A year of stars, ramen and salted egg yolk

A year of stars, ramen and salted egg yolk
PHOTO: Japan Food Town

SINGAPORE - At the start of 2016, the F&B scene looked like it was in for an uneventful year. The looming economic recession meant restaurant groups planned to tighten their belts and hold back expansion in preparation for consumers tightening their purse strings.

In hindsight, however, it seems that nothing can stop this food-obsessed nation from chugging ahead. Reservations soared after the first restaurants in Singapore received their Michelin stars, food apps battled it out for diners' short attention spans, while Singaporeans stayed faithful to their love affair with salted egg yolk.

These were just the major milestones too. Others included more chef's tables, an oversupply of bingsu cafes, more options for Mexican cuisine, as well as new dining destinations such as COMO Dempsey and Timbre+, just to name a few.

10 dishes to check out at Timbre+

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    I was a bit reluctant to part with $28 for the Iberico Jowl Cutlet here, but it turned out to be really good.

    The piece of pork is breaded and fried like a tonkatsu, but stands out because of the slightly springy and juicy meat that is streaked with fat. It comes with a sriracha mayo that adds just enough kick without being overbearing.

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    Chef Damian D'Silva, known for his Singapore heritage dishes at now-defunct restaurants such as Immigrants in Joo Chiat and Soul Kitchen in Purvis Street, runs one of the mini eateries selling food from a mix of cuisines.

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    I love his Lim Peh Slider ($8), a non-spicy beef rendang stuffed into a super crispy flaky pastry.

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    The Hakka Fried Pork ($8) is good too, with the tender and juicy belly meat deep-fried till crisp on the outside. There is also a distinct flavour of nam yu, or red fermented beancurd cubes.

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    D'Silva explains that this is an old hawker dish that disappeared from Singapore streets in the 1960s. It is rice in chicken broth that is topped with shredded poached chicken and pieces of char siew and lup cheong. You push all the meat down into the broth to soak for a couple of minutes to let the flavours blend before stirring everything together.

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    The Dancing Crab chef has created some items just for this outlet. The standout new dish is Crab Fried Rice ($10), which boasts good wok hei (wok heat) and is packed with sweet crabmeat and pieces of corn, carrot and raisins. This is restaurant-standard fare and worth the price.

    Add $2 for a Fizzy Lemonade, one of the carbonated lemonades that Dancing Crab is known for.

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    What is fun at this fried chicken wing joint are the Salted Egg Yolk chicken wings, with a thin coat of the yolk sauce on the wings. The flavour is not very rich, but that means the wings are not too heavy either. I like that they are juicy too.

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    A set meal comprising four pieces of chicken (basically two wings) with rice or fries and a soft drink costs $8.90. You can have six pieces of chicken for the same price, without the carbs and drink.

    The fries are decent, but do not stand out. So if you do not need a drink, go for just the wings.

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    To be honest, I had never heard of this wonton mee from Maxwell Market, but it is really good.

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    I tried the Spinach Wanton Noodles ($4), which come drenched in a delicious sauce. The wontons - two deep-fried and two boiled - are above average with plump fillings of pork and shrimp, and I like that the char siew is sliced thick.

    But I think it would be even better if there is a bit of fat in the pork.

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    I first tried young hawker Douglas Ng's fishball noodles when he was still at Golden Mile Food Centre and liked it.

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    But it is even better now, as the freshly made fishballs have a slightly more springy texture and still boast a distinct flavour of fish. The sliced fried fishcake, too, is unmistakably handmade.

    Mix in some good-quality egg noodles and a decent chilli sauce and you have a winning bowl of fishball noodles.

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    I wouldn't have noticed this stall if an ex-colleague I bumped into at the hawker centre had not pointed out that it sells a dry version of ban mian.

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    The ingredients are almost the same as soupy ban mian, which is what most other stalls around Singapore sell - freshly made flour noodles topped with minced pork, vegetables and an egg.

    The difference is that the soup is sieved and served separately. Then the old hawker adds a dash of soya-based sauce and chilli sauce to the noodles and tosses everything together, topping it with fried ikan bilis and fried shallots. The result is a bowl of minced meat noodles, with the crispy bits of ikan bilis quite a pleasure to bite into. The noodles are not a must-try, but the stall gets points for joining a new trend.

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    I was intrigued by the idea of a chicken curry rice bowl ($10) with grilled chicken, but it turned out to be a misnomer.

    What Kush calls a curry is actually more of a rendang gravy that is poured over a piece of grilled chicken.

    But no matter. The chicken is moist and smoky, while the gravy is fragrant with coconut milk and delicious.

    It is served in a rice bowl together with an onsen (soft-boiled) egg and fried sambal kangkong.

    This is a winning combination that captures the imagination and pleases the palate in a way that the other food trucks I tried fail to do.

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    Kush also sells skewers of chicken ($2), Angus beef ($4.50) and wagyu beef ($7), among others, that it describes as "charcoal licked". If that means the same appealing smokiness found in the chicken curry, it's worth going back for.

Despite the economy, audacious young restaurant owners still took the plunge and started new independent cafes and concepts, so hardly a week went by without at least a handful of new openings (and inevitable closures).

The launch of Michelin

Undeniably, one of the biggest events in the F&B calendar for 2016 was the launch of the Michelin Guide here in Singapore, when 37 stars were handed out to 29 establishments. The award ceremony in July also marked the first time in history that a hawker (actually, two) was given a star alongside a number of fine dining restaurants.

Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle awarded one Michelin star

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    Culinary bible Michelin on Thursday awarded one star each to two street food hawkers in Singapore, the first in the guide's history.

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    "For the first time, you would be able to have a Michelin-starred meal for under S$5," said Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin guides.

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    Launching the inaugural restaurant and hotel guide to the Southeast Asian city-state, Michelin inspectors gave one star each to Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle.

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    "Singapore was the natural choice for expansion because of the breadth and depth of the culinary scene, where you not only have a wide variety, but also very good cooking. And there is a strong culture of eating out, whether at a hawker stall or in a fine dining restaurant," he told AFP.

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    In a country where people take their food seriously - Singaporeans consider eating a national past time - 36 different cuisines were featured in the guide, ranging from Chinese to Australian.

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    When the Bib Gourmand list went public last week and his stall was not on it, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle's owner Tang Chay Seng was most disappointed.

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    "The Michelin officials came to my stall to look for me last week, and told me I was getting an award. But when the papers came out I called them to tell them my name wasn't in it," said the 69-year-old, who runs the popular Teochew-style pork-and-vinegar noodle stall at Crawford Lane.

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    It was founded by his father Tang Joon Teo in 1932, and moved to its current location in 2004.

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    He continued over a phone interview in Mandarin: "They just told me it's okay, sure will have one. So I'm not sure lah."

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    Despite believing that he was passed over for an award, Mr Tang still attended the gala dinner on Thursday night, if anything to just "see people receive their award and clap for them".

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    After discovering that he did indeed receive a star however, he remained practical and said: "I feel pretty normal about it. It's not that I'm not happy - getting a star means affirmation for my food. But there's a bit of pressure now to deliver. Because everyone's taste buds are subjective and I don't want to disappoint customers."

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    Both hawkers told told Channel NewsAsia that they will not be raising prices, but expect that the up to 45-minute-long queues will stretch even longer.

Although the announcement of the results was fraught with controversy, having a globally recognised name like Michelin here in Singapore at least puts us on the world dining map.

12 foodie favourites you might not have known are in Michelin Guide Singapore 2016

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    Address: 38 Tanjong Pagar Road

    What Michelin inspectors say: "Ryan Clift's discreetly signed flagship restaurant is dominated by a long kitchen counter, which is where most diners choose to sit so that they can engage with the chefs and watch them in action - lunch is a simpler affair so come for dinner to fully appreciate their ability and ambition. They embrace all the latest techniques to produce quite elaborate and exciting dishes with some challenging combinations of flavour and texture." (Photo: Tippling Club)

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    Address: 36 Purvis Street, 01-03

    What Michelin inspectors say: "The owner-chef worked in some well-known restaurants in his native Belgium before coming to Singapore. He may describe his cooking as 'simple, honest and down-to-earth' but typical dishes include angel hair pasta with Oscietra caviar, roast rack of black pig, and a fine apple tart. Many regulars wait until they've seen the tray of the day's special ingredients before ordering, however. The two dining rooms are enlivened by some colourful art." (Photo: Gunther's)

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    Address: 04-16 Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Road

    What Michelin inspectors say: "A typically discreet entrance and corridor lead into two elegant counter restaurants, one of which seats just six and is ideal for an intimate dinner. There are three menu options for lunch while at dinner only an omakase is offered. For the sushi, fish comes four times a week from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market and twice a week from Hokkaido, with selected white-hulled rice also imported from Japan. The signature dish is monkfish liver with sea eel sauce."

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    Address: Regent Singapore, A Four Seasons Hotel, Level 2

    What Michelin inspectors say: "By concentrating on quality not quantity, Basilico proves that buffets and good food are not mutually exclusive. The main course at dinner is served at the table but everything else is from the various stations - all regions of Italy are covered and the dessert counter is especially good. The handsome dining room, on the second floor of the luxurious Regent hotel, comes with an impressive walk-in wine cellar, an open kitchen and an outdoor terrace." (Photo: Regent Singapore)

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    Address: The Hilton Hotel, Level 3

    What Michelin inspectors say: "It may be inside the Hilton, but this diminutive restaurant is run entirely independently. Ingredients come from as far away as France, Italy and Japan and there's a strong Asian element to the contemporary cuisine - the kitchen makes use of modern cooking techniques and dishes are vibrant and full of colour. It has just eight tables and eight seats at the dessert counter which, along with subdued lighting, make it ideal for a romantic dinner." (Photo: The Business Times)

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    Address: Marine Parade, Block 89, #06-750

    What Michelin inspectors say: "In 1956 Mdm Cher Yam Tian created her famous chilli crab and, together with her husband Lim Choon Ngee, opened a small restaurant along the Kallang River. Now occupying a vast space atop a multi-storey carpark in Katong (with a hard-to-find entrance) and run by the second and third generations. Chilli crab rightly remains the bestseller. Other dishes to look out for are black sauce prawn, crispy baby squid and pomfret done in two ways." (Photo: The Straits Times)

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    Address: 14 Haig Road

    What Michelin inspectors say: "It's no surprise that this centre is congested with customers as it's located between Katong and Geylang, two of the most popular eating areas in Singapore. There is so much to sample, like wanton mee and mee rebus - and no one should miss the famous putu piring."

    Listed stall: Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring (01-07) (Photo: The Business Times)

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    Address: 90/91 Whampoa Drive

    What Michelin inspectors say: "There are 52 stalls housed between two blocks. Stalls in Block 91 mostly offer breakfast food and many close after lunch; stalls in Block 90 are usually open for lunch and dinner or even until midnight. A wide array of good food can be found here."

    Listed stall: Huat Heng Fried Oyster (01-26) (Photo: Instagram user @saltedtamago)

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    Address: 30 Seng Poh Road

    What Michelin inspectors say: "Located in one of the city's oldest residential areas, this market is one of the most popular hawker centres. There are too many great food items to choose from, like lor mee, porridge and roast chicken. The silky white chwee kueh, topped with hot diced radish, is very tempting."

    Listed stall: Jian Bo Shui Kueh (02-05)

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    Address: Blk 6 Jalan Bukit Merah

    What Michelin inspectors say: "Opened in 1974, near to industrial and residential areas, it has almost 100 stalls and is one of the most popular hawker centres. It was the birthplace of the Archipelago Brewery Company and, in remembrance of the company, was named ABC market."

    Listed stall: Y R Ahmad (01-10) (Photo: Instagram user @unacat222)

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    Address: Blk 724, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6

    What Michelin inspectors say: "Thanks to its convenient location, this centre is always packed. It has 45 stalls offering a range of dishes to satisfy your tastebuds. The minced meat noodles fried Hokkien prawn mee, char kway teow and Hainanese chicken rice are always worth trying."

    Listed stall: Hup Hup Minced Meat Noodle (01-39) (Photo: Instagram user @sparklingsofa)

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    Address: 229 Selegie Road

    What Michelin inspectors say: "The flavoursome Nasi Lemak comes with a wide selection of dishes. Beef rendang and paru-paru are very popular."

New life for heritage food

Following on the heels of Michelin, chef-owner Chan Hon Meng of Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle - a one-star recipient - launched the first branch of what he hopes will be a global chain of quick service restaurants representing Singapore cuisine.

on SPH Brightcove

Other heritage brands also got a boost this year, like the nostalgia-inducing Russian restaurant Shashlik which reopened in March, and the 65-year-old Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles which opened its first proper restaurant at the Esplanade.

on SPH Brightcove

And though they don't have decades-old recipes to boast of, young chefs like Abbyshayne Lim of modern zi char restaurant Xiao Ya Tou and Lee Eng Su of nasi lemak restaurant The Coconut Club are cooking up a storm with their elevated local dishes.

10 restaurants in Singapore with more than 30 years of history

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    Renowned for its chicken, mutton and sardine murtabaks, Zam Zam first started selling its famed Indian-Muslim cuisine in 1908.

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    The landmark restaurant opposite Sultan Mosque also serves roti prata plain, egg or onion, and nasi briyani.

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    The family restaurant's name was inspired by Zamzam, a well at the heart of Mecca believed to contain water that quenches the worst thirst.

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    Established in 1977, the revolving restaurant is well-known for its Shredded Scallops with Fish & Egg White and its Emperor's Chicken.

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    Led by executive chef Chan Sung Og, 60, the menu also includes new dim sum items such as Shredded Yam Cake with Sakura Prawn, with the cake made completely from yam.

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    It is also the only restaurant that serves the traditional northern Chinese dessert called Three Non Stick. The dessert, which is made from egg yolks, sugar and flour, costs $60, and needs to be ordered a day in advance.

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    The famous dim sum restaurant was opened in 1974 by masterchefs Sin Leong, 88; Hooi Kok Wai, 76; the late Tham Yui Kai and the late Lau Yoke Pui.

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    Trained by Shanghainese masterchef Luo Chen, the four men were known as Singapore's culinary Heavenly Kings of the 1960s and the 1970s.

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    With its affordable menu, authentic Cantonese fare and nostalgic atmosphere, Red Star is a must-try stop for dim sum lovers.

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    The 94-year-old Indian Muslim establishment's iconic briyani has been enjoyed and praised by many, from locals to Brunei royalty to Malaysian politicians.

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    The restaurant, headed by third-generation owner Mr Kalil A. Wahab, dishes out up to 200 servings of nasi briyani a day.

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    Its Beryani Set, which costs $11, comes with a choice of chicken, mutton or fish briyani, served with dalcha, achar, vegetables and pappadam.

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    The oldest Hainanese restaurant in Singapore is famed for its authentic chicken rice and herbal mutton soup.

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    It has kept its old-school atmosphere and nostalgic ambience although it is now located in the Landmark Village Hotel.

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    The restaurant, which opened in 1935, also serves up homely signature dishes including Hainanese pork chop, deep-fried sambal pomfret coated with sambal and fried fish maw with cabbage.

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    Established in 1924, the Anandha Bhavan Restaurant - started by a Brahmin family - is the oldest Indian vegetarian restaurant in Singapore.

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    The business has six locations - including the original Selegie Road shop - but the flagship 24-hour restaurant is located nearby in Little India, across from Mustafa department store.

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    From chaat to thosai, diners have a wide array of selections of North and South Indian as well as Indian-Chinese cuisines. Favourites include appam, mysoor masala thosai and briyani set meal.

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    Sailing since 1977, The Ship started life in Robinson Road. Decked out like the interior of a ship, the restaurant endeared itself to generations of Singaporean diners for its Western menu offering such old-school treats as fried Chicken Maryland, Ship Steak and Hainanese Pork Chop.

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    Its flagship outlet has been located at Shaw Centre for about 30 years, playing host to movie moguls and singing stars as well as more ordinary folk.

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    It also has a branch located at nex shopping mall.

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    This restaurant in Joo Chiat has been in business since 1953. The restaurant prides itself on making everything from scratch in-house and its recipes have remained unchanged.

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    The menu includes standard Peranakan dishes such as ayam buah keluak and babi pong tay.

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    It is famous for its weekends-only special babi panggang (roast pork), which is cooked with shrimp-based rempah spices and served with preserved mustard leaves and also sweet and chilli sauces.

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    Formerly known as Wing Choon Yuen, this iconic restaurant was opened at Great World in 1929 by Ho Loke Yee.

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    Now run by Ho's grandson Mike Ho, it is located in a four-storey heritage shophouse in Upper Cross Street.

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    One of the must-eats at the 650-seat restaurant is their signature Fried Chicken With Prawn Paste, where deboned chicken is spread with a layer of fresh, chopped prawns and then deep fried. Other signature dishes include Buddha Jumps Over The Wall and popiah.

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    This 40-year-old restaurant, serving cuisines with Hokkien, SzeChuan and Cantonese influences, has expanded from a modest outlet in Ang Mo Kio to include Imperial Court at The Grassroots' Club and Tim Palace at Safra Toa Payoh.

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    Renowned for its old school dialect dishes, Gim Tim serves an iconic Hokkien dish called chin beh kueh, in which leftover porridge is mixed with tapioca flour to form a cake which is then chopped up and stir-fried with dried shrimp and minced pork.

Rise of the couch potatoes

UberEats, Deliveroo, foodpanda (plus its latest fine dining arm foodpanda finest) - so many ways to stay glued to the couch these days without having to go hungry.

Read also: Some eateries charging more for meal deliveries

And if you feel like home-cooked food instead, you don't even have to make it yourself. There are also apps like Share Food Singapore, Hcook, and Heartland Chefs where local home cooks will make you a hearty meal and have it delivered right to your doorstep. With so many options for lazy diners, who knows, maybe the unpleasant experience of jostling through a crowded restaurant will soon become a thing of the past. (Yeah, right.)

10 non-fast-food delivery options to check out

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    Anyhow, whether you like traditional silky beancurd or the luscious pudding version, you'll be stoked to know that the famous Rochor Beancurd House does deliveries!

    You can have your beancurd - hot or cold - and eat it alongside crispy, fried fritters in the comfort of your own home, isn't that exciting?

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    They also have smooth soya milk for those who like to chug it all down!

    But of course, the catch is that Rochor Beancurd House only provides bulk delivery services and a minimum amount applies, which varies by location!

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    True to its name, good food can heal our bodies, minds and souls. You won't find sugar-laden desserts or crispy shoestring fries on its menu.

    Instead, you'll be flanked with Cultured Superfoods that are essentially incredibly high probiotic and nutritious lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables good enough to eat on their own, or mixed with your regular salads, dishes, and bentos!

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    These lacto-fermented Cultured Superfoods include Japanese Plum Citrus Tomato, Creamy Golden Cabbage, Beetroot Apple Slaw, Guava Pineapple Relish and Spicy Kimchee that aid in detoxing, enhancing the immune system and boosting digestion, nutrient absorption and the metabolism.

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    If you think those ready-to-eat salads displayed on supermarket shelves are nutritious enough, think again.

    There's a reason why salad bars that offer a hearty array of fresh vegetables with substantial meat portions are popping up across our tiny island.

    Spinacas is one of those that's taken their growing business online to cater to all you busy executives or students out there!

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    Go for their BBQ pulled pork salad or handmade chicken patties salad if you're looking for something unique.

    To avoid disappointment, check their site to see if they deliver where you want them to as they seemingly only cover half of Singapore.

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    The Lawn is yet another salad haunt that affords its patrons a uniquely customisable experience.

    Each humongous serving is filled with tonnes of fresh ingredients and a healthy portion of meat/seafood!

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    Even though the salads at The Lawn aren't the cheapest, they still make a good lunch option for busy office workers on a "eat-healthy-only" day. Plus, if you fancy olive rice, you can order that instead of greens.

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    Gokul Vegetarian is the place to dine at if you'd like some honest, humble vegetarian fare.

    If you don't already know, Gokul Vegetarian offers mouth-watering, authentic and fusion vegetarian cuisines.

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    And it's a good place to start if you'd like to explore vegetarian options.

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    Here's a Chinese-Thai cuisine option from Foodpanda that's gotten pretty stellar reviews from satisfied customers.

    In the words of happy customers, they appreciate that the food came "piping hot", "earlier than expected", was "good and not too expensive" and in fact, "very good value for money".

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    Hui Wei offers an array of prawn, chicken, fish and vegetables dishes alongside noodles, rice and many other dishes from Chinese and Thai cuisine.

    Word has it that their tom yum soup and Thai honey chicken are must-tries!

    The only thing that seems to be bothering some customers is the fact that the minimum order of $50 may be a bit too much, especially for smaller families who'd like to give Hui Wei a try.

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    Boon Tong Kee offers fuss-free chicken rice combo sets from $5 onwards for its patrons.

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    They've got options that are way more fanciful and filling if you like, such as the chicken rice combo set with broccoli, a fried fritter, a sweet and sour fish fillet, and a crispy cereal prawn.

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    Their signature dish, the Golden Pillow, was carefully thought to be a pillowy bun enveloping flavourful savoury curry.

    Several reviewers online mentioned that they loved the Curry Chicken Golden Pillow though they wished Golden Pillow 933 could be more generous with the curry gravy. Some recommended their chicken wings and prawn balls, too.

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    Muslim friends will be happy to know that all of Golden Pillow 933's food is Halal-certified.

    One reviewer mentioned that she'd requested an urgent delivery, hence her order was delivered within an hour instead of the usual two!

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    If you fancy some award-winning dim sum and seafood dishes, consider getting Yum Cha Express to deliver food to your doorstep.

    The delivery fee is waived for orders above $120.

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    Yum Cha Express promises to send your food over fresh and hot, so that's something to look forward to. Well, nobody likes tough, cold dim sum anyway!

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    Getting affordable Thai food delivered to you is a breeze with Thai To Go.

    They have quite an extensive menu that offers anything Thai from tangy papaya salad, spicy tom yum soups, to even mango sticky rice to round off your Thai food dining experience!

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    Prices are very reasonable and they even offer milky Thai iced tea! Thai To Go should do the trick to cure your sudden craving for Thai food.

A Japan obsession

If you had an inkling that Singaporeans were obsessed with Japan after 2015 - when Emporium Shokuhin and Eat At Seven first came about - you have officially been proven right.

5 reasons to visit Emporium Shokuhin in Marina Square

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    Browse and select from over 20 types of live fish and shellfish from around the world, including Japanese imports like uni (sea urchin) and kegani (Hokkaido hairy crabs), Scottish razor clams and Alaskan king crabs from Norway.

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    Also take your pick from 10 live oyster varietals, including the popular Gillardeau and Fin de Claire. You can choose to bring the whole Alaskan crab home (sure to be a conversation piece at your gathering) or have it cut into more manageable pieces, and have your oysters shucked and packed for takeaway.

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    There's also chilled seafood with fishmongers on hand to slice it into sashimi, or your choice of cut. I think the oysters are pretty good value at just S$28 for half a dozen.

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    Emporium Shokuhin has its own beef dry-aging facility on its premises. Depending on the type and cut of beef, the meat is hung to dry and age for a minimum of 14 days, up to as long as 40 days.

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    Besides the popular USDA Prime beef, there is the prized Japanese A5 Miyazaki beef. The dry-aging method is said to improve the flavour and texture of raw meat.

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    This corner featuring fresh produce and products from Japan's Ehime prefecture is the first endorsed satellite store outside the country. Ehime is the top citrus producer in Japan and famed for its sweet mikans (mandarin oranges).

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    The Tamami marmalade is mild and doesn't have the bitterness of English marmalades, but is still zesty.

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    There's a wide selection of Japanese rice crackers, potato chips and other snacks to select from, plus prices are supposed to be 10-15 per cent cheaper than at other supermarkets as the Emporium sources directly from suppliers in Japan.

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    And if you're after a quick bite or lunch, grab a bento, salad or sushi box to go.

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    Japanese-style pastries and sandwiches are also available at the Kohi-Koji Cafe & Bakery, as well as that much-needed cuppa.

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    Besides the cafe, there are six dining establishments to choose from. I had a chirashi bowl (S$18) for my lunch at Senmi Sushi; the fish was fresh and generous in quantity. I'll be back for ramen at Burosu Honten, where customers are served their food through bamboo-shuttered windows (just like in some ramen shops in Japan), and Gyuu Yakiniku Grill for grilled meats and seafood. You can also choose to savour your fresh seafood picks at Umi + Vino winebar, chilled or grilled la plancha (flattop grill) style. Japanese fine dining is offered at Takujo, while Tsukeru serves up shabu-shabu in individual hotpots.

Aside from the growing number of Singaporean tourists spotted on the ski slopes of Niseko in 2016, even more Japanese restaurant clusters opened here. One of the most significant was Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria, which boasts 16 different concepts ranging from ramen to teppanyaki.

16 eateries in Isetan Orchard's new Japan Food Town

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    In July, a new cluster of 16 Japanese restaurants will open on the fourth floor of the Isetan department store in Wisma Atria, many of them the first overseas branches of popular eateries in Japan.

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    Called Japan Food Town, its tenants include Sushi Takewaka, which is opening its first outpost beyond the 28-year-old shop in Tokyo's famous Tsukiji market.

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    The Singapore outlet will serve sushi made using more than 20 types of fish, including hon-maguro and sea bream. (Photo: TripAdvisor)

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    Another highlight is udon restaurant Sato Yosuke, which has a 150-year-old tradition of serving handmade Inaniwa udon, a thinner version of the noodles.

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    Diners can also tuck into fried chicken from Rang Mang Shokudo, a Tokyo chain known for its buttermilk-marinated chicken; or sip sake from Dassai, a prestigious sake brand from Yamaguchi Prefecture, which will open its first overseas bar here.

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    Nobuyuki Ota (left), chief executive officer of Cool Japan Fund, and Makoto Yoshikawa, Japan Food Town’s managing director.

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    Machida Shoten

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    Sabar

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    Machida Shoten from Kanagawa prefecture specialises in Iekei ramen, which directly translates to "house-type" from its kanji characters.

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    Interior of Tempura Tsukiji Tenka.

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    Chef Eisaku Kawashima of Sushi Takewaka located at Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria.

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    Angelia Siang, bar manager at Dassai Bar located at Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria.

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    Ramen cooked to diners’ preferences in a tonkotsu shoyu broth and served with a bowl of rice from Machida Shoten.

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    Seafood-topped donburi from Tempura Tsukiji Tenka.

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    Yomoda Soba

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    Interior of Yomoda Soba located at Japan Food Town at Wisma Atria.

Also joining the fray most recently is itadakimasu by PARCO, with seven restaurants at Tanjong Pagar - three of which are new-to-market.

New stalls in Singapore's Japanese food clusters

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    Launched two months ago, these two concepts under one roof are a collaboration between managing director Raymond Tan and executive chef Max Lai, both of whom also run the neighbouring Japanese restaurant Sushi Murasaki.

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    Signature items at the robatayaki restaurant include the aromatic truffle onsen salad ($12), handmade tsukune (chicken patty, $8), US pork buta bara (pork belly, $9) and lamb rack ($19).

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    At the 18-seat Yoi Sake Bar, pair your sake with bar bites such as Tako Wasabi ($8), bite-sized pieces of octopus eaten with wasabi; fugu mirin ($15), cured pufferfish; and ham-wrapped lychee.

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    Later this month, expect a range of Japanese desserts on the menu as a dessert chef from three-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Nihonryori RyuGin joins the team.

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    Founded in Kurume, Kyushu, in 1952, the brand specialises in steamed eel dishes. This is its first opening overseas. The stall's signature dish is the unagi seiro mushi ($28.80 or $38.80), with chunks of eel and finely sliced omelette on seasoned rice. Other options include unagi sasa mushi ($15.80), in which eel and rice are wrapped and steamed in bamboo leaves; and unagi iron pot ($15.80) with chopped eel, fried egg strips and gochujang in a hot stone bowl.

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    Get your soba fix at Genki Japan. The buckwheat noodles are made fresh at the stall. Offerings include kabuki soba ($7.80) or chilled zaru soba ($5.50), as well as rice bowls such as aburi salmon don ($11.80) and tendon ($11.80).

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    Inspired by obanzai, home-style dining originating from Kyoto, Banzaiya features a daily selection of small dishes (right) for diners to pick from. Dishes include chawanmushi ($2.50); temari sushi ($4 for three) with salmon, prawn and squid; and saba shio yaki ($5).

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    Watch the chef whip up your meal at Gyu Tetsu Teppanyaki. Check out Gyu Tetsu's signature US Angus beef lemon steak ($18.80), where thin beef slices are doused in a citrus sauce and sizzled on a hotplate. Other options include seafood okonomiyaki ($14.80), teppanyaki cod ($19.80) and Gyu Tetsu Hamburg ($15.80). Set meals are available.

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    Try Japanese curry rice with a twist. The Curry Rice Black ($11.80) is tinted with charcoal powder and the rice is shaped like a bear. The katsu black curry includes a fried pork cutlet.

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    There is also a bear-shaped kid's curry ($9.80) for the little ones. The bar has Suntory The Premium Malt's pilsner beer and black beer on tap ($4 for half pint, $11 for a pint) and a Jim Beam Highball draft machine.

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    The newest of the 16 brands at Wisma Atria's Japan Food Town is Yakiniku Heijoen, which specialises in premium yakiniku beef.

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    The latest addition to Japanese food arena Eat At Seven is Tonkatsu Agedoki, the sister outlet of another tenant, tendon concept Kohaku. Tonkatsu Agedoki's signature dishes include Cutlet Of Wrapped Prawn With Pork set meal ($35, left) and Thick Slice Pork Loin Cutlet set meal (200g, $21.50). Free-flow rice and cabbage are available.

Long live salted egg yolk

They say if you can't beat them, join them. And it looks like you might as well when it comes to the salted egg yolk craze. Even till now, the condiment is still found coating chips, poured over burger patties, in ice cream and pastries, and even mixed into cocktails - its popularity shows no signs of abating. Maybe it never will.

Salted egg yolk croissant showdown

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    Pastry: 3.3/5

    Flavour of custard: 2.3/5

    Texture of custard: 3.3/5

    Total: 8.9/15

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    Mr Wong says: "I like the crispy ends and the pastry has a balanced butteriness, but the sweetness of the custard is overwhelming and its texture can be smoother."

    Chef Shen says of the filling: "It tastes like a sweet lotus paste or red bean paste and its thick consistency reminds me of mashed potato."

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    Pastry: 2/5

    Flavour of custard: 4/5

    Texture of custard: 2.7/5

    Total: 8.7/15

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    Ms Tan says: "The custard has the strongest salted egg yolk flavour of the lot and there is a good balance of sweet and savoury. However, the pastry is too heavy and bread-like."

    Chef Shen says: "The pastry has a nice, elastic texture and the flavour of the custard is miles ahead of the rest in delivering the salted egg yolk taste."

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    Pastry: 3/5

    Flavour of custard: 1.5/5

    Texture of custard: 3.7/5

    Total: 8.2/15

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    Mr Wong says: "I don't like the custard as it tastes like curry and is very salty, but it is creamy and oozes out beautifully."

    Ms Tan says: "The pastry has a good crunch and is buttery, the custard is properly emulsified and has a great consistency. But it tastes nothing like salted egg.

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    Pastry: 2/5

    Flavour of custard: 2.2/5

    Texture of custard: 2.2/5

    Total: 6.4/15

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    Ms Tan says: "The croissant looks good until you eat it. It feels like a cop-out to slice it in half and spoon in the custard. You don't get the surprise of an oozy filling."

    Mr Wong says: "The croissant is dry and not buttery and it seems the recipe is tweaked to suit the heaviness of the filling."

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    Pastry: 2.2/5

    Flavour of custard: 2/5

    Texture of custard: 1.7/5

    Total: 5.9/15

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    Chef Shen says: "The inside of the pastry is papery, but the flavour of the custard is quite balanced."

    Mr Wong says: "The pastry is too chewy and the filling tastes like a very thick custard with no particular flavour."

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    Pastry: 1.5/5

    Flavour of custard: 1.7/5

    Texture of custard: 2.2/5

    Total: 5.4/15

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    Chef Shen says: "The pastry tastes like a choux pastry, but it is good that I can feel the grease from the butter when I am tearing the pastry. The custard is not distinctive - it is neither sweet nor salty."

    Ms Tan says: "The filling has a vague milkiness, but no salted egg yolk flavour."


This article was first published on Dec 23, 2016.
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