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Monday, November 02, 2009

Kaya toast, the MINT toy museum and Maxwell Food Centre joy

Coffee with condensed milk SG$0.80 and kaya toast SG$0.60

Mmm... why can't all takeaway breakfasts look so good.

Suze and I had promised each other we'd have kaya toast for breakfast and so, despite the bleary eyes and early start, we traipsed our way from the Link Hotel to Hong Kong Jin Tian Roast Meat for kopi and kaya, Singapore-style.

The novelty of buying a hot drink in a plastic bag was not lost on me. I loved carrying this little plastic bag by its fluorescent knotted handles. Forget fancy handbags -- give me one of these babies anytime!

It was a little tricky sipping scorching hot coffee through a plastic straw, but we managed. Much easier to negotiate were the slices of kaya toast - here they used a single slice of bread with a deep incision. The pocket was slathered with kaya--a creamy coconut and egg yolk custard spread--and then stuffed with a thick wedge of butter. Oh yes, it was every bit as a good as it sounds. And a little bit more.

The kaya jam had a luscious coconut caramel flavour, and the ratio of bread to jam was oh so very good indeed.

After the big night at the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards, we were hosted by the hardworking Singaporean team on a day tour of Singapore with an 8am start.

Tintin Explorer on the Moon

Our first stop was the MINT Toy Museum, an incredible display of one man's personal collection. Chang Ya Fa was given his first Matchbox car as a six-year-old but it wasn't until age 25 that he started buying toys for the sole purpose of collecting. Each toy was kept in its original packaging and stored in a warehouse. Today the 60-year-old has amassed 50,000 pieces.

The MINT, an acronym for Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys, is the first building specifically designed as a toy museum. The amount of natural light entering the building has been controlled so as to minimise the potential damage by UV light to the mint condition exhibits.

Spread over five floors, it's staggering to realise that only 10% of the collection is on display at any time. The exhibits are rotated every three months and only toys that are at least 50 years old are on display.

Popeye, Olive Oyl and Wimpy figurines dating from the 1930s

Fred Flintstone riding Dino

Original vintage metal signs in the cafe upstairs

Horlicks for extra energy

Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin in the Batmobile

Mechanical Popeye air-o-plane valued at US$8,500

Matchbox cars with the original "1-75" series model numbers

Baby in a peanut

Monkees memorabilia -
the lunchbox has an estimated value of US$1,500

Monkees car from Greece

Uran and Astroboy

Bossy Cafe and Restaurant
(Old Swee Kee is set at the rear of the restaurant)

Suze and I ducked out briefly with a hungry EST crew for a second breakfast next door.

Iced coffee SG$1.20

Bread with luncheon meat and cucumber SG$1.50

Howard was disappointed with the pan-fried SPAM and cucumber toasted sandwich. The kaya toast wasn't as good as our first that morning either, with too much butter and a thin spread of kaya that was mild in flavour.

Kaya toast

The soft-boiled egg was just what the doctor ordered though. Soft and barely set, it's more akin to a soupy muddle of yolk and white that is mixed with soy sauce, kecap manis and lashings of white pepper. It's comfort food, but only if you like runny egg yolks!

Soft boiled egg

Cracking open the egg to reveal a barely set egg yolk

Adding soy sauce

The soft boiled egg with soy, kecap manis and white pepper

We headed off to the Chinatown Heritage Museum for a look at how Chinese immigrants first settled in Singapore, with several interesting rooms set-up to resemble the cramped living conditions families had to endure.

The kitchen set-up had a realistic soundtrack of cooking clatter,
the hiss of oil and a constant barrage of Cantonese conversation

Chinese yum cha house set-up


Bee Cheng Hiang

And because Suze and I get bored waiting, we did a quick scout of the nearby streets whilst everyone was assembling for our next pit stop. We found ourselves drawn to Bee Cheng Hiang, a franchise store that specialises in bakkwa barbecue meats.

Barbecue room with pre-cut meats

Barbecued pork belly slices

Trimming pork slices into heart shapes

Suze was particularly impressed by the heart-shaped pork pieces. Trimmed by hand!

Barbecued pork tastings

And then, probably my highlight of the entire trip to Singapore: my first and biggest hawker centre!

The Maxwell Food Centre, on the outskirts of Chinatown, is one of the biggest in Singapore. We entered a corridor of stalls covered by an enormous canopy. One, two, three... twenty stalls ran the length of each aisle and I was flabbergasted to discover there were three aisles in total. In total, about 100 hawker stalls, each specialising in a particular dish were vying for the attention of my eyes, my camera, my stomach! The middle of each aisle was set with immoveable chairs and tables that were already crowded with lunching locals.

Maxwell Food Centre

Choose-your-own ingredients for yong tau foo soup

Chicken heads at the Tong Fong Fatt Hainanese boneless chicken rice stall

Making fresh soy bean milk SG$1.30 per cup

The decisions! I admit I was in a bit of a stupefied daze just wandering from stall to stall, impressed by the quality of offerings, the ridiculous prices and the overwhelming array of delights to choose from. We ended up creating our little banquet for the table, everyone buying a dish--or two! or three! -- and then placing it in the middle for communal sharing.

Making fresh popiah

Popiah SG$1.50

I'm so pleased I finally got to try an authentic popiah. I loved the julienned strips of jicama, crunchy juicy spears that taste like a savoury nashi, mixed with cucumber, carrot, omelette and a thin scrape of hoisin and peanut sauce. The fresh popiah skin was also light and delicate.

Black radish cake

Fried radish cake was a little doughier than I'm used to, with more rice flour than radish shreds, although the coating of hoisin sauce, wok-fried to a caramelised brown, did help things along.

Stuffed fish balls in soup with vegetables

Fruit rojak SG$3.00

I've recently fallen in love with rojak, a Malay word for mixed. The fruit rojak is a jumble of chunky cucumber, pineapple, jicama, deep-fried tofu and you tiao deep-fried bread sticks slathered in a sticky sauce of belacan shrimp paste, sugar and chilli. The sauce renders every component indistinguishable, meaning every mouthful is a surprise until you bite into it. I loved the crunch of nuts, and the sweet salty fruit flavours are an ideal way of getting sustenance on a sweltering hot day.

White radish cake

Roast pork on noodles

Ice kacang with corn and peanuts $1.50

I developed an obsession with ice kacang during my stay in Singapore, substituting meals or drinks, ok, I mean drinks, with a mountain of shaved ice soaked with syrup. Who wants a drink when you can squeeze in dessert at the same time?

Oyster fritter, as recommended by Anthony Bourdain

Suze was inspired to try the oyster fritter after spotting the proud print out of the excerpt recommendation by Anthony Bourdain plastered to the front of the stall.

Inside the oyster fritter

Unfortunately, none of us could understand the appeal. It was mostly mealy and dry with a measly couple of oysters inside.

Oyster omelette

We much preferred the oyster omelette which was fluffy and golden, and swollen with a generous clump of raw briney oysters.

The feast

We had so much food crammed onto our table that passersby would literally do a doubletake as they walked past, presumably looking for a team of sumo wrestlers.

Ice kacang $1.50

I'm not the only one who likes ice kacang. Dave, from Nuffnang Australia, likes ice kacang too.

Grab Your Fork travelled to Singapore as a guest of Nuffnang Australia for the Asia-Pacific Blog Awards.

Dave likes ice kacang

Hong Kong Jin Tian Roast Meat
Blk 58 Eng Hoon Street, Singapore
Open 7 days 7am-8.30pm
Tel: +61 9383 1318 or +61 9733 0673

Mint Museum of Toys
26 Seah Street, Singapore
Museum open 7 days 9.30am - 6.30pm
Tel: +65 6339 0660

Bossy Cafe and Restaurant
25 Seah Street 01-01, 188381, Singapore
Tel: +65 6336 2501

Chinese Heritage Museum
48 Pagoda St, Singapore
Tel: +65 6325 2878

Bee Cheng Hiang
69/71 Pagoda St, S059228 Singapore
Tel: +65 6323 0049

Maxwell Food Centre
Corner of South Bridge Rd and Maxwell Rd, Singapore
Open 7 days 7am-10pm

Go back to Singapore 2009 Day OneRead the next Singapore 2009 entry



Thank you everyone for your entries in the Grab Your Fork Freebie Friday competition to find your favourite Secret Recipe. The entries were all very entertaining and I hope that people found some new recipes to try.

There can only be one winner though, so congratulations to Yen! You have won $200 worth of kitchenware from Matchbox. Please check your email for all the details.

Don't forget you still have time to enter the competition to win a copy of Luke Nguyen's Songs of Sapa. Competition closes on Friday 13/11/09 at 5.30pm AEST. Enter now.
26 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/02/2009 01:28:00 am


  • At 11/02/2009 2:05 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    haha so funny watching you when we entered maxwell! is that your happy place?

  • At 11/02/2009 3:14 am, Blogger milliemirepoix said…

    oh my gosh... this is torture! these are some of the things I miss most about living in Singapore. I only went to Maxwell Hawker Centre once but my local food court was great and the popiah stall there was a definite must. I think I was addicted to kaya toast, though my favourite treat was kaya slathered on a piece of toasted baguette. amazing! My stomach is urging me to go back.

  • At 11/02/2009 8:06 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    hurrayyy for the kaya toast love! and soft boiled eggs. Oh man I could have that for breakfast every morning, I don't care if it gives me a heart attack!

  • At 11/02/2009 9:24 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    Ah how did I miss the Barbecued pork belly ! Totally agree about the kaya and ham toast, I felt jipped.

  • At 11/02/2009 10:55 am, Blogger Y said…

    Heart shaped bakkwa and ice-kacang..sigh.

  • At 11/02/2009 11:14 am, Blogger TheBigB3n said…

    At Bee Cheng Hiang, they sell Kurobuta Pork Belly too, best thing ever!!! I was there recently for a 2 month holiday and in a turn of events, im now back in Sydney to pack up my stuff and moving back to Singapore in 2 weeks!!

    Yum!!! Can't wait to re-savour all that I've been missing!!

  • At 11/02/2009 11:25 am, Anonymous Simon said…

    The kopi bag! Did that come with a recommendation from Anthony Bourdain too? I recently watched his Singapore episode where he's doing a photoshoot gag with the kopi bag :)

    Looks like you revisited some of the food from the MalayFest. So much of that food looks so good!

  • At 11/02/2009 11:32 am, Blogger Forager said…

    I thought I'd satisfied my post South America Asian craving by having a solid week of Asian cuisine - but your post has set my stomach off. Yum! I think I need to get down to Chinatown again..

  • At 11/02/2009 12:27 pm, Anonymous Grace Lee said…

    Man, I was really sad cos I think I had a dodgy popiah,.. and by the time I came to your table with the major BUFFET all you can eat :) I couldn't put anything else in my mouth. OOHh you guys should have had Kaya toast at Killiney... AND when we came back too Dave insisted that I make kaya. sigh...

  • At 11/02/2009 12:28 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    It all looks soooo good. Can't wait till I go there next year! I especially love the prices of the food and endless supply of Char Kuay Teow :D

  • At 11/02/2009 1:17 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Wow that's a lot of hawker stalls! I love the coffee in the bag as well - they should start doing that here!

  • At 11/02/2009 1:41 pm, Anonymous Rilsta said…

    Oh yum! You are making me salivate with all that yummy hawker food! I need to make a trip to Singapore again!

    P.S. The photo you have labelled "char kway teoh" is actually white radish cake!

  • At 11/02/2009 1:59 pm, Blogger Mr_Gadget said…

    This is a monster food post!

    Well done and thank you for sharing.

    Singaporean food is very high on my faves list now! :)

    LOL @Kruppy when he tried hawker coffee one morning!

  • At 11/02/2009 4:02 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    The toy museum looks like so much fun! I wonder what the baby in the peanut is all about. Kaya on toast sounds beautifully sticky too.

  • At 11/02/2009 4:18 pm, Blogger Bean Sprout's Cafe said…

    my goodness... I wanna eat Oyster fritter, oyster omlette, radish cake, kaya toast.. actually .... EVERYTHINGS ! :D

  • At 11/02/2009 5:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ah Rojak in S'pore...can't stop it can't top it. Before having an authentic S'pore rojak (the delightful "fruit salad" that kind of rhymes with the bald detective) I had versions of it in NYC and Sydney. Nothing prepared me for tasting it in a hot steamy hawker centre. Your photo brings it all back.
    "johnny forks"

  • At 11/02/2009 9:02 pm, Anonymous Teresa said…

    mmm rojak.... That was yummmy. I was so surprised it was fruit! I just kept nibbling at it.
    These posts do not signify the amount of sweet foods you had! TEEHEHEHE!

  • At 11/02/2009 9:31 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Ice Kacang, rojak, kaya toast... how I love the food from this place! Hot coffee in bags would save an awful lot of waste from landfill - what a great idea!

  • At 11/03/2009 2:28 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol. I was all kinds of excitement! Maxwell is indeed my happy place!

    Hi Millie Mirepoix - Singapore food was so much fun, but the hawker centres were definitely my highlight. The popiah was lovely and oh kaya toast, the fresh stuff tastes so good!

    Hi Stephcookie - Yes yes, I really must use my special soft-boiled egg contraption more often. The kaya toast was amazing. So much butterrrr....

    Hi Howard - Your face at the spam toast was quite sad indeed. It's not until you get home that you really kick yourself for not eating more!

    Hi Y - We were incredulous that the heart-shapes were all done by hand, and oh I could live on a diet of ice kacang, except I don't think it counts as a diet. lol

    Hi TheBigB3n - Wow, moving back to Singapore? You must be so excited. Am sure you will eat up a storm!

    Hi Simon - Nah the kopi bag is the local way, and such a fun way it is! Food was amazing, and so cheap too.

    Hi Forager - Yes, I don't think I'll ever get sick of Asian food. Snacking is half the fun!

    Hi Grace Lee - Ha, next time you have to stick with the food bloggers! I acually bookmarked your homemade kaya post ages ago - I must make it soon, although I'm worried about the dangers of having so much goodness ready at hand!

    Hi clekitty - The food was super cheap and it's all so fresh as well. Am sure you will have a ball next year. So much deliciousness.

    Hi Jacq - The hawker stalls are crazy. It makes you realise how lacking the ones in Sydney are! I loved the coffee in the bag concept but I can just imagine the field day people would have with lawsuits if they got burnt. *sigh*

    Hi Rilsta - Ah thank you. It was a melee of group purchasing so I had to guess at what some of the dishes were :) Yes, I need to make a trip to Singapore again too!

    Hi Mr Gadget - Monster food posts, funnily enough, are my specialty :) The hawker coffee is good - I didn't see Kruppy's reaction but I'm guessing it was his first time!

    Hi Arwen - I have vague recollections of the baby in the peanut? I believe they were popular but not many have survived as the dolls are quite fragile (they melt and get dented quite easily). Kaya is a revelation, although the homemade version is far superior to anything you can buy in a tin or a jar.

    Hi Bean Sprout's Cafe - Ha, met too. I want everything all over again!

    Hi Johnny Forks - Rojak is so tasty. I don't think I've ever seen the fruit version here but maybe I'll just have to start making my own this summer!

    Hi Teresa - Ha the kacang mania will continue. It was all about the ice. Yes, the ice. lol

    Hi YaYa - Of course BYO coffee mug would be most ideal but yes, less landfill with plastic bags although I have a feeling that public liability sensitivities won't see the coffee bag introduced in Sydney anytime soon!

  • At 11/03/2009 7:09 am, Anonymous Harald said…

    Hi Helen - Everything looks so yummy, except the iced coffee in the BECK'S beer mug! I would prefer ice cold BECK'S beer in it. ;-)

  • At 11/03/2009 5:39 pm, Blogger Eileen Chong said…

    God, I miss Singapore and the food!

    I think you got a dud oyster cake there, look at my version:


    I grew up eating this and it's the absolute indulgence, if done right. This is from a speciality stall in Jalan Besar (literally 'big road') which sells out every single day by 5pm.

    It should be creamy, briney, chock-full of pork mince and juicy, metallic oysters, and maybe prawns as well. Contrast that to the bitter vegetable and the crunch of the peanuts and the deep fried shell and you've got a winner.

    It's called "tam piah ji" in Hokkien, which I think means "fried oyster biscuit'".

  • At 11/04/2009 1:53 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Harald - lol. Many more would agree!

    Hi E(ileen) - Ahh sounds like we missed out indeed. The version you describe sounds incredible. I'll have to look out for a more accurate version of this next time! Thanks for the clarification and info!

  • At 11/05/2009 6:45 pm, Blogger Mrs Ergül said…

    Woot! I did not know about such a mega event in Singapore! How nice it would be to meet up with fellow food bloggers!

  • At 11/05/2009 11:55 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Mrs Ergul - It was a huge event, and yes, so exciting to see what bloggers around Asia Pacific are up to, and not just food bloggers!

  • At 11/08/2009 3:12 pm, Anonymous GioMi said…

    Love those 'local coffee' and 'kaya toast' :D
    We had that almost every day we were there!

    The hawker centers are a 'must visits' if you enjoy food. We however also visited an upmarket version for 'hawker food' at the Raffles Hotel; http://www.foodtrails.net/2008/12/empire-cafe-raffles-hotel/

    It was great with lovely old world charm :)

  • At 11/08/2009 6:52 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi GioMi - I agree, can't beat coffee and kaya!


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