The convenience and mobility of Singapore are what I miss most. You don’t have to worry about how to get to a place because you have three choices – walking, flagging down a cab and taking the bus or the train. There’s no worry about getting a cab, train or bus because it’s convenient to get one: call a cab, wait at the bus stop or get to the MRT station for your ride. My friends, on the other hand, miss the food like the chilli crab, oyster omelette, teh tarik among other things. My buddy in Ireland is missing the Singaporean moon cakes (think durian, champagne and cookies-and-cream moon cakes) badly. I’m not a foodie so it came as a surprise that that I’d miss one particular dish despite it being a plate of noodles that would permanently camp on my hips. I’m talking about char kuey teow loaded with cockles but sans the chilli, which is very difficult to come by in Jakarta or Manila.
A combo package from the roti-kaya stall at the food court at Plaza Senayan and cold squid balls from the Old Chang Kee stall at Taman Anggrek mall are the next best thing to a “Singapore meal “in Jakarta. Meanwhile, in Manila, there used to be this hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Rasa Singapura in Quezon City that was a favourite dining place of everyone (celebrities were always sighted dropping by for a meal). The owner was a rotund Singaporean-Chinese (married to a Filipino) who single-handedly cooked ho-fan, fish and the other foodstuff from this hot wok atop a blazing fire. Orders were shouted at him and the orders – dine-in or to go – would be ready in minutes. But Rasa Singapura folded up ages ago; the owner tried his luck with a stall in a food court of a popular mall but it was short-lived. He set up a smaller version of his first restaurant across the street from his old one but it, too, closed down because, possibly, of the trauma of being robbed in broad daylight. Lolo Mao, or something like that, which, as the scuttlebutt goes, is owned by the first daughter of the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, was another attempt to entice the Filipinos to sit down to a Singapore meal. I’m not certain if it’s still operating.
Food lovers craving for something Singaporean to dig into are in for a treat now in Manila with Sentosa Garden. It opened its doors towards the end of December and is located at U-C4 U/GF Thompson Square Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City (+632 374-7747). The interiors are done up in muted colours of black-grey for walls and bronze-ish for cushioned chairs, and accentuated with delicate lighting and mirrors. Service is refreshingly pleasant – you’re greeted cordially when you enter, shown a table promptly and given the menu right away, and there was no jumping through loopholes to avoid honouring the senior citizen’s card unlike in other dining places. While waiting for our char kuey teow and Thai oyster omelette, my father and I were served water and a plate of peanuts to while away the time. The place was already buzzing with diners who relished their noodles and seafood.
Tucking in at home, the char kuey teow was flavourful but I was a tad disappointed because there were no cockles. The flavour of the Thai oyster omelette, with its fresh oyster, was punched up with the sweet-sour sauce. Next on my food-to-try list are the horfan and chilli crab – the former was what my family regularly ordered at Rasa Singapura and the latter because I’m feeling adventurous.