Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Things to Eat in Singapore: Duck Rice and Popiah

Hawker Centre - Duck Rice

Undoubtedly, some of the best food in Singapore can be found at unassuming hawker centres. Singaporeans call this simply "local food" - it draws from the various cuisines of Southeast Asia and China, but the dishes travel to Singapore and are made the island's own with nuances that are rarely found elsewhere. Not only is hawker food cheap (you can get a full meal for less than $4 USD in a country where a mid-priced car easily costs $150,000 USD), it's the stuff that I dream about when I'm not here. It's important to note that all Singaporeans are food-obsessed by nature - eating and shopping are the two national pastimes, and any Singaporean will argue adamantly about which stall has the best version of their favorite dishes. The country does have an excellent gourmet restaurant scene as well, but when I'm here, I tend to focus on what one writer called "homesick Singaporean food." So here's Part I of a primer on local food:

Duck Rice (or Braised Duck)


Hawker Centre - Duck Rice, Singapore

Soy sauce braised duck rice with herbal soup is Teochew (a Chinese dialect group) in origin. Tradition says that the dish was originally braised goose, but since duck was more readily available, the recipe was modified and Teochew braised duck was born. If served with accompaniments like eggs or tofu, everything is usually cooked n the same braising sauce, though sometimes it's served with white rice. It's one of my favorite dishes.

Popiah


Hawker Centre - Popiah, Singapore

Popiah originates in Fujian and Chaoshan. It's a variant of the spring roll, a soft, thin crepe filled with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, carrots, tofu, eggs, and Chinese sausage (the ingredients vary somewhat, but these are standard). And like the above duck, it also owes much to Teochew cooks.

This country takes good food seriously: The first thing a Singaporean will ask you is whether you've eaten. (Mind you, this is a slightly different question than asking whether you are hungry.) I remember a visit years ago where both sides of my family had conferred with each other weeks in advance of my trip to organize most of our meals. As for this trip, they may have to roll me home in a wheelbarrow.

Related: More things to eat in Singapore: Ipoh hor fun and fish head curry. Yum.

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