4 months late but finally done! I’d like to share with you my journey through Singapore and the Philippines through the local delicacies & the feasts that I devoured. We had a wedding to attend – David’s brother was getting married in Cebu. This was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a perfect excuse for a long distance holiday. However, I had to push thoughts of my negative bank balance to the back of my mind, and remove the guilt that was attached to the word ‘holiday’…To make myself feel at ease I decided to facture a business element to this trip.
Sunday 26th December 2010: Singapore Airlines, Heathrow to Changi Airport
David and I spent a good part of Christmas day packing. After about 4 hrs sleep, we braved the artic conditions in Oxford and headed off to Heathrow Airport. My toes took the entirety of the coach journey to thaw; I was so looking forwards to warm weather! Things went smoothly at the airport – no delays and we were looked after by the hostesses on Singapore Airlines who kept bringing out snacks, drinks and meals for us. (David had been looking forwards to meeting these hostesses for a long time. I think they wear too much makeup, but then again don’t they all?) Airplane food was so-so, I was impressed by their on-board sommelier but decided to stick to water, and drank lots of it.
very salty ‘spicy’ fish with noodles, very dry bread roll and other bits. hmmm….
Breakfast – nasi lamak – not bad!
Monday 27th December: The food journey begins…
After13hrs of trashy movies & trying-but-failing to sleep, we landed in Singapore. A warm blast of hot, humid air hit me when we stepped off the plane. I felt a bit ridiculous walking around in thermal tights and boots. We weren’t able to check into the hotel straight away so ended up wandering around disorientated for a few hours, but the sights, sounds & smells kept me excited & eager to explore. I shared a beautiful dark crimson dragon fruit juice from China Town which was bursting with flavour and extremely refreshing.
After checking in to our miniscule room at the Robertson Quay Hotel, we wandered down to the local shopping mall – the Liang Center in Clarke Quay. There was a Kopitiam food hall – a chain of hawker centers that are dotted around the city. I had vegetarian Laksa which was aromatic with gently spices. Mango sago ice kacang was good balancer to this meal. The cooling crunch of the milky ice was topped with gelatinous balls of tapioca and delicious mango. We went on an after dinner walk around Clarke Quay – there were Christmas lights – giant presents, baubles & Christmas trees created from strings of neon lights. I had never experienced Christmas in a hot country so this felt strange to me.
Vegetarian Laksa in Kopitiam – very delicious, I can’t get over how cheap food is here!
Tapioca mango ice kacang – great colours!
Outside Mr. Curry – plastic plates of curry stuck to the wall…
Tuesday 28th December: A day of culture & eating
Breakfast at the hotel wasn’t good…However, there was an interesting toasting machine where a piece of bread would be carefully paced onto a conveyer belt and passed through an assault course of red wires. Fascinating but slow, there was always a long queue of people waiting for their bread to brown.
Today was a business day as I had boutiques to visit and meetings booked. We wandered down Telok Ayer Street where we were distracted by the Hawker Center – chicken curry puff, red bean glutinous rice ball and amusingly entitled energy drink ‘kickapoo’. We walked down Haji Lane – boutique-lined streets of the Arab quarter, Purvis street & popped into the Raffles Hotel.
Kickapoo drink, grape juice drink, Hawker centre on Telok Ayer Street
Fried red bean glutionous rice ball
Lunch was at one of the Kopitiam chains where we had a selection of vegetables & tofu freshly cooked for us. It was like a pick & mix but instead of sweets were enticingly displayed raw vegetables – bundles of pak choi, enoki and shitake mushrooms, tofu-stuffed peppers amongst other veggie delights. Once I had made my selection, I gave it to the cook who would blanch them briefly in a pot of bubbling water. This dish was simple but full of delicious goodness.
We had a look at the local art & design that was housed in the Singapore Art Museum before immersing ourselves in the busy retail environment of Marina Walk & the Suntec Center. I found the Suntec Center hugely overwhelming, uninspiring a bit depressing. Nevertheless, we stayed for dinner in the Suntec Fountain Food Hall. I made a bad choice going for the very bland fish soup, but David’s chicken satay was outstanding. For dessert, we had a comfortingly sweet & creamy sago meleka.
Wednesday 29th December: Boutiques and Belly Dancing
Today I was on my own visiting boutiques, I didn’t want David to spend his holiday being my bag-carrier as I trek from shop to shop, so I left him visit the plastic island of Sentosa with his parents.
I headed down Orchard Road – there are an incredible amount of malls, each packed with hundreds of shops, I felt completely overwhelmed! I almost wondered if they all managed to stay in business! After 4 shopping malls, my sugar levels were getting low so I bought a $1 ice-cream from a street vendor. I was drawn to the lilac coloured yam flavour, a slab of ice-cream sandwiched between some pastel swirled bread.
When it came to 5pm I had enough of shopping malls and longed to be outside, surrounded by nature. I met up with my Cousin Judi for ice tea & kaya toast in a Singaporean coffee shop – Kopi. A stack of perfectly toasted bread was slathered with butter & sweet eggy custard. We had a good catch-up, it had been over 17 years since we’d last met! After tea & toast, Judi took me & her cousin’s wife to a belly dancing taster class. I was initially nervous about this, but ended up really enjoying it, despite being left-right dyslexic & completely useless…After our work-out, we then went for pasta at Bakerzin. This was a little strange eating something so familiar in the UK in a country which is already renowned for its cuisine. It was interesting seeing the Singaporean take on Italian food, which unfortunately didn’t live up to the standards that I’m used to but we had a great time chatting that food became secondary.
Thursday 30th December: Bugis market & Little India
This morning we had breakfast in China town – char sui bau, pork dumplings, mini nonya glutinous rice parcels, curry bun, savoury glutinous rice filled with vegetables, and melon juice. It was nice to try out the local delicacies, though I consumed far too much MSG…spiritual journey to little India stopping off at various temples. It started to rain heavily so we ran into Bugis Market for shelter. This market was full of cheap & tacky products. We snacked on star fruit, purple yam bun & papaya juice.
The rain had finally stopped so we could continue on. The architecture in Little India were historical and eclectic, double story houses – such a difference to the high-rise towers & malls. We stopped off at a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, were we ate paper dosa (which must have been 50cm long!), vegetable curry and savoury doughnuts.
Dinner was with my God parents, cousin Alvin & family. We went to an amazing seafood restaurant in Pasir Ris, a minute walk away from their apartment. Our meal consisted of crab, tofu, fried chicken in shrimp paste crumb coating, steamed bread, battered prawns. By now my body had been poisoned with MSG and my stomach had blown up like a balloon.
Friday 31st December: New Years Eve
I decided to stick with the hotel breakfast this morning to give my body a break from all the chemicals I’d been consuming.
Meeting with boutique went well so we decided to celebrate with freshly made chee cheung fun – it was fascinating watching the making process – a muslin cloth is dipped in rice batter then placed over a large rectangular steamer. After 1 minute steaming, the fabric is peeled off to reveal a thin, almost transparent sheet of rice noodle. Prawns & scallions are sprinkled over before rolling & chopping. We also shared a bubu chacha dessert which was a colorful array of orange, green & white – crushed ice, sago, sweet potato, sour sop, grass jelly & condensed milk.
Off to Holland Village with my cousin Judi. It’s a strange place, former army barracks with westerners and ex-pats. The shops were influenced by the European inhabitants; there was a fromagerie, butchers, deli, off-license, kitchen shop… It was very unusual seeing so many specialist food shops here. Since arriving in Singapore I had noticed that eating out is very cheap. However, supermarkets are extortionate. Cooking from scratch is so expensive, and I don’t think many Singaporeans cook at home.
We went for ice tea and cake in a café, despite the tempting array of continental desserts; I opted to try the pandan cake. It was a mixture of firm green custard on a light sponge base.
Judi insisted that we try carrot cake which is completely different to the tea-time treat that I’m used to. This ‘cake’ was more like a turnip omelet.
We had a pre-drink snack of chocolate cornet & red bean buns from the Holland Village Japanese bakery. These looked so perfect and were delicious!
New year’s eve dinner wasn’t such a fancy affair – salmon rice & edemame at a Japanese fast food outlet in Bugis MRT shopping mall. The salmon was unnaturally pink, textureless and salty, a bit like a fish finger.
If I was celebrating New Year in Oxford I would probably be very drunk But alcohol is extortionate in Singapore – a good deterrent for the budget traveler. We substituted beer & wine for chocolate ice-cream down Haji lane, before heading out to watch the fireworks.
Saturdat 1st Jan: Feast!
Breakfast consisted of banana and soy milk, I was preparing my stomach for the banquet lunch we were expecting to eat. Judi’s parents were to take us out to Teochew Imperial Restaurant in Ngee Ann City. We had our own private booth, the service was impeccable and the food was amazing. We had:
Crispy chicken & Steamed fish & vegetables
Mini steamed lotus buns, and sticky-pudding like sponge cakes
Sweet date, seaweed & logun in syrup
As well as:
o An array of dimsum dishes
o Vegetables & chestnuts
o Vegetable soup
All washed down with thimbles of bitter tea and puer tea. The food just didn’t stop coming and I felt like my stomach was ready to explode.
Despite this feast we managed to have a hearty dinner. Bubbling Korean noodle clay pot dish and vegetables in the people’s park complex, china town. Dessert was an array of nonya sweets – colourful sticky rice & tapioca desserts. We also had a custard cream filled fish-shaped waffle, too cute not to try!
Korean noodle claypot
Custard filled fish