Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eating Singapore: Savory Snacks

We have a nor'easter here in Boston, which makes this the perfect time to reminisce about the 80-degree weather in Singapore and to continue my Eating Singapore series.

I'm a big fan of snack time.  Given the choice, I'd much rather nosh my way around town than actually sit down for a full meal.  (Then again, why choose?  Given my seemingly endless stomach capacity for good food, I'm not too worried about "ruining my appetite by snacking.")  

My favorite Singaporean snack, ever since I was a little girl, is satay, charcoal grilled meat skewers.  Back in the day in Singapore, THE place to go for satay was a section of Beach Road called "Satay Club."  All the open-air hawkers there sold satay, and (as my mom fondly recalls), you'd get charged at the end of your meal when the vendor would settle the accounts by counting the number of wooden skewers left on the table.  (Naturally, people tried to cheat the vendors by throwing the skewers on the floor or pocketing them!)  

Alas, Satay Club is no longer, but one of the original hawkers has set up shop under the name "Old Satay Club" at Makansutra Gluttons Bay.  I love that they present their satays in banana leaf cones.  Garnishing every plate are cubes of sticky rice and diced cucumbers, both of which are designed to be speared with a satay skewer and dipped into the spicy, garlicky peanut sauce that accompanies the dish.

We also tried the famous satay at Chuan Kee Satay at the Old Airport Road Food Centre.  Unlike the satay at Makansutra, which while pretty was kind of tough, the satay at Chuan Kee is so tender it literally melts in your mouth.

These folks are so serious about the quality of their satay that they grill them right as you order them.  Accordingly, there's always a huge line.  And they serve it with a sauce that is lick-your-plate-clean good: it's a small bowl of intensely flavored peanut sauce with a heaping dollop of minced garlic in the middle for a pungent, spicy, nutty, sweet kick.

For some reason, Singaporeans are also really into chicken wings.  I'm kind of "meh" about chicken wings, but my sister, who can't resist trying anything there's a line for, got these wings at FoodRepublic and claims that, with a squeeze of the lime-like calamansi, they are quite delish.

I, however, like to save room for the unusual, like these kueh pie tee ("top hat") cups we tried at Blue Ginger.  The pie tee cups are like crispier, lighter versions of mini pate brisee shells.  They are made with rice flour and deep fried in metal molds that have the shape of upside-down cannelles.

The initial crunch of the delicate shell gives way to the tender mix of bamboo shoots, turnips, and shrimp.  It's sweet, savory, and spicy.  

My mom's all-time favorite street snack, however, is popiah, which is sort of a Singaporean burrito.  Well, it's not really Singaporean, in that it actually originates from the Chinese province of Fukien (where my grandpa is from).  But immigrants from China brought the dish with them to Singapore, and now it's super popular in the Straits.

Popiah consists of a thin crepe made from wheat flour, which is then wrapped around goodness such as jicama, turnip, eggs, bean sprouts, meat, and seafood.  What makes the dish pop is a spicy hoisin sauce that gives a sweet and savory "bite" to the popiah.  We had the dish at various food centers, including Maxwell and FoodRepublic, the latter of which was deemed superior by my popiah-loving mom.  (She's not the only one in the family who pines nostalgically for popiah: my grandpa has spent hours in Xiamen, China, searching for the best popiah maker and has imported box-loads of popiahs from Fukien to Hong Kong.)

In my next installment, sweet snacks and desserts!


lavenderpug January 12, 2011 at 8:20 PM  

ooh, i'd like some popiah and top hat thingamajigs, please!

Anonymous January 13, 2011 at 8:16 AM  

Mmmm I'd love to try popiah! That sounds delish....

Katie January 13, 2011 at 8:17 AM  

Ummm I'm not anonymous! That was me...oops don't know what happened there...

lobster January 13, 2011 at 9:49 AM  

YUM. Everything looks so tasty! I love small bites (this way I can eat more and no one notices).

BigAppleNosh January 14, 2011 at 12:42 AM  

I love popiah!! And I admit Louis did a little dance of joy when I asked "Hey, have you heard of Satay Club on Beach Road?" I guess I'll be paying the Club a visit in a few weeks!

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