Affordable Hawker Fare Next to Marina Bay, Singapore
Hawker culture food in Singapore doesn't have to be completely old or downmarket to be authentic. In Marina Bay, Singapore, Makansutra's K.F. Seetoh set up Makansutra Gluttons Bay to serve as a home for both old hawker names and novel up-and-comers - and incidentally creating a culinary hotspot and nightlife destination in Singapore's swankest district.
Makansutra Gluttons Bay patrons sit with Marina Bay as a picturesque backdrop -- across the bay, they'll see the Marina Bay Sands towering over the district. About 12 hawker stalls flank an assortment of plastic-covered stone tables topped with large umbrellas (the only concession to the weather); the area has enough seating for over 500 guests, who come every night to take in the view and the authentic hawker fare.
"Marina Bay is a very iconic part of Singapore - Gluttons Bay is about delivering a street food experience in the slickest part of Marina Bay," says Makansutra founder K.F. Seetoh. "I said we should bring back the old style, open-air street food stall that we used to have in the 60s and 70s. And we keep prices as cheap as possible."
Singapore's Best-Known Names in Hawker Food
To deliver on this retro food experience, Seetoh and his colleagues shortlisted some of Singapore's best-known names in hawker food, along with a few new names to cater to the city-state's evolving tastes. You'll find Wee Nam Kee's famous chicken rice alongside Filipino favorite Gerry's Grill and their barbecued squid. You can order Alhambra satay and wash it down with Singapore's favorite brew, Tiger Beer.
How to get there: Makansutra Gluttons Bay is located in the Marina Bay district, right next to the Esplanade opera house. Ride the Singapore MRT and disembark at Esplanade MRT station (Circle Line; CC3) - take Exit D to emerge at the Esplanade Park.
Traditional Chicken Wings with a Kick
These barbecued chicken wings from Huat Huat BBQ Chicken Wing and Carrot Cake are served with chili sauce on the side: a somewhat sweet chicken dish given added kick by the artisanal dip. Plenty of work goes into producing the chicken - the chicken cuts are flown in from Brazil (no local meat compares in tenderness and juiciness), then undergo ten hours of marination before hitting the grill.
This chicken dish has a long history in Singapore - "Barbecued chicken wing has been very popular in Singapore since the 60s," Seetoh says. "People would take half of an oil drum, then they put a grill on there and they grill it on the street side."
The move to more permanent digs at Makansutra Gluttons Bay seems to have done the chicken no harm. Seetoh says this particular preparation owes its sweetish flavor to a special ingredient: "The secret is in the marinade - one of the key ingredients is Mei Kuei Lu Chiew, Chinese rose dew wine," Seetoh says. "It's got a nice, sweet fragrance to it."
Spicy Barbecued Stingray - An Exotic Marine Delicacy
Barbecued stingray comes to us from Malaysia, and Redhill Rong Guang B.B.Q Seafood serves it the way the Malays like it - with plenty of chili punch. "Stingray was something nobody used to eat except in Malaysia - it was a poor, discarded fish," Seetoh tells us. "The Malays would cook it in sour curry and dip it in sambal (chili sauce)."
The Chinese community, never blind to a good culinary idea, adopted it and started selling it on the street. "Today, it's so popular - they grill a wing of the stingray over banana leaf, and they smear it with sambal as they grill - so the flavor of the banana leaf and the sambal goes into the meat," Seetoh says. "And as if it's not spicy enough, they put cincalok, which is fermented shrimp and onion, and squeeze calamansi over it." (Cincalok is a Malay shrimp paste.)
Rong Guang makes their own sambal chili, sambal belacan and cincalok from scratch, ensuring constantly superior quality with every order. The owner has been making barbecued stingray for quite a while now - they earned their slot at Makansutra Gluttons Bay on the strength of the stingray served at the original stall in Bukit Merah.
Malaysian-Style Satay By Way of Singapore's Beach Road
Singapore old-timers remember getting the best Malay satay from a stall near the old Alhambra Cinema along Beach Road. The cinema may be long gone, but the second generation perseveres - the son of the original satay seller now serves his meat skewers in a more upscale setting in Gluttons Bay, almost fifty years after they sold their first stick.
The product at Makansutra Gluttons Bay's Alhambra Padang Satay is thicker and meatier than satay you'll find elsewhere: the skewered meat is hand-cut, and the peanut sauce - for dunking the satay in - is chunky and moderately sweet.
The marinade makes the satay special: about 18 secret spices go into the satay marinade, which is made fresh every evening. The store serves a range of meats, not just beef - mutton, chicken, duck, and prawn are available. (Pork is off the menu - the owners are devout Muslims.)
"This is a Malaysian style, Kajang-style satay, sweeter than normal," Seetoh tells us as the order comes in. "A lot of spices, unlike the Indonesian ones [which are] plainer."
Grilled Squid, Filipino-Style
In a nod to the sizeable Filipino expat community in Singapore, Makansutra Gluttons Bay invited a Pinoy favorite to set up shop alongside the area's established hawker names. Gerry's Grill has over 50 branches in the Philippines, all serving Filipino dishes that go great with beer: Sizzling pork sisig (minced pork cheeks, fried till crisp and served on a hot plate); crispy pata (deep-fried pork knuckles, served alongside a soy sauce dip) and inihaw na pusit (grilled squid - see above), among others.
Gerry's grilled squid, far from being a rubbery hot mess, has plenty of give with every bite - the sliced squid comes drizzled with soy sauce, and goes great either paired with rice or with swigs of beer.
Fried Rice With an Indian Twist
You wouldn't think that a Malay/Indian stall could pull off fried rice well, but Makansutra Gluttons Bay's Old Satay Club Mee Goreng manages the trick rather handily. "This is an Indian translation of a Chinese dish, fried rice," Seetoh says. "They cook it with sambal, white pepper, then they put a lot of crispy anchovies."
The dish is hearty, flavorful, and deliciously multi-cultural - "They have chopped greens, peas, carrots, in a style that the Chinese don't normally do - this is very unique to the Indians and Indan Muslims here," Seetoh marvels. "When you see this, this is totally Indian."
The stall's signature dish, mee goreng, (fried noodles) can be ordered in either Malay or Indian style: the Malay mee goreng is drier and fried with sambal belacan; the Indian version is moister, and cooked with a special chili blend.
Kaya Completes this Sweet Banana Dessert
Dessert comes to us by way of The Sweet Spot: their kaya-based sugary dishes bring meals at Makansutra Gluttons Bay to an excellent conclusion.
The kaya banana tempura (pictured above) takes goreng pisang (fried bananas) and drizzles the lot in a kaya syrup. (Kaya is a Malay coconut-based fruit curd.) Equal measures starchy, crisp and sticky-sweet, the kaya banana tempura combines a variety of textures into a toothsome whole - the perfect Asian dessert to complement a spread of cheap eats from all across the region.