Staying ‘halal’ in Singapore

SINGAPORE: HAWKER centres in Singapore are a mirror of the city’s muticultural society, it is where you can find all sorts of local cuisines ranging from Malay, Chinese, Indian and more

.Long before hawker centres were established, hawkers used to traverse the streets selling affordable delicacies. But soon in the late 1960s, government start to built hawker centres to house the street hawkers in a hygenic setting.

“Today, there are more than 110 hawker centres across the island and now we are at one of the most popular ones in the city — the Golden Mile Food Centre located at Beach Road,” our local guide, Rahim, who is taking us on a halal food tour in Singapore, tells us.

We are going to try one of Singapore’s favourites, the Sup Tulang Merah, a special dish you can find only in the Lion City. It is basically mutton bones (or gearbox, as the locals call it), in a devilishly red, thick gravy; it looks completely drool-worthy when it arrives on our table.For first-timers, this is how you should enjoy this enticing platter — ditch the utensils and use your hand! Let me also warn you ahead, that there isn’t much meat on the chunk of bone, you are supposed to enjoy the spicy hot gravy more. Dip the thickly sliced baguette into the gravy and use the short-cut straw to suck out the slimy, gooey fat from the bone marrow (which is the best part!).

Still holding a bone with my gravy-stained fingers (that look almost bloody), and trying to clean the meat off the bone, I ask Rahim, “So, what’s next?”

“Before we head off to the next eatery, let me introduce you to one of Singapore’s liveliest cultural districts, Kampong Glam,” says Rahim, as we start to leisurely walk from the hawker centre towards Jalan Sultan.

Kampong Glam got its name, not from the word “glamour” (although it does have a graceful charm), but from the word gelam — which is a long-leaved paperbark tree. We stop at a landscaped park, the Kampong Glam Park, where Rahim shows us the remaining of the long, tall gelam tree on the island. Also known as Melaleuca Leucadendra, commonly known as Tea Tree, the tree was used to make boats and medicines.

Next to it is Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, a stunning mosque with a mix of Islamic and European architectural styles. It was built in 1845 on the site of what used to be the house of its founder, a wealthy Malay woman from Melaka who was married to a Bugis prince. When her husband died, she took over his business with great success. She donated the land to build the mosque, now gazetted as one of Singapore’s national monuments.

We then continue our walk where we spot the majestic Alsagoff Arab School, the oldest surviving madrasah in Singapore. Founded in 1912 by Syed Mohamed bin Ahmed Alsagoff, the madrasah was establised to teach Muslim boys the tenets of Islam. Back then, the school could actually accommodate more than 200 students, and they were taught not only about Islam but also the Arabic and English languages. In 1940s, the school started admitting girls and because of the increase number of girls enrolling rather than boys, the school was converted to an all-girls school in the mid-1960s.

Another iconic landmark that we visit is the Istana Kampung Glam, the former Malay palace which is now home to the Malay Heritage Centre, where you’ll get many insights into Malay history and culture. Originally, the palace was the residence of Malay royalty, built by Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor in 1819 on a stretch of land which was given to him by the British East India Company. But in 1896, there was a succession dispute in Sultan Hussein’s family over rights to the Kampong Glam estate, and the court ruled that no one could rightfully claim to be the successor of the Sultan and that the estate became state land when Singapore gained independence.

Not too far from the heritage centre is Masjid Sultan, the most prominent landmark in Kampong Glam. The sultan wanted a mosque near his residence and raffles made provisions for the mosque to be built near the istana and allocated funds for the construction. So the original mosque was constructed between 1824 to 1826, and served the community for centuries. But in the early 1900s, the mosque had become inadequate for the Muslim population, so the mosque was demolished and rebuilt in 1924, designed by Irish architect Denis Santry in the Indo-Saracenic style. It was built in phases, over a few years ro raise funds and the cost was met by donations from the Muslim community, and included glass bottles which were incorporated into the base of the dome, which you can still see today.

We end our walking tour, but stop by at a popular Indian Muslim restaurant located along the North Bridge Road (just a minute’s walk from Sultan Mosque), known as Singapore Zamzam Restaurant. I’ve been there countless times before (more like, every time I visit Singapore), and the place swarms with customers, not only during breakfast, lunch and dinner but all the time. They come here especially for the crispy hot murtabak Singapore, a thin dough paratha bread stuffed with lots and lots of minced meat and eggs fried till golden crisp. You can opt for chicken, mutton or deer filling, or what I am having right now is the the beef murtabak, perfect for tea-time.

Many tourists feel that it is hard to find halal choices in Singapore, but there are actually plenty. According to Rahim, Muslim-owned restaurants don’t need to apply for Halal certification in Singapore and trusted that they are serving their customers halal dishes.

That includes the must-try Royz et Vous, a Muslim-owned restaurant which was establised as an idea to start building a halal empire. The restaurant is a French-inspired cafe, specialises in coffee and very famous for its brunch over the weekend.

Royz et Vous is also said to serve the best Western and European cuisine in Singapore, thus we have made a dinner plan to also meet with the owner, Widyanty Mohd Yusope.

Widyanty tells us that when she took over the business five years ago, the restaurant was located in Arab Street. Due to its popularity, it moved here to Telok Ayer Street which offers more seating arrangements. Today, there are two outlets, another one is located in Bedok.

We get to try some of its signature dishes which includes the popular smoked duck which is served with roasted potatoes and home-made spice sauce, beef short ribs, lamb shank pie, and choices of pasta — which taste as good as they look! For appetisers, I would highly recommend the Sweet Potato Fries which is served with sweet sriracha mayo. Apart frrom the meals, do also order its handcrafted mocktails and if you’re up for wine to go with your dishes, ask for the Carl Jung halal premium wine!

Other halal choices in Singapore that you can try is the Afterwit, also a Muslim-owned restaurant serving halal Mexican food including tacos, burritos and quesadillas.

Or, if you’re up for Chinese cuisine, the Dim Sum Place is halal-certified by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). Both restaurants are located at North Bridge Road.