I have no teeth, I don’t bite!” quips Justin Quek, the OG Singaporean celebrity chef, as he urges us to move closer in a group photo after lunch.
Even as he disarms us with his charm, his star status is not lost on me: San Pellegrino Chef of the Year, World Gourmet Summit Award of Excellence Hall of Fame Best Chef, first Asian chef in the Lufthansa Star Chefs program, and the man behind the just shuttered Sky on 57th at the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands.
And this pioneering chef just made us lunch in his two-month-old 72-seater casual all day dining JustIN restaurant also at the ground floor of Marina Bay Sands promenade, with a great view of the boardwalk.
Here, “casual” means more affordable, with his pedigreed take on Singaporean classic dishes starting at SGD$16 (P621 only!).
A night before, our ebullient tour guide Naseem Huseni (to whom we quickly bestowed the Filipinized nickname Mama Nash) brought us to Alaturka, a hole-in-the-wall ensconced in one of those beautiful shophouses lining Arab Street just across our imposing glass and steel hotel, the nine-month-old Andaz Singapore.
This joint was also a Bib Gourmand awardee, a special category in the Michelin Guide specifically for restaurants who serve two courses, wine and dessert for less than USD$40 (PHP 2,000).
Singapore makes it possible to eat like a king, but pay like a pauper! Well, not really.
But at least stick to the thriftier side of the spectrum. Here are eight things to add to your list of
(To see more of what I ate in Singapore, follow this hashtag: #EATinerarySINGAPORE. Also follow Singapore Tourism Board’s official Instagram page @visit_singapore or www.visitsingapore.com to experience the #PassionMadePossible campaign now. Special thanks to Silkair for flying us out of Cebu direct to Singapore! Schedules at silkair.com)
KAMPOT PEPPER CRAB, JustIN, Marina Bay Sands
An interesting alternative to the ubiquitous chili crab, kampot pepper is a certified appellation of origin product from Cambodia that Justin Quek uses to bring out a unique side of his mud crabs. ALSO ORDER: The refreshing green mango, pineapple, cucumber, and ginger flower
salad in a robust tasting rojak (spicy palm sugar) dressing!
KARISIK KEBAB, Alaturka Mediterranean and Turkish Restaurant, 15 Bussorah St.
Karisik means assorted or mixed, and that’s exactly what you get: beef, lamb and chicken kebabs serves on an ornate Turkish silver platter, with butter rice and a vegetable salad. ALSO ORDER: the meze tabagi, a platter of the restaurant’s signature mezes (or small platters): hummus (mashed chickpeas), babakanus (also baba ganoush, roasted eggplant with yoghurt and garlic dip), saksuka (deep fried diced eggplant in tomato sauce), patlican (mashed eggplant in garlic dip), ezme (spicy tomato and onion dip), potato salad, and yaprak sarmasi (vine leaves stuffed with rice and Turkish spices). It comes with a balloon bread that is served filled with hot air!
ROMBO CON CREMA DI PISELLI AL CARDAMOMO, Fratelli Trattoria Pizzeria, Festive Walk, Resorts World Sentosa
Heirloom recipes from a 42-year culinary institution in Italy were just introduced to Fratelli from the Cerea brothers Enrico and Roberto, whose family runs the3 Michelin-starred Da Vittorio in Lombardy. My wild caught turbot (a flatfish) was very light, complemented perfectly with a cardamom scented green pea puree, and a crispy free range egg yolk. ALSO ORDER: the mushroom and black truffle “cappuccino” soup!
CHICKEN AND BEEF SATAY WITH KETUPAT, Wu Ke Shu, Sentosa Grillfest, Resorts World Sentosa
Puso ug barbecue fix, anyone? Satay with ketupat ang katapat. Ok, I couldn’t resist dropping that one. The ubiquitous street food of grilled beef and chicken served with peanut sauce and ketupat, compressed rice cake not unlike our puso, joins other grilled favorites at a kilometer-long stretch along the beach at Sentosa for the annual Grill Fest. Although we were luck to have caught this on its last day, the Feast at Sentosa features the Kaki Barbecue from Aug. 8-12 to celebrate National Day.
ALSO ORDER: The sushi taco from Kinsa Sushi, where the taco shell is actually made from nori!
BRAISED DUCK NOODLE, The 50 Cents Fest, Chinatown Foodstreet.
The #50CentsFestival—a seasonal foodfest we caught on its last day!— brings you back to the 30s, Singapore’s colonial days. Even the prices roll back to that era! The hawkers serve food from that era like the braised duck noodle which was a staple among Chinese immigrants. Queue up for belacan (shrimp paste) rice, mee siam (Thai inspired vermicelli noodles), and lontong (compressed rice served with coconut milk soup). ALSO ORDER: A SGD$2 from the Alley Barbers! Today’s stylish haircuts for the price they were offered in the 1930s!
TANDOORI KEBAB KA KHAZANA, Handi North Indian Cuisine, Mustafa, 41 Sam Leong Road
Mama Nash’s parting meal for us was at the top floor of Mustafa, that infamous emporium in Little India that stocks “everything and anything except cars and Rolexes,” as a clever sales agent in the Loewe store in Orchard quipped. The spicy tandoori platter was a generous mix of tandoori chicken, malai kebab (creamy chicken), fish tikka (fish cutlets), seekh kebab (Pakistani grilled ground lamb), and prawn. ALSO ORDER: Dal, a lentil soup that you can dip your breads in. “I can eat this every day with roti,” says Mama Nash.
CHILI CRAB, Jumbo Seafood, Dempsey Hill
Eat the staple Singapore dish in a former British army barracks turned into charming upscale restaurants and retail outlets. Dempsey Hill’s Jumbo Seafood is always packed, and for this dish in particular. Dip your mantou (Chinese steamed bun) into the rich sauce and wipe every drop clean!
ALSO ORDER: The Cereal Prawns, introduced to me many years ago on my first visit to Singapore in another Jumbo branch by my UPLB schoolmate Eden, her husband Say, and their son Euro.