Singapore’s neighbourhoods contain a number of streets that are hallowed havens for food lovers. One of those is Purvis Street.
Two blocks past the Sikh sentries at the entrance of Raffles Hotel, Purvis Street is just a single block between Beach Road and North Bridge Road. But along both sides of this little street is a potpourri of good food, including classic Hainanese cooking and much more. So, take a foodwalk here to discover its many charms, both old and new.
Begin at Esplanade MRT station or at Raffles Hotel and walk to the corner of Purvis Street and Beach Road. On the corner is YY Kafei Dian (37 Beach Road) where the trademark Hainanese kaya toast is a thick bun cut in half and slathered with viscous, uncommonly brownish kaya and a generous slab of butter. Time of day seems unimportant here for this traditional breakfast dish, which is on nearly every table until closing.
Purvis Street is narrow and straight, lined with two-storey shophouses with ornate architectural façades and five-foot ways on both sides. You’ll pass a variety of shops, design galleries and boutiques. And in between these local businesses is great food; lots of it. Chin Chin Eating House (19 Purvis Street) has many of the old Hainanese classics, including excellent chap chye (mixed vegetables), pork chops and, of course, chicken rice. An institution dating back to the 1930s, Chin Chin is old school at its best. If you want to compare modern with traditional Hainanese chicken rice, be sure to start with an order here. It has a silky skin, a meaty texture and distinct flavours of sesame oil and soy sauce.
Across the way is this foodwalker’s favourite, Yet Con Hainanese Chicken Rice (25 Purvis Street), an austere bastion of traditional Hainanese cooking since 1940. Despite its large space, the action happens mostly in a stall-like setup right by the front window, where the old uncle stacks, chops and plates the chicken rice. The meat is dense and slightly gamey, unadulterated by the usual ice bath plunging and flavouring with sesame and soy. Served with tender, robust rice, this is chicken rice in its truest form; all the way to the mason jars of homemade garlic chilli sauce and ginger to drizzle on top. You’ll notice the difference between this and Chin Chin’s more modern version. But don’t stop there, because an order of crispy Hainanese pork chops in sweet and sour sauce is another must-try.
A couple of doors down, order a rich cup of kopi and bowl of sweet-and-sour mee siam at Killiney Kopitiam (30 Purvis Street). If it’s early in the day, try the excellent kaya toast – smooth and custardy kaya on thick slices of local black-top bread and completely different from Chin Chin’s.
Head back across the street to Shinryoku Yakitori Restaurant (8 Purvis Street) where Chef Roy painstakingly scrapes, dries, roasts and dries again the fresh salmon skin for his signature salmon skin salad. He does this while singlehandedly grilling a vast selection of moist, savoury yakitori and producing as perfect a pile of seafood tempura as you’ll find at three times the price anywhere else.
Saveur (5 Purvis Street) offers another affordable alternative to hawker fare, yet with hawker connections that make it special. It started as a stall in a corner coffee shop in Joo Chiat, where the two young chefs dreamed of serving classically prepared French food at near-hawker prices. Thanks to the excellent yet affordable cuisine, they quickly outgrew their humble surroundings and moved to Purvis Street. Here, Saveur has remained true to its original self in both décor and dollars. Don’t miss the foie gras – cookie-sized and perfectly seared – for around $8. And a generous swirl of delicate angel hair pasta with tiny tiger prawns and caviar is under $7.
By now you may be getting a little full – though that rarely slows a foodwalker down. But the good news is that Purvis Street is so close to everything and easy to get to that you don’t need to, ahem, stuff it all in at once. This remarkably concentrated culinary patchwork includes cheap and cheerful Thai, Australian and even Latino joints, plus pricey Italian, French and Shanghainese restaurants.
Whether dining by day or by night, in shorts or a suit, you can almost have it all on this single short block called Purvis Street.