Dr Leslie Tay is the author of Singapore’s most read food blog – the award-winning ieatshootipost.sg His blog focuses on tracking down the best Singapore food, in particular local food stalls, and includes some of the most mouth-watering photographs to grace the web. It attracts over 500,000 hits from 90,000 unique visitors every month so you could say that he is something of an authority on Singapore food. A good review on his blog can see a hawker centre suddenly blessed with snaking queues. He is also the author of The End of Char Kway Teow and other Hawker Mysteries and is currently working on an iPhone app designed to make it easy to locate the best food wherever you happen to find yourself in Singapore.
I recently met with Leslie and had a chance to see the food blogging ‘guru’ in action, pulling out his camera to shoot our lunch from every angle, and effortlessly befriending the chef in order to quiz him on the origins of every ingredient on the plate. I also managed to tap him for some insider advice for NileGuide readers on where to go and what to eat in Singapore.
What makes Singapore cuisine so special?
To understand Singapore food, you need to learn a bit about the history of our country. When our ancestors arrived in Singapore, they came from all different parts – for example the Chinese who arrived represented several different areas – Hainan, Teochew, Hokkien etc. They all brought their own traditions and recipes with them and adapted them to their new lives – it was cooked by migrants for migrants. So when people think that Singaporean cuisine is just Chinese or Indian food, they’re wrong. We have dishes here that don’t exist anywhere else – they’re a unique blend of all our ancestral elements.
If visitors are in town for just one day, where should they go to eat and what should they have?
They should head to the East Coast Lagoon Food Centre. This is the only hawker centre in Singapore still located next to the seaside. There is a great variety of food to try here – visitors should be sure to try some satay, chilli crab, Hokkien mee and Chinese rojak.
I also think that all visitors to Singapore should try Peranakan (Nonya) food, as it is so unique to this part of the world. It’s only available in Melaka, Penang and Singapore. The Peranakans are a mix of Chinese and Malay – formed when the Chinese traders moved to this part of the world and married the local women. The Nonya women were traditionally raised to cook, sew, embroider bead slippers and they spend a lot of time making this an art form. Therefore nonya dishes are really intricate and time-consuming to make. A curry paste may take three days to produce. For example the Buah Keluak nut which is commonly used, must be soaked and buried in volcanic ash to remove the toxins before cooking. My favourite place to go is Peramakan at the Keppel Club – the nonya lady who runs the kitchen here was raised in the traditional Peranakan way.
What is your favourite local dish?
Fried Hokkien Noodles, with Satay on the side. This is basically seafood pasta, fried with oil and garlic to give it a charred flavour. They then add a seafood broth for the pasta to soak up all the flavour from the prawns, squid etc. It is uniquely Singaporean and goes very well with satay.
And is Waku Ghin really worth the money?
Absolutely – it is complete entertainment for two hours, everything cooked especially for you, using the very best, freshest ingredients.
What would be your perfect day of meals?
I would start with some roti prata and teh tarik. Then I would hav some kopi and kaya toast and some bak kut teh. Later on I would have some Hainanese curry rice with some pork chops and lion head meat balls. At night I would have some Hokkien mee and then finish up with some Chinese rojak.
That’s a lot of food, do you really eat all that much?
No, actually this morning I had my usual – five vegetable juice and cereal!