Singapore’s urban jungle is so dense, its buildings so high and its people packed so tightly, that sometimes you miss things just a short walk from you. For a long time I’ve been whining (inwardly) about the lack of rosti in Singapore. It’s shredded potatoes for heaven’s sake. Why do I have to go to Marche and pay enormous amounts for that?
Or at least that’s my excuse for this glaring oversight – not only did I not know about Ivan’s Carbina, mere minutes away from my place; I didn’t even know there was a coffee shop there at all. It was only when I saw a video on Facebook that I knew. Rosti was there all the time; indeed, it’s been there for years.
Roti John is one of those strange foods for me, in a category with lor mee, shengjianbao and shakshouka. They are all things I love, but somehow never seek out; I can function for years without particularly craving them, but if I happen to be somewhere and they happen to be available, I know what I’m ordering. And at Al Ameen Eating Corner, where the menu can cause serious injury if dropped on your head, they have roti john.
The reason I was at Al Ameen has nothing to do with the food, even. Occupying a large space in an industrial park in Marsiling, it just happened to have good seats to the New Year fireworks show, especially in the ‘alfresco’ section (the extra tables that extend to the grass patch outside). But they do have roti john. 9 different ways, in fact.
We all have them, don’t we – the old place, the regular haunt. In the time when my primary school was a short bus ride from home, Marsiling Market was mine – as well as that of crowds and crowds of Causeway-crossers, seeking to refuel after the checkpoint. In the pre-dawn blue, every minute or so, the traffic light on the main road turns and a swarm Honda Super Cubs blare and keen in unison, all en route to their jobs somewhere.
And well, it’s taken some time, but I’m back here regularly again. It’s amazing how much has remained reasonably similar to what I can recall. Sure, pork in the wet market is now kept in chillers instead of hanging from hooks – which I count a positive, what with the odours – but the bewildering array of fish on mounds of crushed ice is still there, meltwater sloshing underfoot as you wander around all sorts of marine life.
It is breakfast that’s the main thing in the hawker centre. Just about everything is present – youtiao in robust coffee, several nasi lemak places, vegetarian bee hoon – and then Chin Heng Noodle House, right inside the premises. Clean and hygienic as it is, the air in there is thick with aromas and cooking fumes. I’m almost afraid to write about how vintage it is, in case someone notices that it needs some Singapore-style progress and turns it into some generic ‘food haven’ with a bloody multi-storey carpark.