This week, I got the chance to attend a Singapore tasting menu and Q&A with Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef of the hit shows No Reservations and The Layover. The event was held at Laut near Union Square in New York. After attending, not only am I head-over-heels in love with Singaporean food; I’ve also learned a lot about Singapore food culture and how it came to be.
The menu started with some appetizers, including fried tofu filled with vegetables and topped with chili dip (very light and fluffy with a sweet flavor) as well as chicken satay that had been marinated, skewered, grilled and doused in peanut sauce (my favorite due to the sweet nutty flavor).
Next we were served a spicy soup called Laksa which included a coconut curry broth, noodles, and shrimp. While some people coughed and teared up a bit from the spice, I found it mild and flavorful.
For the main course, a platter of Carrot Cake, Beef Rendang, and Hainanese Chicken Rice was served. The carrot cake had the texture of tofu and was made with white carrot, while the beef was soft from being cooked for hours in a coconut beef curry, making it taste quite exotic. Now the chicken was the interesting part, and if ask any local Singaporean about it, they will go on for hours about the intense preparation that goes into making Chicken Rice and how delicious it is. The chicken is first boiled very slowly over a low heat and then placed in cold water for about 5 minutes. While the chicken dries, the rice is boiled in chicken fat with ginger, garlic, salt, and chicken stock also being part of the recipe. The chicken is served room temperature, which may sound weird but is actually quite delicious.
Desert was unlike anything I’ve ever had (I thought I was a chocolate fanatic but now I’m not so sure). The Coconut Tapioca Pudding was sticky and sweet and sat in a sweet kind of balsamic, while the Onde-Onde cake looked like a piece of Twizzler and was made from sweet potato (very delightful!). The Kuih Dadar, a rolled up crepe flavored with pandan juice, was stuffed with coconut shavings and steeped in palm sugar.
So, what is it about Singapore’s culture that makes their food so delicious? According to Bourdain, they have incredible foods with individual personalities. And despite being a very rich, egalitarian society, the locals have the same concern over where to get the best $1.50 bowl of noodles as they do about what the best nightclubs are (and they’ll wait for line in hours for both, as well).
The food culture is the most democratic culture in Singapore. Street food is gourmet cooking, unlike it many other places, and going to a Hawker Center (basically a food court with authentic street food) will put you in a state of utter bliss. In fact, even their chain hotels like the Hyatt and the Shangri-La use street food for their in their breakfast nook and onsite dining.
“I kind of lost my mind in Singapore. It ruined me from my previous life,” said Bourdain, almost in tears of passion. “When you’ve had Laksa for breakfast there’s no going back. You’ll never eat Cheerios again. You can’t go back to the way you were before.”
Photos courtesy of Diane Bondareff aside for the appetizer photos, which are my own, and the desert photos which are from flickr (ability to use camera at the event was limited).