Moved: 3 Sentosa Gateway Singapore 098544
The food reviews that we’ve read on Steam Sia didn’t prepare us for how stellar the food was. Neither did the kopi-tiam-like decor, full of knickknacks of an old, forgotten Singapore, dark, almost dingy with lights switched off on the afternoon we were there. But every dish (except the dessert) hit the spot; and everything–from the pasta to the bread–is handmade by the former Fullerton chef, Seah Hua San. Those who grew up in the 80s can surely identify with the restaurant.
No print media will tell you the etymology of the Singlish term, “steam sia.” The word, “steam,” occurred roughly in 1991, when nudity was first allowed on Singapore cinemas’ screens. Used mostly by ah bengs and schoolboys, it means an erection. “Sia” is merely an emphasis. The term is one that passed from one schoolboy to the next by word of mouth in the 90s. Over time, “steam sia” loses its sexual connotation and can mean “shiok” or “feels great.” From the name itself, you can tell the three cheeky owners are true blue Singaporeans, creating a nostalgic space. One of them was often quoted in magazines that since they can never catch up with the modern times, the past is always a classic.
For starters, try the Sailing Boat ($8.90), seafood on oven-baked potato skin slabbed with a layer of cream. When it arrived, it looked rather sad and skinny, different from the fluffed-up version in the menu’s photo. But the appearance contradicted the taste. In a good way, it was complex enough to leave you wondering what seafood could induce such sweetness from the potato.
Nonya Chicken Curry ($12.90)
The two dishes that my mother does very well are Chinese soups and chicken curry. When I was 11, my two classmates (same age as me), who joined my family for dinner, finished a 5-litre pot of curry. When I was 16, a classmate single-mouthedly completed the pot of curry, and then, for the entire sleepover, extolled the virtues of my mother’s cooking.
You see where this is leading to: Steam Sia’s curry isn’t better than my mom’s but it is on par though different. Steam Sia’s curry was very thick and very viscous and spicy enough to leave a tingle but not incendiary to break into a sweat. The secret ingredient, tomato sauce, was added to give the curry a fuller, rounder taste. The meat fell off the chicken at the merest touch and the baguette–made by the chef–had a brittle light crust dusted with flour.
Another dish from the Asian menu, Tom Yam Spaghetti with Seafood ($16.90), is Huccalily’s favorite. (I couldn’t decide on my favorite because all the food were excellent.) The chef added nonya ingredients to the tom yam to localize the dish: so it’s 3-in-1, Italian, Thai and Singaporean. The Tom Yam was sourish–I wished it were more so–but not choking. And when the parmesan melted into the tom yam, it produced such a delicious combination. The pasta, hand-made by the talented chef, was overcooked and a little soggy, but since I like my pasta past al-dente, this didn’t pose a problem to me.
One dish I would never order in a restaurant is salmon because I am cheap and I can buy it from a supermarket, sprinkle some salt and pan-fry it. But Steam Sia’s grilled salmon ($18.90) is worth it. The salmon was grilled perfectly, charred at edges but soft, tender, moist within. The tangy mango sauce is a philosophy in itself: the milkiness of salmon from the sea intersects the sweet fruitiness of mango from the tree. The salmon sat on top of mashed potato, that could do with more cream to make it more silky, and was surrounded by dots of balsamic vinaigrette. A complex tasting dish, but not at all confusing.
The dessert, waffle with ice cream ($16.90), is however quite weak. Since we were at Mayor of Tiny Town (MoTT) a few days ago, we couldn’t help comparing the same dish. Both waffles belong to the crispy kind, not the fluffy ones. But MoTT’s version was better because it had an eggier, sweeter and fuller taste while Steam Sia’s was quite as flat as, well, a waffle.
Regardless–or as Singaporeans we should say “irregardless”–Steam Sia’s food is the best we’ve eaten in 2013 so far. (Ok, so only a month in 2013 has past but still, we eat out very often.) Every Singaporean should go to Steam Sia because it is truly a Singaporean space; every PR should go because there are things to learn about Singapore culture; and every tourist because they get to see a real but forgotten Singapore, a Singapore that was accepting of diversity and full of happiness despite the hardships and poverty. Huccalily pointed out that Steam Sia has a great tagline, “simply irresistibly awesome.” As Annie Lennox sang in the 80s, “What am I to disagree?” And yes, sweet dreams are made of these.
Photos show tasting portions.
Rating: 3.881/5 stars
PS: Thanks Sue Ann for the invited tasting.