Many kakis have requested to the pics of what I ate in my recent trip to Tokyo, so I have decided to post some of the highlights over the next few weeks. The reason that I have been resistant in posting my Tokyo pictures was because I thought that it might be a little frustrating to look at something delicious and not be able to easily just go down to that stall and eat it.
However, I know that Japanese food is currently very popular in Singapore and that a lot of our readers actually travel so this series of posts may be useful for everyone to reminesce about their own experiences in Tokyo as well as to recommend other great eats there.
This is my first ever trip to Japan so the itinerary had to be carefully planned so that I can get to experience the best of the different types of Japanese cuisine. I wasn't after the fine dining, michelin star stuff, but as with the other food in this blog, it was about finding the really shiok everyday stuff that the locals enjoy.
One of the frustrating things about Japan is that even if you have the address of the restaurant, you will not be able to find the place. In the end, I had to rely on asking for directions once you know you are around the area. So I am going to pen down the directions to the restaurant while it is still fresh in my mind so it would be easy for anyone to locate.
We start with the Asakusa which is famous for the Sensoji Shrine which I am sure most tourists would make a point of visiting. One of the most popular restaurants there is this Tempura place which is reputed to have a long queue everyday for lunch. Being the Kiasu Singaporean, I got there at 11am and promptly got showed a seat just next to the main door.
I ordered the Tendon as it was the cheapest item there and everyone seemed to be eating the same thing. The prices can go up to 3000 to 4000 yen if you wanted to order the works.
The Tempura here is a little different from what I normally get. First of all it was black because they dip it in a kind of black sauce before serving it. Secondly the batter was a little different from the usual tempura. Instead of crispy all the way through, it was crisp on the outside but soft and moist on the inside and reminds me of the kind of prawn fritters mom used to make at home. Not quite what I expected, but quite tasty nonetheless. 1600 yen gets you 2 large prawns, a piece of vegetable and a rather tasty prawn cake made from a handful of little prawns.
To get there, you get off at Asakusa station and walk towards the Sensoji Shrine. At around the point of the photo above turn left and walk for about 3 minutes and you should be able to spot a quaint little house with the words Da4 Hei1 Jia1. (Big Black Home)
By the time I finished my lunch at around 12.30pm (had to wait 45min for my food), there was already a long queue outside the restaurant. It was reported that you sometimes you have to wait an hour just to get in so it pays to be Kiasu sometimes!
Quite different from the usual tempura. I just wonder why not many other restaurants serve it this style since they are so popular? If you have been there too, let us know what you think!
Diakokuya 1-38-10 Asakusa, Taito-ku 11:10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.(weekdays), 11:10 a.m.-9:00 p.m.(Saturday & national holidays) More info and map here
The results of the polls are out and it seems that of the different dialect groups, the Hainanese have the largest proportion of foodies!
Altogether, 2873 people voted and the breakdown is as follows:
In terms of numbers, the Hokkiens (26.9%) have a narrow lead over the Teochews (24.3%), followed closely by the Cantonese (18.8%) with a smaller population of Hakka (8.9%) and Hainanese (11.4%).
However, this does not really tell us whether being of a certain dialect group would make you more of a foodie. What I think would give us a more accurate picture is to compare the proportion of the voters to the proportion of dialect groups in Singapore in general. According to this website, the proportion of the dialect groups in Singapore are: Hokkien (45%), Teochew (22.5%), Cantonese (16%), Hakka (7%) and Hainanese (5%). So what we can do is to divide our results with that of the general population to get a ratio which we shall call the foodie dialect index (FDI).
The way to think of the FDI is as follows: We know that 45% of the chinese population are Hokkien, but only 26.9% of the voters here claim themselves to be Hokkien. The FDI is thus 26.5/45 or 0.58. So that means that there are proportionately less Hokkiens who are foodies than the general population. (Either that or they are really bo chap and cannot be bothered to vote but let's just assume they are not). So anything less than 1 means that the dialect group probably value other things more than food and if the FDI is greater than 1, that means that food is an important part of the culture of that particular dialect group.
With the FDI, the Hainanese came out tops by far with an index score of 2.28. This was followed by the Hakka (1.27), Cantonese (1.18) and Teochew (1.08). The Hokkiens are a distant fifth with only 0.58.
So if we draw an analogy from the English and French, we can say that the Hainanese are more like the French who really put an emphasis on the enjoyment of food while the Hokkiens are more like the English where food is just smaller part of their life. (Some people tell me the Hokkiens are just more interested in making money). Whatever it is, I am pretty disappointed that us Teochews did not even come close to being second. But at least it sort of explains how a small dialect group like the Hainanese are responsible for so many of our hawker favourites like Chicken Rice, Kopi and Kaya Toast, Hainanese Pork Chops and Curry Rice etc.
So do you all think this is a pretty accurate reflection of the different dialect groups?
View the results here The previous post is here Check out Hainanese Cuisine here
With Cactuskit, Sumosumo and Wahcow Hokkien Mee special big plate $10
One thing that I have observed about most of the Famous Hawkers around is the fact that they are famous not just because their food is good, but it also has a lot to do with their personality and PR skills.
Take for instance this Hokkien Mee uncle who was handpicked to represent Singapore Hokkien Mee in New York during the Singapore Day Festivities in April. Although I use the word "handpicked" it doesn't really mean that he fries the best Hokkien Mee in Singapore which is why he was "handpicked". But more like a combination of his Hokkien Mee frying expertise as well as enough EQ to understand the marketing potential of taking part in such an event. Why else would someone be persuaded to close the stall for 2 weeks in order to travel to New York? So the fact is that a lot of the famous hawkers are famous because they understand the 4Ps of marketing, viz product, pricing, placement and promotion. A lot of the time, the thing that makes the difference between a great hawker and a famous one is his ability to promote himself.
Flambuoyant Frying Style coupled with Straw Hat and Colourful Shirt
And this is one Hokkien Mee man who is pretty savvy when it comes to marketing himself. You just can't walk past his stall without noticing his floral Hawaii shirt and his straw hat plus a photo of a San Francisco Trams on his signboard. That tram represented the time when he was part of a delegation to promote Singapore food in the Napa Valley in 2004. Whatever it is, I'd bet you will not be able to walk past the stall without having a second look.
Now, apart from the superficial differences, there was also differences in the actual preparation of the Hokkien Mee that caught my attention. He is the only Hokkien Mee man that I know of that adds uncooked prawns to fry together with the noodles. He explained that this imparts and extra sweetness to the noodles and also that the prawns are more tender because they have not been overcooked.
The final product was something to behold. The noodles were suitably untidy and the charred black bits in the gravy really gave the hint of a rustic and untamed Hokkien Mee harkening back to the days of pushcart hawkers. I wish I could tell you that the taste was phenomenal but alas after all that anticipation, we all felt that it looked better than it tasted. Still better than your average Hokkien Mee but on that night, the gravy just lacked that ooomph to make it taste as good as it looks. 4/5
Probably one of Singapore's most well travelled and well known hawkers. His stall at Republic Food Court at Wisma Atria has had some really good reviews, but strangly not many people talk about the original stall at Newton Food Centre. Perhaps he too is a victim of our prejudice against Newton Food Centre?
Thye Hong Newton Food Centre Stall 58 5 pm to 1am daily 96181221
You know how the best Hokkien Mee is probably at the coffeeshop in your neighbourhood but you have never been there precisely because it is so close by? Well, there are probably also a lot of things around Singapore which tourists come to see that you have never been to before. So perhaps it would be a great idea to take advantage of the School Holidays to do a bit of exploration in our own backyard.
Explore Singapore is happening between 20 Nov to 7 December and the National Heritage Board has organized a series of events for everyone to learn more about our rich cultural heritage.
Aside from the great food, if you get there early, might also get to go on a tour of the Peranakan Museum with Comedian Mark Lee. You can also have a look around the 30 Flea Market stalls there and let the kids be entertained with some face painting and balloon sculpture. It would be a great day out for the family, so keep the date free and I look forward to seeing you there!
Judging from the comments so far, it is quite clear that many of our readers regard Newton Food Centre as a place for tourists which was my perception as well. However, I must say that Newton Food Centre actually turned out to be better than we expected. Both Cactuskit and I haven't been back here for awhile, but we both felt that there was quite an air of expectation about the whole place. I was interested to see just how bad the touting really is, but after trying to get myself touted for awhile, I would say that the touting problem is about the same as the Satay sellers at East Coast Lagoon. This place does indeed have Singapore's greatest concentration of BBQ seafood stalls though, which I guess is so because the hawkers want to cash in on high priced items.
However it would be unfair to say that all the hawkers there are out to make a quick buck from the tourists. In fact, I think the hawkers there know that they still have to cater to the locals in order to survive, especially those that are selling the less touristy items like Seafood BBQ.
Now, if you are one of those who shun Newton Food Centre then you might just miss out on this Carrot Cake which was surprisingly quite good. They have been there since Newton Food Centre was first built in 1971 and are still steaming their own Carrot Cake because they insist that home made carrot cake still tastes better.
Their efforts are quite evident in the white version. The texture of the carrot cake was just nice. It is softer and more "wobbly" than the commercial version and you can make out the strips of radish in it. It is fried till crispy on the outside but moist and soft on the inside and was very tasty. It definitely is not the best a carrot cake can get, since they avoid the use of lard, but it is certainly one of the best ones I have tasted. The black version is also very good and they managed to fry it till it is nice can caramalized. This might be one of the rare occasions where I find that both the white and black versions are just as good. 4.25/5
Very good homemade Carrot Cake and though it is in Newton, they still sell it at $3 per plate which I think is quite reasonable. It is certainly one stall which I would go to Newton Food Centre for.
Heng Carrot Cake Newton Food Centre Stall 28 Opened in the Evenings only
I know that a lot of Singaporeans avoid going to Newton Food Centre as it is often seen as a tourist trap. Furthermore, many foodies also lament the fact that the food there is not outstanding and that there are nicer hawker food elsewhere at lower prices. That's is a bit of a shame because I think that this is the most well known hawker centre amongst our tourists. I must admit that I haven't been to Newton Food Centre for at least 18 years since I left to pursue my degree in Sydney. In those days I remembered Newton as a great place to eat. I wasn't really into documenting great eats then, so I can't really tell you which stall was good. It was still a tourist trap to be sure, but at least I remember that the food was good. When I got back, it seemed that Newton had become a place that is more well known for its touts and exorbitant prices which is why I haven't even thought of going there for a meal.
Well, I think that this blog will not be complete without the mention of our most famous Hawker Centre so I decided that I need at least give it a chance. Fortunately, it turns out that one of our regular kakis (Wahcow) was quite a regular at the place and had a few things which he felt could be recommended. I am sure there are many readers out there who have their own favourites at the food centre to recommend so I am going to start with a couple of stalls and see if there are other worthy mentionables to bring us back for a repeat visit.
Let's start with Bee Heng Poh Piah because it is the one facing the car park and it claims to have been around since 1930. First thing that caught my eye was the price: $1.80 each with minimum order of 2 rolls. Hmmm.... it is beginning to look like Newton is living up to its infamy.
The Poh Piah was pretty decent though, so it wasn't a complete waste of $3.60. The filling was pretty good and the crispy bits were quite nice. But for me, I like my Poh Piahs really turgid and looking like it is going to burst at the seams like the ones at Kway Guan Huat, so it wasn't something I would go out of my way to eat. But if you are at Newton, it is quite an acceptable side dish to order along with your other dishes. 4/5 Conclusion
So what do you all think of Newton Food Centre? With so many BBQ seafood stalls around, I am sure there must be one that is good and reasonably priced that can be recommended. Or do you all think that Newton Food Centre really is just a place which is set up specifically to cater to Tourists and that locals should avoid it?
Bee HengNewton Food Centre Stall 12 (Facing Car Park) 12am to 12pm Closed Thursday