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Day Trips in the City Food Living in Singapore

Tampines 1’s Food Court

Every mall in Singapore that I’ve been to has a food court that is, in reality, just an indoor hawker.  The same basic varieties of food are served in the same basic way.  It’s a very convenient way to eat, especially if you’re not willing to spring for an expensive meal in a sit down restaurant.  These food courts (and hawkers) in Singapore often have much better prices than what you’d find in a mall food court in the US, making them a very affordable place to eat.

I’d somehow assumed that Tampines 1 was an exception to the rule that every mall has a food court.  I’d just never seen it.  It’s tucked away in a corner on the top floor, by the pet shop.  We happened to see it when we went to the pet shop to browse for travel carriers for our cats.

The food court isn’t bad at all.  The air conditioning there is ice cold and it offers glassed walls all the way around, which offer an excellent view of the area around Tampines 1.  The iced kacang seemed to be pretty popular, and there was a stall called Kuala Lumpur Roasted I want to try out.  I’m sure it’s just the standard chicken rice / roast pork rice / etc. stall, but maybe they have their own twist to the recipe that’s worth experiencing.

 

The most disappointing thing about the food court is that it’s not designed well.  With Tampines 1 being such a new mall, you’d think they’d have put more effort into making the food court look appealing.  The food court at Suntec resembles a library.  The food court at Vivocity looks like a quaint, village shopping district.  The food court at Ion is decked out in gold chrome and white statues of animals.  This food court is rather bland.  I suppose their reasoning might have been that there are already food courts in the two other malls in the area which also have a bland design, so they didn’t need to put much thought into the one they built for Tampines 1.

Restaurants in the US often have a theme to enhance their appeal, but before coming to Singapore I couldn’t have cared less what a food court in a mall looked like, as long as the food was decent.  I’ve become accustomed to, and spoiled by, the level of detail Singaporeans put into designing their malls.

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Food Living in Singapore

Tapa King in Singapore

Tapa King Banner

Tapa King is a restaurant that serves a popular Filipino dish called tapsilog.  The restaurant is very popular in the Philippines and has finally opened branches here in Singapore at Lau Pa Sat (same place as where the only Wendy’s in Singapore is) and one at Century Square in Tampines.  There may be other branches but those are the only two I’m aware of.

Anyhow, my wife found out about it because of a person handing out flyers by the Tampines MRT station.  She was a little disappointed at first but then realized she should check the food court.  It wouldn’t make sense for them to hand out flyers there otherwise.  Sure enough, Century Square had a Tapa King outlet:

Tapa King Menu

She was so excited she couldn’t wait to share the experience with me, and I mean that literally.  She went there for lunch and then told me in great detail about how good it was.  Tapa King’s reputation is well known to Filipinos and many of them were lined up, along with curious locals, to get a taste of this great Filipino dish.

Line at Tapa King

She didn’t want me to miss out on the experience so she sent me a copy of the menu so I could choose something for her to bring home with her:

Tapa King:

Tender beef strips marinated in a savory sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Queen

Tender beef strips marinated in a spicy sweetish sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Prince

Tender beef strips marinated in sweetish sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Joe

Tender beef strips cut in small pieces marinated in herbs and spices cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic.

They all sounded pretty good, but I went ahead and asked for the Tapa King.  The tapa dishes are their specialty so we didn’t bother with the other dishes.  My wife says the Spicy Tuyo is good, but it’s dried fish and she figured I wouldn’t like that.  Crispy Liempo is a piece of pork, if you’re wondering.

When she got home I eagerly opened the box, ready to dig in:

Tapa King Meal

Tapa King Meal

When I took the first bite, I knew I’d found a new favorite dish.  I literally found myself scraping the container to get the last few bits of garlic rice and wished I’d had a second helping available.  I’m excited to try the other versions the next time I’m in Tampines.

If you’re interested in trying some Filipino cuisine in Singapore, then I highly recommend Tapa King.  You definitely won’t be disappointed!

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Food Living in Singapore

Hawker Centers in Singapore

Hawker centers in Singapore are basically food courts.  I’ve had a few people argue with me that a hawker center indoors is actually a food court, but they have the same types of stalls and selections of food so I don’t see the point in differentiating the two.  Coming from the US I initially considered them to be the ‘poor man’s’ choice of dining establishments, but experience has proven otherwise.

There are a lot of good sit down restaurants in Singapore, like Sakura and Seoul Garden, but the majority of what Singapore has to offer in terms of food comes from its hawker establishments.  Hawker centers can have anywhere from a handful to dozens of stalls to choose from.  You can get anything from ‘Western’ style food (typically fried chicken, steak, lamb and fish & chips) to mee goreng and roti prata.  You won’t find much in the way of Italian food that I’ve seen, or anything Russian, etc.  The choices seem to focus mostly on Asian cuisine, which only makes sense given that Singapore is in Asia.

Some of the best eating I’ve had has come from hawkers, like Hainanese Chicken Rice, which is one of Singapore’s signature dishes.  You can also find chili crab in hawker centers, which is another local favorite.  These hawker centers are like a door to experiencing Asian eating.  I can’t even count the number of foods I’ve ‘discovered’ through eating at them.  My latest discovery is a great mutton soup from a hawker stall at Bedok’s interchange.  It’s incredible!

Indoor hawker centers do closely resemble what you’d see in the US in terms of set-up.  The only major difference is that when you want drinks you have to go to a separate stall to order them, where in the US you would order your drink along with your food.  The stall that serves drinks is also where you go for local desserts like pulut hitam or ice kachang (sp?), should you want to sample them.  The outdoor hawker centers are typically covered, or partially covered, by a roof with fans.  Most will also have a TV to cater to the beer drinking, football (a.k.a. soccer in the US) loving crowd.  People do tend to gather together in the evenings here, especially the weekends, to watch TV and drink at the hawker centers, which is pretty cool.

There are a few things you have to keep in mind when eating at a hawker center, as a foreigner.  The first thing you need to know is to bring your own napkins!  Hawker centers won’t provide you napkins, with few exceptions.  Most food in Singapore is spicy too, so if you don’t come prepared you’ll wind up using your hand and pants / shirt to wipe away your sniffles.  I’ll admit I’ve had to do that myself a few times and it’s not at all pleasant, and is a bit embarrassing.  Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want to wash your hands somewhere else before-hand, or bring hand sanitizer.  Not all hawkers have a restroom, and the ones that do are often not the best smelling or cleanest looking.  That’s more the case with outdoor hawkers than indoor ones, because indoor hawkers are typically located in malls which have great restroom facilities.  Also, most hawker stalls have pictures on billboard style menus to help customers with the ordering process.  It helps in a lot of cases, but don’t let the pictures fool you.  Sometimes the food is better than it looks.  And well… sometimes it’s not.

During my first trip to Singapore in March of 2008 I avoided the hawker centers.  Like I said before, I considered them to be the ‘poor man’s’ choice and assumed I would find better food in sit down restaurants.  I was actually disappointed with my choices and wasn’t too impressed with the food offered in Singapore.  Later, my wife told me to stop being so damn picky and to eat at the hawker and I’m glad I did.

In closing, if you come to Singapore don’t fall into the trap that I initially did.  Don’t assume that price equates with quality or good taste when it comes to Singapore’s dining scene.  If you come to Singapore and don’t try the hawker food you’re going to be missing out on most of the best of what Singapore has to offer.

Categories
Day Trips in the City Food Living in Singapore

Coconut Cakes

I’ve posted about these before but it was a long time ago. These are treats you can get from a small push-cart vendor in Food Republic at Vivocity.

They’re incredibly delicious but the reason I felt it was worth posting about again is that I found out that they’re Indonesian treats. The maid where we live is from Indonesia and when I offered one to her she got really excited and asked me where I found them. Apparently she’s been searching for them since she got here. I doubt she goes to Vivocity very often though.

So the next time we go I’ll bring a bag of them back for her.

Categories
Day Trips in the City Food Living in Singapore

Manpuku Restaurant, Tampines 1 Mall

A few weeks ago I was checking around the new mall in Tampines (Tampines 1) and I saw the entrance to a restaurant called Manpuku.  The entrance area was jam packed with people in line to get in and people ogling the items on display in the window:

I met up with my wife there during her lunch break and while we were walking around together we even got to see the mascot.  At the time we didn’t know what restaurant or store the mascot represented but it was fun anyways.

We both love to go out and eat, and we particularly love Japanese food, so we were excited about going to check this place out.  We finally made a visit to Manpuku today and it was great!

It wasn’t quite what I expected, in a good and interesting way.  As you get to the head of the line a greeter will ask you how many people are in your party and will then pass you a corresponding number of cards that look and act like credit cards.  The waiter will explain that as you walk around inside the restaurant, you pick different foods from the various stalls and the price of the item is charged to your assigned card.  At the end of your meal, you bring the card to the cashier by the exit and settle your bill.

That’s when I realized that Manpuku isn’t simply one restaurant.  It’s a collection of restaurants acting under one name, serving Japanese style food.  In fact, the place reminded me of a big, themed food court, though a very well appointed one.

Here are some photos we took inside Manpuku:

As you can see from the pictures, the interior of Manpuku is pretty big.  It sits at one end of the mall on the 3rd floor and stretches from front to back.  There are at least half a dozen different mini-restaurants inside, offering everything from skillet plates to sushi.

The prices have a wide range from a bit on the high side (a four piece sushi plate at 38 bucks) to the affordable (my pork okas was 9.90).  I saw quite a few dishes I want to try, and I’m looking forward to going back again.  For this trip, we wound up having a sushi set, a dish called pork okas, and a soup that my wife devoured and said was delicious.  I forgot to ask her what it was and she’s asleep now!  Just thinking about it is making me hungry again!

The above picture is the pork okas.  It has strips of pork along with cabbage, onions, and maybe a few other things cooked into an egg omelette.  It’s topped with four different sauces while it’s still on the grill, giving it a nice design that adds a visually pleasing aspect to the tasty dish.
Like I said, the place is great!  We’re looking forward to our next trip.
One special consideration for anyone planning to go there is that the place is busy.  Expect to wait for up to 15 to 20 minutes for your dish to be prepared, and, unless you’re lucky, another 5 to 10 minutes to get a drink.  A good workaround for this is having one person hold the table for you and designating someone else to order and pick-up their food for them.  That way you can leave your food at the table while making trips to get drinks, or other goodies, without having to worry about someone else helping themselves to what you’re going to pay for.