food opera @ ion orchard – singapore (CNY 2010)

Of all the cardinal sins, I am naturally most guilty of gluttony. Of course, this is exponentially increased the minute I set foot on foreign soil.

This year, I was lucky enough to schedule a visit to Singapore, Malacca and Phuket over Chinese New Year.

Singapore’s cosmopolitan melting pot culture  gives rise to a rich and varied culinary scene that, in my opinion rivals no other (biased? never…)

But honestly, where else can you dine on everything ranging from authentic Indian street fare to world class European haute cuisine …all without breaking the piggy bank.

Of course the panic-inducing dilemma  that comes with such a choice is an ever-present nemesis of mine.

Thankfully, Singapore’s unbeatable “hawker centres” provide an easy solution for my crippling indecision.

Hawker centres have come a long way from the memories of my youth, where stray cats wandered in between diners to feast on leftover food and getting spat on was a constant danger. Thankfully, the full force of the Health Department has long made this experience a distant memory…at least in the city centre.

Now some hawker centres are so flashy it’s not uncommon to find teppanyaki bars or dim sum carts darting around diners.  One such example is Food Opera. Spread over 20,000 square feet, it occupies Basement 4 of the new and equally flashy Ion Orchard Shopping Centre on Orchard Road.  With its Phillipe Starck influenced decor and collaboration of famous hawker stalls, it has rapidly established itself as one of my favourite places to dine after a long bank account draining session at Sephora (Ion Orchard has the largest Sephora store in Asia which is also the 2nd largest in the world after the one in Paris’s Champs Elysees).

Although some locals may complain that the food is expensive, it is only slightly more pricier in my opinion and no doubt still extremely affordable for most tourists.  For example, a serve of Fatty Weng’s famous Fried Oyster Omelette (Or Luak) is only $5…cheaper than a toasted ham & cheese sanga at my local deli! But more about that later…In any event, the ability to dine on well reputed hawker treats in a setting worthy of any modern art gallery is reason enough for me.
Food Opera consists of 26 “stalls” with a couple of mini restaurants (where you can have a proper multiple course meal). As far as I understand, each of the stalls were handpicked for their stellar reputations amongst the hawker scene.  Many of them have numerous food reviews plastered on their stall window, “evidence” of their long history and astronomical popularity.

On to the food….on a previous trip to Singapore, I attempted to sample the infamous Fried Oyster Omelette from Fatty Weng’s stall mentioned above (Stall 14). Unfortunately, S and I were there at prime lunching hour on the weekend and after about 15 to 20 minutes waiting in a monstrous line I decided to give up and go for the Minced Pork Noodles at Stall 10 (Perth has spoilt me and I have a troublesome allergy to lining up).

This time however, I made sure we were there before noon and on a weekday. Success! Fatty’s reputation has transcended across generations, with the family’s secret chilli sauce recipe being passed down from the stall owner’s grandfather (who I understand was the original proprietor). Fatty’s other offerings include Char Kway Teow and Char Tow Kway (fried radish cake…a perennial favourite of S’s and the arch-nemesis of  anyone on a diet).

Being the indecisive glutton I am, I ordered both the signature Or Luak and the Char Tow Kway (just so you know…my command of the Chinese language is entirely limited to the names of hawker centre dishes and varieties of dim sum). Nothing beats watching your meal get whipped up in front of you and despite my best efforts I had subconsciously started my hawker jig (where I can’t help but bop up and down with excitement….yes it’s embarrassingly similar to the “pee dance”).

As I carried my laden tray of goodies to the table, I  did my best effort to ignore the stares from the locals around me when they noticed I joined S at the table bearing 2 dishes which apparently were for myself (he had earlier received permission to source his own meal…a first as on our previous trip to Singapore I didn’t trust him to pick something worthy of our very limited time).

And now on to (still) drool inducing dishes!

Presenting….the infamous Fatty Weng’s Fried Oyster Omelette

Sigh….it lived up to all the well deserved hype. I’ve never been a fan of cooked oysters but these little morsels of delight were fat , juicy and shrouded in deliciously starchy and crispy egg. Dunked in the vinegary and garlicky chilli sauce, the combination of tanginess with the luscious creamy oysters is a phenomenal flavour experience. In fact, I have a suspicion that some kitchen black magic may be involved as Fatty’s has an inextricable link to my saliva glands….the mere mention of Fatty’s is enough to make my mouth literally water.

The Char Tow Kway was equally delicious (I always opt for the black sauce option) with generous amounts of egg and Chai Poh (preserved turnips). Note that there is normally beansprouts in it as well but I’m strangely allergic to them…not that it’s a big loss for me, I’ve never been a fan for some reason.

S had  decided to go for something from the  Tian Tian Hainanese Curry Chicken Rice stall (Stall 12). The original Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall in Maxwell Centre was raved about by Anthony Bourdain on his visit to Singapore. Despite not actually ordering any chicken,  S did particularly well in choosing his own meal despite his unfamiliarity with hawker food (he’s definitely a quick learner!). By the time I lumbered over with my meal(s), he was happily devouring a plate of fried pork chops and eggplant with what I think was either deep fried pieces of lard or salted fish. The dish came with a generous and delicious bowl of curry sauce to pour over the pork (not pictured). I had a taste and must say it was very very good. The pork was juicy and the little salty crumbs hidden among the eggplant was a delicious surprise.

Unsurprisingly, an afternoon nap was mandatory by the time we made it through all the food.

More blog posts from this trip to come….

What are your thoughts/recommendations for Food Opera or Singapore Hawker centres generally?

As this is Hawker Centre Cuisine I won’t be allocating it a spoon rating.
$ to $$

Food Opera
Basement 4
Ion Orchard
2 Orchard Turn, Singapore
One Response to “food opera @ ion orchard – singapore (CNY 2010)”
  1. Edward says:

    Hooray for Singapore and Hawker centres. It is extraordinary how relatively affordable and high quality food is in Singapore compared to Perth. My wife’s favourite thing from the Food opera were the durian puffs, though I have long forgotten the name of the stall.

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