Nasi Lemak

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香香哪唏噜嗎, Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market & Food Centre

In my life, there’re probably a couple of nasi lemak stalls I try to patronize every once in awhile. However, I can safely say that unless it’s somewhat convenient for me to do so, I wouldn’t be going out of my way for any — except for one: 香香哪唏噜嗎. It’s the one and only nasi lemak stall I’ll always make the effort to return to.

My Aunt Gin gave me my first taste of nasi lemak regality at 香香’s way back when I was a kid, probably during my kindergarten days. I remember her saying she’d be taking me to have the “best nasi lemak ever.” I’m quite certain I didn’t know what it was at that point in time. Although, I do recall being more excited about catching a movie after lunch. Now, you’re probably expecting an evocative recollection of just how awesome a nasi lemak awakening my 5 year-old self had, but unfortunately, I ain’t got much of that. The memory of walking towards the market from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station, waiting at the table for my aunt to return with the food, and dipping the ingredients in a red glob that gave them all a sweet, spicy tang — these are the memories that remain.

20 odd years have came and went since that very day. The sights and sounds of Tanjong Pagar has changed quite much, as with the rest of Singapore. Commercial and luxury lifestyle developments ceaselessly displace the heritage and traditional charm of the area. I’m just thankful and glad they haven’t taken away my market and food center yet. There isn’t a year that goes by without me visiting 香香’s at least a couple times. Brilliant nasi lemak aside, the routine of doing so kinda takes me back to the good times when life was simpler, happier.

Take today for instance. I walk down the usual pathway that leads to the market, feeling a tad bummed knowing it’s gonna be a long day at work after lunch. But mostly, I was thrilled at the thought of finally getting to savor my favorite nasi lemak. I order my standard lineup of ingredients, and as usual, the lady running the stall slips an extra ngo hiang onto my plate. All for $3.

Hurriedly, I make my way to the nearest table, and without even unstrapping my backpack, I begin stuffing my face; not forgetting to constantly dip my portions of fish fillet, otah, spam, fishcake, and ngo hiang into the red glob which I now know as sambal.

Two decades later, that sweet, spicy tang hasn’t changed one bit. My Aunt Gin was right — it is the best nasi lemak ever.

Prawn Noodles

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Sheng Hui Coffee Shop

A bowl of prawn noodles is always within reach wherever you are in Singapore. Food courts, cafeterias, hawker centers, coffee shops… it sure is one heck of an omnipresent dish. Good prawn noodles, on the other hand, are much harder to come by. What’s considered good then, one might ask? A Google search will probably yield a seemingly endless stream of articles dictating where you’d find the best prawn noodles in Singapore. But that’s the problem right there. The idea of what’s good has been cheapened and trivialized to the opinions of soulless mainstream sources motivated by monetization and fame. It is then perpetuated by the insipid majority who fervently worship trends and fads. It’s a vicious cycle that one doesn’t have to buy into.

Delectability is a whole lot more intricate than that.

You see, we’re all individuals with unique palettes. As for me, I believe that good food doesn’t just pleasure your taste buds and satisfy your stomach, it must kindle your soul. And that’s what this $3 bowl of prawn noodles did — every mouthful was like a hit of nostalgia, triggering some oft-neglected but tender memories of me as a child, happily eating lunch with my grandparents after coming home from school. And that, to me, is the reason why this bowl of prawn noodles is the best.

Economy Rice

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Jia Jia Economic Rice, Sims Vista Market & Food Centre

Rice, baked beans, potato cubes, luncheon meat, fishcake, battered fish, onion and carrot strips, curry gravy — all for $3.50! And the best part? It is sensationally scrumptious. Talk about cheap and good! However, at the rate tradition and heritage are being callously displaced in favor of commercialism and gentrification, authentic Singaporean hawkers and their timeless culinary magic will cease to exist sooner rather than later. Fuck that shit. Call me schmaltzy or label me obstinate, but I’ll be clinging on to every last dollop of tradition left in Singapore.