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April 14, 2009

Singapore's Sweet Rings

J. CO serves green tea, Black
Forest cake, and garlic cream
cheese donuts.

by Manuela Zoninsein

The Lion City might be one of the world's most peaceful places, but that hasn't prevented a baked goods battle from erupting. After standing in line at J.CO Donuts & Coffee for about 20 minutes earlier this month to try one of their crazy frosting flavors, I asked for a neighbor's take on the beignet state of affairs. Mr. Tang, a local telecommunications executive, looked me straight in the eye and openly fretted, "J.CO, they're going down. They used to be so soft . . . you didn't need teeth to eat them."

Tang demonstrates Singaporeans' common zeal for food and for debating the ins and outs of the town's dining scene. Locals are not unknown to queue in anticipation of street snacks--but that's traditionally been in pursuit of Chinese, Indian, Malay, or Indonesian hawker cooking. Now, they will wait several hours, at any time of the day, to get their hands on a specialty donut.

Yes, that's right: I just paired the words "specialty" and "donut." It's precisely this high-low combo that will blow the mind of any American who's ever pulled into a truck stop, head lowered, to sneak a taste of Krispy Kreme, or who felt it was a step down to hit up Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast instead of Starbucks. To Singaporeans, frying dough balls is a form of connoisseurship. They give donuts as gifts; they eat them instead of cake at birthday bashes; and they order them from foreign outlets, like Mister Donut in Taiwan, or J.Co. before it crossed the Malacca Straits from Indonesia to Singapore.

With nine franchises and a near-total of 50 outlets peddling over 100 varieties (including such far-out flavors as Wasabi Cheese at Donut Factory, Pistachio Crunch at Missy Donut, and Chocz O'Latte at Munchy Donuts), the battle is booming. It's also undoing the perception that the city-state lacks creativity or panache. Just one look at the menu offerings at Pop DoH, Donut Empire or Donut Outlet in Singapore, and Dunkin's claims of being "America's best donut" left me shaking my head in shame. Thankfully, donut diplomacy as yet doesn't exist.

Further reading:
* Read Manuela's interview with wünder-chef Daniel Boulud
* Writer Pico Iyer explores the fun side of Singapore in "Let's Go (Slightly) Crazy" (Conde Nast Traveler, October 2006)
* The Great Asian Beach Finder (Conde Nast Traveler, October 2007)
* Catch of the Day: International noshables


I have always wanted to go to singapore, but now I really, really want to go. Those donuts sound genius... Love how there's sweet and savory!


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