One of the simplest pleasures in life has to be peeling the skin off a steaming, hot bun before popping the bao into your mouth. While there are all kinds of different buns and fillings, we have a particular weakness for the char siew bao ($0.70) from Tanjong Rhu Pau & Confectionery (three outlets including #01-113 Block 7, Jln Batu, 6348 3817). They’re petite things, so be sure to buy a bunch; we guarantee you won’t be able to stop at just one. Their sweet tau sar (red bean paste; $0.60) and ling yong (lotus seed paste; $0.60) bao are delightful, too.
An unexpected venue for some nice buns is hip coffee specialist 40 Hands (#01-12, 78 Yong Siak St, 6225 8545, www.facebook.com/fortyhands) – we kid you not. While they only offer two types, a tau sar bao ($2.50) that’s larger and flatter than most with a fragrant, smooth filling, and slightly spicy kong ba bao ($7.50 for two, $10 for three) with braised pork belly that isn’t as fatty as other versions but very tender. Speaking of kong ba bao, Westlake (three outlets including #02-139 Block 4 Queen’s Rd, 6474 7283, www.westlake.com.sg) which set up shop back in 1974 has mastered the art of satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth meat encased in a pillowy butterfly bun ($13.90/five, minimum order).
The first place that springs to mind when we think of steamed rice cakes is that of Singapore Shui Kueh (#01-111 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, 9767 9681), formerly in Tiong Bahru as Jian Bo Shui Kueh. Their little bowl-shaped cakes are topped with aromatic chai poh (preserved radish), but it’s the generous amount of sesame seeds that they add that give it a more complex flavour dimension ($1.20/four). Another tasty rendition can be found at Siang Siang Chwee Kueh (#01-247 Fengshan Market and Food Centre, Blk 85 Bedok North St, 9676 1020) out in Bedok, where the delicious chilli sauce coupled with the diced chai poh serve to culminate in an umami explosion in your mouth ($0.30/piece).
Kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs
Ah, the quintessential Singaporean breakfast; you simply can’t miss out on this classic. It’s the most widely available brekkie item and can be found at every kopitiam and local coffee shop. Making it is easy, but making it well – that’s a different matter. Take some sliced bread, toast it lightly, spread on some addictive kaya (coconut jam), plop on a slice of butter and voilà. Oh, and don’t forget half-boiled eggs and a strong kopi for good measure. Old-school bakery Chin Mee Chin Confectionery (204 East Coast Rd, 6345 0419) does a beautiful rustic job ($1) – just be sure to call them kaya buns, rather than toast – although you’ll need to arrive there relatively early if you want to score yourself any as they often sell out by lunchtime. You can also sink your teeth into Killiney Kopitiam’s ($0.95/ piece; outlets island wide including 67 Killiney Rd, 6734 9648, www.killiney-kopitiam.com) if you like thicker-cut white bread that’s crisp on the outside but still soft inside, spread with luscious kaya made fresh every day. Despite the numerous outlets around, we’d still suggest the original Killiney store (but we have to admit the kaya is not quite as flawlessly lump-free and as it used to be). For those who want their toast light and crisp, then Ya Kun Kaya Toast (outlets island wide including #01-01, 18 China St, 6438 3638) is the place for you. The bread used is darker in colour and sliced extremely thin, so after some toasting, it becomes more like a wafer that serves as a nice contrast to the creamy kaya and salty butter ($1).
It’s hard for us to resist aromatic coconut milk-infused rice, made all the better by adding a fried egg, crisp anchovies, and yes, sambal (chilli sauce), any time of day. If you’re in the mood for some, then head to Changi Village, which has long been the home of famous nasi lemak stalls. Give International Food Stall a miss (the lines are far too long for just average stuff) in favour of Mizzy’s Corner (#01- 55 Changi Village Food Centre, 2 Changi Village Rd, 9793 1103) – solid effort all around with nice rice, juicy deep-fried chicken wings, fried eggs that are usually runny and some very scrumptious, full-flavoured sambal (from $3.50). Also worth a trip is Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak (Stall #2 Adam Road Food Centre, 2 Adam Rd, 9843 4509) that’s a bit of an institution. While sides like otah (fish cake) and bagadale (potato croquette) are good, it’s the rice that steals the show. Their take ($2.70-$5.70) uses Basmati rice, resulting in luscious grains that are well-defined and not clumpy. If it’s good enough for the Sultan of Brunei, it’s good enough for us.
There are several famous roti prata stalls around town, but our favourite is Al-Ameen Eating House (4 Cheong Chin Nam Rd, 6462 1996), which whips up small, round pratas that are crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside, and not too greasy ($1) – they’ve also got great cheese prata ($2.50) and sugary prata bom ($2.80). Casuarina Curry Restaurant (136/138 Casuarina Rd, 6455 9093, www.casuarinacurry.com) is another go-to spot, with an array of pratas from the traditional plain style ($1) to cheese ($2.50) to banana chocolate ($3.50). The complimentary serving of curry that accompanies it is also rich and piquant, so dipping your prata of choice in it is mandatory.
Get your dose of sweet soya bean curd ($1) from Rochor Original Beancurd (2 Short St, 6334 1138), with a mild nutty flavour that is thoroughly enjoyable. Be sure to order some soya bean milk and you tiao (dough fritters) as well – the crisp, slightly salty you tiao offsets the sweetness of the tau huay nicely. If you prefer a stronger soy bean taste and firmer texture, then cult favourite Lao Ban Soya Beancurd (outlets including #01-127 Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd, 8181 2201) might be a better bet. Aside from the original, they also do almond flavoured tau huay (both $1.50). It’s served hot or cold, but we prefer it hot – the texture of cold versions is often not quite as silky smooth.