@ Wisma Atria, 4th Floor @ The Pavilion, 1st Floor
435 Orchard Road 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Singapore Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +65 6235 8177 Tel: +603 2118 8833
As interesting and refreshing a change that food courts in Asian shopping complexes are in the lower mainland, they still pale in comparison to the variety and options that exist in lands across the Pacific. As I’ve just found out that I need to travel again to Southeast Asia next month (the second time in six months), I thought I’d get into the right frame of mind as I prepare to hit the city state of Singapore and neighboring Malaysia, both of which have a diverse range of food offerings that I am looking forward to exploring again. The following is a recollection of some simple meals that I had this past spring in the Food Republic food courts, that are located in two of the largest shopping complexes in both countries.
While sweating in the humid weather of Singapore, despite it being the later evening, my friend and I were looking for a quick meal after a busy day of shopping. We settled on the Wisma Atria shopping centre, which houses the Food Republic food court on its top floor, as it was close to the Orchard MRT station that he was going to use to return home. The Food Republic is a mix of about ten hawker-style stalls, including some pushcarts, that sell an assortment of Singaporean/Chinese/Malaysian dishes. Seating is arranged throughout the space, but when it is busy, you will have a long wait in trying to get an empty seat. Each mini restaurant operates as a stand alone enterprise, so you pay at each stall for your choices – no messy ticket system here as you might find in similar open concept food courts.
After doing a few laps scouting out the edible delights, as well as trying to find an empty table to save, I finally settled on some hand cut noodles paired with some pan fried dumplings. It was the show that grabbed my attention, as I spotted the man behind a panel of glass in his small booth, rythmically hacking off slivers with a steel blade from a large brick of dough held in his other hand, shooting them directly into a massive wok filled with hot water to cook them. Nearby, a woman was busy prepping the bowls with a hearty chicken-based soup and assorted toppings – a crunchy and salty flavored mound of little dried fish was my favorite! The dumplings were made of a slightly thicker wrap, making for a very crispy but chewy covering, though the ball of meat inside was perhaps a little less flavorful than I would have hoped. I assumed these were not being freshly made in the back and were of the restaurant supply, frozen variety.
My Singaporean host finished off his meal by saying he was getting a “dessert”. He tried describing it to me as a vegetable and fruit concoction making it a unique combination of flavors in one single bowl. Now I love the combination of peanuts and sweet sauce, so upon first glance, it looked really appealing. I just had it in the back of my mind though, that there was no way it was a dessert. I think my friend was just trying to trick me into having another unique dish called Rojak, while we were hanging out together that night. I’m not sure that I fully enjoyed this dish, as the mix of ingredients seemed a bit odd to me even for a salad. Perhaps its an acquired taste, so I am open to having it again on my upcoming trip.
The same week that I was in Singapore, I spent time in Kuala Lumpur as well – a short 45 minute plane ride away. My accommodations were located directly across the street from the relatively still brand new, shopping complex known as The Pavilion. This was indeed a high end mall, filled with all of the top brands you could imagine, as well as a massive food court that occupied most of the first floor of the building. Here, the Singaporean Food Republic conglomerate had created another food carnival for busy shoppers (locals and tourists alike) much to my delight.
There were a lot more choices at this Pavilion edition though, simply due to greater available floor space. A few times for lunch, I stopped by to grab an easy meal again, as the more proper restaurants in the complex were a little out of my daily budget range, and when I didn’t have much time to explore further geographically from where I was for work purposes. I had to sample another basic soup noodle dish, which I did, but the noodles in this case were of a more skinnier variety. It was what it was, simple in flavor with its thin broth for a low price.
On another occasion, I had it in my mind that I needed to sample some satay while I was in Malaysia. The basic plate of three skewers (your choice of beef or chicken) came with a generous portion of fried rice, and a fried egg. As this was going to be nowhere enough for my hungry appetite on this day, I ordered another batch. I found it interesting that much like places in Vancouver that serve satay, they require you to order a certain number when placing an order, a minimum of five in most cases.
There were other food and restaurant tenants not associated with the Food Republic as well, sharing the same area. My Malaysian friends suggested we do a small stop at Madam Kwan’s. Here we had a Cendol dessert, essentially made up of a scoop of shaved ice that is mixed with these green colored noodles and sweetened with coconut milk and sugar. One of my hosts told me a story of how he had this virtually every day as a child when he came home from school, as he’d get a free bowl of it from an Indian street vendor in his neighborhood who would start giving it away as the ice started to melt faster than he could maintain it towards the end of each day. He also remarked that those making it on the streets are declining in number.
Without a doubt, there are a lot of excellent and very reasonably priced restaurants offering the best of cuisine found in Singapore in Malaysia – some of which I’ve had the pleasure of dining in and could potentially write about in the future here on Foodosophy. But for some reason, I am drawn to the street food vendors risking my well being in the process, as well as the more comfortable airconditioned and low priced environments that food courts have to offer. As I noted at the beginning, these food courts are amazing – with the range and quality of food found in these places easily beating those in many ethnic restaurants back home in Canada, and for a fraction of the price. I can’t wait to get back!