To read the first part in this series, click here. A sure shot way to please people is to compliment their country’s food. When in Italy, fall in love with the pizzas. When in Turkey, go bonkers for baklava. It always works. People are genuinely happy to hear a foreigner appreciating their cuisine.
Four years of hawker centre dining in Singapore has brought out the food enthusiast in me. I have mastered the art of eating with chopsticks, come to tolerate tofu in large amounts and developed a new-found fondness for soya milk. But there are days when my Indian roots take charge and I find myself craving for some comfort grub in the form of steaming hot Indian food served (preferably) in a shining steel thali. For a 'ghar ka khana' experience, here are some of Singapore’s Indian options:
Murtabak: Sounds like something out of the Arabian Nights, and it tastes just as magical. Murtabak is basically fried dough filled with the meat of your choice (chicken/mutton/sardines) plus egg, garlic, onion and curry. The flattened dough is filled with the stuffing and folded into a rectangle and then deep-fried. Surprisingly this dish originated in Delhi but I had never heard of it till I came here. It was brought to Singapore by traders and continues to be a popular dish among locals. Murtabak is one of the foods that has the highest calorific content. Your one way ticket to Obesityville.
Biriyani: All Singaporeans are partial to biriyani be it a beef, chicken, fish, mutton, egg or even venison biriyani. Except here it is known as 'Nasi Biryani', 'Nasi' in Malay meaning rice. Even though the basic concept of biriyani as flavoured rice served with a vegetable or meat curry remains the same, the biryani here is of a slightly different taste and texture compared to its Indian sibling. But owing to my sparse knowledge of the undoubtedly admirable art of biriyani preparation, I will leave my observations at that and not delve too deep into the differences.
Chapathi/Naan : The humble chapathi or its more puffy cousin naan needs no introduction for us Indians. And apparently, they need no introduction among Singaporeans either. My colleagues and I go for an Indian style lunch at least once a week. A slight difference here is that that the bread is served with just a small bowl of gravy. In India, chapathis/naans are commonly served with a sabji, daal or a chunky meat curry.
Oddly enough two chapathis are enough to satisfy most of my local friends, after which they push their plates and groan about how stuffed they are. So while I am chewing happily on my 4th chapathi sans cutlery, my friends have managed to cut theirs into bite sized portions and eaten the bread with forks and spoons with the grace and dignity befitting the Queens tea party.
So if you're ever visiting Singapore, and someone asks you what you enjoyed most about your stay, don’t hesitate to say “The food, of course!” With such a delightful plethora of dishes to choose from, your answer won’t be off the mark. Bon Appetit!