By Julian Chua
If you ever want an expert opinion or recommendations on food in Singapore, look no further than the passionate foodies who put out food content regularly. With stiff competition among restauranteurs in Singapore, social media influencers with gravitas, who often have thousands of online followers with the same love of food, may be both loved and loathed by the different eateries they review.
I recently caught up with two prominent Singapore influencers who have had a hand at shaping the food & beverage (F&B) scene to hear their stories of how they started, what it’s like to be in their shoes and, more importantly, to provide insightful recommendations on where and what to eat in Singapore as an expat or tourist.
#1 – Influencer ID: @Zanthrea
Zanthrea currently runs her own translation agency and describes her relationship with food as an unbreakable bond. Since 2014, she has been an avid food photographer, which started out as a “personal food diary”, but after her work gained traction, via Instagram and her blog, with followers, F&B brands and eateries began to approach her to collaborate.
What do you get up to as an influencer?
The best part is being able to try food first before the opening of a new restaurant to the public. Through events, I get to meet like-minded foodies who eventually become my friends.
I don’t consider myself as an “influencer” per se. I’m just a foodie and I like sharing my view on food – both the good and bad. I usually attend food tasting media sessions or scout for new restaurants on my own.
How would you describe the current food scene here in Singapore?
I think it’s constantly evolving and ever-changing; with new cafés and restaurants to visit and cocktails to drink. From cheap eats to expensive fine-dining, there is always something to please everyone’s taste buds.
Currently, following the salted egg craze, brown sugar is in the spotlight. From bubble tea to freshly baked cookies to tiramisu, I don’t see these trends coming to an end anytime soon.
What are your favorite dishes?
I can’t pinpoint if I have a favorite food as I love all food in general. But, if I have to choose one, it would be Japanese ramen served with flavored egg. Not the instant kind, but the one with rich, creamy soup, full of pork and chicken flavors.
What are your least favorite dishes?
Raw oysters. I don’t like the rubbery, mucus-like texture. It’s just like swallowing chewing gum with a fishy and metallic taste.
What top five eateries would you recommend to someone who wants a taste of what Singapore has to offer?
It has one of the best chili crab and creamy butter crab dishes around. Also, the location at Marina Bay Sands is stunning, with impeccable service and outstanding staff.
8 Bayfront Avenue, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands #02-03
This innovative Cantonese restaurant arguably serves the best dim sum in town. Its barbecued pork, char siew, is not to be missed. Coated with crispy honey glaze, the meat is tender and juicy. Best still, you can sip a cocktail while you’re there, where the lines between restaurant and bar are blurred.
270 Orchard Road, Level 4 Grand Park Orchard
Candlenut (COMO Dempsey)
Helmed by Chef Malcolm Lee, Candlenut is the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant. If one wants to experience Singapore’s heritage through food, this is the place to be!
Block 17A Dempsey Road
NOX – Dine in the Dark
As the name suggests, you’ll experience dining in pitch black. I tried it out myself and it was fun trying to guess what you’re eating. This will only be revealed to you at the end of your meal, but don’t worry, they will ask for any dietary restrictions before you eat.
269 Beach Road
Perfect for vegetarians, they always come up with interesting interpretations of modern meatless cuisine. Really creative!
9 Raffles Boulevard, #01-75A/76 Millenia Walk
301 Upper Thomson Road, #01-113 Thomson Plaza
1 Maritime Square #02-85
What top five dishes represent the best of Singapore’s food?
Chicken rice, bak kut teh, chili crab, fried carrot cake and kaya toast. This is authentic local cuisine in Singapore which you are unlikely to find in other parts of the world.
#2 – Influencer ID: @yongweikai
Wei Kai’s first stint in the F&B industry was at the age of 18, where he went on to help several brands, including Tien Court, Yoogane, Sweet Monster and Dopa Dopa, achieve their marketing goals. Little did he know that his adventures in food would get him into blogging fulltime. Since 2014, his site, SGCafeHopping, has evolved into a platform covering restaurants and hidden gems across the island and was nominated for Best Website of the Year 2018 at the Singapore Website Awards.
How did you get started as a food influencer?
I started around six years ago. I think it was by chance. I never expected myself to become an influencer in the first place, I just wanted a platform to share my café-hopping experiences. As time went by, more and more restaurants and cafés were keen to work with me for honest reviews.
I think the best part of this journey so far, is making a lot of new friends with a common interest. As foodies, we meet up most of the time, be it for tasting or checking out new F&B establishments. Also, it’s really nice to meet inspiring F&B owners. You learn so much from their background and story.
How would you describe the food scene here in Singapore currently?
Thank goodness the trend for Mala, a popular oily, spicy and numbing Chinese sauce, has ended! I’m starting to see more brands bringing back nostalgic dishes with a modern twist to the forefront this year. White Rabbit milk candy ice cream and Pi Pa Gao – a traditional Chinese cough syrup – ice cream and bubble tea have gone viral on the internet!
Consumers these days are very visually-driven. If the food or dish is not aesthetically-pleasing, most would not bother to even try it out. They are also very internet-savvy and would have read reviews or researched online before heading to the place.
What are your favorite dishes?
Because I have a strong sweet tooth, I’ll always look at the dessert menu first. If I spot any Matcha desserts on the menu, I’ll definitely go for one of them. Anytime, anywhere, for matcha!
What are your least favorite dishes?
I’m not a fan of durian. While most Singaporeans, including my family, love it, I can’t stand its stench. If my family is having a mini durian party at home, they will usually ask me to come home a little later until the pungent odor wears off.
What top 5 eateries would you recommend for discovering what Singapore has to offer?
Roast Paradise (Stall) - Old Airport Road Hawker Centre
I would recommend Old Airport Road hawker market because there’s so much good and under-the-radar local food you can find there. Check out the stall called Roast Paradise – they are famous for their to-die-for char siew.
51 Old Airport Rd, #01-121
I would also recommend trying out zi char [variations of rice, noodle, vegetables, meat and seafood], at Two Chefs because the food there is seriously good (especially their Butter Pork Ribs), without hurting the wallet.
Blk 116 Commonwealth Crescent, #01-129
Tiong Bahru Bakery
Because I’m an avid café-hopper, I would also recommend checking out Tiong Bahru Bakery for some delicious bakes and Singapore-inspired tea.
56 Eng Hoon Street, #01-70, Singapore 160056
A Noodle Story
This is another place that I would bring my overseas friends. I have loved their noodles since they opened and, yeah, the queue says it all.
7 Maxwell Road, #01-39 Amoy Street Food Centre
Hai Di Lao
Last but not least, for a steamboat try Hai Di Lao, where the service is top-notch and the hotpot food is equally good.
Vivocity, #03-09 1 Harbourfront Walk
What top five dishes show Singapore food at its best?
Since Singapore is known for its wide array of cultures, races and religions, it’s a must to try all the different local cuisines available here. In particular, I would recommend nasi lemak, chili crab, bak chor mee, roti prata and chicken rice. These are some of the most iconic Singaporean dishes.
Zanthrea can be followed at www.instagram.com/zanthrea and www.zanthrea.com
Wei Kai can be followed at www.instagram.com/yongweikai and www.SgCafeHopping.com