Singapore’s Arab community harked back to before the time of the island’s founding by Stamford Raffles in 1819. The Hadhrami-Arabs, hailing from the arid desert region that formed Yemen today, had been venturing to this part of the world for centuries, to trade with the Malaccan sultanate in the 15th-century for its exotic spices and Ming porcelain from China. Early Singapore saw the emergence of several prominent Arab merchant-families which became prominent landowners on the island till today: the Alkaffs, Alsagoffs, Aljunieds, Alatas and Angullias.
Singapore’s Arab Quarter in Kampong Glam, centred around the old Sultan Mosque, is today a vibrant precinct full of Turkish, Malay/Indonesian and Middle-Eastern restaurants, curio shops and cafes.
I met up with some old friends from the Auditor-General’s Office of Singapore for lunch last Jan. Since one of them is Muslim, we looked for a halal eatery, and opted for Lubnan on Bussorah Street.
Muslims do not imbibe alcohol, so Muslim eateries had to come up a range of inventive fruit juice concoctions in its place. We started off with some chilled lime-and-mint juices here.
Meze platter - I love these Middle-Eastern appetiser platters where you get to try a variety of tasty little morsels: warak enab is the Arabic answer to Greek dolmades - spiced, lemony rice & minced lamb wrapped in grape leaves; hummous is mashed chickpeas, one of my fave food items of all time, maghmour is a ratatouille-like eggplant-tomato-chickpea dish; muttabal is another favourite - smokey mashed aubergine mixed with tahini, one of my fave condiments of all time; batinjan rahib - eggplant salad; and the crunchy fattoush bread salad.
Grilled halloumi cheese - I’d always had a weakness for the halloumi’s spongey texture and smokey aroma. My first taste of the halloumi was actually in London’s quirky Kypros, a Greek-Cypriot eatery in Chalk Farm nearly three decades ago. Never looked back since.
Mixed kebab platter - absolutely love barbecued meats, and the Lebanese do come up with the tastiest combinations, all lightly seasoned with a touch of spice. Lubnan served its kebab selection on a bed of pilaf rice: lamb kofta (minced lamb), chicken kofta (minced chicken), shish tawouk (marinated chicken cubes on skewers) and lamb mashwi (marinated lamb cubes on skewers - popularly called shish kebab in the West). Dips on the side consisted of toum, a Middle-Eastern garlic aioli; red zhug, a Yemeni hot sauce; and a Thousand Island-like sauce which I could not identify, but delicious nonetheless.
Lubnan Authentic Lebanese Cuisine
32 Bussorah Street, Singapore 199450
Tel: +65 6291 0538
Opening hours: 11am-11pm daily [CURRENTLY CLOSED due to COVID-19 lockdown in Singapore - till 1 June 2020)