Singapore, In Retrospect. Part III: Food!

by cedhausen

Y’know, I can’t just show you Arif’s feet (from the last post). That guy has been an incredible host, considering he had to deal with me, this ball of energy bouncing off the walls of his room and bombarding him with questions about life in Singapore. So, in honour of his patience and hospitality, I shall feature him in today’s Photo of the Day:

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One thing’s for certain, the guy sure knows how to pose. Just look at his left hand. What is he even holding? A wine glass? No that can’t be right, the contents would spill at that angle. Maybe a bottle. Or a TV remote. Leaving aside Arif’s *ahem* feigned urbanity (I know he’s reading this.. haha), the other highlight here would be the bench itself. How does it stay so white and so clean? I’m sure many who walked by it have been tempted to snap a photo by/on/with it plus with the torrential rain lately, it’s amazing the bench still looks so pristine.

Knowing a local of the place you’re visiting is always helpful when travelling, that’s a given. While I’m perfectly comfortable travelling on my own, with a native, I am able to distinguish between the highly overrated from the underappreciated. This is especially true with regards to cuisine: it’s one thing to read a review from TripAdvisor but having been in a position where I had to “craft” favourable reviews in a professional capacity, I’d much rather get an honest opinion from someone who can tell me straight if the Hainanese chicken rice sold at this particular food court is truly the best in Singapore. Besides, more often than not, we wouldn’t know where to begin with. Sure, I suppose there are some must-haves when you travel, like Bakewell pudding (a simple dessert from its namesake town in Derbyshite) or gudeg (a traditional Javanese rice based dish that everyone must try when visiting) that are so popular in their respective regions that it’s impossible to miss. In the absence of these, I’d have to rely on other people’s recommendations, though I’m usually perfectly comfortable surviving on store bought sandwiches when I’m travelling.

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t usually travel for food, which is ironic since I do food reviews. I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m more attracted to design and architecture, plus a little bit on a place’s history. It’s not unusual for me to actually skip meals when I’m exploring a city: if I had to pick between photographing a colonial property or paying to eat at a restaurant and spending two hours there chewing (I peck like a bird…), I’d go for the former. The dinner I covered at Xperience, Sofitel So Singapore was the exception mainly because of the Lobster and Scallop Laksa Risotto, but otherwise I would’ve been complacent with street food sold just outside the hotel at Lau Pa Sat, pictured below (foreground):

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This is the place where I had the satay (go for number eight). Pretty cool building with a functioning clock tower. It’s interior reminds me of Leeds Kirkgate Market:

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With all said and done, we are talking about Singapore here, which is every foodie’s paradise much like Malaysia. While I personally don’t make the effort to hunt for exotic meals elsewhere, I always insist on taking my foreign friends who are visiting Malaysia out for food. Believe me when I say we’re spoilt for choice. Our indecision to “pick something” for dinner is rooted in culinary diversity: it’s hard to convince our stomachs to just pick one. The keyword here is variety, not variations. As a Malaysian, however, when I travel to Singapore, I enjoy discovering new interpretations of familiar comforts, for you see, Malaysia isn’t that different from Singapore in terms of cuisine. The differences are minimal, though they do add a new dimension to the experience, like this carrot cake I had at Makansutra Gluttons Bay:

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Yes, this is what we call carrot cake (technically, it should be radish) in Southeast Asia, or chai tow koay. It’s a common hawker-style fare and one of my favourite dishes, though this is the first time I’ve seen it prepared in the shape of an omelette. Arif tells me that the one pictured above is unusual in its presentation, and that he’s also more familiar with the one I’m used to where everything’s just mixed around together in this incomprehensible mess. I do enjoy this version for its salient eggy flavour, but it’s still a step below from the one I usually have back in Batu Pahat, the town where my grandmother lives. The red paste you see is called sambal, which is a chilli paste that’s paired with a lot of dishes here.

The carrot cake above was different to me in terms of its preparation and presentation, but this next example was unique because of its setting:

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Microbreweries are a very rare thing in this part of the world, but there’s most definitely a demand for them largely because of the expatriate community, in both Malaysia and Singapore. What’s interesting about this one is that it’s located in a hawker centre. Despite the location, it still attracts a very large expatriate clientele, and many were seen having craft beer with satay sold nearby. The quality of the beer here is comparable even to some of the more “glamorous” locations I’ve frequented, and I do appreciate the more casual atmosphere here. Khakis and flip flops? No problem. While there aren’t any microbreweries in Malaysia, there are places that sell craft beer from the tap though these establishments tend to be a little more strait-laced so not having a waiter serve me my beer but carefully taking my glass to my table was a new experience for me, and a welcome one.

Oh! Okay, now, this isn’t something I can’t get in Malaysia, but I’d love to share it with you anyway:

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It’s a coconut sorbet served with water chestnuts (or “red ruby” as many like to call them after the Thai dessert). I love the fact that this is served in a coconut husk because the best thing to do when having a coconut (especially the really, really good ones) like this is to scrape off the flesh with a spoon. It’s a simple dessert, and one that causes me great anguish NOW because I can’t have it!!! It’s so frustrating to know something as good as this is a franchise in Singapore but unavailable here (I’ve heard of pop-up stalls that sell these around Kuala Lumpur, but nothing permanent… Grr…).

Oh my lord I should stop torturing myself… It’s difficult to talk about food when you don’t have it in front of you… Gaaahhh… Okay, I might just leave now and whip something up in the kitchen… or just drive out and have something. See y’all later! Next post: Singapore’s nightlife. Whee!