In the bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, author Kevin Kwan fills his pages with juicy drama involving Singapore’s elite families, and he almost devotes the same amount of space to the Southeast Asian nation’s mouthwatering food.
To get the inside track on where to eat in Singapore, we talked to the local cast of Crazy Rich Asians’ film adaptation (which hits theaters on August 15). Pierre Png (who plays Michael Teo), Fiona Xie (Kitty Pong), Tan Kheng Hua (Kerry Chu) and Janice Koh (Felicity Young) are all passionate about their country’s culinary scene and gave us tips on where to find the best Peranakan fare (a fusion of Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines), hawker stalls that are worth the wait and which dishes you need to try.
What are your go-to restaurants in Singapore?
Koh: One of the things I love most about Singapore is our food! We have a great number of superb fine-dining restaurants, as well as a wide array of delicious hawker or street food inspired by our multicultural heritage, which are available cheaply.
Some of my go-to Singapore fine-dining establishments are Candlenut by chef Malcolm Lee for its innovative Peranakan food that pushes the boundaries; Wild Rocket by chef Willin Low for a modern and surprising twist on Singapore flavors; and National Kitchen by Violet Oon for tasty and comforting Straits Chinese cuisine set in a beautiful, historic city hall building, which is now the National Gallery of Singapore.
For something authentically local, I would head straight for the charming neighborhood of Tiong Bahru, one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates. I love Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice, which has been serving their signature pork chops and curry chicken for over 60 years. The other eatery is Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh on Seng Poh Road for their old-school-style tender pork ribs served in a peppery broth.
If you’re there in the morning, don’t miss the chance to shop at the Tiong Bahru wet market for fresh produce, and head to the bustling food center upstairs for a cup of local coffee and chwee kueh from Jian Bo Shui Kueh — the perfect breakfast of steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish for only US$1.50 for five pieces.
Png: I usually eat at hawker centers and coffee shops. They are ubiquitous in Singapore and they serve all the different ethnic cuisines in Singapore and Asia. From barbecued meats, varieties of noodles, grilled seafood, curries — Indian, Thai Malay, Chinese and Japanese style — and Asian desserts.
A must-visit restaurant that never disappoints has got to be Long Beach Seafood at Stadium Boulevard, and Min Jiang at Goodwood Park Hotel for excellent dim sum and authentic Chinese food.
Xie: If I had to teleport myself and cut the queue, it would be Tai Hwa minced pork noodles. Singapore was one of the first to be honored by the Michelin food guide for its phenomenal street food and this stall is one of them. Be prepared for long lines; springy, vinegary goodness; and a rather happy belly.
Variety is the spice of life! Newton Circus, which makes its festive debut in the CRA movie, is another hawker that is burgeoning with yummy, delish delights, like fried carrot cake — a savory fried-radish-based egg stir-fry — chili crabs to another one of my faves, fishball noodles.
Fun fact: My face is plastered on the first stall at Newton Circus on the fishball stall. Every friend/fan who eats there always sends me a selfie with it. It’s been there for over a decade, and no, I do not have shares at the shop.
Boon Tong Kee is a chicken rice institution not to be missed. Succulent, juicy chicken over fragrant chicken-essence-infused tasty rice. And yes, chili sauce — the kick that keeps on giving.
Tan: Ooh, gosh. How much space do we have? Whole Earth Restaurant for their clean, fresh Peranakan-inspired vegetarian food; Brazil Churrasco, especially for their roasted lamb on the skewer; Werner’s Oven for homemade breads and pork knuckle; Long Ji Zi Char for XO crab bee hoon [vermicelli noodles with mud crabs]; Merely homemade ice cream, especially Horlicks Panda [malted milk scoops with crushed Hello Panda chocolate cookies] and coconut flavors; Karu’s for Indian food; carrot cake and soups from Cedele; nasi padang [a rice plate with a choice of pre-cooked dishes] from HJH Maimunah; claypot chicken rice from Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant…the list goes on and on.
What are some of your favorite Singaporean dishes?
Png: Hainanese chicken rice or nasi lemak, a Malay dish consisting of coconut rice cooked together with pandan leaves for a delightful aroma, mostly served with anchovies, peanuts, fried chicken, vegetables and a delectable sweet chilli sauce. I have to eat either one when I come home to Singapore from location shoots.
Xie: Laksa, prawn noodle, bak kut teh [pork rib soup], chicken rice, carrot cake, bat chor mee [minced meat with noodles], sambal stingray.
Koh: When I lived abroad, the two Singapore dishes I missed the most were katong laksa and nasi padang.
Katong laksa is a hot, spicy broth flavored with coconut milk and dried shrimp, served with noodles, prawn, fishcake and cockles. I usually top it off with a piece of otak-otak, a grilled fish paste wrapped in coconut leaf. My favorite stalls are at Roxy Square and 328 Katong Laksa along East Coast Road. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the quaint shophouses in the vicinity of Katong and Joo Chiat.
Nasi padang is Malay-style curry dishes served with rice. The fun part is choosing the dishes you like, and ending the meal with a satisfying cup of teh tarik, hot milk tea. My go-to stalls and restaurants are HJH Maimunah in Joo Chiat, and Rumah Makan Minang on Kandahar Street.
Tan: My all-time favorite meals are the home-cooked ones by my mum. She cooks a variety of dishes that are a mix of Peranakan, Teochew, Cantonese and home-style cooking. No one does it like her.
Here are my favorite dishes of hers: hand-rolled pohpiah, fresh spring rolls; salted vegetable duck soup; lotus root soup with peanuts, pork rib and red dates; stir-fried marrow with dried shrimps and glass noodles; stewed brinjals [eggplant] with belly pork and salted fish; stir-fried long beans with preserved radish, diced prawns, pork and tauhu [tofu]; stir-fried thinly sliced pork with deep dark soy sauce and garlic; claypot fish-head curry with lady fingers [okra] and brinjals; one-pot claypot chicken rice with Chinese sausage, ginger and salted fish.