Leaving the five spice and dried fish that drifts out from the shops of Chinatown, Little India is a must see, and it’s only a few stops away on the subway. The gateway through from the station into the streets is the Tekka Food Centre with tens of hawker stalls feeding many eaters at the rows upon rows of plastic tables and chairs that fill the building. Out on the street, bright banners line the main road for a mile, the buildings are painted in colourful tones and the air is scented with Indian herbs and spices. I also spotted the best piece of street art EVER!
Many people here will observe some days where they don’t eat meat for religious reasons so bearing that in mind as well as knowing Indian food is generally excellent for veggies and vegans, there are plenty of choices of places to eat here, and I hear most of them provide an authentic flavour of India, catering for homesick locals rather than tourist tastebuds.
I went to Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant on Tuesday. It was here I realised the problem with travelling alone; you can only order one dish and therefore not try as much as you want to. However there was so much on the menu, I couldn’t pay any attention to that. In fact they boast at having the widest veggie restaurant in the city and many of the dishes are labelled with a green v for vegan too which is great. As I was choosing I was handed a large bowl of popodoms. I ordered a masala dosa which is one of my favourite meals in the world. The dosa was light, slightly sour and plentiful, filled with a mildly spiced potato and pea curry and the sambal, dahl and coconut chutney accompaniments were great.
The second was a local dish of Nonya Laksa, thick rice noodles in a spicy coconut based chilli and tomato Peranakan sauce with vegan seafood, crispy bean curd skin and loads of tofu with beansprouts and Vietnamese coriander. The hot, sour and spiced broth was so flavoursome. A real sucker punch to the tastebuds. THIS is Singapore’s different influences coming together. Both dishes together cost about $16. I’ve got to say, I’m still not convinced by veggie prawns though. Rubbery!
I was lucky to eat at another place in Little India which was very sweet the following day, Veggie Cottage Cafe. This is a completely vegan restaurant and has lots on offer too as well as specials. On arrival the owner talked me through the menu. ‘You like local food?’ Yes please! We didn’t even go through the Western board but these are certainly options available for the less adventurous eater. Again, I was eager to try veggie versions of local favourites.
I first tried Nasi Lomak which is traditionally a fragrant Malay rice dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia. In fact it is considered a national dish in the former. It centres around rice cooked in coconut cream and pandan leaf which gives it a distinct taste and is served with sambal and various garnishes. Mine had a crispy fried tofu fish wrapped in seaweed, fresh cucumber, stir fried vegetables in sesame oil, crunchy peanuts and seaweed and a rogue hashbrown!
The second dish, Asam Pedas, she thought might be too spicy for me but the flavours were actually really complex and intriguing, rather than fiery hot. It is usually fish in a spicy and sour broth. Mine was tomato, okra and aubergine braised in a tomatoey sour, salty, hot sauce. Taramind juice, asam, gives it the distinctive tangy taste. The amazing surprise was the vegan tofu fish in the bottom of the dish, so tender and juicy it was falling apart. I’ve never had it before but it looked like tofu skin, sliced thinly into steaks. Absolutely delicious.
I really loved Singapore. It surprised me a lot. There was more to do than I expected. It wasn’t just a sterile city of offices and glittering skyscrapers which some of the tourist guides warn you about, there are hidden treasures here and I haven’t had time to discover everything. There are still plenty of dishes to try after all! (Story of my life!)