Rediscovering Singapore’s Local Restaurants After Lockdown

By Grace Ma.

Jul 30, 2020

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that local is more reliable than global—and that neighborhood diners provide food for the soul. Forced out of our usual routines and shuttered out of our favorite top tables, we turned increasingly to our home communities for sustenance and found some “hidden” gems worth holding onto long after lockdown. Three T+L Southeast Asia correspondents share the heroes of their cities’ indie food scenes. First up, Singapore.

Storms produce rainbows, and mine in the midst of Singapore’s “circuit breaker” from April 7 to June 1 were not multi-colored, but arched in comfort-food finds such as fishball noodles and fried chicken. To make sense of social media’s great hunting ground, I relied on Hawkers United–Dabao 2020, a Facebook group set up by hawker Melvin Chew to help his not-so-tech-savvy brethren in marketing their businesses. It was here I found, in the CBD, Amoy Street Food Centre’s new Sandai Fishball (from S$4) stall, run by third-generation hawker Delonix Tan, who grinds up yellowtail fish meat with his father from 1 a.m. daily to create fresh, springy fish balls. There are five huge ones in a bowl of hand-pulled noodles tossed in vinegar and chili.

Instagram brought crispy champs in Singapore’s west to my notice. Birdfolks (two-piece set S$12.90) at NEWest shopping mall on West Coast Drive dunks its fowl in a saltwater solution before frying them for a tender, juicy finish. Its rice sets come with tasty sous-vide chicken drizzled in sauces such as teriyaki, oriental sesame and fiery chili—the last made my whole family break out in a sweat. Then there’s Ahtti (16 pieces S$34), which means “best friend” in Korean and is a 10-minute walk from Jurong East MRT Station. It cloaks its chicken in seasonings such as a sticky sweet-spicy yangnyeom sauce and a dusting of honey-butter powder.

Additionally, strolls through my East Coast neighborhood led to delicious discoveries among residential enclaves. That these were a 10- to 15-minute walk away from my house made me realize how much more in my area remains to be explored. On Swan Lake Avenue is bistro Slake (mains from S$15), whose hearty comfort foods like beef rendang and their underrated Kiap Tacos I ordered many times for friends and the extended family. Dreamshop (S$12-38), a takeaway and delivery point along Frankel Avenue serving gourmet hawker classics, was quickly set up by food entrepreneur Jeremy Nguee when all his luxury catering events were canceled. Secretly, I hope their pop-up—with a changing menu that has spawned buah keluak beef rice bowls and gula melaka kueh salat with a dollop of the lethally bitter Mao Shan Wang durian—will never end.

In difficult times like these, the strength and generosity of community warms the heart. Foodhood lets customers order from multiple stores within the Jalan Besar district so you can drop everything from rice bowls to cold brews into one virtual cart. The same philosophy guides artisanal chocolate label Fossa Chocolate (kits from S$57), which has put together stay-at-home care boxes that include facial kits, tea bags and coffee from other local brands on their website. It’s an attitude we hope continues after COVID: all in one, and all for one.

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