International Food Stall: A Nasi Lemak Breakfast


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It was at Nyonya, a Malaysian restaurant in New York City, that I recently found myself with the legendary and insatiable Gael Greene, trying to explain the wonder that is nasi lemak, a Malay dish of coconut rice topped with a fried egg, fried chicken, crispy anchovies, cucumber slices and fiery sambal chili sauce.

“We eat it for breakfast — or lunch,” I said, explaining that some Singapore hawkers will have packets of the rice tightly wrapped up in banana leaves set out in the morning, ready for the harried to buy and eat on the run.

“Breakfast?” she said, looking intrigued.

Granted, it’s hard to appreciate nasi lemak as one of the best ways to start the day when the New York version set before you is a mound of flavorless rice paired with a mushy mess of sodden chicken and anchovies that are limp and cold instead of crunchy and tongue-searingly hot.

But if you’ve had the real thing for breakfast while sitting in a humid hawker center in sweltering tropical heat, trust me, you’ll be a convert. Oatmeal and French Toast will be all but a distant, lesser memory.

In Singapore, one of my favorite places for the stuff is a little stall in Changi Village, a somewhat sleepy nook by the sea. It’d been many years since I’d been there — but I’d heard its lines remained as impossibly long. (Always a good sign.)

Clearly, it was time for a revisit …

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Ice Kachang: Savoring The Old


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This is what inevitably happens when I get together with the Fairways Kids, a bunch of friends I’ve known since I was 11, back when my family moved into a Singapore condominium building named (naturally) Fairways.

Sure, we’ll catch up on jobs, lives, kids, significant others. But somehow the conversation always wends its way back to one thing: ice kachang, a sugary dessert featuring a bowl of sweet corn, red beans, palm seeds and jelly topped with a minor hill of shaved ice that’s been doused in syrup so sweet you can practically feel a toothache coming on as you shovel spoonfuls into your mouth.

We were a rambunctious lot — still are, some might say. Rough soccer games, fearless, kickboxing fights in the swimming pool, endless games of volleyball in the tennis court — this was how our youths were misspent. But the highlight of those idyllic days often was a trip over the fence (the shortcut before the condo association built a back gate) to the hawker center in the back. 

What lay at the end was an ice-cold mountain, festive and pink. 

Back behind the fence, we had homework, exams and, later, boy or girl problems to consume us. But at Telok Blangah Food Centre, things were simple. All we had to worry about was whether we had enough coins that day for a bowl of ice kachang.

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