KUALA LUMPUR - Is Singapore's chicken rice better than Malaysia's? How does its prata stack up against Malaysia's roti canai? And what about the famous chilli crabs?
These sorts of comparisons can set social media aflame but Singaporean Willie Tay, who opened a swish food court here last November, is more diplomatic in his answers.
There are subtle differences in the way these dishes are prepared in both countries, he says, to cater to local tastes. Malaysians tend to prefer more robust flavours while Singaporeans like milder ones, he adds.
To bridge this Causeway gap, Mr Tay has brought some of the best-known Singapore dishes to the Taste Enclave food court which he opened in the Avenue K mall in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
"I think our hawker food does taste different from the Malaysian version, and so far, people seem to like it," he says.
Roti Prata Jalan Kayu and Nasi Ayam Singapura are the first two stalls flanking the entrance, drawing the crowds. Chilli crab and other Singaporean seafood dishes are cooked in a mini restaurant inside.
"I found the chicken rice smooth and flavoursome," says food blogger Sean Yoong after tasting the Singapore version for the first time.
The food court also hosts Kuala Lumpur's hawkers who made their name from generations of cooking the same dishes with a flair, from Hokkien mee to yam rice and pan mee.
Going beyond Malaysia and Singapore, the food court also features stalls originating from China, Vietnam and Japan. A Swedish cafe offering typical Nordic food was the latest to open, making it 26 stalls in all.
Although taste is notoriously subjective, Mr Tay says he personally tasted most of the dishes from prospective tenants before deciding on his favourites and who to let out the stalls to. He still eats a lot of his meals here, he says.
Mr Tay, 47, has been in the food court business for almost 20 years, having managed many premises, including Food Republic in various malls in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Taste Enclave, with an investment of RM7.5 million (S$2.9 million), is his first venture, or as he calls it, "my own baby". It spans 17.5 million sq ft.
Mr Sam Loke, 40, who runs the chicken rice stall and seafood restaurant in the food court, says response has been good. Although he grew up in a family running a food business in Ipoh, he learnt his art in Singapore where he worked for 15 years.
"My chicken rice is different, and it's in the sauce," he says. "It's very popular."
The chilli sauce and the seasoning for the rice give it a distinctive flavour that makes it Singaporean, he says.
Mr Najeer Sharef, 44, who runs the prata stall, is also Malaysian, from Johor Baru. He learnt his trade in Malaysia before moving to Singapore where he honed his skills further in Jalan Kayu. To him, his prata tastes different from roti canai because he uses ingredients such as margarine and milk to make it flaky without being oily. He also makes Singapore-style Indian rojak with fishcake, sausages and coconut fritters. "I think my customers like my food, most of them are from Malaysia and some are tourists," he says.
Having tasted success with his first venture, Mr Tay says he will open a second food court in a mall in Petaling Jaya at the end of this year, and has a couple of other possible ventures in the pipeline.
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