When I was young, I was never a fan of Pinoy foods. I have always been a picky eater so I would often reject the healthy home-cooked Filipino foods made by our amazing yaya. This is not because it doesn’t taste good but rather the familiar & the healthy breeds contempt into my tastebuds. My gullible 6-year-old self would prefer the artificial taste of fast-food junk foods to authentic home-cooked meals.
Fast forward when I was in my 30’s working in Singapore, somehow I surprisingly craved for Filipino foods and all the meals our yaya used to cooked for us: laswa, linutik, tinola, sinabawan, etc. I would romanticise every encounter of real Filipino foods in Singapore. We, Filipino overseas foreign workers in Singapore are blessed with the accessibility of some Filipino foods & products that are available. There are some Filipino restaurants found in Singapore like Gerry’s Grill, Comida Fiesta, Don Lechon, Lechon Republic, Tapa King and the famous Jollibee. In supermarts, you can find Filipino products being sold in the International section and there are several little shops in bus interchange selling only Filipino products. Hello Katipunan Store, we are talking about you. We are even happy that the condo we are staying have a minimart selling Filipino grocery items. If you are searching for all things Pinoy, head to Lucky Plaza in the heart of the bustling Orchard Road, you will find there lots of Filipino products and ‘carinderia-style’ eateries. I get why Filipinos, who weren’t used to be a fan of their own culinary dishes before, would be ecstatic to taste of any Pinoy foods once they became OFWs. It is simply because the taste feels like home. It is a concoction to ease homesickness with a wonderful helping of nostalgia.
It is easy to just stick to only Filipino foods when you are living aboard especially if you are blessed with the easy availability of it. But it is wonderful to venture out and discover that somehow you find commonalities in foods of your own country and a foreign country with a little difference here and there. To marry both my cravings for Filipino food and innate tendencies to find new food discoveries, I started discovering some Singaporean foods that are somewhat similar to Filipino food favorites:
- POPIAH IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR LUMPIA
Craving for lumpia, try the Popiah. It comes as fried or non-fried. It resembles the Pinoy lumpia sariwa. It contains steamed or stir-fired turnips with bean sprouts & other yummy ingredients depending on the vendor wrapped in a thin wheat flour paper-like crepe very similar to lumpia. This is often drizzled by a sweet sticky sauce. I love both the fried and non-fried version. For the non-fried, I love the popiah in Food Republic. The sauce of the popiah have crushed nuts in it and it taste absolutely amazing. But my go-to fast-food would always be the fried popiah. You can buy it in little Malay kiosk you can find here and there. I love the one near my old workplace and it comes with a sweet spicy sauce for me to dip into it.
2. SOYA BEANCURD PUDDING IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR TAHO
Sometimes we, Pinoys would miss buying from the friendly vendor balancing two big steel container on his shouldr, shouting “Taho” in our neighbourhood. We love that silken tofu swimming in a hot pool of warm brown sweet syrup with sago pearls on it placed in a transparent cup. There is one very similar to that in Singapore: the soya beancurd pudding. It is also made of tofu. Some soya pudding kiosks in malls sells them in a bowl often chilled, most of it don’t have any sweet syrup on it and would be packaged in a firm, smooth, pristine structure unlike our loved “taho“. There are a few beancurd shops in hawker center that sell in it in transparent bowls scooped in a disorganised cutting shapes like the Pinoy taho but usually it is drizzled with a white sweet sugar syrup. I found the perfect beancurd pudding that resembles the taho is found near my old workplace in Pasir Ris. You can buy it plain with just the beancurd or you can choose to have it with a Gula Melaka (brown sugar syrup from Malacca), pearls, red bean, almonds , jelly, etc. To recreate taho, I would buy its with Gula Melaka syrup with pearls and occasionally I would have the one with almonds too. That is my regular lunch while I was pumping milk in the breastfeeding room: Soya Beancurd Pudding and Fried Popiah.
3. MEE SIAM IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR PALABOK
If you want to see a close cousin of the palabok, try the Nyonya Mee Siam. It is also a noodle dish made of rice-flour vermicelli with thick orange shrimp sauce and it would have big pieces of shrimps & boiled egg in it. This is a savoury dish with a tangy rich flavour. I have tried the dry mee siam in one of the work lunches where we have to create our own buy putting the noodles in a bowls, adding the sauce and the shrimps and other condiments. I wasn’t really impress by it until I tried the soupy mee siam and I am became a fan. My favorite mee siam is in Royal’s Cafe.
4. SATAY IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR BARBECUE
For Pinoys missing that smokey grilled meat on sticks, look no further than the satay. You can easily finish 10-20 sticks of these. It reminiscent of the much-loved bbq in the Philippines that we would buy from street vendors with smokey grills station along the streets. What makes satay different from the Pinoy bbq is the sauce. It is not marinated in sweet bbq sauce like in the Philippines instead it comes with a sweet peanut sauce for you to dip it in. This dish originated in Indonesia. There are some restaurant in the Philippines that have recreated exactly this called Sate Babe’. My husband and I love the Sate Babe’ in Bob’s, a Bacolod restaurant.
5. CHARSIEW RICE IF YOU MISS TOCINO WITH RICE
It is obvious that we, Pinoys, love sweet foods. One of the go-to breakfast meal is of course, tocino (sweet pork meat) with rice. A dish that taste similar to the tocino, even if it looks not exactly like the Tocino dish is the Charsiew Rice. It has a thick sweet sauce coating the tender pork belly meat that makes it taste somewhat the same as a toucan. This is a great lunch meal in Singapore and will substitute the tocino with rice for the meantime.
Credits : Burpple by Alex Ortega
6. BAK KUH TEH IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR KANSI
If you miss that sour peppery Ilonggo soup called Kansi then you can find lots of Bak Kuh Teh restaurant that would deliver that except the big bone filled with the yummy slimy bone marrow that is in Kansi soup. But it does the trick with its hot comforting peppery sour to replace the Kansi that cannot be found in Singapore. My favorite Bak Kuh Teh restaurant is Founder’s.
7. BAK CHOR MEE IF YOU ARE CRAVING FOR BATCHOY
Since we are already taking about Ilonggo dishes, of course we need to talk about the dish that is famous in my hometown, Iloilo: The Batchoy. For non-Ilonggos, batchoy is a salty yellow noodle soup with lots of yummy ingredients thrown in it like pork offal, crush pork cracklings and beef loin. I found a similar tasting soup that can pass off as a batchoy in one of the hawker center in Bedok: The Bak Chor Mee. It can be served dry or as a soup. If you miss batchoy, get it as a soup.
Filipino dishes also have strong Chinese influences so you can find your favorite Pinoy Chinese foods in Singapore with slightly differently spelled name but the taste and shape is somewhat similar. Examples are:
Pinoy —-> Singapore
Bihon – Beehoon
Siomai – Siew mai
Lomi – Lor mee
It is amazing how you can find similarities in dishes of a different country to our own. I love having discoveries like these. This article must come with a disclaimer that my tastebuds maybe very different from yours and you would protest that these dishes are not at all identical. I didn’t say that they are 100% the same but they do possess, in my opinion, a slight similarity like a close 2nd cousin to the original that is worth trying. For Filipinos living in Singapore, let me know if you agree with me on these or my tastebuds are just out of wack. Do share with me some Singapore dishes that you think taste a little bit like our Filipino foods that we know and love.