Penang is where Singaporens go to eat, wow!! That works for me.
My first lunch in Singapore over 20 years ago, my client took me to an Indian restaurant. I was astounded that the first item advertised on the outdoor sign was FISH HEAD! Our plate was a big leaf, various dudes came by and plopped down ladles of rice, beans, etc… and then a big bowl of curry fish head. The next morning, another client took me to a local joint for pork rib tea. Not my preconceived notion of “tea”, I’ve been trying to replicate that flavor at home ever since.
Fortunately, there were still some hawker stands in the streets at that time, rather than being all confined in the food courts as now. I love Singapore, great food, great people, safe environment and more. I know my wife will love it.
Question: when we stay in Singapore, would it be worthwhile to do a day or short (couple of day) trip to KL on a bus or public transport?
Or, we may take the plunge and go direct to PEN. I’d shipped a few 1x20’ of Jim Beam to PEN many years ago. Always wanted to visit and see what the city was like.
Google_Gourmet - Fish-head curry is a local delicacy. I was brought up on it and absolutely adore it. The best parts of the fish-head - and I’m not kidding here, are the gelatinous parts like the eyes and the gills. We adore the soft, jelly-like textures, and also the earthy-tasting bits from the eye-balls. You can’t find that in other parts of the fish.
As for the pork-rib tea - be aware that no tea leaves are used in the soup. The name comes from the fact that one drinks Chinese tea when imbibing the pork-rib soup. There are two variations of the pork-rib soup or “bak kut teh”: the Teochew version which is common in Singapore (mainly peppery-garlicky) and the Hokkien version you’ll find mainly in Malaysia (which has a strong Chinese herbal flavour). Did you try the Singapore-Teochew version, I wonder, since you can find the Hokkien one in Singapore as well, although not as common.
Don’t do a road-trip to KL: it’ll take you a good 6 hour journey each way by car, including passing a congested immigration checkpoint between Singapore and Johore Bahru (Malaysia). A train (on the clunky Malaysian railway - more of a bone-shaker) will take almost as long.
If you have a week - you can split your stay to 4 days in Singapore, then fly to Penang (70-minute flight) and spend 2-3 days there before returning to Singapore. Taxis in Penang are not dependable, KL’s worse, but both places have Uber these days, which are very safe and highly dependable.
Good advice. We’re in Singapore for one week in June, before Osaka. If my wife likes Singapore (which I’m fairly certain she will), we’ll do the SIN/PEN next. United (my default airline) has SFO/SIN/PEN/SFO at about $2000. I found the same on Google flights on Singapore Air for about $850.
Love fish head. We drove down to HMB (Half Moon Bay) a few years ago. Folks were buying fresh king salmon off the boats, and some were getting them cleaned at the little shack at the head of the pier. The fish guys were a bit taken aback when we asked if we may buy the heads and kama from them. They GAVE us about 30 pounds of head/kama/belly. My wife had that glazed look in her eyes that hopefully not TOO many other guys have witnessed.
We went back a few weeks later, and I guess the word got out. They were charging a whole $1/lb!! The gall! Now, they are charging $4.99/lb. Luckily we got our fill and don’t have to pay the new price.
I love the bit of meat that is in the little pocket of the jaws. The eyes of course are a delicacy. Kama, super. Belly, rich and creamy.
Can’t wait to get back to Singapore and have some more curry fish head!! Of course, I eat Hainan chicken every single freakin’ day when I’m there. I actually wandered into a food court on my last visit about 5 years ago. Can’t for the life of me tell you where it is or what the name is. I was seriously surprised when I was watching some food show, and they visited the same stall that I was at. My eating radar is quite good, if I do say so myself.
I just want to say the exchange(s) between you and @klyeoh / Peter is what makes me truly enjoy and respect sites like this. Kudos to the two of you and the information and hopeful travel tips you exchange!
Peter regarding the picture up-thread of you getting in touch with your Teochew/Chaozhou roots, did you happen to raid @VikingKaj closet for that outfit? I think I’ve seen Viking in that ensemble before.
Google_Gourmet - your Half Moon Bay fish-head story reminded me of a similar tale told by a granduncle/aunt from Singapore when they visited their son studying in a university in New Zealand back in the 1970s. They realised that abalone, which costs a fortune back in Singapore/HK/“anywhere Chinese” were completely worthless to the New Zealanders. Like the early San Franciscan natives, the Maoris may choose to collect the shell but throw away the mollusc itself. So, my granduncle/aunt went to the local beach and picked as much as they could carry home. Of course, these days, the New Zealanders have wised up - no more illegal picking of abalones, which are now exported to Far East countries in frozen, tinned or dried form, with prices ranging from US$30 to US$100 each, depending on the size and grade.
Do let me know when you are eventually going to Singapore (or Penang) - I might be around and can show you around
Thanks so much for your hospitality, much appreciated. As time draws near, let’s touch base and see if we can grab a bite together. I also enjoy handling logistics as a trader, and I’ve always enjoyed sharing stories with someone in a similar trade.
Does the Teochew version contain any Chinese medicinal herbs? I have a look of online recipes, many of the Singaporean “white” versions includes the herbal sachets but some with only lots of garlic and white peppers. Also, about the soy sauce dip, I’ve heard that it’s dense and very concentrated. Is it dark soy sauce with chopped chilies or it’s something else?
The versions I had in Malaysia were always quite dark and some of them very herbal. I’m not sure what herbs I’m assuming some are also used for medicine. I like Adam Liaw’s
videos on Youtube, always easy to follow. He has one on bak kut teh. This is Klang style not the pale Singaporean version.
There are two types of “bak kut teh” predominant today:
White bak kut teh or Teochew/Chaozhou-style ones predominant in Singapore; and
Dark bak kut teh or Hokkien/Fujianese-style ones predominant in Malaysia.
@naf: You are right, the Singapore-Teochew ones are mainly simmered pork-ribs and other pig parts flavoured with garlic and pepper. A few places do add herbal sachets into their soup stock, but the soup won’t be dark-hued like the Hokkien version, which would also have light soy sauce added.
The dip is indeed dark soy sauce - the thicker version - with chopped red chilis added. Most bak kut teh restaurants would have both types of soy sauces on the tables, so one can blend the two of them together according to one’s taste, as the lighter, more liquid soy sauce tends to be saltier, whereas the dark soy sauce has a mellow, deeper flavor.