Penang food is everywhere
Singapore can do a better job of exporting its cuisine, like these island folks do
All the noise about the hawkers being overcharged at the Social Enterprise Hawker Centres and at some regular older ones can still be heard loudly both on and offline.
Ironically, all these indignant outpourings can actually work well for our bid for an inscription into Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as proposed by our Prime Minister.
The inscription is not about food or who does it better. It's the intangible elements of our food culture - what it means to us, how it is part of our daily lives, our unheralded love for it, and even how we depend on it.
But we also need to talk about the obvious lack of true Singapore restaurants around the world. It seems we are not so proud as to export and internationalise our makan culture. It is sad but true.
You can find a Penang cafe in the US, Europe, China and in a lot of other places, but you will be hard pressed to find a Singapore version.
Try looking for our bak chor mee in London and you'll know what I mean.
On the other hand, Penang food is peddled proudly and loved even in Singapore.
Island Penang Kitchen - helmed by Penang locals Chef James Yeong and wife Vivian Yoong - has a few elements of authenticity.
The menu is classic, nothing fancy, and executed well. Chef Yeong had a 15-year stint in Crystal Jade restaurant and you can tell by his bold execution of the dishes.
Firstly, the all-important Penang Fried Kway Teow ($6) is resplendent with "fire" in the noodles as it's rocked over high wok fire and expertly delivered with touches of soy sauce.
Although crunchy, the glass prawns did not do it for me, I prefer the fresh ones.
The Prawn Noodle or Hae Mee (the special version at $15) is one I will be back for.
The soup is thick and rich with softly stewed pork ribs, pig skin, prawns, half a boiled egg and sliced pork. The flavour of fried shallots melting in the broth was magical. Order it with yellow noodles as the inherent taste of the noodles add a lovely dimension to it.
The Assam Laksa ($5) was authentic, with huge chunks of mackerel sitting atop.
But it tasted like the humble version from Air Itam in Penang - the thick udon-like beehoon was topped with mint leaves, cucumbers, onions, bits of fish and a dollop of hae ko or sweet prawn paste over the sweet, sour and spicy assam laksa broth.
What was lacking was flecks of blue ginger or rojak flower.
Their Prawn Paste Chicken ($6) was nicely light on the paste (which can overwhelm if overused) and came with a bold crispy batter that took nothing off the overall flavour.
The Chendol ($3) is a signature item. The pandan jelly came soft and the big, sweet and soft red beans, with Malacca gula melaka, lent a nice bite.
The best part of Island Penang Kitchen is that it is not in town, and the overall prices are heartland friendly.
ISLAND PENANG KITCHEN
Block 721 Clementi West Street 2, #01-126
11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 9.30pm (weekdays), 11am to 9.30pm (weekends)
Closed alternate Tuesdays.
KF Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.