In this edition, restaurant PR professional Jill Sara picks out gems from her newly adopted neighbourhood.
Having lived for a long time in a quiet corner of the East Coast, our move to Sembawang last year was a jolt to the senses. Unlike the laidback charm of our former neighbourhood, this enclave in Singapore’s north brims with industrious energy.
At first, we missed the numerous hawker stalls and food options that we had grown up with, but we have since found delicious salves for our souls in these wonderful gastronomic gems, deep in the heart of our adopted home base that we are still getting to know but already love.
The Famous Kitchen
Location: 54 Sembawang Road
While it used to serve Teochew cuisine in its former location, this local zi char restaurant has been serving Cantonese cuisine since it moved here in 2009. Unlike its sister restaurant Famous Treasure at The Capitol, which is known for its roast meats, this one is feted for its seafood, which is priced manageably though not “coffeeshop cheap”.
The talk of the menu is the rock salt-baked swimmer crabs from Indonesia, which are delivered to the stall every Monday and Friday. So too the lobster braised bee hoon which goes for more than $100 per serving.
These options are too bougie for my taste, especially when I want a simple dinner, so we usually go for the sweet and sour fish, salted fish fried rice, and KL-style Hokkien mee. I phone in at 5pm for pick up at 6pm because the restaurant gets slammed at peak dining hours every day.
Location: 22 Jalan Tampang (opposite Sembawang Shopping Centre)
This is the birthplace of The Original Sembawang White Beehoon, which has since expanded to six outlets islandwide. The main outlet still stands and fills up quickly. Queues can take one to two hours, even for take-out. I always order the white bee hoon and ask for more of that spicy-tangy chili paste on the side (warning: they charge for extra chili when you order take-out).
The brand’s success lies in the consistency in taste and presentation of their star dish: the richly flavored noodles cooked a la minute and served in a robust chicken stock made from old hens. They recently started offering mala bee hoon, but I’m a purist, so I stick to the original.
If you have big appetites, get the signature meat and seafood roll, spicy sweet potato leaves, and salted egg sotong. Just don’t expect five-star service here.
Location: 592-593 Sembawang Road
This grotty 24-hour coffeeshop sits a stone’s throw away from the neighborhood mall. It serves “Thai-Muslim, South Indian and Western” food, so it’s no wonder this is a popular supper haunt. Nasi daging Rubinah, nasi goreng kampung, and murtabak are but a few things on the bursting menu. They aren’t the island’s best, but they hit the spot late at night when everything else is shut.
In the mornings, it’s always prata kosong and fish curry for me. Prata here costs little over a dollar a piece, so I didn’t expect much when I first came here. But it turns out the prata is great. The dough is fluffy and supple, and the curry harbours a fine balance of sweet and sour. Suffice it to say, this place far exceeded my snooty East Coast expectations.
Shami Banana Leaf Delights
Location: 349 Sembawang Road
On this stretch, there’s a McDonald’s, an ice cream parlour, and this unpretentious Indian restaurant which even has a low table that lets guests sit on the floor and enjoy their food as if they were at home. It’s never very busy, so no need to make a reservation.
Many people recommended this place for its mutton biryani, which they said was the best in Singapore. Of course we had to try it since my husband is a mutton biryani fiend. As soon as it’s set before him, he is silent till every last morsel and grain of that slow-cooked mutton on the bone and headily spiced basmati rice have been mopped up.
No one has been able to pinpoint exactly what makes this biryani so good, so I chalk it up to chemistry. We feel lucky that they’re just a walk away from our home.