PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM/@SENSENSENZENSEN (FRIED GREENS), @AHYEESSOONKUEH (SOON KUEH), @JACKMAGNIFICO (PRATA), @MISSTAMCHIAK (OTAH) AND FACEBOOK/TRAVELS WITH A GOURMET (MUTTON SOUP)
In this edition, longtime food writer and Joo Chiat resident Koh Yuen Lin picks out the best edible gems in her hood.
Taxi drivers often comment “Wah, a lot of good food here, hor”, and our postcode yields 684 options on Deliveroo. But in reality, there are only a handful of places we frequent, and straying away from the tried and tested have largely brought disappointment.
I also sorely miss some exceptionally good places in the area that have closed down, such as Do.Main on Tanjong Katong Road, which honestly had the best croissants on this island (Petit Pain doesn’t even come close); a stall at Haig Road selling the best vadai I’ve ever had (sorry, Gina); and a Korean restaurant on Koon Seng Road that served a deliciously milky and nuanced samgyetang.
That said, all things are relative. Joo Chiat is an old neighbourhood that offers a diverse range of authentic local options seasoned by heritage, and this is bolstered by a colourful mix of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and hipster joints. It's a good mix of the old and new, all densely packed into a compact neighbourhood.
Here are my picks:
Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata
Location: 300 Joo Chiat Road
Forget about everything else here and order my special of green chilli plaster, no bawang [onion]. Having the fried egg “plastered” on top means your prata gets re-fried for double the crispiness. The chilli gives it extra kick.
This famous place is infamously crowded though, so go before 8.30am or be prepared to wait. Or go after 10.30am, have your prata, then join the suckers queueing at Petit Pain for more carbs.
Hougang Jin Jia Mutton Soup
Location: #01-44 Haig Road Market & Food Centre, 14 Haig Road
Our family has been patronising this stall for more than a decade for now because the soup has balance like no other. It’s not overly heady with the herbal flavours, not too greasy, plus it all comes with a kickass chilli sauce.
We order just the ribs rather than the mixed mutton soup because we feel that gives you the most bang for buck.
Fun fact: According to Lianhe Zaobao, the original stall owner reportedly learnt the recipe from an Imperial cook. He passed on a few years ago but the stall is still helmed by old hands and family, which is why it’s still royally good (at least in our opinion lah.)
Otak-Otak Kampong Wak Murset
Location: #02-165 Geylang Serai Market, 1 Geylang Serai
Apart from the famous Sinar Pagi nasi padang, we like going to this market for otak-otak that tastes different from the type you usually find in Singapore. Some may find it a little on the sweet side, but that’s because of the binding agent they use – toasted, grated coconut, rather than the usual flour.
Every slab is studded with visible chunks of dory and is handmade and freshly barbecued, with great smoky flavours. Perfect on top of steaming white rice!
Ah Yee Soon Kueh
Location: 124 Tembeling Road
I wouldn’t say the food here is exceptional, but what I like about it is that the quality is very consistent and I appreciate how fresh and plump their soon kuehs are. This is a great breakfast place for early risers since they open at 7.30am.
I usually do a takeaway, but if you want to dine in, you should come before 9am – that’s when the crowds descend upon this place.
Kinnari Thai Cuisine
Location: #01-01, 201 Joo Chiat Road
This family-run place in an elegant shophouse is very under-the-radar (in terms of media exposure, at least) but super crowded and constantly booked out.
They have the usual classics, and also this totally un-Thai dish that's a must-order for me every time I visit. It’s basically a mountain of tempura-ed kang kong served with a tangy minced meat dip. Sibeh hojiak lah!