Ice Cream at Opposite Ends of the Earth

Ice Cream at Opposite Ends of the Earth

Two different people, two different places, one idea so stunningly similar it’s hard to imagine they are not one and the same. Who knew ice cream could be so exciting?

The story is remarkable: two men whom to this day have never met; never even heard of each other. Both about the same age, with careers, kids and obligations to keep them busy. One on this side of the earth, the other 9,000 miles away. And each with a dream for making people happy – with ice cream. 

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Wet Market Wanderings: Shark!


The wet markets of Singapore; how do I begin to describe them to one who has never been?  Do I simply explain that they are open air food stands contained under a common roof and offering fresh food to buy?  I could write a tome listing the endless array of fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry and a host of things that I don't exactly know how to classify but nevertheless look great.  Or do I describe them as a gathering of different vendors in every neighborhood in Singapore selling meat, produce and dry goods specific to the predominant ethnicity of that area?  That could become and even bigger opus.

To the untrained eye Singapore's wet markets may all look the same. Just rows and rows of counter-height stalls piled with good things to eat. You make your way along wet, slippery floors (they hose down portions of markets periodically to wash away the detritus), past boxes, baskets and coolers stacked in narrow aisles, and a rainbow of people from all over this melting pot of culture. Everyone is reaching for things to put in their round or rectangular plastic boxes to hand up to the auntie or uncle behind the food to tally in their heads or on a scrap of paper and gesture how much it all costs. It's a bustling, crowded, sometimes pushy and frequently noisy full-on sensory experience which, if you have any interest in Singapore's local food and the people who cook it, can't be missed.  But there's more to a wet market than meets the eye and not all sell the same things.

I can often choose which market to venture into depending on the category of my peckish sentiment at the moment.  If, for example, I want lamb or mutton, along with ghee in which to cook it and banana leaves on which to serve it, I head to Tekka market in Little India.  If pork tickles my palate, I avoid Tekka and head to Tiong Bahru where one can buy the entire swine's face or -- for the more particular -- just the ears or tails or trotters, not to mention all (and I mean all) parts in between.

Pig's heart/lung combo - is it still called "pork??"

If, alternatively, my menu calls for fully intact chickens or ducks; whole pigs; live frogs; squirming eels; turtles, lotus root packed in mud; any variety of live crabs; preserved duck eggs (which, by their blackened, straggly feathers and overall semi-decomposed appearance, may very possibly be the ultimate misnomer); nearly any variety of dried sea flora or fauna or piles of tender, soft noodles, it's off to the Chinatown Complex.  Of course great fish, fruits and vegetables can be had at an of these, though one gets picky over selection and price, so I have my favorites.

 And don't forget the dried foods ranging from a biology lab's worth of seaweed, dried meats, fish, herbs, prawns, fungi and countless varieties of shriveled critters and mollusks in varying stages of decomposition. The list of options available at the many Singapore wet markets goes on and on, and after only a short while you find that nothing shocks or disturbs you anymore and everything is worth at least an exploratory taste.

But every now and then something shows up that intrigues even the most well-seasoned wet marketeer and is worthy of special note.  And this particular day was no exception.  I walked into the market in search of lemon grass to make a refreshing "tea" to cut through the tropical heat that simmers within my core after a crowded morning slogging through the fish-scaly puddles and fleshy air of a wet market.  When I happened upon a shark. Not a shark like the smaller ones in every fish stall - black tip reefers or the ubiquitous dogfish used to make an affordable interpretation of shark's fin soup.  But a rather biggish shark -- stretching nearly 2 meters.  In other words big enough to cause your average expat holiday snorkeler to uncontrollably contaminate the clear waters of a coral reef.

The creature's pinpoint eyes--piercing even in death--caught my attention first, following which I momentarily scanned its length, estimating the height of its dorsal fin and, inevitably, the diameter of its wide mouth.  I stood there, admiring the catch of the day, with its tawny sandpaper skin, intricate leopard spots and creamy underbelly.

I touched it.

"You wan buy?" The Chinese fishmonger barked at me from across the crabs and squid.  I could sense from his dubious expression that he already knew the answer.

But I played along. "How much?"

"Seven per kilo. But must buy whole fish." No doubt, a "special promotion" for the sweaty ang moh with the Nikon standing before him.

"How heavy?"  I replied, eyeballing the beast as if sizing it up for my wok at home.

"Fifty five k-g.  Very nice!"

I did the math and wondered if in Princeton, New Jersey one could buy a fresh 120 pound shark for $300. That's about $2.50/pound.  Not bad, I thought, trying to picture our maid's expression when I slapped that bad boy down on the kitchen counter so she could get to work.

But apparently I was not the only one with such grand ideas, because before I knew it a more ambitious Singaporean stepped forward and, speaking rapidly to the vendor in short, sharp words, pointed to the fish.

I glanced at him, my face demonstrating disappointment at his attempt to usurp my family's dinner.  My competitive spirit flared and I nearly leaned in to begin the bidding war.

But he had the advantage -- Mandarin -- and the negotiation went fast and furious, until he handed over what appeared to be a much smaller amount of currency than previously required of me, and sealed the deal.

"Xie xie," my fishmonger friend nodded at my victor before dropping the money into a tin and turning away to address an enormous grouper in need of filleting.

And so ended my shark tale.  But that's okay, because tomorrow is another day in the wet markets of Singapore... and I'm going back for goat....

Postscript:  None of the foregoing is intended to condone the fishing for or killing of sharks. Great controversy exists over the indiscriminate killing of sharks for their fins. Often the desecrated creatures are just tossed back the sea – sometimes still alive. I believe that such a cruel practice is both inhumane and an unjustifiable waste of valuable wildlife resources. What do you think?

Ramen Santouka – These ain't your noodles from college!

Classic Shio Ramen with Tokusen Toroniku pork cheeks.

When I think of ramen noodles it evokes increasingly distant memories of my college days, when for twenty five cents I could buy a cellophane block of hard, dry noodles and a foil bullion pack which would sustain me through another night of, er, “studying.” Like so many of my neo-poverty colleagues, I practically lived on the stuff. It was cheap, salty and cooked up in about three minutes. It didn’t matter if the crusty noodles got smashed between the books and beer in my backpack because all I was looking for was a salt delivery system; just throw a little beef jerky in the pot and you had yourself a meal. That’s what I thought ramen was.

Years later a friend invited me to a lunch of real ramen – a food I had thought little of since those lean college days. I hesitated before accepting the dubious invitation; my disbelief suspended only because this guy is a well-established “foodie.” He spoke of things I had never associated with ramen: “globules of shiny fat,” alkaline noodles and umami. It didn’t sound like the ramen of my youth and I began to wonder if, perhaps, I had missed something along the way. Still, I approached the half-curtained entry to Ramen Santouka in the Central at Clarke Quay warily, preoccupied by visions of plastic bowls filled with grey, watery soup and flavorless stale noodles. I could not have been more mistaken.

What I did not know upon entering Ramen Santouka was that I was entering not just an unassuming Japanese restaurant chain from Hokkaido but also a world of food fanaticism and unrelenting, age-old culinary exactitude. Admiring the elegantly simple décor and sweeping view of the Singapore River, my dubious expectations dissipated when, throughout the room, I saw nothing but happy people slurping noodles out of large stoneware bowls from which floated gentle puffs of sumptuous steam. Before I knew it, similar dishes were placed before us, along with a plate of juicy Tokusen Toroniku pork cheeks, the warm aroma of which triggered an instant Pavlovian response. What is this mysterious concoction before me? I thought and, as if he could read my mind, my friend simply whispered: “Ahh, shio ramen.”

It is said that the majority of ramen diners burn the roof of their mouths ever so slightly on their first sip of every bowl of ramen, and my experience was no exception. The slight singe of my first taste was accompanied by a deep, earthy flavor that blossomed on my palate into a silky richness like I had never before tasted in soup. The shio broth in which my tender noodles rested was dense and milky white, evenly infused with the tiniest spheres of bubbly, liquid marrow. Despite its salt and pork origin, it was not excessively briny or oleaginous. Instead, its smoky sensation of savory pork stock, blended with the woodiness of shitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic and tickled with a herbaceous, salty hint, was a masterful lesson in depth, texture and balance. And that was when all preconceived notions from college vanished and I realized that ramen – perhaps the purest form of Japanese “comfort food” – is serious cuisine.

Just what is it that makes a simple bowl of boiled bone soup and noodles take on rock-star status in the world of great food? In Japan it’s more than a food or even cuisine, but indeed, a way of life. Santouka chef and supervisor Koji Kanoi explained that great ramen requires a commitment to precision, patience and a lot of practice. Which is why not just anyone can boil up a pot a ramen; not a decent one, anyway. 

The ramen closest to the Chinese culinary roots from which this distinctly Japanese food sprang over a hundred years ago is shôyu, a soy-based broth and the most common version found in such ramen-centric venues as Tokyo. But at Santouka they span the general categories of true ramen also serving shio (salt), tonkotsu (pork broth) and miso (fermented bean paste) varieties. Whatever the style (or tare) of ramen, they always start with the broth – the genesis of which is an enormous pot of water, dried fish and vegetables and exceptional pork bones. 

Producing the broth involves carefully roasting the bones before boiling them furiously for over five hours to extract all their flavor and marrow. Then commences a sixteen hour balancing act of adding to the liquid other ingredients, including chicken, herbs vegetables, konbu seaweed, dried bonito flakes and any number of secret ingredients. It simmers under precisely controlled temperatures in order to reach the perfect combination of intensity, flavor and viscosity. 

“But it’s really all in the bones.” Kanoi-san whispered as he raised the lid from a vat of roiling bones. And not just any old bones. After years of experimenting with many sources around the world, Santouka found the perfect pigs to precede its soup. “The marrow is the key and our carefully staggered cooking process gently coaxes it out and builds the broth,” he explained. But when I asked where those exquisite bones came from, Kanoi-san just sucked a little air through his teeth and smiled politely.
“There is no room for shortcuts if it is to meet our standards,” said the soft-spoken cook from Hokkaido. “So today’s soup was started yesterday and the soup cooking now will be ready tomorrow.” The finished broth – thickened naturally by the luscious marrow – is carefully maintained under meticulous temperature control until served. Mine – one shio and one shôyo (I had to try both!) – were ladled into bowls atop luscious homemade noodles – alkaline based to absorb just the right flavor while remaining slick and firm to the tooth. Floating on the surface was the classic accompaniment of scallions, nori, bamboo shoots and an umbioshi sour plum to compliment those amazing pork cheeks with a delicate brown outer ring, succulent pinkish center and an unparalleled butter-soft texture on the tongue.

At only 200 grams each, only sixty Tokusen Toroniku cheeks are prepared on a typical day. “We tried cheeks from different regions of the world, starting in Japan, but also in Australia, the United States and elsewhere before finding the very best. But that’s all I can say.” Kanoi-san said, reverently holding an intricately marbled slab of the wagyu-style meat. The pork is marinated in shôyu before the actual braising process begins, following which it undergoes a profound transformation so secret he only let me peek at the precious meat in a simmering, reddish fusion of braising stock, herbs and spices. I pressed him for the recipe, but he just sucked more air through his humble smile. 

Pork cheeks secretly braising.
I nodded, suddenly understanding that such trivial questions about recipes are not easily answered, because the ramen at Santouka is more than just a really good recipe. The brilliance that makes this soup so indelibly arresting is indefinable. Its unsurpassed richness is more than just the product of using the best ingredients and building into it a distinct-yet-indefinable source of umami. Its luscious texture is more than just the result of culinary expertise. Such depth and complexity of flavor can only be borne from a knowledgeable passion for perfection and a stubborn refusal to accept anything less. And it’s that sliver of culinary magic – a discipline which takes years to learn and a lifetime to perfect – that carves the unbridgeable chasm between the quick-fix instant ramen of my youth and Santouka’s gustatory masterpiece.

Ramen Santouka
6 Eu Tong Sen Street #02-76
The Central at Clarke Quay
+65 6224 0668

Foodwalk: Getting Lost in Singapore's Little India

Whether praying in temples, selling items on the street or hawking food in restaurants and markets, Singapore’s Little India is as real as India gets this side of the subcontinent. It's a great place for a foodwalk if, of course, you are feeling very hungry. 

Begin your 3-hour foodwalk at the Little India MRT and head into Tekka Market for roast duck from Heng Gi Goose & Duck (stall 01-335). They’ve been serving up Teochew braised waterfowl for nearly fifty years. Combined with their fois-gras, homemade tofu and a crunchy duck foot it’s a full flavor study in control and balance. But it's a big plate, so share it with a friend or two because there is some good food in your foodwalking future.

Walk up Buffalo Road past fruit and vegetables bulging from storefronts onto the sidewalks until you reach Serangoon Rd. Cross the road, turn left and head North to the corner of Norris Road for Azmi Restaurant (also known as Norris Road Chapati) (168 Serangoon Road) whose slogan: “Secret of good mood; Taste of Azim’s food” is hard to argue with. The menu here is old-school, with everything cooked from scratch since 1944 in the tiny kitchen out back. Their specialties – simple whole-wheat chapatis – are cooked on a round iron griddle by a guy in an izaar wrap standing barefoot on a sheet of cardboard. He’s been making chapatis there since 1956 when the British still controlled Singapore. 

To understand just how good Azmi is, order two chapattis and the mutton keema – granules of savory minced meat, peas, potatoes and spices slow-cooked into a mélange of magnificence. Brighten the deep, earthy flavors with a side of shaved onions, crisp cucumber and a squirt of calamansi.  The chapatis are soft and warm; thin disks of pure wheat and water, flaking apart like dense tissue paper. Tear it into ribbons and scoop up gobbets of the keema. Then fight to restrain your whimpers of jubilation. 

Just a few doors down Serangoon is Valli Flower Mill (174 Serangoon Road), one of the few remaining hand spice grinding and roasting operations in Singapore. Between running spice rakes though the raw umber powder, barefooted men still grind spices in the hundred-year-old mills. The air wafts a smoky perfume of cumin, chili, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric and other blended spices toasting gently in a large dry roasting trough. 
Continue along Serangoon, ducking under low-hanging awnings and crowded stores selling clothes, jewelry and food. Turn right at Desker Road and walk to Lembu Road to find the unassuming Bangla Square, also known as Lembu Road Open Space. Tall trees shade this bricked plaza, whose perimeter is lined with local shops selling Bangladeshi snacks, folded betel nut leaf and delicious sweets. Cool off with a refreshment at one of the tables while watching young men playing Carom, a sort of tale-top snooker with discs that slide on the powdered surface and knock the opponent’s discs away.

From Bangla Square, stroll past the many brightly colored shophouses along Desker and then right, along Kampong Kapor Road. When you reach Upper Weld Road hang a right and head to Tim Sim Coffee Shop (40 Clive Street) on a triangular intersection of Upper Weld, Dickson and Clive Streets. You may not recognize this wallless, tin-roofed corner of the street as a coffee shop at all. But it’s been there for nearly 100 years, according to the brewer who, by the looks of him, may very well have celebrated its grand opening. He'll make your kopi slowly, shuffle to your plastic table and bark “You try.” The coffee is old-school in the strictest sense: butter-roasted, dark and robust, and very, very strong.

From Upper Weld Road continue down Upper Dickson toward Serangoon, cross it and stroll down Kerbau Street, following it to the right where it becomes Belilios Lane. At the end of the lane you reach the side of the remarkably ornate Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (141 Serangoon Road). If it’s open you should go in and have a look at the silver prayer bell, intricate religious art and enclosed courtyard with shrines dedicated to Hindu deities. Then retrace your path down Belilios Road and follow it the short block to Chander Road.

Directly across from you sits the tiny Cettinadu New Restaurant (41 Chander Road). A waiter will ladle from steel pots raita, stewed greens, spiced potato and a dollop of chutney “pickle” onto your fresh banana leaf “plate.” Order the classic Chettinad chicken curry or mutton masala and dive in -- but only with your bare, right hand. The waiter will keep refilling your sides until you beg him to stop. When you’re done, simply fold your leaf in half and wait for the (very small) bill.

Turn right upon exiting the restaurant and head down Chander Road to where it bends right into Kerbau Road. On the corner is North Indian Sri Lakshminarayan Temple (5 Chander Road), with its red beehive shaped Amalaka domes. Across the street, set back from the corner is a courtyard lined with small Indian snack joints offering tasty curry puffs, sweets, teh tarek and fresh-made pani puri. 

Across the courtyard is the ornately painted Tan Tang Niah shophouse (37 Kerbau Road), built in 1900 and passed through a colorful history until being designated a preservation building in 1990. From here you can pass through narrow, shaded vegetable stalls between the buildings leading to Buffalo Road and the end of your foodwalk.  Turn right a few meters to Race Course Road and the MRT station.

If you reflect over what you’ve just seen and tasted you’ll realize that old-school Singapore is still alive in Little India and it’s utterly approachable and delicious. If you enjoy Indian colors, culture and cuisine, you’ll fall in love with this neighborhood. And if you’re timid to Indian food here’s the good news: there’s no better or more hygienic place on the planet to discover the real thing than right here.

G7 Sin Ma Live Seafood - It's not just about the frogs

Frog is a popular meat in Singapore and, like the saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of them to find a prince. G7 Sin Ma Live Seafood in Geylang is one of those princes. Famous for their frog porridge and other frog-realted dishes, it's a typical eating house that has outgrown the usual open corner, plastic table character and has bulged into the storefront across the street and even to the second level. There the dining room is slightly fancier in decor and suitable for a large group such as, in our recent case, a gathering of hungry Makansutra "makankakis." But despite this restaurant's anuran popularity you don't have to kiss a lot of frogs to get royal food here, as evidenced by the exceptional meal that the chef served up.

It started with Scallop & Mango Roll and Dragon Beard Prawns, set on a platter with diced fruit gently tossed in a creamy mayo-based dressing. The hand-spun "beards" encircling the prawns were light and crispy, sweetened by the plump meat of the shellfish within.

Next came Braised Dried & Fresh Fish Maw in a casserole. The contrasting textures of the ingredients, combined with the gentle flavor of the sauce made from the fish's own juices, was savory and delicious and announced to all that this eating house is not just about frog porridge.

Just as we were craving more our waitress whisked in with a plate of Cantonese Roast Duck and Sio Bak pork. The duck was cooked to perfection, not at all dry despite the remarkable caramelization of the skin to a deep, earthen color and a sheen that made our mouths water before we even tasted it. The pork was cut old-school style; chunkier for a full-on meaty experience. The crackling skin was thick and firm, never softening under the air and equally uniform in texture. It delivered a very satisfying, not-too-salty taste. In a sea of roasted meats across Singapore, this ranked near the top.

The food kept coming, and with every dish it got better and better. Like the crisp Aubergine With Chinese Green Beans, jumped up with the complex taste of ikan bilis to give it a curious hint of fish without detracting from the freshness of the veg. The aubergines were like french fries with a bad-ass attitude; a thin crunch on the outside leading to warm creamy flesh in the center and the perfect balance of salt. I never need potato fries again if I

can have these instead. The beans, crisp yet tender were tossed with the perfect balance of garlic and strings of the tiny dried anchovies which added a wondrous mouth feel. It was one of those unexpected dishes that haunts you with its flavor.

The gustatory onslaught continued; slabs of thick, tender Chinese Beef Steak in a thick, robust sauce that clung to the perfectly medium rare meat, so juicy and moist.

Then came what to many was a new experience: Steamed Shark Head. Now before the anti-shark fin establishment clicks away in repugnance it should be stated that this is not actually shark, but rather shovel nose ray - a plentiful creature of the sea. The cartilage, lined with the opaque, gelatinous

flesh which quivered between our chopsticks, gleamed within the pool of soy-based sauce infused with spices, garlic, scallions, fiery chili and -- if detection serves -- a hint of Sichuan peppercorn. While the powerful sauce was on the heavy side for the delicate "meat," obscuring its true, melt-in-your-mouth flavor and texture, it was nevertheless so good that, when the flesh was quickly gone we scooped spoonsful of the sauce onto rice and consumed it all, bringing the meal to a savory crescendo.

To gradually bring us down from our gustatory high the chef served Tai-O Bee Hoon noodles wrapped in Opeh leaf. At first glance its appearance was uninspiring; a bland, bleached pile of noodles with chunks of white meat -- dare I say frog -- and just a suspicion of green pepper and chili. Noodles are often the litmus test that separates a pretty good cook from a great one; that endless challenge to get just the right firmness to the noodle, infusing the flavor of the other ingredients and establishing a moist, almost creamy texture and a hint of wok hei. It's not easy and most never quite achieve it. But contrary to its insipid facade this dish exploded with flavor, delivering a creamy texture to the perfectly soft vermicelli; almost like a great char kway teow, but without the seafood addition. The small chunks of meat were soft and added even more bursts of juicy savoriness to the noodles, set off by the specks of red chili. It was as good a balance of salt, spice, bee hoon taste and meat as one could expect, and made us all agree breathlessly that, "Jeez, can this guy cook!"

But he wasn't finished with us just yet. Following on the heels of the bee hoon was another noodle delight -- Seafood Hor Fun on Opeh Leaf. Completely different from bee hoon, the hor fun noodles were wide and silky, slipping around in the beige sauce swimming with prawns, sliced fish, mushrooms and perfectly cooked fingers of squid. The sauce was slightly viscous and smooth, laden with specks of egg and baby kai lan greens along with a gentle yet pronounced smokiness thanks to the chef's mastery of the art of wok hei. Its comforting warmth and richness transported us closer to the safe and happy kitchen of our childhoods with every bite,

And to seal our palates with a gentle sweetness, a circle of Yam Paste was presented, divided into small bowls. The thick paste delivered a mild sweetness, thinned by the creamy pool in which it sat and setting our taste buds gently down to earth to mark the end of an exceptional meal.

G7 Sin Ma Live Seafood
161 Geylang Road (corner of Lorong 3)
Singapore 389239

Secret BBQ chicken wings that aren’t so secret….

In Singapore it’s not advisable to proclaim one hawker center food stall as the “best” for any particular dish. With sky-high food standards virtually wound into the DNA of most Singaporeans, it’s just too controversial an issue. Still, every now and then one stumbles upon a stall which operates on a different level than its competitors and merits bold commentary. Such places are often little-known to the uninitiated, but if you keep your food radar on when waiting in queues or sitting in crowded restaurants, you will inevitably pick up names of secret places in the furtive whispers of locals talking about great food. These are the places to find; the secret food that everyone knows about, but no one thinks anyone else does. In Singapore, however, food secrets don’t stay secret for long.

Singapore Wings
Before I go further, I should say a word about barbecued chicken wings here. They are very popular and found all across the island. But don’t expect the dripping, red bar food favorite of the US, because whether you call it the Queen City, the Nickel City, or even the City of Lights, Buffalo is still over 9000 miles away and its culinary claim to fame is nearly as distant as Singapore’s hawker centers. Here, wings are cooked in one piece – complete from soft tip to meaty shoulder. They are neither deep-fried nor tossed in cayenne sauce, and they are not served with blue cheese or celery. Instead, wrap your culinary imagination around a flame-roasted, slightly charred wing, stretched, tanned until golden and glistening with a thin, soy-based marinade cooked deep into the skin. They are moist inside, crisp outside and barbecued over an open fire. You smell them on wisps of charcoal smoke before you even reach the stall. The wafting aroma summons a primal response, causing you to stretch your neck and strain your eyes in search of the roasting delicacy you suddenly must have. That’s what wings are in Singapore. And they’re usually about three bucks for an order of three – that’s, like, nine wing sections for the US equivalent of the small latte at Starbucks. Need I say more?

The Secret Place
Barbequed chicken is all they do at Sheng Pin Xiang and they do it well. Really well. The stall is tiny, with no menu posted and not a single rating or newspaper review plastered on the wall. The inside is as austere as the outside: neat, clean and oddly uncluttered, almost as if unoccupied. But on this day the sumptuous smoke trailing from the fire said otherwise, and it pulled me like a cartoon character toward the small, open counter, behind which stood a sole cook calmly tending to a row of plump chicken wings on the steel skewer.

The wings looked sexy roasting over that perfect bit of gray and red glowing charcoal – and not those little briquettes, but earthy, blackened twigs and branches of carbonized wood. Flames danced rhythmically to the fizzing and popping of chicken fat dripping from just inches away. The meat shimmered in the heated haze as if alive and teasing my taste buds with slow-cooking aloofness; its smoky aroma broadcasting the wonders of things to come. Minutes stretched like hours as I stood, transfixed, while the meat cooked, slowly, slowly. Until at last the cook lifted them from the fire and in one smooth move slid them from the skewer to a thick wood carving board, cleaved them into sections and eased them onto my waiting plate.

The Wings
I took my order to a nearby table and examined it like a scientist. Each wing was roasted to a deep, golden gloss with just a tinge of crispy carbon along the edges. Steam bubbled through the skin in miniscule puffs of heavenly perfume like a prelude to the first bite. A slight, sweet/tart essence from the soy mystery brew that the cook had brushed on during cooking elevated the juicy, free-range flavor to heights which, in its live state, that bird could not have flown. The citrus sparkle of the tiny calamansi lime
I squirted on, combined with a drizzle of fire-orange chili/garlic/ginger sauce for just the right touch of heat, sent me into a tailspin of gastronomic delirium.

Maybe it was the exceptional quality of chicken that made these tender wings so profoundly delicious. Or perhaps it was the charcoal, or the soy BBQ, or the fresh lime, or the chili sauce. Probably it was all of these combined. But whatever it was, I now daringly stick my neck out and proclaim the barbecued wings from this obscure little stall in the middle of a Toa Payoh hawker center as the best I have ever had. Anywhere.

So far, that is, because I will keep my ear low to the ground in hopes of catching yet more whispers of secret places to eat. But in the meantime, remember – this is my own whisper about my own secret place. So mums the word….