The Merlion is a mythical, hybrid creature, part lion and part fish used to symbolize the city-state/republic of Singapore. The fish body harks back to Singapore’s ancient origins as fishing village—Temasek, which means sea town in the language Javanese. The lion head stands for Singapore’s original name — Singapura, which means lion city in Sanskrit and Malay. With that etymology resolved, on to the grub!
Merlion Restaurant is located at Southern Village in Chapel Hill. The menu features refined Singaporean dishes and street food alike, along with favorites from all over Southeast Asia. Sounded right up my alley from the start. My nose was running and my eyes watering in anticipation.
Our table began by ordering some Tiger Beer and Hot Fragrant Tea. The drink menu also features some pretty girly cocktails. Note: it was a very manly man with our group that dared to partake.
The hot fragrant tea was truly fragrant. The scent was floral, but didn’t translate to the flavor. The flavor remained very tea-like.
Next up, our table ordered the Merlion Sampler, which came with veggie spring rolls, curry samosas, coconut prawns and dumplings. The prawns by far outranked everything else on the plate. I’d probably just order those and maybe the spring rolls on a return visit.
The table ordered a variety of main dishes. Here’s the rundown:
This is my prized bowl of comfort. I was very pleased with my ordering, and experienced no dish-envy (that’s what you feel when someone out-orders you and you’d prefer to have his or her dish). The components of the dish are rice noodles in a spicy, fragrant coconut broth topped with egg, tofu, fish cake, shrimp and a sprinkle of laksa leaves. Laksa is common street food and comfort staple in Southeast Asia. It comes in many varieties and requires quite a bit of time and ingredients. The curry laksa I enjoyed was all about the broth. Shrimp, tofu, fish cake, egg were all great sources of protein, but it’s not about the protein in this dish, or the noodles. It’s about the simmering, complex liquid that’s spicy, sweet and tangy. I recommend siding toward the spoon rather than fork as you enjoy this dish. Spicy.
Also a favorite street food, Roti Prata are crispy Indian pancakes. These were served alongside a chicken-potato curry. Mmm, more comfort food. Spicy.
Lesson learned: You cannot go wrong with street food. You will never go astray. Mee Goreng combines egg noodles stir fried with shrimp, chicken, sprouts, tofu puff, potato cubes, green onion, egg and spices in a tomato-chili sauce, garnished with lemon and peanuts. Spicy.
Sambal is spicy paste of chili and aromatic herbs. How pretty and refined—served on a big banana leaf. Spicy.
More noodles!—egg noodles and vermicelli, shrimp, slices of pork, fish cake and sprouts. Served with lemon and chili flakes to season to your liking. Spicy.
The pictures speak for themselves here. Each dish is colorful and so evidentially layered with flavors. Go to Merlion now, and enjoy.