A Taste of Home: Chef Edward Voon On His Top Dining Destinations In Singapore
Originally from Penang, Edward Voon left Malaysia when he was just a teenager to seek work in the kitchens of Singapore. Here, he found a position at the Mandarin Oriental, which proved to be the start of a successful culinary career that would take him to Hong Kong where he worked as private chef to billionaire businessman Pan Sutong.
Following that, Voon finally fulfilled a dream he’d had for a while, to open his own restaurant, Le Pan in Hong Kong's Kowloon Bay. While his focus here is on contemporary French cuisine, Voon nevertheless has a deep affinity for the food of Singapore.
“I love the diversity of cultures and flavours that we have in Singapore, and of course the hawker stalls, which the Singapore Government has maintained and promoted as tourist attractions. It’s like eating in the dai pai dongs in Hong Kong––a fast-track to understanding the local food culture,” says Voon, who highlights some of the hawker stalls he heads to when he’s home and the ones he makes sure any visitors he’s with have to try.
What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Singapore or haven’t been back for a while?
The palate-tingling flavours and powerful aromas of ferocious curries and fiery chilli dishes. I grew up with these, and while you don’t generally find them in fine-dining environments, I like to use the bold ingredients of my childhood in nuanced and unexpected ways in my contemporary cuisine at Le Pan in Hong Kong. And believe it or not, I’ve been away so long now that I also miss the rain—Singapore’s daily downpours are intense, invigorating and inspiring!
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
It’s a toss-up between Hainanese chicken rice and bak chor mee. I head to the food centre in Hill Street, which is near my home there. You cannot beat the buzz of spicy food washed down with cold beer in the balmy night air.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Singapore—for fine dining or special occasions and for more casual experiences?
I don’t have a particular favourite restaurant that I must go to when I’m back. I like to dine in a variety of restaurants and hawker centres to experience different flavours.
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Singapore?
I take them to the famous hawker centres like the Maxwell Centre, the Amoy Street Food Centre and Lau Pa Sat––you cannot beat these for taste and atmosphere. The Hill Street Fried Kway Teow noodle stall, now at the Bedok South Market & Food Centre, is a standout in terms of Singapore dining history.
What are your favourite Singaporean heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?
My friend Violet Oon is the doyenne of Singapore Peranakan cuisine. Nyonya specialities at her restaurants include buah keluak ayam (nut-infused chicken stew) and udang goreng chilli (chilli garlic prawns) as well as beef rendang.
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and/or drinks?
JB Ah Meng––it’s the hang out for chefs on their nights off, and the zi char dishes of Ah Meng (owner/chef Wang Feng) are excellent, especially the white pepper crab and garlic chilli lala.
Do you have a favourite bar in Singapore?
Anywhere that serves the best Champagne!
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Singapore?
A suitcase full of sambal belacan––something I will never leave my Singapore home without.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home in Hong Kong?
That would be at my home, where I’ll rustle up some comfort food at 3am when I get back from a wild night out after work. It’s hard to find good Singaporean food in Hong Kong. I sometimes pop into Rempah Noodles on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai on my way to work for a bowl of Nyonya laksa lemak––not as authentic as in Singapore hawker centres, but good enough.