Years ago, as a freshman at Northwestern University, I used to trek to the computer lab after classes to log onto a Web site and stare longingly at pictures of Singaporean food that someone out in the ether had taken the care to post.
I'm ashamed to mention how long ago this was, exactly — let's just say that this was the first year the university handed out email addresses to incoming freshmen and well, that this "Internet" thing was still new-fangled.
I've never forgotten the kindness of the person — whom I've never known — who put up that rudimentary site filled with pictures of dishes I desperately missed. The photos became my lifeline during that first bone-chilling Chicago winter — and I would spend the next 10-plus years looking for good versions of Singaporean chicken rice or spicy beef rendang in Southeast Asian restaurants across America.
After years of looking, I've finally found a place that I can whole-heartedly say is authentic: Taste Good in Elmhurst, New York. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so — the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations often uses the restaurant to cater its events.) I won't go into all the details here — you'll have to check out my piece on the meal and my quest in the Atlantic Food Channel today — but I wanted to pay a little homage to that anonymous person who saved my sanity all those years ago.
So here's a little visual montage. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy these pictures …
Taste Good, which serves Malaysian food (akin to Singaporean food), is so tiny an eatery that blink and you will miss it. Look for this festive yellow sign …
… or the one in the window. The Chinese characters say "good taste."
As I mentioned, it's a small place — so small that co-owner K.K. Thong says he doesn't serve chili crab, Singapore's signature dish, on weekends because people tend to take too long to eat crabs and he needs those tables turned over quickly then.
If you see this man, be nice to him — he's co-owner K.K. Thong. If you are Teochew (a particular kind of Chinese ethnicity) mention it to him. He's Teochew as well and will likely yell, "kaki-nang!" — which means "own people!"
The beef rendang ($11.95; pictured above) — a spicy curry involving ginger, curry, turmeric and lemongrass — is mindblowing at Taste Good. Put it on your "must" list.
And while I was skeptical of being impressed with the popiah ($4.50) — a summer roll featuring a crepe-thin wrapper filled with julienned jicama, shrimp, bean sprouts and more — given that my grandmother makes fantastic popiah, it turned out to be pretty good.
Witness the popiah filling…
The kangkong belacan ($9.50), water spinach stir-fried with a spicy fermented shrimp paste, was delicious, too.
As was the assam laksa ($5.75) — lovely and sour from a healthy dose of tamarind.
I'd had high hopes for the char kway teow ($6), a fried noodle with shrimp, egg, fishcake and bean sprouts, that's ubiquitous in Singapore's many hawker centers. But this version was bland — take a pass on this one.
And the chicken rice rice wasn't quite oily enough — in Singapore, the best cooks make it in such a way that each grain of rice is just slick with chicken fat or oil.
The pulot hitam dessert ($2.75) — a warm soup of soft black glutinous rice swirled with sweet coconut milk — was a delicious capper to the meal.
Unfortunately, that's all the four of us managed to put away at dinner that day. Until the next time, at least we'll have these pictures.