Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Authentic Singapore Dishes in Manila Served at Singapore Food Republic by Nasi Lemak

I believe that our love for food dates back to our childhood years. This is true with Singaporean chef and entrepreneur Mr. HK Tan who recalls going on trips as a young boy with his father and enjoying local dishes, especially the street foods in any country they would visit. 

HK has fond memories of him and his father discovering the best Beef Rendang at a little Indian stall in a province in Malaysia. As he grew up, he made sure to also include gastronomical adventures in his trips. When he finds a really good restaurant, HK would have himself trained by local chefs so he can learn to cook particular dishes himself.

His love for food and those many cooking lessons eventually led him to open a restaurant of his own, which features dishes he loved to eat during his travels and that he has learned to cook. In 2006, HK established together with a Filipino business partner, the first Nasi Lemak restaurant along Tomas Morato, Quezon City to serve authentic Singapore and Asian dishes for the discriminating taste buds of Filipino foodies. 

The restaurant transferred operations to Robinson's Galleria in Ortigas in 2009. As the number of patrons increased by word of mouth and referrals from customers, a second establishment was opened along 4th Avenue in Fort Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. This branch was named Singapore Food Republic by Nasi Lemak and has since been serving businessmen and office workers on weekdays, and families on weekends.

Two days ago, some friends and I had lunch at Singapore Food Republic and I found it a delightful, gastronomical experience indeed. Here are some of the dishes they serve there that you must try when you also visit.

For appetizers, we sampled the Crispy Baby Squid (P248), which quickly became one of my top favorites among all the dishes we've tried there. We were told that the squid were imported and carefully selected before they are cooked in a special sauce. They are slightly sweet and crispy. I could probably eat a couple of servings of these alone! 

We also had Kueh Pai Ti (which is kinda like Vietnamese spring rolls), Thai Style Tofu, and Lemon Grass Seafood Sticks. The Satay Sticks (P318 for 10 skewers) are the restaurant's version of kebabs. This Singaporean skewer of pork or chicken is usually served with a peanut sauce or Malaysian dip.  

If you like Pad Thai, try Singapore Food Republic's Char Kway Teow (P275), one of the favorites among street food fares in Singapore. This is actually described as hawker noodle food and is richly flavored with soy sauce, chili, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, chives, prawns, and egg mixed to complement flat rice noodles. It is one of the best sellers in the restaurant.

According to CNN Travel, the Hainanese Chicken Rice (P388) is Singapore's "national dish" because it is served everywhere, whether in hawker stalls or in high-class hotels during functions. HK taught us how to properly savor the goodness of this dish. The rice has to be sparingly drizzled, and mixed with, a bit of premium soy sauce while a piece of chicken should be topped with the pounded ginger and chili before eating a spoonful of rice and chicken together. If the rice gets a bit dry, you can shower it with a few drops of the accompanying soup.

Those who like spicy foods would find this establishment their favorite hangout place. The Chili Crab (P75 per 50g; and P60 for additional two mantao), is said to be what locals treat first-time guests with when they visit Singapore. A lot of Filipinos would love the rich mix of sauce and the tasty crab meat. At Singapore Food Republic, giant crabs weighing 750g or more, are cooked in a rich blend of tomatoes and chili then served with deep fried mantao.

Laksa, the spicy noodle soup that combines Chinese and Malay cooking influences in Singapore is very flavorful. It is mainly composed of noodles, prawns, fishcake, and sometimes tofu puffs cooked in a curry soup.

The Beef Rendang (P368), on the other hand, is an Indonesian dish enjoyed by Singaporeans. Filipinos would like this because it has the familiar taste of coconut milk used in stewing the meat. It is combined with the right amount of galangal, chili, ginger, turmeric, and lemon grass which gives diners  those tasty and tender shreds of beef simmering in rich herbs and spices. It is best eaten with the restaurant's green-tinged steamed rice that also tastes vaguely of coconut milk.

Surprisingly, the Malaysian Chicken Curry (P325) is not as spicy as expected. It will provide you with a new experience in eating curry with a twist.

Of course, eating spicy food shouldn't be without a delicious drink. I had a glass of the Iced Tea Tarek (P80) which is refreshingly good. This is a frothy beverage with origins from India where locals pour a stream of hot milk tea back and forth between two vessels to mix the flavor thoroughly. This is why it is sometimes called "pulled tea."

As for dessert, don't fail to order the Onde Onde, a pichi-pichi-like dish that has a burst of sugary sweetness inside when you eat it whole then squeeze inside your mouth. The Sago Gula Malaka is also a must-try.

"When it comes to good food and company, I think that is a common trait among Singaporeans and Filipinos. Like the Philippines, Singapore cuisine is a melting pot of flavors from its neighbors such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and even the Philippines," affirmed HK who told us that he can proudly say they are the only authentic Singapore restaurant in Manila with a Singaporean chef. "Also, we import ingredients from Singapore so we are literally bringing the flavors of Singapore to Manila."

Singapore Food Republic has a welcoming ambiance. If you're dining in the second floor, make time to admire the huge and beautiful panoramic photo of Singapore at night displayed on one whole wall and which is taken by HK himself, who also loves photography. In fact, he took this shot of me with the big photo as background and instructed me to crop it so that it would appear that it was taken in Singapore :) Try it too when you dine at this place.

The Singapore Food Republic is near HSBC and CommCenter in BGC and just a stone's throw away from St. Luke's Hospital. It is open from Mondays to Sundays from 7AM to 10PM. For reservations or inquiries, call (02) 925-1988, call/text (63) 917-7487954, or email singaporefoodrep@gmail.com.

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