By Sue Ann Yang | 23 May 2023
Food has always been my source of comfort and an integral part of my life.
Eating is not just a matter of meeting basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s about creating lasting memories through the process of cooking, discovering new dining spots, and savouring meals with family and friends.
I’m certain many Singaporeans would agree that the taste, smell and texture of food triggers memories. Milo peng (an iced chocolate malt drink) reminds me of school meets. Curry chicken and potatoes brings me back to Chinese New Year lunches lovingly prepared by my grandma. Fulin yong tau foo (a savoury Hakka Chinese dish consisting primarily of tofu filled with ground meat mixture or fish) is a throwback to my old estate where my parents brought us out for family meals.
Moving to Dubai
In June of 2022, my husband, Tim, told my 9-year old son, Seth, and I that we had the exciting opportunity to relocate to Dubai due to his career. Things happened quickly from there. We only had a month to pack and say our goodbyes to our family and friends.
Before we moved, we visited our favourite food haunts one last time. Kaya toast (a sweet, creamy spread or custard made with coconut cream, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves) from Chin Mee Chin, Eng’s Wantan Noodle (Cantonese egg noodles), Char Siew Roast pork rice from HK888 Specialist, Adam Road Prawn noodles and more. We checked them off our bucket list in a bittersweet manner.
We also packed essentials like Yakun kaya bottles, ready-made prima paste, sachets of Oldtown kopi (local coffee), snacks like ikan bilis, dried scallops, star anise and more to stock up our kitchen in Dubai.
Bringing a taste of home to Dubai
Growing up in Singapore, I took many things for granted – particularly the abundance of cheap, mouth-watering local food just a stone’s throw away.
I had to learn to create these dishes from scratch. With my family’s encouragement, I started making my own local delights to satisfy our cravings; ban mian (a Chinese noodle dish), roast pork, laksa (a spicy coconut-based noodle soup), chicken rice, ABC soup (soup prepared with tomato, carrot, potato, and chicken / pork) – the works.
The thumbs up and encouragement from Tim and Seth motivated me to persist in preparing our meals.
Finding Shiok food in Dubai
Fortunately, thanks to recommendations from fellow Singaporeans, we found that Singaporean dishes were available in Dubai – with some detective work. Founded by a fellow Singaporean, Shiok was my first brush with Singaporean food in Dubai.
(P.S. For more Singaporean food overseas, this Singapore Global Food Map will hit the spot!)
You know what they say about first love. It’s always unforgettable.
What hit the spot for me were the chicken satay (skewers) drenched in sauce, fried mantou (buns) with Singapore chili crab sauce and the unassuming cai po (preserved radish) omelette. We also ordered iced milo to go with our meal – and let’s just say, it’s absolutely shiok in Dubai’s sweltering heat!
Over the Lunar New Year festivities, their takeaway yusheng (raw fish salad) was a good way to introduce the Singaporean Lohei (salad toss) culture to our friends here. From time to time, they even offer chili crabs, which are a delight we enjoy at gatherings.
When they say you see Singaporeans dining or queuing for food, you know the place is legit. That’s how we bumped into another Singaporean friend and her family at Oriental Dining Restaurant. That’s where we discovered the best hor fun (flat rice noodles in a thick gravy) chockfull of ingredients, prawn paste chicken wings, and a refreshing cup of Teh Tarik (pulled milk tea). Satisfied, we left the restaurant with full hearts and happy bellies.
I have fond memories of enjoying economical mixed rice lunches during weekdays at the hawker centers and food courts in Singapore. The closest resemblance we found was the 7 Combo at Han Cuisine Restaurant. Their offerings include sweet and sour chicken with rice, stir-fried noodles with broccoli, and daily combos tailored for the working crowd. They also offer a nostalgic Singapore-style vermicelli option.
At Mamak, we indulged in their renowned nasi lemak, where the combination of fragrant coconut milk-infused rice and the heavenly blend of peanut and ikan bilis (fried anchovies) dipped in sambal took us to cloud nine. We also relished the Mee Goreng (fried noodles) Mamak, which boasted a delightful wok hei flavor – that distinct smoky essence that characterises perfectly stir-fried dishes – pleasing our senses with every bite.
Streetery Foodhall is an absolute favourite for late-night supper. Their Malay curry with roti paratha is incredibly authentic and satisfying. On weekends, their breakfast menu includes a delectable Malay Kaya Toast, which serves as a delightful alternative to Ya Kun. Moreover, they also offer apam balik (turnover pancake), also known as Min Jiang Kueh, adding another delightful treat to their repertoire.
Hawker Chan is the newest addition to the Chinatown Food Street at Dubai Mall. Whilst the menu is pretty limited, the soya sauce chicken rice we ordered was tasty. They also offer whole or half roasted duck, which pairs well both rice and noodles.
When it comes to dessert, the variety platter from Kuliner is our go-to choice. We absolutely adore their assortment of best-selling kuehs, including kue dadar gulung, ketan serikaya, pulut panggang, kue lapis, and bolu kukus. Their bite sized kuehs were well-received amongst young and old alike.
My husband’s favourite Durian can be found at Wemart. We were pleasantly surprised to find frozen musang durian in the frozen section. That section was like a trove of treasure chest waiting to be opened – with frozen youtiao (Chinese fried dough), tang yuan (glutinous rice balls served in syrup or soup) and many other Chinese food which we can bring back to our home away from home.
Leaning on community overseas
We were fortunate to connect with a wonderful group of Singaporeans who have been graciously sharing recommendations on the best dim sum, mala, and steamboat spots.
Recently, we had the pleasure of joining a makan session with a group of Singaporean ladies at the newest Asian supper club, featuring a thoughtfully curated menu. It was through them that I discovered a talented home baker who creates delightful treats like Tau Sa Piah (sweet bean paste bun) and Chicken Char Siew (barbequed chicken) pastry, which are perfect accompaniments for our tea sessions.
I look forward to continuing my food hunt journey with my family and friends over here and expanding our repertoire to different cuisines. If you’re looking to find community in Dubai, drop me a message on Instagram and i’ll love to connect!