Ask any true-blue Southeast Asian about their national pastime and, obsessed foodies that they are, they will proudly admit it’s eating. Not just any food, but hawker food, the food of the street; the soul of its nations. Forget your fancy hotel fare or those Michelin stars. Hawker food is the real deal. You eat with your hands and lick your fingers when it’s all done. You are happy to wait over an hour for one exquisite dish and sigh deeply when the plate is empty.
Take Singapore, for example. More than 80 percent of the local population eats at least one meal a day at its 40,000 licensed hawker stalls, where you’ll find some of the best, most authentic and most inexpensive dishes in variations that will astound you, especially when you consider the ethnic amalgam of Chinese, Indian and Malay. In countries like Thailand and Indonesia, that number is even greater.
My Old Place, tucked away in the basement of Grandview Mall, is an Asian hawker-food celebration and sensation, encouraging diners to deepen their discovery of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia by immersing themselves in their gastronomic treasures. The decor is food-court reminiscent with colorful touches of retro chic and palms, but who cares about the ambiance when your taste buds are salivating with anticipation?
One of those seminal foods that Singaporeans distinctly remember from their childhood, the Hainanese chicken rice (RMB68/118) features silky slices of tender chicken on a bed of crunchy cucumbers, fragrant garlic and ginger rice, accompanied by soup and dipping sauces. It’s a pleasurable reminder of salad days spent on Singapore’s shores.
Pad Thai (RMB38) comes with just the right amount of sweetness and spice. Cooked with shrimp, tofu, crisp peanuts and spring onions, it’s as if a Thai street vendor has just whipped it to perfection over a steaming wok. The chicken satay (RMB48) is generous chunks of grilled meat, golden, with a hint of palm sugar and served with an appetizing peanut sauce.
Imported ingredients, age-old family recipes and, most importantly, chefs that hail from their respective countries cook up a bone fide Asian storm.
It’s not all about stuffing your stomach, though, strange as that may seem when you are chowing down on an authentically prepared chili crab (RMB188). Owner Bob Lee’s family, who manage several brands in hawker centers across Singapore, have been serving up Asian delights for over 80 years, including at the now-defunct Gua Gua Ji, formerly in TaiKoo Hui.
Every dish has a story, and while you’re eating the food you are also digesting the culture.
My Old Place is one of those places where, as Singaporeans say, you die die, must try. We’re totally shioked*, lah!
// B1-012C, Grandview Mall, 228 Tianhe Lu, Tianhe District 天河区天河路228号正佳广场 (3855 0866)
*Shiok [pronounced shee-oak] is a Singlish expression conveying extreme pleasure and happiness; it is most commonly used in association with food. If a dish truly hits the spot, the locals would say it is shiok.