Makansutra's K. F. Seetoh remembers Anthony Bourdain's favourite Singapore food haunts

K.F. Seetoh (left, foreground) with Anthony Bourdain (centre).
K.F. Seetoh (left, foreground) with Anthony Bourdain (centre).PHOTO: KFSEETOH / INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Anthony Bourdain always lit up when we spoke about the extraordinariness of normal folk - their struggles, cultures, joys and humble successes.

I have known the late American celebrity chef and television presenter for 17 years and met him both on and off the screen for his shows and mine.

I can unreservedly tell you that he was a champion of all things authentic, the unheralded and the disadvantaged.

Which was why when I first told him I wanted to link everyone up with the rich heritage street food culture through our inaugural World Street Food Congress in 2013, he jumped in to support us.

He fielded the media at our press conference in New York, saying "the world so needs a World Street Food Congress", adding, "a street food cart can create a brand".

The happiest I saw him was when he had beers and roasted duck necks at Redhill Food Centre with a group of retirees whiling the hours away with small talk and impromptu karaoke.

"This is what I want to be when I grow up," he told me on camera.

Before he apparently committed suicide on June 8, 2018, in France, we had many memorable meals in Singapore.

I now share with you some of his favourite bites in Singapore, the food city and culture that inspired his now-nixed Bourdain Market ("It should be like a hawker centre") in New York, where I was tasked to be consultant.

Rest in peace my friend, fellow lover of life and people. And let us carry on where we left off when we next meet.

Black vinegar claypot pig trotters

Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, 01-136; open: noon to 2.30pm and 5 to 10pm daily

A beautiful and softly tangy cross between vinegar ginger trotters and braised trotters. The Liew family cooked it for him when he visited their home for his show and it is on their restaurant's menu too.

Steamed shark's head

Tian Jin Hai Seafood (now defunct), but get it at Zai Shun Curry Fish Head, 253 Jurong East Street 24, 01-205; open: 7am to 3pm daily (item available at lunch)

We had a casual night out and I dragged him to the now-demolished Jackson Kopitiam in MacPherson to shock him with a plate of steamed shark's head. He loved it so much he brought the crew back to film it for his No Reservations episode on Singapore.

Crab beehoon

Sin Huat Eating House, 659 Geylang Lorong 35; open: 6.30pm to 1am daily

This is the one he never forgot. We had it when we first met. It was a giant Sri Lanka beauty fried with an umami rich beehoon. He gushed at every bite till I asked him, "Why do you talk so much when there's food on the table? You never know if your next meal is coming." He turned that moment into a chapter in his 2006 book, The Nasty Bits.

Chicken rice

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice,  01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street; open: 10am to 8pm, closed on Mondays

Chicken rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Food Centre. PHOTO: ST FILE

We were booed on stage at an event when someone asked and he answered that he had never tried chicken rice during his many trips to Singapore - as if it had been my fault. So I took him to Maxwell Food Centre a few days later for my show. His reaction was "oh wow" and the rest is Tian Tian history.

Char kway teow

Hill Street Char Kway Teow, 16 Bedok South Road, 01-41; open: 11.30am to 4.45pm daily

He took a mouthful and said, "How can something this ugly be so good?" It was made by the late Mr Ng Chang Siang and I think Bourdain should be having another platter with him in a better place now.