Orchard Road has always been a convening point for us Singaporeans. It is a glitzy, world-famous shopping stretch that is adorned with restaurants dishing out fine dining selections. However, when it comes to eating at Orchard, we know how you feel; hunting down affordable (apart from fast food) comfort food can be tougher than scouting out the best bargains during GSS.
If you’ve got your head in your hands about what to eat at Orchard, fret not! We’ve discovered this hidden food gem of a place, and we’re letting the cat out of the bag. The reopening of Food Opera at ION Orchard has bestowed upon us an extensive list of food choices – you no longer have to settle for fast food.
Boasting 27 stalls – of which half are new tenants – expect an extensive array of Asia’s favourite street foods at wallet-friendly prices. Now that we’ve got good food covered, choosing what exactly to eat is another first world dilemma. From Thai and Indian cuisine to local hawker gems and traditional street snacks, there’s no end in sight to the food options at Food Opera.
This is where we come in. Here at DiscoverSG, we have sussed out eight stalls (three are totally new!) for you to check out at the newly-opened Food Opera. We don’t know about you, but we’re surely making our way down at the drop of a hat.
1. Xing Lou Seafood White Bee Hoon
The white bee hoon at this new stall differs slightly from the Singaporean version we’re familiar with – Xing Lou’s unique rendition has wok-fried vermicelli simmered in shellfish gravy. The gravy is not as viscous as our local version but has a complex depth of flavour and a sweet aftertaste. The bee hoon has an ultra-soft, springy bite that breaks easily with each mouthful.
We all know how grimy stale seafood tastes like, and Xing Lou goes the extra mile to ensure this never happens. Expect only the freshest of crustaceans as seafood is imported from Endau, one of Malaysia‘s largest fishing ports, almost every other day.
Set C is perfect for sharing as it comes with a generous serving of bee hoon and an impressive seafood medley of prawns, crayfish, scallops and clams. If you’re not into sharing (we totally understand), you can opt to have your own bee hoon with any crustacean of your choice from just $6.90.
2. Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh (pork bone soup) has always been a familiar favourite; a warm and comforting broth that fills both your heart and stomach with joy on a cold day. Ya Hua, a long-time contender in the bak kut teh scene, is helmed by founder Madam Gwee Peck Hua who believes in cooking healthy, unpretentious food that is humble yet comforting at best.
This bak kut teh recipe of hers underwent countless revisions after years of trial and error before the broth was finally perfected. Boiled for hours, the soup is flavourful with just the right hint of pepper – it won’t leave that burning sensation down your throat, yet will warm the cockles of your heart. The meat is well-cooked and tender and glides off the bone effortlessly. If you find chewing off the pork bone a hassle, Ya Hua also has a boneless sliced pork soup option ($7.50) – now you’ve got no excuses.
Apart from her iconic bak kut teh, Madam Gwee has also introduced new, homely dishes into her menu at her new stall. The Claypot Tofu – silken tofu simmered with steamed egg and pork balls – is laced with a nostalgic taste of home. Every mouthful of this humble dish will remind you of grandma’s cooking.
3. Ah Yat Kitchen
Ah Yat may be a new tenant at Food Opera, but it has been a household name since the 1970s. While they’re undeniably known for their abalone, do give their Roasted Chicken a try! With meticulous care, the chicken is marinated and roasted to coax out flavours that will delight your taste buds. After the chicken is roasted to perfection, it is seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds to further enhance the flavour of this traditional Chinese dish.
The texture of the shredded chicken is impeccable – you won’t have to worry about it being too dry! All these tedious preparations contribute to fragrant, hand-pulled chicken so tender you have to try it to believe it – it might possibly give your favourite Hainanese chicken rice stall a run for its money. For $6.50, you get a quarter-chicken serving of meat and a choice of crispy fries or a bowl of rice on the side.
Another gem to try Ah Yat would be their Abalone Baked Rice ($8.80); a fragrant and delectable mix of egg fried rice with baby abalone.
4. Scotts Hwa Heng Beef Noodle
A crowd favourite even before the renovation. Trust us when we say that the beef noodle at Scotts Hwa Heng is easily one of the best in Singapore – we can attest to the goodness of their grub. In the two months that Food Opera was undergoing renovation, many loyal customers actually wrote in to the management to enquire about the fate of this stall – it is THAT good.
Exclusively at Food Opera, the piping hot bowls of Hainanese-style beef noodles are back and available in either the soup or dry version. We highly recommend the latter with a side bowl of their clear broth with beef balls. This way, you get the best of both worlds! The thick vermicelli noodles are drenched in a viscous, gooey (think lor mee consistency) goodness of a gravy. Apart from the stellar gravy, the meat in this dish is also succulent and well-seasoned. From 1 to melt-in-your-mouth on the tenderness scale, the beef at Scotts Hwa Heng is off the charts.
5. Li Xin Teochew Fishball Noodle
Fishball noodle – a satisfying, fuss-free Singaporean dish that needs no further introduction. Forget about all day breakfast! Fishball noodle has been a go-to for breakfast, lunch and even supper for as long as we can remember.
Here at Li Xin, they take great pride in serving quality, handmade fishballs. Their fresh fishballs are made of top-grade yellowtail fish meat and chilled in cold water (no freezing!) to ensure freshness. According to second-generation owner Mr. Eddie Lim, this is an age-old method used to keep the fishballs bouncy and succulent. These rustic balls have a unique, ‘meaty’ texture to them – a world apart from the processed ones you find in supermarkets, in a good way of course.
The dry version of their mee pok noodles is tossed in an otherworldly concoction of chilli and ketchup, striking a perfect balance between sweet and savoury. It does not have that strong vinegar sourness but rather a mild, tangy aftertaste, much like good sourdough bread. As for its soup counterpart, the broth is refreshingly addictive – you will be down to your last slurp before you know it. Fans of pork lard, you’re in luck. Li Xin is extremely generous with their self-prepared, fried pork lard – sinful at best but irresistibly good.
6. Riverside Indonesian BBQ
You can’t call yourself a true blue Singaporean if you haven’t heard of Riverside. We’re kidding, it’s never too late to introduce this hearty dish into your world. Their bestseller, the Ayam Panggang (Indonesian grilled chicken) set, heralds snaking queues at Food Opera daily.
Riverside goes to great lengths to serve this scrumptious dish. The chicken thigh is first dipped in a secret sauce – a combination of Indonesia spices. After being set to rest, the thigh is barbequed till it exudes a smoky aroma. That’s not all! Before being served, the thigh is dipped in a homemade special black sauce. This is THE sauce that defines their legendary ayam panggang.
The dish is served with a slab of omelette, homemade sambal chilli and rice slathered with curry gravy. The coconut-heavy curry is slightly on the sweeter end and is not too spicy, so go ahead and raise the spice level with their killer sambal chilli. All in all, this divine combination of grilled chicken in black sweet sauce, rice smothered with curry and sambal chilli gets a resounding nod of approval from us – and probably half the population in Singapore already.
Seafood lovers, you can also rejoice! Riverside serves up equally delish BBQ squid and fish too.
7. Padang Padang
If you, like every other Singaporean, live for cai png (economical rice), then this Indonesian version of our everyday staple provides a refreshing twist. You are more than free to mix and match a variety of meats and vegetables that are prepared daily, but we’d say go straight for the Ayam Kari and Ikan Assam Pedas.
The Padangnese-style ayam kari is essentially chicken simmered in a rich, coconut curry gravy that boasts a blend of at least seven spices. The chicken has a firm, silky texture and slides off the bone with a simple tug.
The ikan assam pedas, on the other hand, is a sour-spicy stingray dish prepared with a medley of fresh laksa leaves, tamarind and lemongrass – so rejuvenating, it’s almost like a wake-up call for your taste buds. The stingray is fresh with a nice succulent texture. We absolutely love the spot-on tanginess of the gravy – it is not too sour and has an addictive aftertaste that leaves you salivating for more.
The folks behind Padang Padang only cook with raw spices specially imported from Indonesia. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised to know that Padang Padang uses no preservatives or MSG in any of their dishes. Kudos to them! We now have the liberty to order anything here without setting the MSG alarms off.
8. Ice Shop
You know what they say, there is always a dessert stomach – the happy ending to any meal. We love our rainbow cakes and churros, but traditional desserts will always hold an uncontested place in our hearts. This stall has a lengthy menu of over 35 hot and cold selections to satisfy your sweet cravings. The portions are not monstrous, so you won’t get jelat of the milk-based treats.
The Chendol here is remarkably different from the ones served elsewhere. Topped with jackfruit, it is a rich and flavourful thirst-quencher in a bowl. The red bean and sago jelly balances out the sweet and salty coconut milk nicely, and the shaved ice is doused in the ever familiar Gula Melaka. No doubt an ideal finish to a satisfying meal, or a midday indulgence.
If your palate gravitates more towards the warm desserts, the Bobo ChaCha with Taro Balls is a traditional option with a twist. The usual, transparent tapioca pearls you would expect to find in this coconut milk-based broth are replaced with taro balls instead. These purple, jelly-like balls have a strong, natural taro taste to them. No bobo chacha is complete without sweet potato and yam chunks, and the ones at Ice Shop are delightfully soft, but not to the point of mushy.
The next time you’re in town (we’re guessing soon), do drop by Food Opera for your local hawker and street food fix. Apart from old favourites, the new tenants are also part of a carefully curated bunch with authentic and quality food to offer – all in the comfort of air-conditioning. Now you’ll know where to get the best eats at Orchard.
Food Opera @ ION Orchard
#B4-03/04 Ion Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
+65 6509 9198
Sunday to Thursday, and Public Holiday 10am – 10pm
Eve of Public Holiday, Friday to Saturday 10am – 11pm
Brought to you by Discover SG x Food Opera
All photos taken by writer, unless otherwise stated.
(Header image credit: Food Opera)