There are days when a packet of greasy vegetarian beehoon topped with mock char siew and deep fried beancurd sticks is satisfying in ways I cannot explain.
Most times though, when I'm looking for vegetarian food, I am seeking something more healthy.
SunnyChoice at The Rail Mall has some delicious options and I never miss meat when I lunch there.
Most times, I go for the Thunder Tea Rice ($8.50), a hearty bowl of brown rice topped with vegetables such as cabbage, wing beans, leafy greens, long beans and carrots. Cubes of lightly browned firm tofu, crisp mushroom stems and a sprinkling of cashews and peanuts make excavating this bowl a real pleasure. The aromatic "tea", with basil and mint among other herbs, is great stirred into the rice or drunk on its own.
The cafe's Vegetable Sushi ($7) is another favourite, so fresh and aromatic. The watery wasabi dressing gives it a bit of kick.
Abacus Seeds ($7), a Hakka dish like the rice, is another favourite, mostly because the pillowy yam balls are so light. Tofu, slivers of mushroom, carrot, wood-ear fungus and sesame seeds make it a complete meal, even though the dish is listed as a side dish on the menu.
Do not leave without trying the Fruit Vegetable Rojak ($8), with pineapple, guava, jicama, cucumber, strips of beetroot, sprouted mung beans, peanuts and dough fritters tossed in a piquant dressing.
It is bright and fresh, and that describes everything I like about the food at SunnyChoice.
Where: SunnyChoice, 434 Upper Bukit Timah Road, The Rail Mall MRT: Bukit Gombak Open: 11am - 9pm, last order 8.30pm (Wed - Mon), closed on Tue Tel: 6892-2383
SIMPLE AND GOOD THAI
Looking at the menu for Thai restaurant Rochor Thai, I wonder about Cabbage With Fish Sauce ($7.80). Seriously?
But it turns out that the simple dish is the best one in the meal. The cabbage has lots of wok hei and umami in spades from the fish sauce. My lunch companions and I finish every last leaf.
Other good choices at this year-old restaurant include Papaya Salad With Salted Egg ($8.80), with the gently salty duck eggs adding richness to a crunchy, spicy salad.
Red Tom Yum Seafood ($8.80 for small) is a good balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet. It looks pretty but boy, does it pack some punch.
I’d go back for the Flambe Clams ($14.80 for small) for the same reason. It looks pretty harmless, but one taste of the sauce and I am sold. It is fragrant with Thai holy basil and chilli, with a sweet note from oyster sauce. The plump clams are cooked just right too.
The menu has several dishes that need to be ordered in advance. I shall plan another visit there because Nam Prik Kai Poo ($16.80), a relish of crab roe and crab meat served with fresh vegetables, and Orange Curry Fish ($26.80) sound too intriguing not to try.
Where: Rochor Thai, 340 Joo Chiat Road MRT: Paya Lebar Open: 11.30am - 2.30pm, 5.45 - 9.45pm (Sun - Thu), 11.30am - 2.30pm, 5.30pm - midnight (Fri and Sat) Tel: 6440-3270
FAMILIAR WITH A TWIST
What, my friends and I wonder, does OKB mean. I have a vague memory of it being Our Kind of Bakery, but now, it refers to the address, One Kampong Bahru.
The restaurant serves familiar dishes with a bit of a twist. Instead of tossing its pesto in pasta, the restaurant uses thick rice noodles in its Vietnamese Pesto Noodles ($6.50). The springy noodles and the Asian-inspired pesto work rather well.
My favourite dish from a recent lunch there is nothing short of inspired. Otah Ravioli ($8.50) is an addictive snack. It is really fried wontons filled with spicy otah and topped with sambal mayonnaise. I could munch on these all day.
Where: OKB, 1 Kampong Bahru Road MRT: Outram Open: 11.30am - 3.30pm (Mon), 11.30am - 3.30pm, 6.30 - 10.30pm (Tue - Fri), 12.30 - 3.30pm, 6.30 - 11.30pm (Sat), closed on Sun Tel: 6220-4711
GOOD OLD TASTES
A new wave of cafes has taken me to old HDB estates all over Singapore, seeking out what are literally new kids on the blocks.
The stylish Tastemaker Store in Havelock Road, a former book and stationery shop, is a good place to hang out. A generous wedge of Yam Cake ($3.80) has an old school taste about it and the spicy chilli sauce that comes with it wakes me right up.
To soothe a burning tongue, I sip on my Iced Matcha Latte ($6). It is a tad sweet, but that is a small quibble. On a hot day, it hits all the right spots.
Where: The Tastemaker Store, Block 22 Havelock Road, 01-705 MRT: Tiong Bahru Open: 9am - 9pm daily