Singapore, Touristy and still tasty/ Places to eat at in Singapore's CBD

Hainanese hicken rice, oyster omelette, Thai coconut at Zheng Swee Kee at Seah Road

What I am going to do in this post is tell you about where we ate on this trip which might give you ideas on what to do if you are at Singapore and at its CBD. It is based on our personal experience of a three night stay and is not a comprehensive list.

Singapore once again and this time the CBD

I had gone to Singapore last month.  K was there on work and then stayed on for a couple of days and I joined her for a short but much need holiday. We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental at Singapore this tome. It is located in the CBD or central business district of Singapore. We have both stayed at the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental before though not together. This was the first time that K and I were together at Singapore, though it was my 8th trip to the city and her 4th. This was also the first time that either of us was there on holiday and not just work.

I think I have eaten at all the 'must eat places' at Singapore by now and would smile when people would send me social media recommendations on where to eat this time around. I appreciated their spirit but I'd been to most of these places before. However, Singapore has a huge food scene and there's always something new coming up and I doubted if I wouldn't eat well on the trip and, as I found out, I was right. We had some pretty good meals in the trip. Barring on Singapore Airlines where the service was lovely and we got seats with good leg space thanks to helpful folks at the airport, but the food depressed me.

This was also the first time that I staying at a hotel in the CBD since my first trip to the city when I had stayed in a small hotel there. In the trips in between, I was always put up at hotels at the Chinatown where I think you get better hotel rooms for less money. The CBD is considered to more 'touristy,' I know but I was looking forward to checking out the food scene here this time.

One thing that helped is that most of Singapore's iconic food joints have offshoots and branches in the city centre and its malls and where you can get the same food even if not the atmosphere, and that worked well for us this time. I was not alone after all on this trip and it was not fair to expect K to spend all her time on food adventures just as she didn't expect me to go handbag shopping with her all the time. I think we ended up with a happy balance at the end.

Coffee Shops come to the malls

The CBD is full of malls. The malls of interconnected and you can walk for hours without having to get out in the sun, or in the rain, and offer lots of eating out options.

The old Singaporean coffee shops have made their presence felt in the malls too. In fact the first time that I had been taken to a Ya Kun outlet in Singapore was at a mall. I'd recommend going to one of these for breakfast or for tea and to have the kaya jam (made with eggs, sugar, salt and coconut milk) and toast and coffee. You can ask for your coffee to be served black, with condensed milk, with sugar but no milk and so on. Eating runny eggs with soy sauce with the kaya jam toast is quite the thing too and this combination will not break your budget.

Kaya Toast and jam at a Ya Kun Outlet in a mall

While I usually go to Ya Kun when In Singapore, after a friend had introduced me to it, this time I tried another coffee shop chain too. This is called Toast Box. Their outlets seemed bigger, more cheerful and younger than the Ya Kun ones. The city seems to be divided into Ya Kun and Toast Box kaya toast fans as I saw when I wrote about going to Toast Box. I liked both. The harmony of the slightly sweet Kaya jam with the stick of salted butter that melts on the grilled toast at these places is heavenly.  Toast Box offers a wider menu including meal options. Once at lunch time there K had a pretty nice chicken curry there while I had an acceptable laksa, not street corner level, not too bad either.

Laksa at Toast Box
Chinese chicken curry with tofu at Toast Box

Kaya Toast and jam at Toast Box
Dim Sum heaven

The malls near our hotel had tons of restaurants but the one place everyone told us to go to was Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese based dim sum place. We went to the one at Suntec Mall outside the Mandarin Oriental. It was past 2 pm that day  so we didn't have to queue up. You are given a sheet of paper and you tick your orders and then are seated and your food is brought to you in a while.

The pork mince filled 'dragon dumpling', seemed appropriate to order we had just seen the last GOT season then. It was  served in a soy based sauce and was very well flavoured. The pork soupy dumplings, xio ling bao, were the other highlight of our meal. The best thing about having dumplings outside of India is that the casing is not the thick and chewy ones. The flours make a difference local chefs Indian tell me.

I didn't like the dan dan noodles as much as I had at the noodle bar at the Cathay Pacific Pierre Lounge at Hong Kong. The fried rice at Din Tai Fung is highly recommended but we didn't get to try it.

Master dim sum chefs at work at Din Tai Fung

Dragon dim sum at Din Tau Fung
The Touristy Belly

On another day, while walking through endless mall passages in search for a chicken rice place, I came across a Tim Ho Wan outlet and pulled K in to try the pork barbecue buns that I had fallen in love with at Hong Kong. Tim Ho Wan is a Hong Kong based dim sum place. Same modus operandi as the Din Tai Fung when it came to ordering. This outlet was full too but I didn't hear as many people speak about it as they did about Din Tai Fung.

Pork barbecued buns at Tim Ho Wan
Food Courts

Apart from the food courts in malls, standalone food courts are big in Singapore too. Many office goers throng these at lunch time. The oldest of them all, Lau Pa Sat, is at the CBD. I had gone there on one of my first trips to the city and had a white coloured coconut milk pork curry and rice at a stall selling Filipino food there. It had been shut for a while but has opened again. Seeing that I was at the CBD, some on social media suggested that I go to Lau Pa sat for the local flavour. I also came across folks who live in the city who said that Lau Pa Sat could be considered ' touristy' as it was in the city centre and was a place for office goers to go to.

We didn't go to Lau Pa Sat this time though we crossed it a few times. We did go to a food court for our last dinner of the trip. This was one located opposite the Mandarin Oriental. It is called Makansutra Gluttons Bay. It is unapologetically aimed at tourists. From what I gather, it was set up by legendary Singapore street food chronicler and photo journalist, KF Seetoh, whom I had the good fortune of meeting in one of my earlier trips. The Gluttons Bay food court has representatives from some of the city's most iconic street food places. I happened to have the chicken rice at Wee Nam Kee and it was as good as any I have eaten. Wee Nam See is a place folks had told me to visit. It has outlets in malls too now. I missed out on the atmosphere of the original place I know, but at least got a taste of its legendary chicken rice at Maakansutra while K had an oyster omelette at the Sun Lee stall next door. I just love the vibe of Asian food courts and my face lit up with a smile at Makansutra.

Chicken rice and Oyster Omelette at Makan Sutra

Love Hawker Markets, even when they are synthetic
Chicken Rice shop

There was a touch of 'heritage' to experience at the the CBD too. Thanks to a useful tip from Freya Gazdar, a concierge at the Mandarin Oriental and a Parsi at that, K and I went down various malls one afternoon in search of Zheng Swee Kee. Zheng is pronounced as Cheng and is different from Seng Swee See which is on the same road and in the lane behind the landmark Raffles Hotel which is called Sea Road. Freya was pretty clear on which one we we should go to.

I had the most amazing chicken rice there and, like in a good chicken rice, it was all about the flavours of the stock in the rice and the chicken was super tender too. Do keep in mind that the chicken is served at room temperature if not cold. The rice is hot. They give a chilli and ginger dip which you add to the rice and chicken.

K had an oyster omelette and was very happy with how flavour packed it was and the beautiful texture. It was way better than what she had at Makansutra later. Oysters get a bit of getting used to as as the smell and taste is a bit fishy so be warned. We enjoyed it, you might not.

We scored the super sweet Thai coconuts too and later got them at Makansutra as well. These are very different from the nariyel paani  or daaber jol that we get in India.

The atmosphere at Zheng Swee Kee was sleepy with old Chinese uncles playing cards over glasses of TV. The service was efficient and warm to with Chinese ladies, who spoke very little English, manning the place. The drinks order is placed separately. We had requested one lady to take a picture of us and she went to great lengths to frame it and saved me a lot of heartburn and retakes by pointing out to the missus that her hair was fulling on her eyes.

Next to Zhend Swede Kee was the office of the Hainanese Society according to a board that I saw. The chicken rice that you get in Singapore is called the Hainanese chicken rice as against other versions such as the Ipoh chicken rice that you get in KL. So this would be equivalent of eating a Bengali meal in the Bengali settlement of CR Park in Delhi.

Like all of Freya's suggestions, this was spot on. A good concierge can really lift ones experience of a place. This was my bon vivant moment of the trip even if it involved walking through air conditioned passages, with clean restrooms. It was raining at the last leg when we stepped out of a mall and had to cross the road to Raffles. A kind concierge at the Fairmont Hotel, which is where we came out of, offered us a hotel umbrella when he saw that we were hailing a cab. This, even when we told him that we were not hotel guests. We returned the umbrella of course and paid homage to his trust in humanity.

The chicken rice at Zhen Sweet Kee 

Cantonese elegance 

We loved our room at the Mandarin Oriental. We were upgraded to the Harbour View room and the view was mind blowing. Service was lovely too and we loved the location.

The hotel were generous enough to host us for lunch the day we left. This was at their Cantonese restaurant, Cherry Garden. The menu was different from Man Wah, the Cantonese restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental at Hong Kong that I'd been to last year. We had a dim sum set to start with and, as I had learnt in earlier trips to Singapore and Hong Kong, this goes beyond just dumplings while many of us in India think that dim sum and dumplings are synonymous. There was a lot of culinary finesse on display in the very artistic looking wagyu beef with Taiwanese shushu sauce dumpling and the black garlic prawn dumpling which tasted like a dream. There was some pretty competent xiao ling bao and then came the 'Phoenix Claw' or chicken feet. I'd first had this in Hong Kong's Tim Ho Wan and enjoyed it. The one at Cherry Garden was stellar too as was the grilled spare ribs and we had an elegantly flavoured sea bass. All of this made for a gala send off from Singapore in what was our first trip together to the country and or first holiday there too and a much needed break for both of us.

Pork dumpling with black garlic at Cherry Garden

Dumplings with beef in shush sauce

Sea bass

refreshing dessert

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, for hosting our meal at the Cherry Garden and their hospitality assistance and for upgrading us to the harbour view too.  Our package included breakfast so we had breakfast in the hotel where everyday were I enjoyed local favourites every day along with a range of western dishes. They had some Indian fare too and the spread showed how lavish hotel breakfast buffets in Asia can be. What struck me was how cheerfully the staff at the breakfast room welcomed us every morning. I mean who can be so cheerful in the morning! 

Made a great start for our day for sure.

View from our room at the Mandarin Oriental 
Cherry Garden

Add captionCherry Garden breakfast

Appendix; The beauty of being at the CBD is that you are not too far away from anywhere and we used Uber to move around. We went to China Town and had a spicy Sichuan meal, big flavours and very big portions at 33 Mosque Street. Next time anyone tells you ' Chinese food is bland,' take them there. The place was packed with Indian expats seeking spicy food. While the place was referred to us as 33 Mosque Street, its name us is Was Nam Cao. The menu is in English and has pictures too. This helps as the staff doesn't speak much English.

Dick and potato with Sichuan chilli oil and peppers

We also went to the White Rabbit at Dempsey for a splurge meal. I'd gone there on an earlier trip for brunch when I was hosted by Singapore Tourism. This time we broke the bank but the grilled foie gras which we took a repeat of, my medium rare wagyu steak and K's truffle pasta with truffle shavings and the dramatic crepe suzette flambed at the end recreated our Paris holiday from last year in terms of the quality of ingredients and produce used. Service was great, the atmosphere majestic and the chefs, Singaporean and not French. Goes to show why they call Singapore a global food city

Grilled foie gras

Wagyu Steak

Truffle pasta

Crepe Suzette

The YouTube videos phone that we shot at Singapore:

Lunch at Cherry Garden, Mandarin Oriental:

Dinner at Makansutra Gluttons Bay

Kaya Toast:

Chicken rice at Zheng Swee Kee