Monday, November 7, 2011

Overseas Singaporean Survival Guide

I've been living in California for more than 16 years, almost as long as I've lived in Singapore. Aside from my family, the thing I miss the most is obviously the food. According to New Yorker's Calvin Trillin: Culinarily, Singaporeans are among the most homesick people he has ever met.

Inspired by a recent conversation with a fellow Singaporean expat--who has never heard of Prima Taste or Do Do fishballs--here's my Overseas Singaporean Survival Guide:

1. Do Do Fish Balls

Fish balls in America are firm and dense, resembling the texture of sotong balls. Singaporean fish balls, on the other hand, are delicate and bouncy. I've tried many fish ball brands and Do Do is by far the best. They used to sell it at Ranch 99 but not any more. The only other place I can find it is at Hong Kong Supermarket in Monterey Park (127 N. Garfield Avenue).

2. Prima Taste

Hands down, Prima Taste offers the most authentic versions of pre-made mixes. I've spent hours recreating recipes from scratch and none of them came close to Prima. My favorites are the
laksa mix, the chicken rice mix, and the chicken curry mix. You can find them at some Asian supermarkets or When you're in Singapore, pick up extra packets of their sambal. It's sooo good.

It's almost impossible to find the right thick bee hoon for laksa, even in Singapore. Prima just launched a new line of laska mix that comes with the noodles. It's not bad at all.

3. The only decent char kway teow I could find was Belacan Grill in Redondo Beach, which relocated to Tustin a year ago. I've not been to the Tustin branch, so I'm not sure if it's still good there.

4. I was really excited when my friend in New York told me about a Teochew porridge place in San Gabriel called Lu's Garden, and the place didn't disappoint. You get unlimited sweet potato porridge with your choice of sides, including minced pork with mustard greens, braised pork, and fried fish.

5. There are actually quite a few places you can get belachan kangkong. Some restaurants call it water spinach. Personally, I like the ones at Phoenix Inn in Alhambra (water spinach in Malay sauce).

6. I've been to so many Malaysian/Singaporean restaurants in the Southland and have yet to be impressed. I always get my hopes up, like the time I virtually stalked The Spice Table for months, checking constantly to see if it finally opened. I loved the ikan bilis and peanuts, the kon loh mee (it reminded me of dry wanton mee), and the rendang was fantastic. I would actively avoid the Street Hawker Truck, Singapore's Banana Leaf at the L.A. Farmers Market, and Singapore Express in Venice. And while Mutiara Food & Market in Inglewood has pretty high Yelp ratings, I was not happy with my dining experience. The mee goreng was disappointing. Oh, and don't order hokkien mee at Malaysian restaurants, unless you like the dark, peppery kind.

7. You can get frozen prata, frozen pandan leaves, frozen cockles, and frozen durian at most Ranch 99 markets.

8. Freshly killed (never frozen) chicken make the best Hainanese chicken rice. After various trials, I've concluded that the medium-size chickens from Happy Family Farms (Hollywood's Sunday farmers market) are the best. The kosher chicken at the LA Farmers Market and Mary's Free Range Chickens at Whole Foods are also good.

9. I highly recommend food blogs like, Little Corner of Mine, and A Tiger in the Kitchen.

10. I usually stock up my pantry during my annual trip back to Singapore. I buy everything from salt and white pepper to dark sweet soy sauce and fresh spices. Here's a list of food items you're allowed to bring back.



Unknown said...

Hi, I live in the orange county and have been looking forever for these dodo fish balls. Where can I get them?
I'm from Singapore and really miss the springy fish balls.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Zuetell said...

Please review our Gourmet Food Truck in Orange County @chompchomptruck We are a twist of Singapore and American foods ... a Hybrid if you will..

will soon be airing on COOKING CHANNEL Eat Street and FOOD TV Network Diners Drive Ins and Dives