Teh-c. Kopi-o. Teh peng. Kopitiams are traditional coffee shops in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where coffee and tea are ordered with terms drawn from different languages. My favorite? Teh-c, or hot tea with evaporated milk.
A breakfast of teh-c and kaya (coconut jam) toast at Killiney Kopitiam was more than enough to get us started on our third day in Singapore.
But what I was really on the hunt for that morning was the chicken biryani at the famed Bismillah Biryani in Little India. It’d easy to miss this nondescript spot were it not for the crowd of businessmen and uncles packed in for lunch. This dum biryani is cooked Hyderabadi-style: fragrant, pillowy strands of basmati rice infused with the flavor of meat and spices and served with a yogurt sauce on the side.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Mustafa Centre and Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. What’s Mustafa Centre, you ask? Mustafa Centre is a 24-hour shopping mall filled with literally everything you could ever think of: electronics, groceries, jewelry, books, apparel, sports equipment, restaurants. Really, everything. I may or may not have walked away with a few too many bags of murukku.
We slowly made our way to Chinatown in search of what may be Singapore’s most famous dish: chicken rice.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is perhaps the most popular place to get chicken rice. Located in Maxwell Food Centre, there is always a lineup here. Service is fast, food is cheap, and the chicken is velvety. Ethereal, even. It’s comfort food.
We also tried fish soup bee hoon at Jin Hua Fish Head Bee Hoon. How do they make the fish so tender? Why is everything so tender in Singapore? How does everyone cook so well?
We spent the rest of our evening in the Kampong Glam district near Sultan Mosque, exploring lively Arab Street and Haji Lane. The sounds of the azan blended with laughter and pop music and traffic to produce a vibrant, chaotic energy. Restaurants and boutiques line the streets: the food smells wonderful, people are impeccably dressed, and folks are all smiles. It’s hard to narrow it down, but I think this is my favorite neighborhood in Singapore.
Naturally, we had to go for a second dinner. Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant is famous for its murtabak (here’s an explainer on murtabak for the uninitiated) and Nishan and I split a plate of the mutton murtabak. Murtabak is a meat-filled stuffed pancake originating in Yemen and its made its way through South Asia and Southeast Asia. This restaurant has perfected it.
Internet, this was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life. Eggs, onions, and ground meat all came together in a super-thin encasing of dough. But you know what really made this magical? The fish curry-like sauce on the side. Together, this sauce and murtabak became next level. I probably think about this meal on a weekly basis since leaving Singapore.
But here’s the problem with Singapore: I also tried one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life the next morning for breakfast. Sungei Road Laksa in Kampong Glam specializes in, well, laksa. The cockles, the fish cake, the spicy, coconuty broth, the noodles: together, they became the breakfast of champions. And all for three dollars. I will learn to cook you, laksa. Oh yes, I will.
From there we made our way down Victoria Street and to the Sentosa Cable Car to head to Singapore’s playground, Sentosa Island.
Major amusement park vibes here. It rained a ton for most of the day so we took refuge at Tanjong Beach Club and eventually headed back.
For dinner, we headed to Chinatown, where my search for char kway teow and dim sum resulted in mediocrity. It’s okay; you can’t win ’em all. But you can come really, really close in Singapore.