There are many places here to satisfy a craving for dosa, idli and utthapam, southern Indian staples.
Some are better than others and Saravanaa Bhavan serves some of the best versions I have tried. The flavours here seem so well-balanced, the spices are fresh and I get the sense that the food is made with care.
Apart from the restaurant in Syed Alwi Road, the vegetarian chain, franchised from India (it first opened in Singapore in 2002), has six other branches, either restaurants or stalls in food courts.
They all specialise in simple food done absolutely right.
I am used to fluffy, pillowy uttapam, a pancake made with fermented rice and dhal batter. Saravanaa Bhavan's Plain Uttapam ($3.30) has crisp patches on the outside, which crackle when I bite into them. The inside remains fluffy and soft. This contrast in textures makes me want to keep going back. The pancake is served with three types of chutney: coconut, vegetable (heavy on the coriander) and tomato. All are excellent, spicy without being overly hot.
Other things are worth trying too. The Vegetable Curry ($7.20), full of carrots, beans and other goodies, has a rich, rounded taste that reminds me of butter chicken without the chicken.
Eat it with Appam ($4), since the cauliflower korma that comes with the bowl-shaped pancake does nothing for me.
Of course, it is not possible to leave the place without trying one of its dosas. The Special Masala Dosa ($4.40) comes in a large roll, looking dramatic on the table. Dip the crisp edges into the chutneys and then attack the scoop of curried potatoes inside.
Finish this excellent meal with a cup of frothy coffee, which is just lightly sweetened.
Where: Saravanaa Bhavan, 84 Syed Alwi Road MRT: Farrer Park Tel: 6297-7755 Open: 9am - 11pm daily
WHERE FOOD SHINES
It might be a restaurant at the void deck of an apartment block in Laguna Park, but getting a table at Diamond Kitchen is no easy task. I was told the place was fully booked twice before I scored a table on a Saturday at 5.30pm.
Eating dinner early is not a bad thing, especially when the restaurant is practically empty at that time. The food is worth going for too. A red garoupa ($54) done Hong Kong style was steamed perfectly and the fish maw and chicken soup ($18) had lots of oomph.
But the dish I will be going back for is one of the house specialities, Superior Stock Clam Bee Hoon (from $12 for small, inset). The rice noodles soak up all of that sweet stock and the result is a rich flavour I cannot get enough of. Clams cooked just right make this dish irresistible.
Where: Diamond Kitchen, 5000F Marine Parade Road MRT: Bedok Tel: 6448-0629 Open: 11am - 2.30pm, 5.30 - 11pm daily
BALL OF A TIME
All the chest-beating and hair-tearing over the erosion of hawker culture here may seem over the top, except that it is not. The food people of a certain age enjoyed decades ago have either disappeared or been diluted.
Fortunately, some young people have taken up the challenge to uphold tradition. One of them is Douglas Ng, 23, who opened a stall about two months ago to sell fishball noodles made using his grandmother’s recipe.
The fishballs, and the chilli-scallionstudded slices of fish cake, do not have the white factory sheen of most fishballs. They are a little grey and rough hewn, and are delightfully bouncy. What’s even better is that they taste of fish, not flour.
The generic noodles that the stall uses are a bit of a letdown, but the seasonings are robust, the cubes of crispy lard a joy to eat. Prices start at $3 a bowl, and I usually ask for an extra $1 of fishballs and fish cake.
From scratch food is rare in hawker centres, I’d better have my fill.
Where: The Fishball Story, 505 Beach Road, 01-85 Golden Mile Food Centre MRT: Lavender Tel: 9800-5036 Open: 10.30am - 5pm daily Info: www.facebook.com/fishballstory
BACK TO BLUESPOON
Talk about coming in from the cold. For a couple of years, I would have to head to Loyang if I wanted food from the old Bluespoon cafe. The owners even changed the name to Ulu Ulu Cafe Lounge, to reflect its far-flung location.
Now, however, its owners have moved back to civilisation, to Joo Chiat.
The new place is called Bluespoon again.
Comfort food fills the menu, and the restaurant is in the process of applying for halal certification.
Start the meal with Hommus & Toasted Naan ($7.90). The chickpea dip is one of the best here, supremely garlicky, not too smooth and with parsley worked into it. The sprinkle of sumac on top gives it a citrusy lift.
A new dish on the menu is Buah Keluak Rendang ($18.90), served with rice and either a cucumber raita or marinated grape tomatoes.
Although the dish is black as night, it tastes ever-so-bright with aromatic kaffir lime leaves and a good level of spiciness. The beef shin is infused with the flavour of the pungent Indonesian black nut and its tenderness comes from long, slow cooking rather than using a sous vide machine.
For dessert or brunch, try the Greek Yoghurt Pancakes ($13.90), tender and tangy, and topped with vanilla mascarpone cream and caramelised slices of banana.
Where: Bluespoon, 325 Joo Chiat Road MRT: Eunos Tel: 6455-6455 Open: 11am - 10pm (Tue - Sun), closed Mon