Living Off Italian Food in Singapore

By Ratha Tep |
FWX RICOTTA GNOCCHI WITH CHANTERELLES AND BLOOMSDALE SPINACH

Ricotta gnocchi from the Singapore outpost of Osteria Mozza. Marina Bay Sands

Here, we spotlight American expats around the globe and get their insider tips on the best places to eat and drink in their adopted cities.

The Expat: David Almany, executive chef of the Singapore outpost of Osteria Mozza, the spectacular joint venture from Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich in Los Angeles. A native of Southern California, Almany has lived in Singapore’s Little India neighborhood for four years.

Can you tell me how Osteria Mozza in Singapore differs from the one in L.A.?

About 90 percent of the menu is the same, but a lot of ingredients we’re using here are different. For instance, we get our seafood and fish from Australia and New Zealand. There’s also such a melting pot of people here that there are a lot of dietary restrictions. We have a lot of vegetarian dishes and we’ve expanded the gluten-free program. A lot of people here want to eat gluten-free, even more so than in LA. So 98 percent of the pasta can be substituted for handmade, gluten-free pasta.

Tell me about the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. It’s pretty crazy isn’t it—with indoor gondola rides and a skating rink?

Singapore is basically all shopping malls, mostly high-end. Where we’re located, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, is probably the most luxurious of all of them. Yeah, there are gondola rides and a faux indoor skating rink. There are also 65 different restaurants with a lot of new celebrity chefs coming in. Probably by October, David Thompson of Nahm in Bangkok will have a spot by Tetsuya Wakuda’s place. It will be Thai street food­–themed. I’m very excited for it to open.

What are your go-to restaurants in Singapore?

When I first got here, I ate hawker food like crazy. But I’m really into fitness, and within the past four years my diet has changed quite a bit. On my days off, I swim and run, and then get a bowl of Japanese ramen at Santouka. It’s a chain based in Hokkaido, Japan, and they have locations throughout Asia and some in the US. There’s a lot of bad ramen in Singapore, but the ones here are really great, with terrific, chewy noodles. I get the shio (salt) ramen, which comes with all the traditional toppings, like egg, scallion, pork belly, fish cake, pickled ume and a nice big piece of nori. It’s really hidden—on the second floor and all the way in the back of Central Mall in Clarke Quay.

I also like going to Super Peking Duck Imperial Treasure. It’s a huge restaurant, with 250 seats and big round tables and lazy Susans. You order 20 dishes and just go crazy. I skip the shark fin and abalone, but I like the black pepper prawn, the kung pao prawn, the stinky tofu with salted fish. They bring that out boiling hot. It smells super funky, but it’s so good. Every dish there is incredible, and obviously the Peking duck is amazing. You’re served the skin first with little pancakes and duck sauce. And then you’re served the breast meat with a little skin. And then they’ll take the carcass with a little meat still left on it, chop it into 20 to 30 pieces, and either deep fry or roast it with dried chiles and dried spices.

What are some local food specialties, and where do you go for the best versions?

Definitely black pepper crab. A paste is made with a ton of local black pepper and it glazes the outside of the crab and it gets really messy. It’s fun to eat it with the other chefs and pair it with beer. My favorite place for black pepper crab is No Signboard Seafood, which has been around for decades. It’s in Geylang, which is the red-light district. Along Geylang Road, one half is all red-light houses, and the other half is all food. I also like getting the grouper there. You pick the grouper from a tank, and the chefs will either steam it or deep-fry it. I usually get it steamed. It’s a four- to six-pound grouper for six people, with scallions thrown on top as it’s steamed in a wok, then served with a super spicy soy-chile dip. It’s very simple, and I could eat it every day.

What one food or drink item would you miss the most if you went back to L.A.?

There’s such a melting pot of food there that I don’t think I’d miss anything. Actually, I crave stuff from there right now. The Korean food in L.A. is unbelievable. You think there would be great Korean here because we’re near Korea, but it doesn’t work that way. They don’t do great Korean here. I miss Park’s BBQ in L.A., for sure. It’s owned by Jenee Kim; she’s the mom of Liz Hong, chef de cuisine at Pizzeria Mozza.

Ratha Tep is a former Food & Wine editor who lives in Zurich.

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