In this episode, Angela May digs into the diverse, multi-ethnic mixing bowl that is Singapore cuisine. And, Bobby Chinn samples some of the unique Indian delights in Chennai.
Singapore is famous for being an ultra-modern Asian economic trading hub, with a soaring urban skyline that reveals little about the ethnic groups that make up this island's diverse population. Host Angela May discovers that underneath the spotless urban surface, Singapore is colourful and flavourful ethnic blend of spicy street food traditions and early fusion tendencies - thanks to the cohabiting immigrant population of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European people.
First stop, a breakfast at the port - now one of the world's biggest and busiest. Both the port and sea trading are the source of Singapore's earliest boom years when coolie labour from Southern China unloaded boats along the banks of the Singapore River. Food Blogger Leslie Tay introduces Angela May introduces her to a hearty breakfast of Pork Rib Soup as they discuss the fine points of the origins of this dish as the preferred power breakfast of the dock workers.
Afterwards, Angela explores the fabulous Victorian-era Raffles Hotel, an icon of Victorian colonial luxury, and she notes that the hotel's original "Tiffin Room" serves Indian food, as it has done for over 100 years. This is because of the original Indian immigrants - who were already British colonial subjects - came over with their British officers. The Indians now a thriving minority on the Singapore scene, stayed and prospered - their tastes becoming adopted by other cultural groups. The proof can be seen in Irene Jansen's favourite dish passed down by her Chinese grandmother. Jansen, a cook book author and native Singaporean, who is of ethnic Chinese, and Eurasian roots, prepares this recipe with Angela May. It shows strong Indian influences infused with tropical, and Chinese flavours. Her Chicken Curry infused with Coconut Milk, paired with lacey Roti Jala bread is a classic Singapore hybrid dish.
Angela now visits one of the dozens of open-air food courts or "Hawker Centres" that are a signature trait of Singapore life. Individual street food hawkers, mostly family run businesses for generations, have been organized by the government in these modernized malls, and have become a Singaporean habit for the young, old, rich and poor. Every kind of speciality imaginable, from Malay, Chinese, Indian cuisines, mixed with some adopted European elements, is on offer. After giving us some tips on how to deal with the lunchtime rush, Angela gets a cooking lesson from a "master Hawker" at his family stand. For 30 years, he has specialized in Prawn Fried Noodles (or Hokkein Mee)
At the lushly decorated True Blue Restaurant, Angela learns about the Peranakans and their culture. Originally a society formed by prosperous straits Chinese traders who inter-married with local Malay women, the Peranakans are famed for their elaborate, decorative style, and equally elaborate food customs. Owner Benjamin Seck prepares Ondeh-Ondeh, a sweet potato and palm sugar pastry that is one of many brightly coloured Keuh (or pastry specialities), associated with the Perankans. Angela also visits a neighbourhood Keuh shop, where the brightly coloured artisan pastry is bought by the boxful.
Willin Low, the trendy young owner of the Wild Rocket Restaurant, has coined a new phrase "Mod Sin", (as in Modern Singapore) to define his nouvelle Singaporean cuisine. A smart, contemporary destination for Singapore's serious gourmets, Wild Rocket features new twists on old favourites, such as Low's Laksa Pesto Linguini which he whips up for Angela, admitting his grandmother would never approve.
Finally, inspired by all the the flavours and colours of this tiny but thriving island republic, Angela prepares her own barbeque on the East Coast beach, with a fresh whole fish from the morning market that she has smothered in a pungent paste of local herbs and spices such as fresh coriander and leaves leaves, and then wrapped in a banana leaf.
Meanwhile, on his tour through India's 4th largest city Bobby Chinn samples some of Chennai's vegetarian delights including those served up at one of the world's oldest vegetarian restaurants. Woodlands was established in 1926 and here they still cook their food on wood-fired stoves.
Bobby then visits one of India's biggest sweet producers and exporters, Krishna Sweets, which has 80 stores nationwide and 30 just in Chennai making more than 125 varieties of sweets. These sweets, which rely heavily on sugar, milk, condensed milk and clarified butter (or ghee), are popular festival foods throughout India.
Finally, Bobby visits one of Chennai's numerous street side restaurants where the food in literally home made. Mummie's Mess Restaurant is located in a suburban residential neighbourhood - eats easy to spot due to the large groups of people standing in the street outside eating the delicious food on offer at the front door.