Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daily highlight #89: Day 1 of local food sampling (Singapore)

J's dad is the most eager host I know. As soon as my parents got up on Saturday, we were off to sample some local food in what he called an "easy setting" that would help to ease my parents the first timers into the Singapore food culture.

We arrived at the historical Island Country Club right on time to find the multi-ethnic kitchen crew working a great variety of stations in an open kitchen near the main dining room that has a panoramic view of the lush and vast golf courses. A country club is not where I'd go back in the State for ethnic food, but here in Singapore, good food is pretty much the norm everywhere and this country club dining room has been showcasing the cuisines of all the major ethnic groups of Singapore for as long as it has been in existence.

We ordered way too much, but a good variety to give the parents a taste of the land. First up was an Indian influenced Malay rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad coated with an unusual shrimp paste and peanut sauce and fortified with fried dough fritters. Sweet, spicy, soft, and crunchy, the mixture was a curiosity that kept all the senses busy with every bite.

Next up was a chicken tandoori that nodded to the Punjab region of India. Unlike the alarmingly red and dry version often found in the States, these chicken pieces, which we saw being pulled out of a tandoor oven right before serving were super moist and tasted of strong turmeric, cayenne and red chili powder.

Everyone knew of my love for the laksa and ordered it as soon as we saw it on the menu. This particular version was true to Singapore form with plenty of coconut milk to balance out the curry and plenty of cockles to introduce a seafood flavor.

A similarly rich looking mee siam also graced our table, but the taste here went miles away from the laksa. Meaning Siamese noodle, this thin vermicelli dish is Singapore's interpretation of Thai taste that in its evolution became something that is very much a representation of this country rather than Thailand. Spicy, sweet, and sour, the al dente noodles were pregnant with flavor and a pleasure to slurp.

We went back to Indian flavors with a chicken tikka masala that has been popular in this former British colony ever since the British brought it here from its other famous colony. Cooked in a tomato enriched curry sauce, the large drumstick was fork tender and thoroughly soaked with the intense curry. Our garlic nan went a long way in mopping up the thick sauce.

Finally, there was a char kway teow (top), the popular fried rice noodle dish. Done up with plenty of wok he in lard rendering, this dish was full of prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts and Chinese chives with a nice sprinkling of crispy pork lard on top. Sinful, yes, but tasty without a doubt.

We left the Island club without dessert only to go home for the ultimate treat, durians! Kept in a separate fridge two floors away from the kitchen, the heady smell was contained until it was time to indulge. J's dad, who loves the stuff above all other fruits, closely watched my mom as she took her first bite of creamy durian. Mom looked thoughtful for a second then smiled big for the camera. She loved it, just like her girl. Dad didn't do badly either and went for seconds. What can I say, they are still adventurous eaters at almost sixty. J's dad confirmed that he is now convinced that our families are really meant to be united in marriage. Who knew, durian was the deal breaker. :)

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