My Singaporean Breakfasts: Ya Kun, Tiong Bahru Market & Bakery, Singapore Zoo, The White Rabbit

 

This trip was sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board

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I am not a morning person as I have said before but I am a breakfast person and Singapore gave me the very best in my recent trip there.

I landed at Singapore quite fresh. Felt pretty cool to sit in the upper deck of Singapore Airlines’ A380. The lady at the check in counter had given me a seat with huge leg space which was a plus in economy. The food sucked though. I chose the fish which turned out to be a sticky, possibly basa, nightmare (I chose the butter chicken while returning which was more edible and again got loads of leg space).

So when I landed in Singapore I was quite hungry, figuratively and metaphorically.

I was greeted by Anita Sharma whom Singapore Tourism Board (STB) had sent as my guide for the next few days in Singapore. I couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion than this full of life Singaporean who loves her city and was a mother hen to me through my trip.

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                                                                                      That’s Anita

Anita suggested stopping for a local breakfast as I was likely to miss the hotel breakfast at the petite and modern arty hotel, The Club, in Chinatown where I stayed during the trip. In retrospect this was good as I always prefer a local breakfast over a hotel breakfast and I later found out that the hotel had Continental and American breakfast options but no ‘Singaporean’.

Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Anita took me to the Ya Kun outlet in China Street. I immediately remembered my last stay at Singapore where Sushobhan had taken me to a Ya Kun Kaya toast outlet in the Funan Digital Mall.

Ya Kun was started in 1944 and has many outlets now across Singapore. They serve the favourite Singaporean breakfast of Kaya toast. Kaya is a jam made with milk, eggs and coconut. It is served in toast and along with salty butter makes a fantastic sweet and salty combination. Despite the coconut in it, the jam doesn’t have an overtly coconutty taste.

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Anita introduced me to runny eggs, another local favourite. You break them with a spoon, add pepper and soy and, if Chinese slurp it from a plate, if a visitor use your spoon like I did. Tasted delightful.

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You get set meals in Ya Kun which comes with coffee and I chose a coffee with a bit of milk. The milk is condensed milk and you don’t need to add sugar. The coffee is guaranteed to wake you up.

Sushobhan had said that of all the Kaya outlets (Toast box is another), Ya Kun has the friendliest of staff and I saw the same warmth on display this time around too. What I also noticed both times is that they have quite a few elderly staff which  found was very sweet and socially evolved.

Kaya jam bottles make nice gifts to take back home.

The set cost 4.2 SGD

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Tong Hei

I had another Kaya toast experience on my last morning of the trip when I went to a Chinese bake shop called Ton Hei at Chinatown near my hotel, the Club on Ann Siang Road. There was a stream of Chinese customers buying pork buns and egg custard tarts and taking them home. There were a couple of tables there and I sat down on one and ordered a Kaya toast with omelette. This was different from the Ya Kun one and was a sort of an savoury French toast with kaya jam slathered on top.

I found the combination of sweet kaya, salty egg and fried toast to be quite enticing.

Tiong Bahru Market for a Malay breakfast

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I love the Asian food courts though am often at a fix on what to order. Most stalls in places like Singapore, Thailand, KL, have pretty accurate pictures of the food highlighted and I use these as a guide.

This time was different. Anita took me to and guided me though the Tiong Bahru market where STB had scheduled breakfast for me and then an interesting coffee experience.

Tiong Bahru is a wet market where you get vegetables, meat (the pork is covered under glass to avoid hurting the sensibilities of the Malay Muslims) and fish including our good old pomfret. It’s not really a ‘wet’ market as the passages are quite wide and very dry. They also have a coffee shop where the gentleman stocks around 36 varieties of coffee and mixes blends for locals. There are groceries too.

We went up to the food court where Anita took me around and pointed out dishes which I would never have known to order otherwise.

One of the dishes that I really liked was the mee rebus which was a noodle dish served in a brown sauce with chopped green chillies livening the experience.

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There was also the longtong which had a sweetish fragrant curry which worked for me though I wasn’t too fond of the rice cakes in it.

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In fact I realised that the textures of some of the steamed dishes such as the soya doused chopped slithery rice noodle dish, chee cheeong fun and the doughy rice cake chwee kueh underwhelmed me a  bit though I liked the preserved radish topping on the rice cakes.

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I did like the otak otak which is a like a fish pate steamed in local spices and has a fish shammi kebeb like feel to it.

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What won my heart was the nasi (rice) lemak. The combination of sambal paste with fragrant coconut milk steamed rice and ikan bilis (fried anchovies) and peanuts were a mind blowing start to the morning.

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All the dishes mentioned here cost around 3 SGD or below each. The food court breakfast reminded of the one Neera took me to in Malaysia.

The Singaporeans take their coffee seriously and STB got me to do a challenge where I had to order coffee in the local language and then identify them when they arrived. I got the first part right, the Chinese shop keeper ok’d my pronunciation, but I mixed up the identification and only got the kopi peng or ice coffee right!

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The Singapore Zoo & River Safari

Talking of Nasi lemak, I had a great one at the Singapore Zoo cafeteria and they served this with a large mackerel and it cost around 9 SGD. They have a nice laksa too I am told. I went behind the scenes and saw the food being meticulously prepared for the animals and sprayed with calcium powder. It was a wet morning and I spent a few back to one’s childhood hours watching the white tiger, orang-otangs, otters, giraffes, a polar bear and then the elephant show in the zoo and then the sting rays and the carp and the panda in the River Safari.

I had gone to the Night Safari in my first trip to Singapore years back and enjoyed it.

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The Tiong Bahru Bakery

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Look, I know that braving it out in hawker markets trying out unidentified dishes is not everyone’s idea of a bright start to the day. K, for example, would look for the comfort and familiarity of a cappuccino to start her day.

Singapore offers that too.

Right outside the Tiong Bahru market is the very pretty French Cafe, Tiong Bahru Bakery set up by Frenchman Gontran Cherrier. It is famous for making the ‘best croissant in Singapore’ made with French ingredients.

Though full from the market, I tried the croissant and revelled in its milky butteriness.

This was one place where I missed K and I knew that we would have really enjoyed having a breakfast together here. Next time I will try the squid ink bun.

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The White Rabbit

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Another place where I really missed K is the White Rabbit where we went for brunch on the last day before I headed to the Aramsa Spa for a lovely relaxing massage and then the airport.

The White Rabbit is a restaurant set up in a converted abandoned church. It still has the tombstone of a young boy, John, there. It has outdoor seating for the rare moments when Singapore is not muggy. Indoors is awe inspiring thanks to the high ceilings, big widows and the lovely decor. A setting like no other. It is located at Dempsey which is a hub of modern restaurants in Singapore. Earlier Dempsey was a place where army barracks were based!

The food served here is classic European made by a local Singaporean chef with produce sourced from all over the world.

I started with a wonderful light burrata with Italian tomato salad with a place of Iberico Jamon on the side (36 SGD) that I love and had no hopes of having outside of Spain. The jamon was really good and took me straight back to Spain.

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For the mains I had a tough choice as there were oysters and then Wagyu too but then it was Sunday and I was missing home and I had to order a eggs Benedict (26 SGD) like I do at Smokehouse Deli on Sundays in Bandra. This was a fantastic dish with flavoursome, fleshy smoked salmon, runny poached eggs and a great Hollandaise sauce and sweetish brioche. I was a happy panda.

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Anita had a Maine lobster & cheese omelette (38 SGD) and I had a bite of it and saw that it was stuffed with lobster bits.

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For dessert I went for a favourite of K and mine, waffles. The Belgian waffles (16 SGD) were airy and near churros like in consistency and were probably the best waffles I have ever had.

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I had a bite of the French toast (16SGD) which Anita ordered and enjoyed it with the thick raspberry compote.

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The brunch at the White rabbit followed by the massage at Aramsa was what a perfect Sunday would have been especially if K was around.

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 Singapore digested

You would have noticed that the food in this post ranged across ethnic groups, price ranges and produce and that is what characterised my eating trip to Singapore. The sheer range of food in this city of people who love to eat is reason enough for a food lover to go and visit it.

I am really thankful to the STB for arranging the trip. I truly believe that getting to know each other’s food is a great way for people to connect. If we reach out to each other through the world of food then the world would truly be a more peaceful place.

PS Here’s your guide to ordering coffee or just go and say coffee with sugar no milk, etc in English.

 

Kopi Terms

§ O – Black with Sugar (pronounced as a short
version of “Awe”). From Hokkien dialect.

§ C – With Evaporated Milk; like a latte – a lot
more milk than regular coffee (pronounced
“See”). Means “Fresh” in Hainanese dialect.

§ Kosong – Without Sugar or Milk. “Kosong” in
Malay Language means “Empty”

§ Gah Dai – With Extra Condensed Milk
(pronounced as Ga – Die). From Hock Chew
(fu-zhou) dialect.

§ Xiu Dai – With Less Sugar (pronounced as
Seeyou-Die). From Hock Chew (fu-zhou) dialect.

§ Po – Thinner/Weaker. From Hokkien dialect.

§ Gau – Stronger (pronounced a mix between
“gow” and “cow”). From Hokkien dialect.

§ Di Lo – In Hokkien Dialect means “Pour All The
Way”

§ Sua – In Chinese Hokkien Dialect means “Follow”

§ Peng – Iced. From Hokkien dialect”

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