From salted egg bao and squid dim sums to noodles with pork balls and Hainanese chicken rice, chef Irfan Pabaney samples Singapore’s diverse fare and recommends some must-tries for your next trip there
What happens when a Mumbai chef visits a nation where the national pastime is eating? Chef Irfan Pabaney takes us on a culinary trail from his latest trip to the 50-year-old Singapore. He was also part of a team that broke the Guinness World Record for the largest curry ever made
Street food and hawker centres aren’t a new fad in Singapore. This photograph shows customers dining at an open-air food stall on the waterfront in Singapore, 1957. Pic/Getty Images
"Singaporeans only eat out — be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between. Everyone always has something to eat or drink, it’s the culture," observes chef Irfan Pabaney, the owner of The Sassy Spoon, who was the only chef from Mumbai invited to Singapore in early August (his fourteenth trip to Singapore) as part of Suvai, an Indian gourmet festival organised by the Indian Chefs & Culinary Association (ICCA), Singapore in association with the Singapore Tourism Board. With an aim to indulge the patrons in local Indian flavours, Pabaney presented some of his restaurant’s signature dishes and was also part of a team that broke the Guinness World Record for the largest curry ever made.
A man selling a wide range of Chinese ingredients in a department store past Bugis street, close to the famous Chinese temple. The stock includes sea cucumbers, dried scallops, herbs, dried fruit, peanuts, flowers, dried mango, candied orange peel, dried sour plum and dried rose buds used for flavouring Chinese tea among other things. Pics Courtesy/Irfan Pabaney
During his trip, Pabaney made trips to various joints across Singapore to sample their diverse fare. "Singapore recognises four official languages — English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil — because the population is a mix of these people.
Salted Egg Bao
So, the influence of food from these cultures plays a very important role in forming the cuisine of Singapore, which is a huge melting pot. You can have dim sums, Hainanese chicken rice, fish head curry and even Peranakan cuisine that uses a lot of shrimp paste," he says. Here’s looking at the chef’s culinary adventure:
Fried Squid Balls
Salted Egg Bao, Fried Squid Balls
At: 126, Geylang
Another mass favourite, the egg bao is a steamed dish comprising a salted egg yolk custard in a fermented bun. "The Fried Squid Balls, actually dim sums, were outstanding. Squid is something one often ends up overcooking. The soft texture that it already has, needs to be taken care of while cooking. The squid balls were perfect and crispy," recalls Pabaney.
Noodles with pork balls, sliced pork and chilli sauce
At: Roadside eatery opposite Bugis Junction
"We ate this at 1 am after a busy day, but even at that hour, the eatery was packed! All the meat elements (pork balls, slivered pork) and the noodles are simmered in a broth and then served with a spicy sauce and crispy crackling. The textures and flavours are just inexplicable," says Pabaney.
Fresh Aloe Vera and Calamansi dessert
At: Ah Chew Desserts, Liang Seah Street
"This dessert had fabulous texture and adding calamansi (lemons from the Philippines) took it to another level. The balance between sweet, salt, bitter and spicy flavours is
very important in their food," says Pabaney.
Smell the durian
As a small island, most fruits available in Singapore are imported. However, the durian is grown there and is one of the smelliest fruits in the world. "In fact, most hotels don’t allow it in their premises! It has a buttery texture. If you like jackfruit, you’ll love durian. Durian ice cream is made, among other things. When we went to Geylang at 4 am to eat dim sums, the streets were filled with durian and that was all one could smell. It was pretty wild," recalls Pabaney.
At: Toast Box, a cafe chain
Kaya, a popular breakfast option, is a coconut jam that is naturally flavoured or flavoured with pandan leaves. The Kaya Toast features soft boiled eggs to be had along with strong, local coffee sweetened with condensed milk.
Hainanese Chicken Rice, Chicken Feet Salad and Sauteed Chicken Liver and Gizzard
Hainanese Chicken Rice
At: Chuen Chuen Cafe, Tan Quee Lan Street
This very popular dish includes the chicken being cooked through a laborious process before it is served with the rice. "Chicken is boiled with ginger and spring onions and then, the entire chicken is plunged into chilled ice water to stop the cooking process and ensure that it remains succulent. It is served plain or roasted," says Pabaney. Along with the rice, Pabaney also tried Sautéed Chicken Liver and Gizzard, a quick stir-fry with slightly sweetish sauce and the Chicken Feet Salad served with de-boned meat.
The street joints use traditional wooden clothespins with numbers on them, so they know which table to put the dim sums on
Breaking the World Record
A team of 40 to 50 chefs, including Irfan Pabaney broke the Guinness World Record for the largest curry ever made. The world record attempt was planned along with Suvai, and Singapore’s 50th anniversary.
Chefs cooking the curry
The previous record was 10.3 tonnes set in the UK in 2005. “The target was to make 15 tonnes but we ended up making vegetable curry worth 15.4 tonnes. We started at 8.30 am and finished at 8.30 pm. This included the cooking and weighing,” says Pabaney.
Chef Irfan Pabaney (right) with sous chef Mithilesh Tembe who also parti-cipated in the record-breaking event