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Local Fare in Singapore’s Heartland

Plate of Yong Tau Foo On a recent visit to Singapore (also known as the Lion City), we turned to the most reliable source of local food referrals: The Taxi Driver!

We boarded an SBS taxi on River Valley Road and said the magic words, “Tiong Bahru Market.” The driver’s eyes lighted up, as she inform us we’d go by surface streets. That twinkle was all the encouragement we needed to ask what she liked to eat in the TB food centre. The list was long– lor mee (noodles in a thick gravy with fish cakes and meatballs), nasi lemak (coconut rice with fried fish and accompaniments), and bakut teh (pork rib soup). All yummy to be sure, but not what we were looking for.

“What about yong tau fu?” the wife wanted to know.

“Toh Payoh, Lorong 1, Block 124,” came our taxi driver’s quick reply

Mutton Soup in black bowl with black chop sticks

The best Chinese Mutton Soup in the city is found in Little India.

Hakka Yong Tau Fu is the original ‘stuffed tofu’ of the Hakka people. Sometime during one of China’s periodic, epic upheavals, the Hakka (which means ‘visitor’ in Cantonese) migrated from central to southern China, settling in Guangdong Province. The Cantonese-speaking native population welcomed the ‘visitors’ and the Hakka made Guangdong their home. Like the Cantonese themselves, the Hakka began to migrate across the South China Sea to settle in Southeast Asia, including large numbers in Singapore. Here, they lead the nation and share their tasty foods, including this classic Chinese soup.

Yong Tau Fu (pictured above) consists of tofu and vegetables, such as bitter gourd and chili peppers, stuffed with minced meat or fish paste, along with a wide variety of vegetables, meat and seafood. All are displayed for the customer to peruse. We took up large bowls and tongs, chose from the displayed items and placed them in the bowl. We handed our bowls to the attendant and told her how we’d like the dish prepared, ‘soup’ or ‘dry’ Next step? Devour.

“Where’s the best Chinese mutton soup these days?” we asked. The surprising answer: Little India. Not that there aren’t Hindu temples in Chinatown, but still…

UFO oyster biscuit in yellow bowl

Singapore’s deep-fried oyster ‘UFO’ biscuit may not be healthy, but it’s delicious.

To get to the Little India section of Singapore: get in a taxi and head to Jalan Besar and Kitchner Road. One block south of Kitchner, at 227 Jalan Besar, we found the Kong Kee Mutton Soup. There are two versions of mutton soup in the Lion City. The one made by Muslim Indians, served with bread, is the quintessential late-night preemptive strike against tomorrow’s hangover. We wanted the Chinese version, served with rice and enjoyed throughout the day. The Kong Kee edition is the real deal, served with a distinctive, ginger-infused chili sauce that’s a true Singapore delicacy.

Tracking down the mutton soup brought another unexpected treat. A UFO, no less! The fried oyster biscuit, known colloquially as a UFO because of its resemblance to the classic flying saucer, is an endangered species. Tucked away inside the Kong Kee Eating House, we find the authentic and delicious, if dangerously unhealthy, UFO at two bucks a pop. Crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, this biscuit is in the business of delicious. Do I want the chili sauce with that UFO? Of course. Does a flying saucer come from Mars? – story by Jeff Thomas, RFT Contributor, Photos by Dawn Thomas

Jeff Thomas wine



Jeffery Thomas

World traveler Jeffery Thomas has taught East Asian and World History at Clark College since 1999. Among other destinations in Europe and Asia, he travels frequently to Singapore, one of the world’s great food capitals. Living in Portland, Oregon has also greatly enhanced his food and beverage experiences. Jeffery is currently working on a scholarly article titled “Armchair Adventure and the American Way of Empire”, focused on the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs from the 1920s. In the picture here, he’s enjoying a meal with his daughter at a sidewalk cafe in Prague, Czech Republic.