Apr 8, 2021
THE CHATTERING BUZZ IS FOREIGN, the menu items perhaps unfamiliar? There’s an undeniable sense of anticipation in your head; it’s the same one you got when you last touched down somewhere and dove right into that country’s cuisine. And despite the fact that you’re home in Singapore, a joint like this feels like someplace else.
The Lion City’s huge expat population has made it a melting pot of cultures from all over the region, with numerous hidden corners that cater to the slightly-less-local residents among us, for whom these ethnic enclaves are a piece of the motherland. For everyone else, they’re little portals that take us far from our everyday ’hoods. We may not be able to leave our borders yet, but these non-local hangouts are the next best things to having a genuine travel experience.
The long line of would-be diners outside is clear evidence of Mandalay Style’s reputation among expats from Myanmar. Step inside and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be the only non-Burmese in this joint. Set amid Singapore’s “Little Yangon”—that’s the Peninsula Mall to locals—Mandalay Style sports a traditional teahouse vibe with its checkered linoleum floors, self-service ref and food pictures adorning the walls. The menu is written mostly in Burmese with basic English descriptions thrown in. Get the nga htamin chin (Shan-style fish rice), meeshay dry noodles and laphet htoke tea leaf salad—together they cost no more than S$25, but they’ll take you straight back to the Burma of your memories.
B1-29 Peninsula Shopping Centre, 3 Coleman St.; facebook.com/MandalayStyleBBQ
It’s all legit, down to the knee-high chairs stretching out to the sidewalk, the scent of simmering broth and freshly grilled meats mixing with the spirited conversations in tieng viet. That little Buddhist altar on the corner isn’t there just for show; An La Ghien has the atmosphere of a lau hotpot restaurant straight out of Hanoi. Not surprisingly, diners come here for the cook-it-yourself hotpots, which come in combos featuring seafood or meats (an S$35 set feeds three). The a la carte items, though, are just as authentic. For S$10 each, order up a crispy banh xeo turmeric crepe, bun cha pork patties on rice noodles, or even an off-the-menu cha ca fish—it’s fried with dill and spring onions in a sizzling pan, just like they do in that old house on Hanoi’s cha ca street. Evenings are the best time to take in that Vietnamese vibe, but even in the daytime An La Ghien beckons you to spend a slow hour or two with a cup of sweet, syrupy caphe sua— yup, that’s how they do it in Hanoi.
45 Lorong 27 Geylang; anlaghien.sg
The bricks on the wall aren’t real, and the international flags on the bar make it look like a travelers’ hangout. Nonetheless, the plush sofas, the dark wooden furniture plus the huge pictures of snow-capped peaks and Kathmandu street scenes give it a strong sense of place. Gurkha Palace feels like that cozy restaurant-bar you’d chill in after spending a day in the Nepalese countryside. Like any self-respecting Nepali resto, the momo dumplings here are steamed to perfection and served with a dash of fiery chutney. Pair that with a kurkure makhani—that’s chicken fillets on a butter- and masala-based curry—and a platter of tandoori-roasted meats (this whole feast will set you back around S$50), and you’re set for a good hour or two away from sweltering Singapore.
52 Chander Rd.; gurkha-palace.com
This riverside eatery has rather plain interiors, but this doesn’t seem to matter with the overwhelmingly Filipino crowd. They’re too busy chowing down on the house specialty, lechon. That’s a whole spit-roasted pig, cooked over charcoal until the skin crackles and the meat oozes flavor. Don Lechon has the no-nonsense atmosphere of a lechon house in La Loma, a district in Manila known for its sumptuous roast-pork eateries. The entire menu here is based on different iterations of the ultimate Pinoy party dish. Aside from classic lechon on rice there’s sisig made of finely chopped pork bits on a sizzling plate (single servings of both cost S$10 each). The sinigang soup (S$12.50) is a palate-cleanser with its sour tamarind-based broth bearing vegetables…. and more pork. You’ll no doubt leave this joint smelling like you just attended a fiesta—and as any Pinoy will tell you, that’s proof of an excellent meal.
511 Guillemard Rd.; facebook.com/DonLechonSingapore
The presence of those huge, curry-filled metal pots on the counter are an indication that the folks at the kitchen sure know their stuff. Located on the second floor of Golden Mile Complex (a.k.a. Singapore’s “Little Thailand”), Siriwan Restaurant has the sights, sounds and smells of a typical khao gaeng (rice and curry) restaurant. Yet their menu goes well beyond that, packing native treats that get Thai expats thinking of home. Top billing goes to the khanom jeen nam ngiaw (S$7), a northern delicacy of soft rice noodles, chicken blood, curry paste and lots of chili. There’s also the classic Isaan combo of gai yang grilled chicken, sai uea pork sausages and som tam papaya salad (S$26 for all three). They also offer a southern staple—the garlic-and-lime-infused kung chae nam pla raw shrimp salad (S$12). This sumptuous spread is best enjoyed on crowded weekend evenings, to the accompaniment of luk tung music and the sound of televised muay thai matches from the nearby Thai pubs.
5001 Beach Road #02-79A , Golden Mile Complex