Compliments from the Chef: Nicco Santos’ top picks for Singaporean Cuisine
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In the right time, place, and ingredients, your life-long passion can be ignited. And for renowned young chef Nicco Santos, he found the right place in Singapore. He also discovered the perfect ingredients in the forms of diverse culture, passionate people, and delicious food of the country.
Nicco’s journey was not an easy one. He got his first bite of Chicken Rice as something else. When he started in the culinary school, his two years left him uninspired. However, when he tried the iconic Singapore dish, his passion for cooking was refueled — he was inspired to venture into his own culinary journey. He started training with his mentor in Pulau Ubin, an island which is not far from the mainland Singapore. He studied to learn how to cook and master Laksa. But his passion did not stop there: He stayed with Singaporean families in the country to learn different dishes and recipes that he cannot learn from books.
After picking up the inspiration by learning and mastering the ways of Singapore and Southeast Asian cuisine, the young chef has three successful restaurants: Hey Handsome, Your Local, and Any Any. All of them are serving Asian fusion or Singaporean and Malaysian comfort food.
Experience the Hawker Culture
There is always a story behind every dish. It is more than just the flavor, ingredients, and spices. For chef Nicco Santos, the best way to immerse himself into Singapore’s dishes is to hear the stories behind every food: From the passionate uncles and unties of the Lion City’s hawker centers.
During his frequent visits to these hawker centers, there were a number of dishes which made it to his recommendation list. The Chicken Rice, the dish that started it all for this young chef, is a melt-in-your-mouth dish of tender chicken, either roasted or blanched, with fragrant rice, served with chili and ginger paste on the side. He also swears by the Nyonya Laksa, a creamy and spicy coconut-based noodle soup, Satay or skewered grilled meat partnered with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce, and the Carrot Cake, a white carrot rice cake, fried with garlic and eggs, and seasoned with sweet dark soya sauce.
To find these mouthwatering dishes, food lovers can head to the hawker centers all over the city. The Chomp Chomp Hawker Center, a small open food center in a quiet residential neighborhood located in Serangoon, has different delectable food options such as the Sambal Sting Ray from Lucy BBQ Seafood and the Fried Hokkien Mee from Ah Hock Fried Hokkien Noodles. Nicco also mentions other famous hawker centers such as the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Center and the Maxwell Food Center. These two most notable hawker centers in the country are home to many famous stalls that serve only the best local delicacies like the Michelin Bib Gourmand Tian Tian Chicken Rice.
Flavors From the Cultural Melting Pot
Singapore’s diverse culture is reflected in its food. The country’s dishes are influenced by different regions, as seen in its recipes and ingredients.
Chef Nicco approves the unique Peranakan dishes called yam Buah Leluak. The main ingredient of this dish is the Buah Keluak, a black nut native to Indonesia. This dish is flavorful, combined with kernels from Buah Keluak, spicy and tangy gravy made from tamarind and pounded spices, and chicken or beef.
Another notable and much-recommended dish is the Bah Kut Teh or Pork Ribs Tea, which is found in Singapore and Malaysia. The Singaporean variation is a hearty and herbal soup made from Pork Ribs and simmered in a clear broth that is seasoned with garlic and pepper. Nicco recommends grabbing this simple and wholesome dish at the Ng Sio Ah, where they serve it with chili and dark soya sauce, together with Kung Fu tea.
The influence of the Chinese can be easily seen in the country. Many locals love their fair share of zhi car or Chinese home-style comfort food. Singapore is filled with many zhi car eateries, with the Kok Sen, known for their Big Prawns Bee Hoon Soup and the Pot Kee Eating House’s Champagne Pork Ribs and Homemade Bean Curd as the most recommended ones.
Aside from the borrowed dishes and ingredients, there are also a lot of dishes that feature the fusions of different ethnicities, like the Fish Head Curry. This dish was created by a small Indian restaurant. To cater to the taste of their Chinese customers, they use Fish Head, a well-known Chinese delicacy. This dish is prepared with a variety of South Indian spices, with variations including coconut milk or tamarind paste. The meal is completed with the head of the Red Snapper and a mixture of vegetables.
Other than these trust connoisseur on Singaporean cuisine recommendations, there are also different ways to baptize your palate with different local dishes: Going on fun food tours such as the Makan Bus Tour. You can attend specially-curated food festivals like the Michelin Guide Street Food Festival from March 30 to April 1, 2018; the World Gourmet Summit from April 2 to 29, 2018; and the Singapore Food Festival (details) from July 13 to 29, 2018.
“When I taste Singaporean food, I get different cultures and stories all in one bite, and what’s most amazing about it is that it fuses perfectly,” Nicco reveals.
Take it from the expert! Visit Singapore to enjoy the diverse culture, hear unique stories, and share the passion of its people!
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