Singapore vs Malaysia: Food Fight

Some of the coolest people I’ve met online have been Singaporeans – Ling Pang (@sixinchheel), Tammi Kwok (@insatiablemunch), Shen Tan (@madamtans), to name a few – so it pains me to write this (alright, not really) but it’s universally accepted knowledge in Malaysia that our food is better than yours. (I like taking potshots at Singaporeans because they’re so good-natured.)

Well it was, when I left Malaysia some 30+ years ago anyway. I remember even Singaporeans would travel to Malaysia when they wanted “the real deal” 😛

When I had the opportunity to visit Singapore after too many years’ absence, I wondered if our southern neighbours were still languishing in gastronomic ho-hum.

Baby Noah and I were first invited by Singapore’s Grand Hyatt to host a July 4th celebration and during our stay we got to sample some incredible food at the hotel, both from the Singapore-inspired Straits Kitchen and the Asian-Western themed Mezza9.

Baby Noah and I shared this seafood for dinner at Mezza9

Baby Noah and I shared this seafood for dinner at Mezza9

 I have to make special mention of Jonathan Chang’s mom who very kindly sent her maid to my hotel room to look after baby Noah while I was at this party.

Baby Noah enjoying the sights in Singapore

Baby Noah enjoying the sights in Singapore

It was only a short 3-day trip however, and apart from my Grand Hyatt activities (July 4th party for their VIP guests plus a Google Hangout-on-Air) I was also there to film a food series for Singapore TV.  That left us no time to catch up with any locals or venture too far from Scotts Road and Orchard Road.

On my most recent trip to Malaysia, I decided we simply had to visit Singapore again. While also very short (we were there 3 days), this time we had the benefit of local friends offering to take us out for dinner on two of the nights.

Mun Cheong is a childhood friend from my hometown in Seremban who’s lived in Singapore for decades. He and his wife took us to a very polished Chinese restaurant called Diamond Kitchen, famous for their Teochew-style dishes. (I love regional influences in Southeast Asian cuisine – Teochew, Foochow, Hokkien, Hainanese, etc. etc.)

menu at Diamond Kitchen

Menu at Diamond Kitchen

Check out the food below – beautifully subtle flavours.

poached peanuts

Poached peanuts greeted us on arrival – I have to learn how to make this

clam soup

Clam soup

Prawns cooked on hot coals

Prawns cooked on hot coals

pumpkin tofu

Pumpkin tofu

steamed clam

Steamed clam

the pièce de résistance - black pepper crab

The pièce de résistance – black pepper crab

Next up, courtesy of Matt Heng (one of my followers) and his family – Yi Jia South Village Seafood Restaurant in Toa Payoh.

These were the dishes we ate –

fresh fish

Fresh fish

Fried rice

Fried rice

some kind of delicious seafood with rockmelon

Some kind of delicious seafood with rockmelon

homemade tofu with fried radish

Homemade tofu with fried radish

the world famous Singapore chilli crab

The world famous Singapore chilli crab

crab with salted egg yolk sauce

Crab with salted egg yolk sauce

I don’t know how Michelin stars are awarded but this place deserves at least a couple.

On a past trip decades ago, I remember my Singaporean friends driving us across the border to dine on seafood in Malaysia.

After these incomparable meals I promised myself I’d be travelling the other direction next time I’m in Malaysia, just to be able to experience Singapore’s food again.

I felt I had to congratulate the chef at Yi Jia (and also coerce him for the tofu recipe), so he graciously came over to say hello.

Whatever Singapore was doing to nurture their local cooking talent, it was clearly working. We asked the chef about his background.

Well, what do you know?

Turned out he wasn’t Singaporean at all.

the Malaysian chef at Yi Jia South Village Seafood Restaurant

The Malaysian chef at Yi Jia South Village Seafood Restaurant

I could have been in Singapore for a month and never discovered these places, hidden away in the suburbs, so thank you so much to these friends and their families for their generosity of time (not to mention money – nobody would let me pay for anything).

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