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  • Writer's pictureRick

The day I did a "Michelin Food Marathon" in Chinatown, Singapore

I hatched this crazy idea out of the blue to do a self-styled "Michelin Food Marathon". The objective was to try as many nice food as I could within one day using the Singapore Michelin Guide 2019 as reference — who knows if there will be a Singapore guide for 2020 due to COVID-19. It took me 2 weeks to "visualise" the feasibility of this idea.

My brief plan for the Michelin Food Marathon was as followed:

🍩 9:00 am (breakfast)

Traditional bread @ The 1950's Coffee, Chinatown Complex

🍩 10:00 am (snack)

Popiah @ Ann Chin Handmade Popiah, Chinatown Complex

🍩 11:00 am (lunch)

Noodle @ Fatty Ox HK Noodle, Chinatown Complex

🍩 2:00 pm (tea-break)

Satay @ 168 CMY Satay, Chinatown Complex

🍩 5:00 pm (dinner)

Claypot rice @ Lian He Ben Ji Claypot, Chinatown Complex

🍩 8:00 pm (supper)

Rojak @ Rojak.Popiah & Cockle, Maxwell Food Centre

This itinerary would allow me to try 6 Michelin-accoladed food stalls in one day within Chinatown, so I would not have to run around Singapore. Apart from The 1950's Coffee and 168 CMY Satay, which I had tried several times before, the rest were new. The timings were estimated based on the meals being light or heavy, to allow time for digestion and also to avoid lunch-time crowd. Lastly, none of the above stalls closed on Friday.

It seemed to be a workable plan and I had no intention to stuff myself silly — well, supper was already stretching a little for me, but since dinner was planned to be early, a little supper should be alright. And so, I put this plan into actions on a Friday.

But, a plan could never keep up with changes or any unforeseen circumstances...

I reached Chinatown Complex at about 9:30am — fine, I was late — and headed straight to The 1950's Coffee. It was not the first time I came to The 1950's for their thick black coffee, but I never had the chance to try their traditional bread ($1.20), which was always sold out by the time I joined the queue on any days.

On this Friday and during the COVID-19 period, there was no queue and I finally got what I came for — a traditional breakfast set with black coffee, two soft-boiled eggs and a set of traditional bread with kaya and thick slice of butter ($3.40). One bite into the charcoal-toasted bread and the reason why it always sold out fast was obvious. It was really good! I should have ordered two sets of the bread.

It was around 10am after coffee. I decided to go straight for the second item on my list as planned since the breakfast set was not heavy. While searching for the next target, I came across Fatty Ox HK Kitchen, which was the third item on my list for lunch. But seeing that there was no queue at the stall, I decided to bring it forward. This was when my plan started to "morph".

I ordered beef brisket noodle (including beef tendons) for $4 from Fatty Ox HK Kitchen. Unable to resist the temptation of the beautifully-roasted duck in the glass shelf, I asked to add-on some of it for $5. The beef briskets and tendons were really nice and I fell in love with the roasted duck.

Perhaps, I was too greedy. The portion was about two persons' share.

Feeling super-full after the meal, I went for a stroll, hoping to digest some of the food. I did not regret ordering the extra roasted duck, though my plan was affected — I don't stick to plans rigidly anyway, they served mainly as guides to provide some directions.

It had been quite a while since I last roamed the streets of Chinatown looking for nice food outlets and street arts. Without an objective, strolling aimlessly could be boring. Then, I came across a mural on a wall outside Chinatown Complex along Smith Street. It was a painting by a local freelance artist named Yip Yew Chong. I had seen several of his intricate artworks and even posted them.

The above mural was named "Letter Writer" and was completed in February 2018. That was about six months after I last combed Chinatown for murals. Knowing Yip's style, there would be more in the area. I decided to look for all his artworks within Chinatown, walk a little and, hopefully, digest fast enough to try the next food. I found a total of 7 murals.

It started pouring heavily while I was searching for the murals. Unable to carry on any outdoor activities, I headed back to Chinatown Complex for my next Michelin target — Ann Chin Handmade Popiah (Hokkien spring roll).

The time was close to 1pm. I had planned to avoid lunch time but the rain forced me to be back at that undesirable time. The food centre was a little packed, due to limited tables as a result of safe-distancing, but not crowded. I bought a popiah ($1.70) from Ann Chin and found a table at a secluded corner after 5 minutes.

And the spring roll wrappers did not turn soggy and fall apart after 5 minutes. That was my first impression of the popiah. The crunchy and crispy fresh ingredients scored even more points.

I had fulfilled the first three objectives of my plan, except for the off-schedule in timings.

Again, feeling full from all the meals that I had, I went to myCK Departmental Store in New Bridge Centre, which was connected to Chinatown Complex, to try doing some window-shopping as it was still raining heavily. It was not a big store and, thus, not able to keep me in there for long.

At 2:30pm, unable to go for satay as planned, I swapped satay with the last item on my list — rojak, which was intended as supper. I made my way to Maxwell Food Centre in the still-heavy rain and came to Rojak.Popiah & Cockle — it's the name of the stall.

Since I had tried a popiah earlier and not wanting to repeat the food, I ordered the smallest portion of rojak ($3) from Rojak.Popiah & Cockle. The ingredients were quite common in a typical dish of rojak. The pineapple, turnip and cucumber were juicy and sweet. It was the well-balanced taste of salty, sweet, sour and spicy that made this rojak much better than other stalls.

I waited in Maxwell Food Centre until the rain stopped at around 3:40pm. Knowing that there was another piece of mural at Thian Hock Keng Temple, I made my way to Amoy Street. It was the longest mural named "Hokkien Huay Kuan" and was commissioned by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (Clan Association).

Unlike the 7 murals that I found earlier in the day, the "Hokkien Huay Kuan" mural had been around since April 2017. I had tried looking for it near the main entrance of the temple once, could not find it and forgot about it eventually. The Chinatown murals had fished that little piece of memory out of the forgotten realm in my brain.

After bagging the 8th murals for the day, I went one more round around Chinatown to make sure I did not missed any of Yip Yew Chong's artworks. Then I came to Da You (Chinatown) Departmental Store on the second floor of New Bridge Centre.

Unknown to most people, most items sold in Da You were actually comparatively cheaper than most supermarkets in Singapore. There were also food imports from China, Taiwan, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries that were not available in the other supermarkets. I bought some items here: a bottle of dark vinegar from Taiwan, a can of yellow croaker from China, and two Little Chef (小厨师) instant noodles from Thailand.

It was just after 6pm when I felt like eating again. I headed back to Chinatown Complex and came to Lian He Ben Ji Claypot stall. There was a short queue of just 2 people. When my turn came, and before I could place an order, I was told that my order would be ready at around 7:45pm — that was one hour and 30 minutes away! That was when I realised that most of the occupied tables around the stall had nothing on them, the diners were all waiting for their claypot rice.

If I had knew about the long waiting time, I would have came at 4:30pm — when the stall just opened — to place my order. Not wanting to wait, I decided to come back for the claypot rice another day. Then, I made my way to 168 CMY satay and received a second blow. The stall was still opened but the satay section was closed — probably sold out for the day. That was two items left unchecked on my list of six.

Fortunately, I had a back-up plan. I walked over to Hawker Chan's Smith Street outlet just opposite Chinatown Complex. It was still opened with three tables occupied and no queue at the counter. A sign near the entrance said that it would be closing at 7:30pm. One hour was more than enough for me.

I had tried Hawker Chan's soya sauce chicken noodle several times at the main stall in Chinatown Complex and this was the first time I visited one of its branches. I went for the rice version this time, being its signature dish. The soya sauce chicken rice was $5 and I added a dish of beansprouts for $3.

The aromatic and succulent chicken was nice as usual. The sauce on the rice had a slight herbal taste too. I had always preferred the noodle version due to more textures and flavour but the rice version was great too.

After the meal at Hawker Chan, I concluded the "Michelin Food Marathon". I had tried 5 Michelin-awarded stalls instead of the 6 that I originally planned. Total expenditure on all the food was $25.10 — it would be cheaper if add-ons were excluded.

With all the walking around in-between meals to find murals, I logged 19,500 steps and 13km walking distance. That was not too bad considering the amount of calories that was added from all the eating.

I would not consider this Food Marathon a failed mission as I had shown by example that it was possible to try several Michelin-awarded stalls in a single day in Chinatown — just don't overeat!

It might not sound right to say this, but this crazy stunt was made possible thanks to COVID-19 for eliminating all the queues.


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