Location: Southern tip of the Malay Peninsula
Population: 5.6 million
Geography: A highly developed island city state
Language: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
Signature flavours: Seafood, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), garlic, chillies, anise, noodles
Recipes abound for Singaporean cuisine, so my challenge for this assignment was choosing between them all. Singaporean food is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Sri Lankan, and it is reflected in the nation’s culinary variety. I found two excellent cookbooks, The Food of Singapore and Singapore Cooking, and built my menu from them.
Sotong Goreng: Baby squid (I used cuttlefish instead of squid) marinated in kecap manis and sesame oil, then breaded and deep fried. This dish is served alongside a dip of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and lime.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Popiah: Rice wraps filled with lettuce, kecap manis, crab meat, and jicama pan fried with garlic, shallots, and Chinese five spice powder.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Fried Kway Teow: Essentially the national dish of Singapore — a noodle stir fry with rice noodles, bean sprouts, yao choy (a leafy green similar to bok choy), shrimp, and squid, and flavoured with soy sauce, kecap manis, garlic, and hot peppers.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Broiled Sambal Stingray: A skate wing brushed with guess what — kecap manis! — then broiled few a few minutes on each side.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Nonya Pineapple Tarts: Delicate balls of buttery pastry, each filled with a mound of sweet pineapple jam, then poked with a whole clove.
Prep and cooking time: 4 hours
The Shopping List
Eric and I went to Nations supermarket ahead of his Seychelles assignment. Because I felt I was likely to find some hard-to-locate and good-quality ingredients for my Singapore menu there, I made sure to have my shopping list ready well ahead of time. Nations provided yao choy, rice wraps, rice noodles, jicama, and cuttlefish. The stingray was a somewhat last-minute addition to the menu. I saw it in the cookbook and liked the idea of trying it, but already had enough recipes. I promised myself that if a stingray fell across my path before Singapore night, I would make it. Lo and behold, there were beautiful pink skate wings on display in Nations’ seafood section, so I took it as a sign and bought one.
Let me start by saying that if I messed up the kecap manis, which I made from scratch ahead of time, pretty much everything else would have been ruined, since it gave its flavours to every dish except the dessert. Kecap manis is a viscous, sweet sauce made from regular soy sauce and brown sugar, spiced with garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and anise. It was not hard to make, and turned out thick and aromatic. It made every dish delicious.
I made the dessert first, since everything else had to be made at more or less the same time, which made this assignment rather tricky. The pineapple jam was made by reducing pineapple mixed with sugar and cinnamon for about two hours. The little balls were quite easy to make and they tasted incredible. The pastry was flaky and light, and the filling was a burst of flavour. The subtle clove-iness made them the perfect way to end the meal.
Since the end of preparation looked a little chaotic — cuttlefish deep frying, stingray broiling, popiah wraps folded as late as possible so as to not get soggy — I had to choose something to make ahead of time. That something ended up being the noodles. They were perfect after a quick fry and toss, but after sitting for twenty minutes, waiting for everything else to be ready, they were a bit overdone and had lost a bit of flavour. I was disappointed because I knew how good they had tasted when they were perfectly done, but it was unavoidable with so many things on the go.
Speaking of mistakes made, I also forgot — just completely forgot — to bread the cuttlefish before frying. I just chucked them into the oil as soon as the thermometer showed it was in frying range. I realized it seconds later, but it was too late. They had a good flavour anyway, but I think breading would have improved them by locking in the flavour they got during their marination.
The popiah were pretty tricky to fold and weren’t the prettiest rice wraps I’ve ever eaten, but they tasted great. The texture varied between chewy (the wraps themselves), crunchy (the lettuce and jicama) and meaty (the crab), and the kecap manis gave them a sweet and salty profile that I loved.
I’m leaving the stingray until last because I COOKED A STINGRAY. It was broiled for just a few minutes on each side, and the meat came peeling off the moment we stuck our forks into it. It was tender and juicy, with kecap manis permeating throughout, and was completely satisfying to tear apart. I loved it. Plus, it was just beautiful to look at.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.