I was so proud to see my once-struggling classmate become successful in our field of hospitality. During that visit, Mandarin Orchard had a restaurant outlet called Chatter Box, which served the most popular and delicious version of Singapore’s Hainanese chicken rice. Steven called the chef and asked him to teach me how it was made. I found the whole process easier seen than done. I’d rather pay and enjoy.

Another dish I really enjoyed at The Chatter Box was Rojah, an appetizer made with tofu, veggies, pineapple, and fish paste. It was unique and delicious.

After that visit, I have been to Singapore a few more times, each visit I would enjoy immensely. Another friend Pauline Chung showed me where to find the best hawker places all over. I just loved walking around the city, entering many buildings, and visiting all the food courts. At night, it was a tour of the hawker places. Shopping? Never mind. Too pricy!

SAY CHICKEN! Soy chicken

We were also blessed to get an invite from the Singapore Tourism Board to do two shows. When we did Foodprints Singapore, we were brought to the best dining places in the city. The places they took us to were not necessarily the most expensive, but they were the best. One of the hawker places we tried was in a district called Tiong Bahru, one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates and one of 15 of “The World’s Coolest Neighborhoods,” according to Vogue in 2014. The hawker place is also called Tiong Bahru, where there were tiny stalls showcasing various dishes of Singapore. If you don’t know which stall to choose, look for the stall with the longest line. For sure, they will have a winning dish. Sate, noodles, noodle soup, chili crabs, oyster pancakes, Hainanese chicken rice, roast chicken rice, and so much more. The cuisines in Singapore are Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, and a few others. It can be confusing actually because all are good.  I miss Singaporean food.

One of the hawker places we tried was in a district called Tiong Bahru, one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates and one of 15 of ‘The World’s Coolest Neighborhoods,’ according to Vogue in 2014.

In Manila, whenever I have a craving for Singaporean cuisine, I used to go to the franchises from Singapore. The problem with most of them is, when they open, the have a huge production. The chefs and owners from Singapore are all here and the food is outstanding. But after a few months, the quality disappears. Sigh!

Recently, I found a franchise that opened last year and so far, the consistency has not changed one bit. The menu is not extensive but everything on it is so good. Tiong Bahru, the building and the brand in the neighborhood of the same name in Singapore, is a hawker place with two stories. All I remember about the location is there were dozens of stalls side by side. That Hawker place is just across the street from the place that serves one of the best bak ku teh or pork rib soup in Singapore.

SOUP-RICE Congee

Tiong Bahru Manila opened another branch along Scout Torillo at Timog in Quezon City. As soon as I sat down, I noticed how clean and neat the place was. On the table were sauces of minced ginger, sweet sticky soy sauce, and chili. We started with an appetizer of crispy fried tofu with a good quality oyster sauce, healthy and very delicious. After that, we of course ordered the Hainanese chicken rice, the roast chicken also with the chicken rice, the yellow Fish curry, and the green vegetables topped with superior oyster sauce. Each one was as good as I remember Singapore food to be.

Because the chicken we use here is different from what they use in Singapore, I was expecting it to be different in taste. Chicken in Singapore has yellowish skin and the fat is thicker. Tiong Bahru chicken is just as good. I combined all the dipping sauces present, dabbing a little of the combination on my tender, tasty chiciken. Yum! The fish for the curry was examined by the chef from Singapore and only the baramundi variety was approved. I love a well-made fish head curry. Try this version. Lakas sa kanin (You’d want to eat a lot of rice with it) but I loved it. I knew the food was good because all I could think of was to bring my kids back. Each one of the dishes was simply outstanding. And as if what I had was not enough, I ordered a bowl of congee. Wow, no need to add anything. It was so so good! I was so stuffed I skipped dinner.

What a pleasant discovery this new place is! You have to experience it yourself! Go check it out!

Happy eating!

Tiong Bahru is at 47 Scout Torillo corner Timog Avenue. Call 0945 7293908.

 
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