During my 2009 trip to Singapore, I only had two objectives: to watch the concert that I've been waiting for all my life, and to eat my way around the bustling island. I did both... plus a few unexpected shopping sprees.
I've always been fascinated by how diverse and colorful their cuisine is. Their food culture so multi-ethnic and vibrant, that I easily conclude that food is their national past-time. Ahhh, it's a city where I belong!
And for every delectable, memorable food escapade, the Singlish word to perfectly encapsulate the experience is shiok -- an expression which roughly means fantastic and extremely satisfactory. So when a restaurant named Shiok opens in the Bonifacio area, it calls for a visit, to see and taste for myself if they've brought to Manila the shiok-ness of some of my favorite Singaporean food.
An Expression of Satisfaction
I begin my Shiok experience with some merienda fare that I enjoyed during my trips to Singapore. Milo and Horlicks are staple Singaporean beverages, and I wonder why they're so popular over there. At Shiok, we had ourselves glasses of cold Iced Horlicks (P50) and Milo Dinosaur (P55), both perfect solutions to beat the day's heat. While the former is a light and milky beverage to cleanse the palate, the latter lives up to his name with a wallop of chocolate and condensed milk sweetness rich enough to be considered as dessert.
Iced Horlicks and Milo Dinosaur
Another everyday, any-time food item in Singapore is the Roti Prata (P55), which showcases both Malaysian and Indian influences in Singaporean food.
This soft and perfectly gummy-gooey version in Shiok is something you can nibble on as an appetizer, or as a light snack paired with your Horlicks or Milo, or perhaps a cup of Milk Tea (P50) or a glass of iced Yuan Yang (P55). You can choose to have the roti prata with either a curry sauce or a sweet and spicy one. I just loved how the steam wafts from the bread when you tear it apart with your fingers! Best eaten once they serve it on your table, freshly made.
A Shiok Wave of Flavors
Next to arrive at our table was a barrage of savory dishes one after the other, thanks to Shiok's Chef-owner, Nicco Santos. My eyes widen and I thanked myself for having little to no breakfast that day to enjoy the lineup of food right in front of me.
Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow (P120) is my favorite Singaporean noodle dish (yep, more than laksa), so I was glad to have it on our table. The version offered at Shiok is Malaysian-Chinese, so expect it to lean towards the spicy. Its stir-fried, sweet-salty-chili layers of flavor is the reason why I favor the dish, just like how I favor the pad thai and pad siew/phat si io of Thai cuisine.
The glossy noodles are delectably browned by the different sauces and spices. Shrimps, strips of egg, bean sprouts and some greens add much texture to the noodle dish. I personally love Char Kway Teow with a lot of lemon juice and chili flakes/powder!
A common Malaysian breakfast fare, the Nasi Lemak (P165) was up next. Traditionally, Nasi Lemak is wrapped in banana leaves, trapping the different aromas and flavors inside. At the restaurant, it was all laid out on a plate -- two pieces of fried chicken, peanuts and dilis, two slices of cucumber, boiled egg, and sambal (chili sauce). I appreciated how fragrant the coconut flavored rice was, and how its newly-steamed fluffiness contrasted the crisp coating of the chicken as well as the crunchy dilis and nuts.
And of course, it's hard to skip on the chicken rice when you're dining in a Singaporean restaurant. So we had it two ways - the Hainan Chicken (P245) and the Soy Hainan Chicken (P245).
Soy Hainan Chicken
While Hainanese chicken rice is gaining popularity here in Metro Manila, it also has its share of detractors. I know of people who dislike it because it 'tastes uncooked' or because 'it's swimming in oil.' I think can understand where they're coming from, but I am still a big chicken rice fan. It's the magic of the chicken's oil and the cooking technique that does the trick for me. Imagine tender slices of chicken meat, and each bite with flavors very much pronounced -- thanks to the chicken broth -- making the meat taste more chicken-y (I apologize for the invented term).
And let's not forget the chicken skin, in its jelly-like, fatty glory. I can fool myself by thinking I'm not eating duck anyway, so might as well eat a lot of the chicken. And eat a lot of it I did, both Hainan and Soy Hainan versions in Shiok, fatty and tender enough for my liking. The dish is served with several sauces, which I always combine with every bite I take.
A couple of dishes new to me were the Spicy Pineapple Fish (P130) and the Pisang Goreng (P60), the last items we tried before declaring our lunch meeting adjourned.
According to Chef Nicco, the Spicy Pineapple Fish is a recipe that his Malaysian-Chinese mentor passed on to him. The deep fried tender fillets are coated in an aromatic and spicy (but not too spicy!) sauce. I can taste the sweet-sour Chinese influence on this dish. Its flavors are quite strong that you might have to order some rice to pair it with.
The Pisang Goreng turned out to be a very familiar dessert -- banana fritters served ala mode.
Just like our banana-que (fried caramelized bananas), the pisang goreng is a street food snack in Singapore (also in Malaysia and Indonesia), often sprinkled with cinnamon. Shiok's version was sprinkled with Milo powder (oh yumyumyum!) and the quickly-melting scoop of vanilla ice cream added that hot-and-cold, soft-and-crunchy bipolarity to the dessert.
The Shiok-ness was indeed present at this little casual restaurant named after the very happy Singaporean superlative. It made me quite sentimental about my little Singapore food trips, but also quite pleased that I can have a bite and a sip of it here in Manila, minus the airfare!