Blk 119 Bukit Merah Lane #01-40
Open 11.30 am to 3pm and 6.30 pm to 9 pm.
Closed on Mondays and the last Tuesday of the month
IT takes nerve, not to mention a healthy dose of chutzpah, to declare yourself as "Home of the Burgasm", especially when you flip burgers in a stall in a kopi tiam in Bukit Merah.
Burger joint De Burg somehow manages to pull it off. Chef-owner Andrew Sim, 38, says a regular customer and major fan of his hamburgers coined the term "Burgasm" and convinced him to use it as an unofficial slogan.
Mr Sim often tells his customers that burgers are not fast food. At De Burg, he does more than enough to justify that.
He has been building his personal vision of burger heaven since 2008, back when he was running a café in Sommerville Park. Before that, he had worked in various F&B jobs, starting at 16 as a server in Haagen-Dazs.
From Sommerville, he moved to a coffee shop in Ghim Moh and created the De Burg name; he moved to his current address just over a year ago.
He said: "The burger is a beautiful meal, stacked in one handful."
He has checked out the versions elsewhere - a roadside stall in Bangkok and in New York and everywhere in between, including truck stops and hole-in-the-wall places where, he believes, the burgers are "made with love".
Each De Burg burger comes with culinary passion. The menu offers dozens of choices, ranging from the signature De Burg burger (a 200 gm Aussie striploin patty with barbecue sauce, cheese, crispy bacon and portobello mushroom, $18.50) and a wagyu version called the De Burg Decadence ($27.90) to lamb, pork, chicken, vegan and seafood variations.
One of the more unique - and apparently highly popular - options is the lamb choco (a 200 gm all-lamb patty smeared with Nutella spread). Mr Sim says: "It sounds funky but it works, and it's probably the first of its kind in the world."
The burgers, many of which also come in 100-gm portions, are cooked on a griddle and are unfailingly juicy, tender and flavourful, topped with large lettuce leaves and served with fries.
Mr Sim says high rentals and restrictions in hiring foreign workers preclude him from making expansion plans.
For now, it is enough for him to strive to maintain his standards.
By Geoffrey Eu
Wow Wow West
ABC Brickworks Food Centre
6 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-133
Open from 10.30am to 9pm.
Closed on Sundays
HAWKER Eric Ng, 49, has hired so many workers over the past years that he has lost count.
It is not because he is a tough boss or has had bad luck with finding good workers. It is because the cooks and helpers at his stall are ex-convicts, for whom the job at Wow Wow West is a stepping stone to other career options.
An enthusiastic advocate of the prisons' Yellow Ribbon Project which aims to integrate ex-convicts back into society, Mr Ng volunteers part-time at Breakthrough Missions, a halfway house, on top of running Wow Wow West.
Its quirky, catchy name had its start in 1999, in the canteen of Raffles Institution; it was coined by students who took part in a contest to name the various canteen stalls. He liked the name so much that he kept it even after moving to Bukit Merah View Market, and then to his current address about five years ago.
The stall has attracted customers for the good cause it supports, and also because its generous portions come at wallet-friendly prices.
For instance, its signature chicken chop ($6) consists of a slab of meat almost half the size of the plate it is served on, and comes with crispy crinkle-cut fries, baked beans and a huge serving of homemade coleslaw.
The tender, succulent chicken is coated with a slightly crispy skin and is smothered in a black pepper sauce that is not too salty or spicy.
Other popular dishes are the fried chicken cutlet ($6), fish and chips ($6) and steak ($7).
Every morning, Mr Ng drops off his youngest daughter at school before heading to the stall to prepare the ingredients for the day ahead. The sauces and coleslaw are made from scratch; he uses herbs instead of MSG to flavour the food. All this is time-consuming, but he wants to ensure the freshness of the food.
He says: "We only serve quality food. And of course, there is a secret recipe involved that makes it tasty."
Even with his wife, eldest daughter Elizabeth and two workers helping him to run the stall, the constant queue of customers keeps him busy. As a result, he has had to reduce his visits to the halfway house and prisons from three times a week to once a month.
His passion for helping ex-offenders get back on their feet started in 2004, when he was having difficulty disciplining Elizabeth, who as a teen, often ran away from home.
Out of ideas, he turned to religion for help. He said: "I was so frustrated that I prayed to God and made a promise that if my daughter came home, I would dedicate my life to doing good."
His prayer was answered. Elizabeth returned home and never ran away again.
Keeping his end of the deal, Mr Ng volunteered at Breakthrough Missions as a cooking teacher and counsellor. He befriended some former drug addicts there, and hired them to help out at his stall.
His high turnover rate comes from many of his workers turning back to drugs and crime, but Mr Ng has also seen enough happy endings to feel that his endeavour is worth it. Several ex-convicts who once worked for him have moved on to other professions and started families.
He says: "You just need a positive attitude and be willing to change. You don't need expensive things in your life. All you need is self respect and confidence."
By Sara Yap
Serangoon Gardens Food Centre Stall #1
49A Serangoon Garden Way
Serangoon Garden Estate
Tel: 9686 9191
Open Tuesday to Friday from 12pm to 9pm, weekends 10am to 9pm
MOST Western food stalls in hawker centres churn out the usual staple dishes of chicken cutlet and fish and chips. These, however, don't appear on the menu of Grazie, whose focus is authentic Italian food.
"Dishes like fish and chips are popular but too common. I wanted to stick to using traditional Italian cooking methods to create cheap and good Italian food that people can enjoy in a hawker centre setting," says stall owner and chef Sandy Poon, 43.
Think truffle fries at a fraction of the usual prices in casual Western bistros and cafes, and a ribeye steak at only $11.
The pasta menu isn't just confined to the stalwart spaghetti bolognese; there is an array of linguine, penne and spaghetti cooked in various ways to appeal to both cream-sauce lovers and those who prefer something lighter on the palate.
One of Grazie's signature dishes is aglio olio with seafood ($6.80) - spaghetti cooked al dente in olive oil and served with a generous amount of fresh clams, calamari and prawns.
If you're in the mood for a light snack, try the home-made beef meatballs ($7). Impressively plated, this appetizer wouldn't look out of place in a more upmarket restaurant. The slightly chewy, lightly marinated meatballs are served on a bed of fresh lettuce and drizzled with a black pepper sauce. Another winner is the value-for-money truffle fries ($4 for a small portion, $5 for large). The crispy fries are topped with parsley and lots of parmesan cheese, which may be reduced or omitted on request.
Grazie may be relatively new (set up in April last year), but it has already gained a small following through word-of-mouth and its Facebook page. Ms Poon credits this to the freshness of the ingredients used, and her policy not to add MSG to the food.
She studied cooking in Melbourne in 2007 and worked for several restaurants there before returning to start her own Italian food stall, a dream she has had since an early age.
"My grandfather was an amazing cook. He inspired me to go into cooking and I knew from young that it was something I wanted to do in the future," she says. "I thought of other cuisines and settled on Italian, because I love how it is simple yet delicious."
As owner, cook and dishwasher, Ms Poon's business is a one-woman-show. This requires her to put in 16-hour days on occasion, staying into the early hours of the morning to clean the stall and wash utensils.
She admits that it can get rather stressful and tiring, but her passion for cooking is what drives her.
"The hours are long. You've got to enjoy cooking and be willing to serve the customers," she says. "But if you're doing something that you love and it makes you happy, it is all worth it."
One of the rewards of her job is getting good feedback from the customers and seeing them return to the stall again with family or friends.
"When I see the smiles on the customers' faces, it makes me glad and motivates me to stay longer in the kitchen to create more delicious meals," she says.
By Sara Yap
Blk 181 Ang Mo Kio Ave 5
Blk 325 Clementi Ave 5
Blk 118 Depot Lane
37 East Coast Road
121 Somerset Road
Blk 248 Simei Street 3
Blk 211 Toa Payoh Lor 8
Botak's Favourites outlets (halal)
Blk 412 Bedok North Ave 2
Blk 233 Bukit Batok East Ave 5
Blk 5 Changi Village Road
357/359 Bedok Road
Blk 892C Woodlands Drive 50
Opening hours vary
BACK in 2002, long before bright-eyed entrepreneurs started turning hawker stalls into mini bistros, Bernard Allen Utchenik, better known as Bernie, already thought of bringing higher-standard fare to hawker centres.
His lack of finances then may have made him follow through on the idea (rather than opening a restaurant), but he still deserves props for seizing the business opportunity, particularly in the Tuas industrial area, where he saw white-collared workers craving for better lunch options.
Botak Jones was born there in 2003. It was to be the channel for the now 60-year-old Michigan native to bring "authentic American food" here.
"There were already a number of stalls offering tweaked versions of American food. I was determined to show Singaporeans America's tastes - something that they might not get to try unless they went to pricier American restaurants," he said.
His love for the food of his homeland, combined with his previous F&B experience running Bernie Goes To Town (now defunct) and Blooie's, led to the creation of the Botak Jones recipes, which, as proof of their success, have remained unchanged.
It took him three years before he thought of and executed Botak Jones' move into residential areas.
"The first nine months were lean but the compliments kept coming, and I felt deep inside that it was only a matter of time before the idea caught hold," he said.
A combination of media attention and his dedication to maintaining a high quality of food helped.
"At the time, the government was pushing for a 'world-class' society. My thoughts were that although many Singaporeans are well travelled, few have had this 'world-class' experience here."
He began his "mini mission" of delivering good service with the higher-quality of food Botak Jones was serving; "after all, they could go to eat anywhere but they chose to dine with me and eat my food", he said.
The bestsellers are the Cajun chicken, fish & chips, Botak burgers and, of course, steaks. Botak Jones takes pride in not using chemical flavourings, tenderizers, binders and MSG.
We tried the Cajun chicken and found it flavourful and juicy. A lower-fat breast meat was used, which lowered the guilt level slightly. We also liked the fish & chips, the deep-fried batter jacket of which stayed crisp.
The chain has seven outlets.
Five other outlets, branded as Botak's Favourites, are halal - which means the menu is not authentic American; Mr Utchenik, who is Muslim by marriage, said the halal outlets were started under the heat of the recession.
Still, the taste is as close as he can get it, and he is adamant about keeping things as authentic as possible: "If some people didn't care for the flavours, well, that was to be expected. As they say, if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one."
By Natalie Koh
New Ubin Seafood
Blk 27 Sin Ming Road #01-174
Tel: 6466 9558
Open weekdays: 11am to 2pm, 5.30pm to
10.30pm, weekends: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 10.30pm
AT New Ubin Seafood, no one, not even the servers, would give you a quizzical look if you pass on the seafood and go for the steak instead.
After all, the eatery is also famed for its US certified black Angus ribeye steak ($10/100g).
Owner Michelle Nicholas says the steak is an item that she sees on almost every table. "We also have those who come in and order only the beef, but not the seafood," she says.
The restaurant sells at least 250 kg of steaks a month.
The steak has been on the menu for a few years already, because "my husband and children are all meat eaters", she says. Her husband and general manager of the place, S. M. Pang, does a mean steak at home, so it was not a stretch to recreate the dish for the restaurant.
As the meat is of good quality, there is little need for marinade except for a salt-and-pepper rub before it goes on the grill. It comes out tender, giving slabs in fancy steak restaurants a run for their money.
The meat is served with caramelised onions and fluffy yet crispy potato wedges, but it does not end there: it also comes with a complimentary portion of fried rice, cooked with beef fat and French butter, and has crispy rice bits.
The rice is so popular that diners even ask for it to be served on its own, but Mr Pang is adamant that it comes only with the steak.
Other Western dishes here include the German crispy pork knuckle at $24, and the pork ribs ($3.50/100g); the ribs are tasty, and the meat falls off the bone.
Even though their Western dishes are top sellers, Ms Nicholas does not think they will outdo the crab dishes the restaurant is also known for.
"There are those who come just for the steak, but there are still lots of diners who come for our crabs."
By Tay Suan Chiang
The Business Times/ Knight Frank CEOs' Hawker Choices 2013 is a guide to the best street food in Singapore as chosen by Singapore's top executives.
How it works
A master panel of distinguished professionals (listed below) created a master list of hawkers for each food category. This list was subsequently sent out to The Business Times' CEO Club, comprising all the top management of companies based in Singapore, who were invited to vote for their favourite stalls. The stalls with the most votes are then visited by BT Weekend's food reviewers and featured in a weekly spread in the Living section. The objective of this series is to create an unbiased guide to the best hawker food in Singapore, as well as create a platform to help preserve the old cooking traditions that are in danger of dying out. This series will run for 26 weeks, after which the content will be compiled into a guidebook, with sales proceeds to go towards furthering this and other charitable causes.
Our master panel members
Tan Tiong Cheng (chairman, Knight Frank Pte Ltd)
Alan Chan (CEO, Singapore Press Holdings)
Chong Siak Ching (CEO, Ascendas)
Elim Chew (president/founder of 77th Street)
Edmund Koh (chief executive and country head of UBS Singapore)
Professor Tommy Koh (Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore)
Kwek Leng Peck (executive director, Hong Leong Asia)
Allen Lew (CEO, SingTel's digital life division)
Ng Lang (CEO, URA)
Philip Ng (CEO, Far East Organization)
Seah Kian Peng (CEO, NTUC Fairprice Co-operative Ltd)