See & Do

Same Same but Different: 6 Singaporean Dishes and Their Overseas Relatives

Credit: Shutterstock

Sometimes the food we know and love take on a new spin overseas—even if they have the same name. Other times, they may be called different things, but they cause you exclaim excitedly “this is like Singapore’s ______!!!

We call them ‘food relatives‘, and here are six to get you thinking and drooling for more.

1. CHEE CHEONG FUN & BÁNH CUỐN (VIETNAM)

Steamed rice rolls, filled with a mixture of meat and mushrooms. It’s light enough so you won’t fall into a food coma. Yet, the filling packs quite an energy punch. The porcelain-like rolls are topped with fried shallots, which gives an irresistible crunch—almost like an in-mouth announcement of something good. Oh, don’t forget to dip it in fish sauce right before you pop it in your mouth. It’s never the same without.

This is Bánh Cuốn, a Vietnamese breakfast dish that most Singaporeans will recognise as a twin to our Chee Cheong Fun. Except our version of steamed rice rolls (not Hong Kong’s which is also common here) is usually topped with sesame seeds and a dark sweet sauce. With chilli on the side. Without fillings.

Try Bánh Cuốn at Banh Cuon Hai Nam, 11A Cao Thắng, Ho Chi Minh City.

shutterstock_409912111
Food déjà vu. (Credit: Shutterstock)

2. HOKKIEN MEE & HOKKIEN MEE (KUALA LUMPUR)

Dark, slippery and sticky. Not quite how Singaporeans will describe our beloved Hokkien Mee, but it’s exactly what you’ll get when you order one in Kuala Lumpur.

Hokkien Mee in Kuala Lumpur is a yellow noodles dish—except the noodles have been thoroughly braised in thick and dark soy sauce, so calling them ‘dark noodles’ is more apt.

The colours are at opposite spectrums, and so is the taste. But dark or pale, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, the souls of both dishes are pretty much the same. They are both Hokkien at heart (duh). Purists have the same judging criteria for authenticity—it must be infused with ‘wok hei’, the breath of the wok. This elusive wok hei is the taste, flavor and aroma that turns a tasty dish into a shiok one—something that only a skilful chef can achieve.

Try Kuala Lumpur’s Hokkien Mee at Restoran Kim Lian Kee, corner of Petaling Street and Jalan Hang Lekir.

One name, two dishes. (Credit: Shutterstock)
One name, two dishes. (Credit: Shutterstock)

3. PANDAN WAFFLE & EGGLET (HONG KONG)

For sentimental Singaporeans, the best waffles aren’t golden brown. They’re the greenish pandan variety found in neighbourhood bakeries. These waffles are always comforting, sometimes crispy, and rarely as good as your memory of them. But that’s okay. This is a waffle that doesn’t care for Michelin stars or glowing Yelp reviews. After all, it already has your heart.

That’s exactly what Gai Daan Zai (also known as the egglet, egg waffle or egg puff) means to Hong Kong-ers. There’s no pandan, no coconut, and no pockets of squares—but just like our Singapore version, it has the power to summon memories.

Theirs is a batter that has stubbornly stayed the same for six decades. An aroma rich with nostalgia. A shape so photogenic that it has continued to win over new fans. As well as a flavour that even non-locals can appreciate.

Try the egglet at Lee Keung Kee North Point Egg Waffles, 178 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui.

Tasty on its own, even tastier when it served with a side of childhood nostalgia. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Tasty on its own, even tastier when it served with a side of childhood nostalgia. (Credit: Shutterstock)

4. OYSTER OMELETTE & OYSTER OMELETTE (TAIWAN)

Food usually brings people together. In the case of oyster omelette however, it divides. If you love the dish, you will pick a side. Either you’re for the Taiwanese version or the Singapore one. Those who say they like both simply aren’t devoted enough.

The main dish is similar: combine eggs, starch and oysters to form an ugly, tasty mess. The polarising factor lies in the sauce. In Taiwan, oyster omelette is topped with a sweet ketchup-chilli sauce. In Singapore, it’s served with a side of zesty, spicy vinegar-based chilli. This tiny detail changes the entire dish. Given the ‘wrong’ version, the sauce ferments into disappointment. A casual meet-up becomes an emotional debate.

So if you’re an oyster omelette fan travelling to Taiwan, first remind yourself that it’s an entirely different dish. Call it Sweet-OO if it helps. Only then will you have a chance of enjoying it without the baggage of prior prejudices.

Try Taiwan’s Oyster Omelette at Yuan Huan Bian Oyster Omelet, Ningxia Night Market.

Looks aren’t everything. Especially when your taste buds are doing the judging. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Looks aren’t everything. Especially when your taste buds are doing the judging. (Credit: Shutterstock)

5. CAI FAN & LOKANTAS (TURKEY)

Cai fan or economical rice has an endearing nickname of ‘point point rice’, because of the way food is ordered. Turkey has her own version of ‘point point rice’, and it’s found in lokantas—a cafeteria of sorts.

A variety of pre-cooked food neatly laid out in large trays, all ready to take on the lunchtime crowd. No name labels, because these are classic dishes that every Turk would recognise from their mother’s kitchen. Spicy red lentil soup. Eggplant with minced meat. Pilaf (rice cooked in broth).

Simple unpretentious fare, a meal that’s comforting for both the soul and the wallet. Although the dishes are completely different from what you’ll find at a cai fan stall, everything else feels exactly the same.

Try Turkey’s version of ‘point point rice’ at Şahin Lokantasi, Orhan Adli Apaydın Sokak 11/A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Point to order. Works well, even when you don’t know the language. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Point to order. Works well, even when you don’t know the language. (Credit: Shutterstock)

6. RICKSHAW NOODLES & BOAT NOODLES (THAILAND)

The rickshaw may have disappeared from Singapore’s streets, but the noodle dish that was named after it still survives—though barely. A humble bowl of yellow noodles soaked in flavourful broth and topped with a handful of greens and dried shrimps—favoured by rickshaw pullers over 70 years ago.

During this same era of rickshaws, another popular noodle dish was prepared, sold and eaten on wooden sampans along waterways 1,400km away: Thailand’s legendary boat noodles. It may taste completely different, but just like its rickshaw counterparts, it’s served in tiny portions (you’re likely to need multiple bowls to fill your tummy) and steeped in history.

Try boat noodles at The Best Of The Boat Noodles, near Victory Monument, Bangkok.

These days, boat noodles aren’t eaten on a boat. (Credit: Shutterstock)
These days, boat noodles aren’t eaten on a boat. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Discovering food relatives is a little like bumping into a fellow Singaporean (or overhearing Singlish) abroad. It’s exciting. More importantly, it’s usually tasty. That’s two things that make up a great trip.

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