Anyone can do a food programme but a food trail that is not pre-planned and determined by “live” recommendations via Twitter and Facebook from fellow netizens? That’s what is called a real challenge and on 23 June 2012, three local bloggers embarked on just such a unique journey, going round the island to hunt down Singapore’s most memorable eating places.
Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost, and two of Singapore’s most influential social commentators, Mr Miyagi and mrbrown, took up the challenge of the Singapore Memory Food Trial, our country’s very first social media food campaign by the Singapore Memory Project (SMP). Being a nation of foodies with many of our memories built around food, the trail is organised as one of a series of exciting activities by SMP to engage the community, and to celebrate stories and memories of Singaporeans.
When it comes to Singaporeans’ favourite past time, the ideas came in thick and fast on twitter with the hash tag #sgmemory. And eat the trio did, starting with breakfast at 8 am and ending with a durian feast at 9 pm.
The day started with breakfast at Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh at Tanjong Pagar Complex. The flavourful Bak Kut Teh has won over many fans, one of which is an 87 year old uncle who has been patronising the shop every morning for 60 years. The owner – Mr Frankie Gwee – made it a point to go around his shop to show patrons the right way to drink tea, a common accompaniment to the soup to reduce the “oiliness” and to cleanse one’s palate.
The next stop recommended by netizens was the famous Allauddin’s Briyani at Tekka Market and teh tarik at AR Rahman Teh Tarik. While waiting for the briyani to be ready, Dr Tay gamely takes on the challenge of flipping prata, mimicking the skills of the stall owner with moderate success. The trio then dug in to the piping hot briyani with relish. Allauddin’s Briyani has been in business for over 40 years. The owner, Haji Mohamed s/o Shaik Alluaddin, recounted that one of his most memorable moment was when he served briyani to more than 100 guests at an event at the Istana in 2008.
The trio then arrived at Prince Coffee House, Beach Road near Shaw Towers, where they first started business back in the 70s. Prince Coffee House serves Hainanese Western Food like Hainanese Pork Chop and Corn Beef Long Beans. Visiting the coffee house is like stepping back in time – one can still find the original lightings, cash register, plates, cups and place mats used in the shop 35 years ago. The owner was also proud that Taiwanese movie stars Lin Feng Jiao and Qin Han ate at his shop when they were in Singapore to promote their Golden Horse award winning film – Wang Yang Zhong De Yi Tiao Chuan （汪洋中的一条船）in the 70s.
After three heavy meals, it was time to indulge in some snacks. The next stop was to the east. The trio arrived at Haig Road Hawker Centre for the famous Putu Piring. Unlike Tu Tu Kueh, where the traditional filling is sweetened coconut shreds, Putu Piring is filled with Gula Melaka. This snack is best eaten fresh from the steamer, with the Gula Melaka still gooey hot and the whole thing melts in your mouth.
After this sweet treat, the trio happily made their way to Kway Guan Huat Popiah at Joo Chiat Road. The shop has been located here since 1938. The handmade popiah skins take skills to produce, with the maker expertly twirling the dough on one hand and then quickly smearing the surface of a hot flat pan with enough dough to form a thin sheet of popiah skin. The usual condiments and fillings of a popiah are braised turnips, dried shrimps, eggs, boiled bean sprouts and sweet sauce. But what made Kway Guan Huat’s popiah truly special is the added crunch and fragrance from bits of sole fish. Needless to say, the trio stuffed themselves happily with one popiah after another.
The last stop at Joo Chiat was Kim Choo Kueh Chang Babi. The shop sells about 15 types of Bak Chang and the trio tried their best seller, the XO Zhang. Not many realize that that there’s actually no XO cognac in the XO zhang, but XO in this case stands for “eXtraOrdinary”!
Moving north, they stopped by 928 Ngee Fou Ampang Yong Tau Foo along Upper Thomsom Road. The owner picked this ulu (outback) location when it started as it reminded him of home at Ampang.
The trio then journeyed to west (ahem) of Singapore for a tea break at Habib’s Rojak, Ayer Rajah Food Centre. This Indian rojak stall is named after the first owner’s son, Habib, who is now the owner of the store.
Rounding off the day at Geylang, the trio arrived at Geylang Lor 9 Beef Kway Teow to meet up with the winner of “My Favourite Hawker Food Memory Contest”. Organised by the Singapore Memory Project, the contest asked the public to submit their favourite food memories and one lucky winner will enjoy have a meal with the famous bloggers. The winner, Mr Jacky Tan brought along his wife, and had an enjoyable meal of beef kway teow and Lion City Frog Leg porridge with the trio. “The food trail was great! We enjoyed the chosen good food and the company of the jovial and chatty bloggers.” said Jacky.
And it turned out that Jacky’s family has a rich history related to food too. His family business is the original Tan’s Family Tu Tu Kueh with 80 years of history in Singapore, and he brought along photos of Tu Tu Kueh stalls in the olden days, as well as the different types of moulds used from over the years to show. “I was so surprised to find that the winners of the contest were from a family who have been selling Kueh Tutu for the last 80 years! It is so important that this sort of oral history be recorded for posterity!” said Dr Leslie.
The final stop of the day was a street side durian stop! This is also the meeting place for the tweet meet session where netizens were invited to a durian feast with the trio. In between bites of creamy durian, the group chatted happily away, sharing memories of their favourite food and eating places.
Singapore Memory Project