Singapore: Satay and Cendol at Bukit Timah Food Centre

Andre was mentioned that he wanted some satay bee hoon for dinner, and upon his mention of this messy, hearty dish, my mouth started to water. I knew we had to satiate this craving.

I’ve been living in Singapore for four years now, and I’ve turned to satay and satay bee hoon as a refuge when I was in dire need of comfort (food). It takes a very specific craving for me. For those who are unfamiliar, satay bee hoon is a dish that’s popularly known to be from Teochew descent. It has a peanut base (similar to the Philippines’ local kare-kare) that’s fired up with dried chilies and a blend of aromatics such as lemongrass, galangal, and asam keping, which is a dried fruit that provides an addictive sourness, similar to tamarind’s, that’s used in most curries and sauces.

My first taste of satay bee hoon was from the Zion Riverside Food Centre’s Teck Bee, back when I was still living in River Valley. Teck Bee’s satay bee hoon was good enough to curb the craving, but on a bad day, the sauce would taste watered down and needed more potential, so I asked my bosses (whose tastes I greatly trust with the local Singaporean fare) where to get really good satay bee hoon, and they all pointed to the same place: Sin Chew Satay Bee Hoon at the Bukit Timah Food Centre.

Looks can be deceiving. At a glance, it might look like someone threw up on a plate of vermicelli noodles, but Sin Chew’s satay sauce was amazingly robust and incredibly flavourful. We thought it would be watered down, given the massive amount of sauce sitting in giant vats, but it was the opposite.

Thick, nutty gravy with a gentle yet present heat blanketed a generous portion of al-dente rice vermicelli (bee hoon). There were prawns, slices of pork and cuttlefish, and veggies to cut through the richness, but nothing to wax poetic about because the sauce was really the star. Leaning more on the sweeter side, it was truly a refined plate of satay bee hoon to partake of.

We got the medium sized plate of satay bee hoon from Sin Chew, and Andre wanted more food, so he ordered some roasted pork at a meat stall nearby called Taste The Kwang’s Black (translated from the Chinese sign), where the char siew is cooked with charcoal. The meat was just okay, but it came with a bowl of prawn wanton soup that was surprisingly delicious. The wantons were sweet, meaty, and succulent. These were gems floating in an unassuming clear, tasteless broth. I think they sold these wantons frozen, if my memory serves me well.

For dessert, one of my bosses recommended that I get a cendol from a stall conveniently named Nyonya Chendol. “Get the one with durian; it’s life changing,” she said. Cendol (or Chendol) is a popular Southeast Asian shaved ice dessert that’s similar to our local halo-halo but with coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, and squiggles of pandan jelly.

I’ve had many a cendol, and my favorite has always been the one one from the Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul at Georgetown. I’m nothing close to being a cendol expert by all means, but I think there are also different cultural iterations of it. Like, the one I had in Penang was Teochew-style (of Chinese descent) and this one at Bukit Timah was Nyonya-style (Peranakan, which is Malay-Indonesian).

Dare I say that I may have found my new favorite cendol?  This icy treat starts off with a mound of shaved ice and is drizzled with coconut milk, thick, glossy and smoky gula melaka (Malaysian palm sugar) syrup, and really delicious pandan jelly worms. The pandan jelly worms was fragrant but had no trace of artificial flavoring in them, and they sported a delicate bounce, which made them really addictive.

You have the option to dress your cendol up with red beans, sweet corn, or—with high recommendation—XO durian. And yes, a million times Y-E-S, please go with the durian. Sure, it could be pungent, but its distinct custardy, vanilla-y character paired with the cendol elements—not forgetting the smoky gula melaka sauce that lends a bit of saltiness—is a white-knuckle experience. It’s so good, my first bite made me close my eyes Meg Ryan at Katz’s style. Trust me when I say, you would want to have it.

Now, Bukit Timah Food Centre is a bit out of the way from where I currently live, but I know that it is the direction my hunger compass will lead me to if I’m craving a hearty plate of satay bee hoon and cendol. It may not be in any Michelin or Bib Gourmand guide, but what I can really say about it is that it’s worth a detour.

BUKIT TIMAH MARKET & FOOD CENTRE
51 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 588215

(All meals are paid for myself unless stated otherwise.)

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