Look out for the Singapore food ‘invasion’!
KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — When I first ate at Crystal Jade, I thought the restaurant chain was from Hong Kong because the wan tan noodles were as delicious as the ones there. Little did I know that Crystal Jade hails from our southern neighbour Singapore. I was surprised and I wondered if I was the only one who didn’t know.
My brain (and tastebuds) could not compute that something so yummy came from Singapore. Like many Malaysians, I thought we served the best food in the region.
Think about it; how many times have we laughed at the food in Singapore? And then there is the ongoing debate between Malaysians and Singaporeans about who “owns” chicken rice, yee sang, etc. But you know what, Malaysia has been slowly but surely “invaded” by Singapore restaurants and chains.
Even the Malaysians who sneer at Singapore’s food frequent Singapore chains like Crystal Jade, Paradise Inn and of course Bee Cheng Hiang, Old Chang Kee, Sakae Sushi and BreadTalk Group (Toastbox, Food Republic, BreadTalk), among others. Most recently two more Singapore restaurants opened here and are creating quite a buzz: Putien and Soup Restaurant.
The Malaysian Insider spoke to two restaurateurs to get further insight into this Malaysia/Singapore food debate.
“We decided to open Putien in Malaysia because there is a potential market for Heng Hwa cuisine. The Malaysian customers who eat at our outlets in Singapore requested for Putien to be opened here,” said Caren Poon, managing director of Putien in Malaysia. She has been working in Malaysia for the past six years and was the one responsible for bringing Sakae Sushi here.
Although she is Singaporean, Poon feels that certain foods here taste better than in Singapore. A foodie who is always up for a gastronomic adventure to different parts of Malaysia, Poon feels that the Malaysian version of char siew, siew yoke, assam laksa, Hokkien mee and char koay teow beats Singapore’s. But for her, Hainanese Chicken Rice tastes better in her home country.
Understanding food trends is part and parcel of her job and Poon shared with us what she observed about Singapore and Malaysia.
“Singapore’s seeing a lot of these Japanese chains with specific food types like ramen in malls and there are also specific food types from China with the influx of Chinese nationals working in Singapore. Then you have young entrepreneurs opening up niche cafes at places like Haji Lane because there are some people who don’t like going to the malls for food,” she explained.
“As for Malaysia, restaurants are opening outside of malls. The places where they open are on strips such as Desa Park City.”
Mok Yip Peng, managing director of Soup Restaurant, established the first Singapore outlet in 1991 with his partners Wong Wei Teck, Wong Chi Keong and Ho Hong Chin. Soup Restaurant was born when the founders realised there weren’t any restaurants serving healthy home-cooked dishes and traditional double-boiled soup.
Soup Restaurant has 15 outlets in Singapore, two in Jakarta and the chain opened its first outlet in Malaysia in November 2011.
“After operating in Singapore for 20 years, we received a lot of positive feedback from our Malaysian customers. We have always wanted to venture into the Malaysia market as the dining culture and habit in Malaysia is similar to Singapore’s,” said Mok.
And from the looks of the crowd at the outlet at 1 Utama shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, Malaysians have taken a liking to the Samsui home-cooked dishes of Soup Restaurant.
While Singapore restaurant chains have “invaded” Malaysia, there are also a number of Malaysian restaurant chains in Singapore such as Overseas, Delicious, Canton-i and Chaswood Resources (TGIF, Baci).
David Chieng is a Malaysian who moved to Singapore five years ago for work. While he still prefers Malaysian food, he does admit that there is good food in Singapore and that the Malaysian food versus Singapore food debate gets ridiculous when Malaysians or Singaporeans get judgmental even before trying what the other country has to offer.
Debates aside, I think that one has to try what the other has to offer before any comparison can be made and the verdict made final. For starters, why not try the Singapore chain restaurants here if you haven’t already?
* The story has been edited to reflect a change.
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