Chef Robbie Wilson of Nashville’s Virago, Kayne Prime, Whiskey Kitchen and Tavern restaurants gets much of his culinary inspiration from his travels. He recently came back from Singapore. “Eating in Singapore is more than just sustenance or a hobby,” says Wilson. “It’s a national obsession, the culture, and a true passion.” Singaporean cuisine is a melting pot of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian traditions. “I challenge anyone to find a region on this planet that can hang with its diversity and mind-bending flavor profiles,” says Wilson, who describes the city’s hawker stalls as a chef’s Never Never Land. Here, he shares his favorites dishes and the stalls to taste them at.
1. Chicken Rice Tian Tian Hainese
“The national dish of Singapore. Some might say that it’s merely boiled chicken, served at room temperature, and eaten with oily tasty rice … that would be giving it a handicap. Nonetheless, that is exactly what it is. The rice is so fragrant and delicious that it is worthy of a meal on its own. The chicken is fatty and tender. I have always wondered what chicken might have tasted like 100 years ago or the equivalent to what my great-grandparents would have consumed on their ranch in Texas. This could be it. Actually, there’s probably no way chicken in Texas ever tasted this good.” Stall 10, Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur St., tiantianchickenrice.com
2. BBQ Stingray, Chomp Chomp Hai Wei Yuan Seafood BBQ
“Thick as a pork chop and grilled over charcoal, the stingray is rubbed with a fragrant sambal-driven barbecue sauce. Perfumed from a fresh banana leaf, the charred flesh pulls neatly away from the bone with a pair of chopsticks and just before the chili decides to punch you in the nose, you dunk the ray into a sourish accompanying sauce that perfectly balances the charred, somewhat nuclear glaze.” Stall 1, Chomp Chomp Food Centre, 20 Kensington Park Rd.
3. Char Kway Teow, No. 18 Zion Road
“Char kway teow in a nutshell is artery-clogging, stir-fried rice noodles with Chinese sausage that becomes rendered to lard croutons. Here in one dish is everything that I crave: egg, bean sprouts, noodles, chilies, and one BP-level pork oil spill that covers the entire dish. If anyone should happen to leave Singapore without having a crack at char kway teow, I would suggest that they surrender their passport indefinitely, or at least until they accept full responsibility for exhibiting complete mental malfunction.” Stall 17, Zion Riverside Food Centre, 70 Zion Rd.
4. Chili Crab, No Signboard Seafood
“Eating Singaporean chili crab was one of the most memorable, albeit messy, culinary experiences of my life. The appeal is in the addictive sauce: tomato, egg, ginger, chilies, lots of spices. The crab is stir-fried in this gratifying sauce and served with rice, or my personal favorite man tou (Chinese fried buns). To “rip and dip,” or “sop,” is the best way to truly honor the remnant of the crab-like gravy.” Unit 01-02, East Coast Seafood Centre at Block 1202, 1202 East Coast Parkway, nosignboardseafood.com
5. Kaya Toast
“I now offer kaya toast on the menu at Tavern in Nashville. Kaya is essentially a coconut jam-coconut milk cooked with eggs and pandan leaves to make a thick, luxurious custard. The kaya is thickly schmeared on slices of mostly de-crusted toasted bread. Cold butter is also added so that when you bite into the toast, there is still a cool piece of butter on it. For the undisputed best breakfast in Asia, add a few soft-boiled eggs and a cup of thick, sweet Singaporean coffee.” At hawker centers, shopping malls, and coffee shops throughout Singapore