Food fit for a president
During the rare encounters I had with former president S R Nathan, I came to a simple conclusion: He really loved Singapore makan and the spicier, the better.
He once stopped in the middle of his daily run at East Coast Park to ask what we were filming and cooking.
I think the aroma of the sambal got to him, and he wanted to try our nasi lemak but his aide reminded him what the jog was all about.
At an award ceremony where he handed me the Special Recognition "Food Ambassador" award on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board, Mr Nathan asked for Nonya lunch recommendations.
This while we were still on stage. Truly, a cool people's president.
At another event, I joked on stage about Singaporeans' honest and unique love affair with spices - and Mr Nathan later asked me where he could get old-school mee goreng.
This president loved his food spicy, just like the spice of life that forms the fabric of this little red dot.
So, today, I dedicate this list of fiery makan to Mr Nathan in memory of his legacy. One dish per pioneer race in Singapore.
Rest in peace, Sir.
NASI AMBENG DAPUR UMMI ABDULLAH
430, Upper Changi Road, East Village Mall, #01-65
- Tuesdays to Sundays: Noon to 8pm
- Fridays: 3pm to 8pm
- Closed on Mondays
- Tel: 6384-0495
This nasi ambeng combo will fire up not just your imagination.
A giant platter for up to four people with sambal sotong, sambal goreng, beef rendang, bagedil, fried beef lung and sambal peanut ikan bilis, eggplant and chicken curry (I am sure I missed out a couple of items) surrounding a mound of nasi.
Dig in together with your hands and bring back that kampung spirit in sharing this meal.
OLD SATAY CLUB MEE GORENG
Stall 4, Makansutra Gluttons Bay, 8, Raffles Avenue (The Esplanade), #01-15
- 5pm to 2am daily
This Indian Muslim dish will always remind me of Mr Nathan.
The folks here do it really old school, not the moist and baby-food-like texture.
They fry it robustly well and dry enough with a red sambal, and it comes complete with the umami and alkali rich flavour of the noodle with chicken or lamb mince.
POPO & NANA'S DELIGHTS
Maxwell Food Centre, #01-70
- Mondays to Saturdays: 10.30am to 4pm
Debal or devil's curry, as the popular crowd likes to nickname it, is essentially a Boxing Day dish our Eurasian pals came up with.
The idea was to cook Christmas feast leftovers in this fiery-looking (though it isn't that scary) hotpot of a tangy, spicy stew highlighted with mustard and vinegar plus a special Eurasian rempah.
331, New Bridge Road, Dorsett Residences, #01-03
- Mondays to Saturdays: Noon to 2.30pm and 6pm to 10pm
- Tel: 8121-4107
The sambal sotong petai is possibly one of the dishes those Michelin judges gnawed on when they checked out this Nonya restaurant.
It is careful on not overdoing the sotong, so it comes soft and resilient.
The petai, part of its Ahmakase set dinner, is of the smaller breed, so it does not stink to the high heavens. Plus it retains the nuttiness.
NO NAME HAINANESE CURRY RICE
Block 40, Beo Crescent
- Thursdays to Tuesdays: 7am to 3pm
We were brought up to queue, especially for our food.
But the line here clears fast at this uniquely Singapore-style Hainanese curry rice stall.
The range of items here is immense and so hearty. Go for the minced pork cakes, curry sotong, koli chye (stir-fried cabbage), braised pork belly and fish curry.
They are so busy, they don't even bother to have or make a signboard.
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets, his own TV shows on cable, publishing food guides, consultancy and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.