A new wave of Thai eateries is whetting the appetite of foodies here.
Instead of digging into pineapple rice and tom yum soup or grilling meat and vegetables in mookata or barbecue-steamboat restaurants, they are tucking into Thai street food.
Boat noodles, ice cream served in coconut shells, and skewered grilled meats are latest food imports from the land of smiles. Instead of buying them from street vendors in bustling food markets in Thailand, diners here head to snack kiosks, hawker stalls and cafes.
There are at least six eateries offering Thai street food that have opened in the past seven months.
BaaMee Bangkok in Syed Alwi Road and Foon's Thai Recipe in Old Airport Road Hawker Centre serve Thai-style wonton noodles. Porn's Thai Boat Noodee in Kitchener Complex and Thai Boat Noodle in Bedok Point offer rice noodles served with pork or beef balls in a meat broth.
Mak Mak Thai Street Food in Bugis Junction serves snacks such as fried sweet potato balls and Thai fish cakes.
The owners think that Thai street food will find favour in Singapore as diners have tried them in Bangkok and other Thai cities while on holiday.
Mr Anthony Ang, 33, operations manager of BaaMee Bangkok, says: "Due to lower airfares from budget airlines, Singaporeans are travelling more frequently to Thailand for holidays, and get to try the street food there."
His company spent about $120,000 buying the recipes for Thai-style wonton noodles and stewed pig trotter from a street food chain in Bangkok.
To maintain an authentic flavour, he and two colleagues spent four months learning the recipes from the chain. They also import ingredients such as the distinctive small cloves of garlic used in Thai cooking and palm sugar, which is used to marinate the char siew (roasted pork) for eight hours before grilling.
Also riding on Singaporeans' familiarity with Thai street food is Soi 19 Thai Wanton Noodles in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, which sells up to 400 bowls of noodles daily. Owner Ng Sing Choo, 61, closed his apparel business after learning the recipe from his Thai friend two years ago. He spent $20,000 setting up the stall and managed to break even within eight months.
His son, Mr Alex Ng, 32, says: "Diners are bored with the local version of wonton noodles, and want to try something that is out of the ordinary."
To localise the noodles, the elder Ng experimented with 20 types of noodles before settling on springy egg noodles, served al dente. He replaced the crabmeat commonly served with wonton noodles in Thailand with cured fish sausage. He also adds fried wontons. They are not part of the Thai version, but diners here are familiar with them.
Mr Sittha Sa-nguansat, 40, co-owner of Mak Mak Thai Street Food, believes that Thai street food is a novel concept with the potential to become as popular as dishes such as tom yum soup.
He says: "I want to showcase popular Thai food that can be eaten in a grab-and-go style, which is a change from sit-down meals."
Besides savoury food, desserts from Thailand are also in the spotlight. Co Nut Ink, a dessert kiosk chain, has been selling coconut ice cream served in husks since November 2013.
Owner Lawrence Tang, 40, bought the recipe from the owner of the famous Coconut Ice Cream@JJ in Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. He declines to say how much he paid for it.
He says: "Coconut is popular here because of the hot weather. It also has health benefits such as containing more potassium than bananas."
He will be opening more than 10 franchised outlets in places such as Dubai, Brazil and South Africa later this year.
Banking on the prominence of this unique coconut dessert is Pong Gelato, a three-month-old dessert kiosk in *Scape Orchard, which pairs sorbets with coconut gelato served in coconut husks.
Its owner Seah Ping Long, 27, says: "Bangkok is a trendy weekend getaway for young adults, who are open to Thai food concepts. This helps to jump-start my new business."
And there is more to come: mochi ice cream chain, Kane Mochi, which has 25 outlets in Thailand, will be opening its first one in Singapore at Bugis Plus in mid-May. About 15 flavours of mochi, from Thai milk tea to banana milk, will be flown in from Bangkok weekly.
Diners say they are enjoying the variety.
Marketing manager Costa Chua, 26, who lived in Bangkok for seven months, says: "Eating Thai street food here helps me to relive my memories, which is comforting. Thai food has a balance of familiarity and a bit of adventure."
Accountant Nicholas Goh, 45, has been to Soi 19 Wanton Noodles more than five times, queuing for about 20 minutes each time.
He says: "Its noodles taste quite similar to the popular SabX2 Wanton Noodles in Bangkok, and I love the sauce and wonton dumplings, which are a refreshing change from the local version."
Housewife Krathin Cruickshank, 41, who is from Bangkok, says: "I can go to more places for street food, instead of just Golden Mile Complex, and the taste is quite close to what I get back home."
SOI 19 THAI WANTON MEE
Be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes during lunch time for your bowl of Thai-style wonton noodles here. The popular coffeeshop stall run by Mr Ng Sing Choo and his son Alex Ng sells up to 400 bowls of noodles daily. Each bowl (from $3.50) comes with springy egg noodles tossed with a "secret recipe" sauce, char siew, and deep fried wontons.
Where: Block 151, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, stall number 5
Open: 7am to 3.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday and Tuesday
Info: Call 9613-3340 or go to www.facebook.com/pages/Soi-19-Thai-Wanton- Mee/511834992185973
MAK MAK THAI STREET FOOD
This three-month-old takeaway kiosk comes fitted with a second-hand red Vespa scooter. Of the 14 snacks, popular picks include crispy garlic pork ($3.60), skewered grilled chicken ($1.20) and the eye-catching Microphone ($1.50), which is a gigantic sphere of deep-fried pancake batter with a meatball core. For a more filling meal, pair the skewered bites with turmeric rice ($1).
Where: 200 Victoria Street, Bugis Junction, B1-K04
Open: 11am to 10pm daily
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/MakMakSingapore
Former accountant Seah Ping Long discovered the popular coconut ice cream sold at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok through his Thai brother-in-law, and decided to expand the concept by serving sorbet with coconut gelato in a coconut shell ($5.50). Customers can choose from three flavours of sorbet - banana, passionfruit and mango, and choose three toppings such as sweet corn and red bean. It also serves a Yakult and coconut water drink topped with coconut gelato ($4.40).
Where: 2 Orchard Link, *Scape, 02-18C
Open: 12.30 to 10pm daily
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/pong.gelato
CO NUT INK
The owner of this home-grown brand bought the recipe from a famous coconut ice-cream vendor at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, and sells more than 10,000 servings a month. Prices start at $5 and toppings include peanuts, red ruby and sticky rice.
Where: Three outlets including 1 Esplanade Drive, 01-K7
Open: 1.30 to 10pm on weekdays, 11am to 10pm on weekends
This coffee shop stall sells 400 portions of its Thai-style wonton noodles daily, dished up by its head chef Rick Tan (with the stall's operations manager Anthony Ang).
It has a small menu of six dishes. There is Baa Mee with tom yum ($5), noodles tossed in garlic-infused lard oil and tom yum paste and served with char siew and wontons.
It also sells Kaa Moo or stewed pig trotters (from $6), which are slow-cooked for eight hours and stir-fried basil chicken noodles ($5).
Where: 45 Syed Alwi Road
Open: 11am to 9pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/BaaMeeBKK
FOON'S THAI RECIPE
Owner Foon Sangon, 34, from Songkhla, Thailand, sells about 150 bowls of Thai-style wonton noodles (from $4) daily.
The noodles are tossed with fish sauce, chilli, sugar, pork lard and crushed peanuts, and served with roast pork, fried and steamed dumplings.
She also provides condiments such as chilli flakes and sliced chilli with lime.
Where: Old Airport Road Food Centre, 01-65
Open: 10am to 9pm daily, except Wednesday
THAI BOAT NOODLE
The highlight of this casual Thai eatery is its namesake dish, which has a dry and wet variation.
Each bowl ($1) comprises rice noodles, pork balls, bean sprouts, kang kong, with either pork broth or soy sauce-based black sauce. Each serving can be eaten in three mouthfuls. Unlike Thai Boat Noodles in Thailand, the local version does not contain pig's blood.
The eatery is holding an eating challenge on March 29. The person who can wolf down the most number of bowls of Thai boat noodles within 15 minutes will win an iPhone 6.
Where: 799 New Upper Changi Road, Bedok Point, 02-32/34
Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6445-9932 or go to www.facebook.com/boatnoodlesg
PORN'S THAI BOAT NOODEE
This casual restaurant is the fifth by TV host Pornsak Prajakwit and serves boat noodles and snacks.
Instead of bite-sized portions, the servings come with 130g of noodles. There are six varieties of noodles, such as Suki Chicken Noodles Soup ($6.50), which features a spicy Suki sauce made with lime, coriander and chilli, and Yen Ta Fo Fishball Noodles Soup ($6.50), which comes with a pink fermented beancurd sauce.
Save space for snacks such as fried dough fritters with a kaya and condensed milk dip ($3.50).
Where: 809 French Road, Kitchener Complex, 01-43/44/45
Open: 10am to 10pm daily