1. The Ceylonese Affair
Sri Lankan food is still not as readily available as other South Asian cuisines here, but The Ceylonese Affair champions a few standout dishes from the island. The stall is located in the upscale foodcourt that is Wild Market, a series of stalls that has taken over what used to be a large Chinese seafood restaurant in Shaw Towers. The stalls sell everything from ramen and French cuisine to burgers and truffle fries.
One of the highlights here is the Ceylonese dum biryani, based on the recipe by the stall owner’s grandmother. Diners can pick from chicken or vegetarian versions ($10.90), or mutton or fish ($11.90). The chicken biryani comes in a silver pot, with pappadum and achar on the side, and the generous portion is big enough for two to share. The fall-off-the-bone tender and flavourful chicken comes buried in the fragrant rice, along with a hardboiled egg.
WHERE: Wild Market, 01-27 Shaw Towers, 100 Beach Road
OPEN: 10 am to 10 pm (Mondays to Thursdays and Sundays), 10 am to 11 pm (Fridays and Saturdays), Tel: 9247 5319
2. Chop Chop Biryani & Meats
At Chop Chop Biryani & Meats in Amoy Street Food Centre, nasi biryani is served “Chinese-Indian style”, according to owner Gino Goh, 33. Diners have a choice of pork masala, sambal sotong, braised char siew and salted egg yolk popcorn chicken ($5 to $6) to go with the saffron-hued basmati rice.
Each plate is filled with rice, cabbage thoran, pineapple and cucumber salsa, a runny soft-boiled egg and a papadum. One of the most eclectic combination of the lot is siew yoke biryani ($5), a cross-cultural marriage of the Persian-Indian rice dish with Cantonese-style roast pork belly. The meat, which is chopped upon order from a huge slab, is on the firm side and could be juicier. It comes from Gino’s friend, who runs a catering business.
Despite being well-studded with cloves, star anise and cardamom, the spiciness of the rice barely packs a punch compared with versions from Indian-Muslim food stalls. However, the mellow spiciness of the rice allows the saltiness of the roast pork belly to stand out. The best part of eating the dish is biting into the squares of pork crackling in between spoonfuls of rice – delicious!
Gino says the idea of pairing siew yoke with nasi biryani came during a potluck party, where he saw both dishes on the same table. Other must-tries here are the char siew biryani ($5.50) and the flavourful pork masala biryani ($5).
WHERE: 02-101 Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Street
OPEN: 11 am to 3 pm (weekdays), closed on weekends
INFO: Call 8118 0657 or go to www.facebook.com/pg/chopchopamoystreefc
Biryani rice comes in many forms, whether slow cooked in broth over the stove or via the “dum” method where it is sealed in a pot and cooked over coals. But the version at multi-cuisine halal restaurant 99Bistro, a five-minute walk from Paya Lebar MRT station, is a more novel bamboo biryani.
Lamb shank from Australia, spices from Karachi in Pakistan and basmati rice from India are cooked in a bamboo stem from India. The bamboo adds little flavour to the dish, serving instead as a cooking vessel similar to puttu, a breakfast dish from the Indian subcontinent made with ground rice and coconut. But part of the draw of the dish is the drama of its presentation. At the table, the chef explains how the dish is cooked before removing the banana leaf covering the opening of the bamboo. He then uses a thin bamboo stick to scrape out the briyani.
First, a hardboiled egg tumbles out, followed by the fragrant rice and a generous 250 g piece of lamb shank. The lamb is basted in its own juices while it is being braised. Hence the meat is mildly flavoured and not very spicy, unlike in a typical Indian or Pakistani-style lamb biryani. If you are looking for something spicier, this dish might not work for you. The lamb is passably tender but the highlight of the dish is the aromatic, cardamom-studded rice which is infused with the flavours of the meat.
The light and fluffy rice goes wonderfully with the side dishes of a raita (yogurt sauce) and “salata hara”, a version of Arabic salsa. Made with chillis, tomatoes, mint and coriander, it is typically served with Arabic rice dishes containing chicken or lamb to add the spice kick missing from the meat.
At $24, the dish is slightly pricey, but it comes with two drinks, including a honey lemon digestive drink, as well as a rice kheer (Indian rice pudding) dessert. The portion is generous enough for two people. But if you still have extra rice left over, you may like to order a side dish of curry.
WHERE: 01-02 Lifelong Learning Institute, 11 Eunos Road 8
OPEN: noon to 3.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 5 to 8pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 5 to 10pm (Fridays and Saturdays), noon to 3.30pm (Sundays).
INFO: For reservations, call 6745 9958 or go to www.99bistro.com or www.facebook.com/99bistro
4. Al Azhar Italian & Mediterranean Restaurant
Located 100 m down the street from the west-side late-night supper institution that is Al Azhar is its fancier cousin – a restaurant with the same name, but serving Mediterranean and Italian food. Instead of the fluorescent lights and plastic chairs of the 24-hour joint, there are upscale touches in the restaurant, which opened two months ago. These include wallpaper, hanging light fixtures and proper furniture and cutlery. Correspondingly, the food is more upscale, as are the prices.
You can go for the Italian fare here if you fancy, but the real star of the restaurant is the lamb shank biryani ($15.90).
A sizable lamb shank, glistening with gravy, arrives atop a fragrant plate of basmati rice studded with cashews, raisins and mixed vegetables. The meat is so meltingly tender that it falls right off the bone with a mere prod of the fork, and the bone is completely clean of meat by the time my dining companions and I are done with the dish. Additionally, the spices mask any gamey flavour from the lamb.
The gravy from the lamb seeps into the rice, so there is no need for extra gravy or raita on the side to moisten it. Although the price seems high, the portion is big enough for two. There is also the option of the Mahiche (also $15.90), a Persian variation, which is the same lamb shank served with plain basmati rice and a forgettable “shirazi salad” made of peppers and cucumbers.
WHERE: 22 Cheong Chin Nam Road, Tel: 6463 2981
OPEN: 11.30 am to midnight (Sundays to Thursdays), 11.30 to 1 am (Fridays and Saturdays)
5. Peshawar Briyani House
Peshawar Briyani House, a stall in Taman Jurong Food Centre, serves a Pakistani variant of the moreish rice dish. The stall is co-owned by Mr Ahmed Khan, 36, who is taking his Pakistan-born wife’s biryani out of their home kitchen. Her family comes from Peshawar, a city in northern Pakistan that the stall is named after.
There are at least three other stalls in the hawker centre that serve biryani, but the Pakistani version stands out because the basmati rice has a spicier kick and comes with raita (yogurt sauce) instead of achar. Choose from two types of biryani on the menu – chicken ($5) or mutton ($6). The chicken biryani has a heap of saffron-hued rice that is perfumed by seven spices including cloves, garam masala and chilli powder, and flecked with coriander, tomato skin and onions.
The main difference lies in the chicken. Instead of being clogged with curry, it is infused with biryani spices from being cooked in the rice and served separately from the curry. Though not too juicy, the tender meat is a foil for the aromatic rice to shine through.
To douse the heat, try alternating spoonfuls of rice with raita, which has diced onions, cucumber and cumin. The sour tanginess of the yogurt sauce is a good palate cleanser. The rice is also cooked with meltingly soft mutton, like in a dum biryani. Each spoonful is a robust eruption of spices.
A hidden gem is the prawn briyani ($7), which is seldom served in hawker stalls. It is available on Fridays and public holidays and is not on the menu. The spice level of the rice is toned down to highlight the sweetness of the three succulent sea prawns.
WHERE: 3 Yung Sheng Road, Taman Jurong Food Centre, 02-114
OPEN: 10 am to 2 pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 10 am to 4 pm (Friday), 10 am to 2 pm (weekend), closed on Monday
Text: Adapted from reviews in The Straits Times