November 1, 2013Posted by Andrea Seifert
The affable, Israeli-born Karni is a self-professed food explorer. When she moved to the Lion City five years ago, she made it her mission to eat her way through the markets, hawker stalls and local restaurants of Singapore. She is a smiling culinary beacon that will lead you through the multi-flavored maze that is the melting pot of Singaporean cuisine, spanning Indian, regional Chinese, Peranakan and Malaysian influences.
I thought I was crazy about food, but Karni is a true food fanatic, and she has a variety of fabulous tours on offer. Friday mornings see her holding court at Tekka Market, which is a wet market and hawker centre. Come night fall, she leads evening strolls through the glittering neon lights of the red light district; which whilst being renowned for having an array of women for sale, is also a vibrant eating hub.
There is a midnight fish market tour where you can see fishing vessels unload the day’s catch from the Indian and Pacific Oceans and then breakfast in the market canteen. She also does food court initiation for newcomers who are bewildered by the myriad of options on offer at their local eateries.
Karni can also customize various eating experiences for the young and old including cooking classes and demos, tea tastings and gourmet kitchen encounters at fine restaurants.
I joined her on a sunny Friday morning at Tekka Market in Singapore’s vibrant Little India district. We began at the flower seller outside the market, admiring the fragrant jasmine wreaths and garlands, and Buddha’s sacred flower, the lotus.
Karni joked that this was the most pleasantly scented part of the tour, and to brace ourselves for a diversity of olfactory sensations of the sweet and not so sweet smelling variety…
Our first mission as food explorers was to satisfy the rumble in our empty bellys. My usual cappuccino was replaced by Teh Halia, a strong ginger tea sweetened with condensed milk, and my granola with an Indian breakfast of champions- Dosa, a crepe stuffed with vegetables, and roti prata, the Malay fried flour-based pancake served with curry dipping sauce. Certainly an indulgent and filling morning meal.
Karni limits her tours to a maximum of six people, she says that any more is unmanageable as it becomes a little difficult to follow in the crowded, narrow lanes. She knows the market and its vendors like the back of her hand, which is evident by the number of warm greetings she receives.
Onwards we went, stopping by various stalls, with Karni explaining the provenance of the each dish. We sampled Chendol, an achingly sweet South East Asian dessert drink consisting of creamy coconut milk, rice jelly noodles in an acid green hue, shaved ice and palm sugar. A tad cloying for my taste, but I’m digging the green worms – a great Halloween drink!
Photo credit: www.singaporelocalfavourites.com
Next up was a visit to the rojak stall. The word rojak means ‘mixed’ and this is a blend of deep fried tofu cakes, dough fritters, peanuts, cucumber, potato, and prawns thrown together with hard boiled eggs and beansprouts in a sweet and spicy chili sauce. There is also a fruit option that has a tangy dressing of lime juice, chili and shrimp paste.
We passed smiling gentlemen with impressive moustaches baking naan bread in a special drum barrel oven and opted for an early lunch of chicken biryani served on a banana leaf. The rice and chicken is slowly cooked in enormous pots with plenty of spices, and then covered with mint and cashew nuts. A more-ish, savoury delight.
Post lunch, we proceeded on to check out the raw produce, of which there were a multitude I had never encountered. One fruit in particular, called pulasan, native to Peninsular Malaysia was a new taste sensation. It resembles rambutans and lychees in appearance and flavor.
The seafood section was next, awash with rows of glistening fish scales in varying colours lined up upon mountains of ice, as well as crabs, prawns, clams and everything else you can imagine that resides under the sea. Jaws is there too, if you fancy taking a bit out of him.
That concluded the culinary expedition. An educational, cultural tour — go and treat your tastebuds! It’s a great experience for any foodie. PS: dress for the occasion – it’s called a wet market for a reason. Flip flops and loose, light and comfortable clothing, preferably of the stretchy variety, so you can indulge. After all, Singaporeans have made a hobby out of eating, and with so much temptation on offer, it’s not hard to see why.