Trawling through YouTube for inspiration on where to get great food in Singapore brought us to the popular channel belonging to Bangkok blogger Mark Wiens. Wiens had raved about a restaurant serving Indian murtabak – a filled bread, like a roti, fried until crisp – by the name of Zam Zam, based in the Arab quarter of Singapore.
We headed to Zam Zam around mid-morning having skipped breakfast in anticipation of the famous variety of murtabak sold at the restaurant. Getting off at Bugis station onto the North Bridge Road it’s a quick walk to the Arab quarter which houses beautiful buildings and a very impressive mosque. Directly opposite the mosque are a collection of restaurants all specialising in traditional Indian and Arabic food. One of these is Zam Zam, a restaurant in all honesty we would walk past if we didn’t know about their reputation.
First impressions weren’t exactly great I’ll be honest. The place was very simple and in need of a good lick of paint. Downstairs seating is at a premium so many choose to head upstairs where there is air conditioning and plenty of space for diners. This felt more like a church hall with the fold up tables and bare floors. Certainly not the atmosphere of a restaurant.
The service here didn’t get off to a good start. We were seated and then waited around 15 minutes before they remembered to give us the menu’s. Many of the clientele were muslim with a handful of tourists. The restaurant appeared to be very popular with families which made for a rather noisy atmosphere.
We ordered the mutton murtabak and the chicken murtabak along with a couple of soft drinks. Given that it was still morning many people were ordering teh tarik – a milky tea. The choices of murtabak available is vast, anything from chicken to fish and even vegetarian options. We also went for a dish of Nasi Goreng with chicken which featured amongst the rice dishes on the menu.
The real plus about Zam Zam is that when your food arrives so does the bill so no further waiting around is needed. Many customers seemed to just eat and then go on their way straight after. The chicken murtabak arrived and it was a beast. A massive folded over stuffed roti packed with chicken slathered in a curry sauce – with extra sauce to dip it in containing curry leaves, similar to a Keralan curry sauce.
The mutton was a lot smaller in size, thankfully. It didn’t appear as inviting as the chicken in appearance but the flavour was decent enough. The real pick of the bunch though was the Nasi Goreng, wow what a flavour! We’re still trying to figure out how they manage such a powerful flavour from simple rice and chicken, almost a smokey taste and very rich with a deep red colour to the rice. The chicken had been left on the bone for even more flavour. So so good.
We gave it our best shot. The chicken murtabak, as tasty as it was, defeated us. The time came to examine the bill and our eyes almost popped out of our heads. Just $26 SGD (£14) with each murtabak coming in at $7 SGD (£3.87) very good value for three dishes and two drinks.
Is Zam Zam worthy of its plaudits? Not for us.It’s not a place that would be high on our list to return to in Singapore. The service lets it down in many ways despite it not being particularly busy on our visit. We also had better roti and curry combinations from the Smith Street street food stall Prata King containing a lot more flavour. The Nasi Goreng made the trip across town worthwhile but for all the rave reviews about Zam Zam we found it adequate but nothing special.
Opening times: Daily 0700-2300
Nearest Metro: Bugis