Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Before going into the details, note that I'm not going to make things easy for you. The title is called "Singapore fear food", so I will scare you with gruesome photos before you have the chance to try them.
1. Pig's Brain Soup
Perhaps, the most intimidating pig's organ that can be found in Singapore is the pig's brain herbal soup. The sight of the pig's brain nuggets can scare off many people. But those who have tried it will know that it does not taste as ghastly as it seems. It is almost bland, with a slight characteristic "brainy" taste, and has creamy texture, like eating soft beancurd (or tofu, 豆腐).
One of the main beliefs of eating pig's brain is to nourish the brain. Many parents used to prepare pig's brain in home-cooked dishes and camouflage them for their kids to eat so they can be smarter and excel in their studies. For most of you Singaporeans who are reading this post, you may want to check with your parents if they did that before.
Unfortunately, pig's brain soup is a soon-to-die-out delicacy in Singapore. Apart from its gruesome appearance, it is also extremely high in cholesterol, so most people are shunning it. Pig's brain soup used to be sold in quite a number of places but the number had dwindled to just one known stall today, that is Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup.
Seng Kee's pig's brain soup is served with chicken feet underneath the brain nuggets. The chicken feet are also boiled until the skin are soft and easy to eat. If you are keen to try both the pig's brain and chicken feet at one go, Seng Kee will be your best option — correction, it's the only option I know.
It will be better to try the pig's brain soup in a small group so you don't have to eat the whole brain yourself. The pig's brain comes in three nuggets and is usually sold in whole.
Where to find?
- Seng Kee Black Chicken Herbal Soup (成基黑鸡补品) in Kaki Bukit 511 Market and Food Centre, Bedok North.
2. Lamb's Brain Soup
If you are able to stomach a pig's brain, then you will probably think that it will not be an issue to try a lamb's brain. What if I say the texture and taste of the lamb's brain are somewhat different from pig's brain?
Unlike pig's brain, which is soft and creamy, lamb's brain is firmer, like eating Chinese yam cake, and not creamy. And if you dislike the gamey flavour of mutton, you will find it repulsive to try a lamb's brain — it will have that gamey taste but milder. As usual, there will be that characteristic "brainy" taste expected of animal brains.
Haji M. Abdul Rajak Stall is a famous outlet in Singapore that sells sup otak (or brain soup) along with mutton soup and other lamb's organ soups. The lamb's brain is sold in whole, so if you ask to mix some brain with organs or mutton, they will still sell you the whole piece. Unlike the pig's brain, which is served uncut, the lamb's brain is cut and served in pieces, this makes it looks less horrid.
Try not to take carbonated drinks when eating lamb's brain soup, once you burp after eating, you can faint from the gamey-brainy aftertaste in your mouth. Go for hot black coffee after the meal instead.
Where to find?
- Haji M. Abdul Rajak Stall (Soup Kambing) in Upper Boon Keng Market & Food Centre — it's within walking distance from Kallang MRT Station.
3. Tulang Merah
"Tulang merah" means "red bone" in Malay and is a dish of lamb or cow bones in bright-red gravy. Many people confused the dish with sup tulang, or bone soup, which is really a bowl of bones in soup, not red gravy. To avoid ordering the wrong dish, stalls that sell both sup tulang and tulang merah will usually confirm the orders by pointing at the red bones.
Tulang Merah is usually accompanied with thick cuts of baguette, for eating with the gravy. Don't worry, the gravy is not blood. It was concocted from several spices and chili to make it look "bloody". You will have to use your bare hands to eat the bones and get bloodied all over the mouth and hands. And don't wear a light-coloured shirt.
There is little meat on the bones but the protagonist is actually the bone marrow. You can order a beverage and get a straw to suck out the marrow. Note that not all bones will have thick marrow in it.
Sucking out the bone marrow and straight into the mouth is too easy. You won't know how it looks like, so see the photo above. Look disgusting? The marrow from this particular bone is really little. If all the bones have little or no marrow, you will find the whole dish to be rather expensive. But, as most people say, you pay to have fun with this dish rather than to fill your stomach.
Where to find?
- MA Deen Biasa Stall and Haji Kadir & M Baharudeen Stall in Golden Mile Food Centre. - A couple of stalls beside Haji M. Abdul Rajak Stall (see lamb's brain soup above).
4. Fish Head Curry
Fish head curry is a popular dish in Singapore, with Indian and Chinese origins and is consumed by all races. Of course, there are those who will avoid eating fish heads as they claimed that there are "no meat" — the usual mentality with eating only "big chunks of meat" that most food cultures adopted.
What are on a fish head that most Singapore locals are dying for? In fact, in any serving of fish head curry, there will always have some meat behind the head (so "no meat" is not true). Then, there is the most tender part of a fish — the cheeks. And all fishes will have eyes, which contain gelatinous omega-3 fatty acids around the inedible bony eyeballs. Don't get short-changed if the eyes are missing. The skin around the fish head and soft cartilage inside the head are sources of collagen. Some fishes have thick lips, which is another collagen source with texture like sea cucumber.
By the way, the fish head is usually served in whole. The eyes will stare at you while you pick at its head. If you are that super imaginative, go for the eyes first.
Apart from fish head curry, which is usually spicy, there are other gravy variants, such as asam curry to add sourness with tamarind, coconut curry to add sweetness to spiciness and also just asam to have sweet-sour gravy (as in the photo above). There are fish head steamboat too, with clear soup, but the fish head is usually chopped into pieces (doesn't look "exciting") and fried before serving.
Where to find?
- Try Zai Shun Fish Head Curry in Yuhua Village Market & Food Centre.
- Most Indian and Chinese restaurants, cooked food stalls in hawker centres, etc.
5. Sambal Petai
Petai is the Malay name for a tree that bears edible bitter beans, or stink beans, in long pods hanging from the petai trees. It is consumed in most Southeast Asian countries with large Malay populations.
Petai has a wide range of health benefits, especially for cleansing the blood and improving functions of organs in the human body. It used to be dirt cheap as many people would not eat it because of its stinky smell and unique taste, but its price has soared in recent years after its benefits were discovered and demands increased.
However, most cooked food stalls in Singapore stopped selling them as the price surpasses most vegetables. Be prepared to pay higher prices at stalls that still sell them.
Note that there is a toxicity effect. Petai contains high level of amino acid that can harm the kidney if consumed in large quantity. So, do eat it in moderation. People with kidney problem is advised not to consume too much.
Petai is usually fried with sambal chili and dried shrimps or ikan bilis (dried anchovies). It has a really special taste that is not really bitter. It's an acquired taste, you either like it or hate it. After consumption, the stinky smell will stay in the mouth and in urine — like durian. People around you will know what you just ate when you open your mouth.
Where to find?
- Some Malay food stalls but they may not have petai everyday. If you are trying for the first time, buying from a Malay stall is preferable as you can order a small amount to go with rice.
- Some barbecue fish stalls also sell them but in plateful and can be rather expensive.
I don't really like to list durian as fear food as it is singing the same old tune over and over again like any other blogs. But since I included petai in this post, I may as well mention durian, for both of them are in the "same class". Both have strong odors.
A British traveller once told me that durian "tastes like heaven but smells like hell". Once you can overcome the fear of the odor and go for the soft flesh, you may find the fruit to be bitter-sweet and actually smell nicer. Ok, fine, some will maintain that it taste horrible. Regardless of the outcome, would you dare try it?
In recent years, durians sold in Singapore no longer have odors. Durian suppliers have found a way to remove the smell to woo new fans. While that is good news for people who are afraid of the smell, it doesn't sit well with durian-lovers — that will be me as one of them. In the past, odourless durians are often associated with unripe or lower-grade variants, so durian-lovers are not willing to pay for them.
With higher prices and odourless durians these days, it is advisable to eat at the durian vendor's place than to buy back home. Have the durians changed on the spot if they are tasteless or not of the expected quality.
Where to find?
- They can be found almost everywhere, especially during the main durian season from June to August and other "minor seasons" between December and February.
How many "dare" points did you score from this list? If this list is too "fearful" for you, try a milder list of Singapore's "supposedly-weird" food below.