November 10, 2012

Singapore

Singapore is one cool place. With a population of about 5 million, it is one of the wealthiest city-states in the world. And although it is one of the smallest countries with a land area of about 710 square km, it has an overwhelming financial wealth, as well as a wealth of culture, architecture, technology and history--and don't forget its prime geographical position. Established by Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 19th century as a trading post, the sea town soon attracted commercial and trade success from China, India, Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula and the Middle East as evident in its now four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

In Singapore you will find warm weather, clean streets, futuristic skyscrapers, modern necessities and a variety of cuisines and food delights at your fingertips. The residents love to shop, hang out at hawker centres and take in all sorts of entertainment. As Lonely Planet says, it's the "perfect pit stop to recover from the rough-and-tumble of the rest of Southeast Asia." The culture in Singapore is the perfect representation of a "melting pot."


Singapore was the first stop on our Asian adventure and although there were a lot of food highlights on the trip, it was my first love when it came to finding good food for good prices. Sometimes, you’re just drawn to places and you feel there's a reason you need to go there. I felt that way about Southeast Asia for some reason and Singapore was the perfect, relaxed place to start my journey.



There were so many neat things to do and places to see. Some highlights for me included Sentosa Island, The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, Marina Bay, Orchard Road, Clarkes Quay and exploring the neat neighbourhood pockets of shopping, entertainment, food and atmosphere.

After about 15 hours flying from Toronto to Hong Kong and then 5 hours to Singapore, we finally arrived in Asia. We took the metro system from the airport to the hostel and when we came up from the subway platform, we were welcomed by the sights and sounds of Chinatown at nighttime:


For a second I thought we had emerged into a different world and I realized that yes, we were actually on the other side of the world. The hostel was cozy and the location couldn't have been better as it was surrounded by outdoor market stalls, temples, hawker centres and malls. I highly recommend 5footway.inn Project Chinatown found on Hostelworld.com.

For the first few days I had quite a bit of jetlag, so my appetite wasn't the greatest. Being in a plane for 20 hours will truly test the depths of your soul and strength. I didn't want to waste any travel time though, even though I learned after a few weeks that it's alright to take a few "rest days." For the first few days we took it easy by walking around, ducking into any mall we could for momentary relief from the heat and trying some recommended food spots. I don't know why you would ever cook for yourself in Singapore when endless options--usually cooked right in front of your eyes--are available anywhere and anytime, such as this enormous plate of chicken fried rice.


First off, let me introduce you to my good friend the "chilli crab;" it is not however, a kind friend to white shorts or your budget for that matter. First you pick out your own special friend from the collection:


The waitress actually brought around a bucket with a few live crabs in it for us to pick out which one we wanted. A note on buying chilli crabs: we paid $75 for the whole crab and it was definitely the most expensive meal we had in Southeast Asia, but it's one of those things you have to try. At least the beer was cheap.  



This was the aftermath of the chilli crab consumption. You really can't be self conscious when you're constantly licking your fingers and wiping chilli sauce from your mouth.


As well as street-side restaurants and stalls, the infamous Hawker centres offer a variety of cuisines, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian and much more. Singapore isn't known as the cheapest place in all of Southeast Asia, but most of the dishes we had were usually less than $5.

Maxwell Food Centre--one of the city's best hawker centres and right down the street from our hostel--has more than 100 stalls and is open 24 hours a day. It was also featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." You don't argue with Bourdain as this sign pinned next to one of the stalls pointed out:



I went there! Like he says in the video, "if you love food, this might just be the best place on earth." There was something so simple about the dish of boiled chicken and white rice. The hawker centres are sweaty, people are pushy and good luck finding a table, but man, there's definitely something about the experience (and the signature "Chicken Rice"). After six weeks in Asia I had consumed more white rice than I could ever have imagined.


I don't normally like to go to the same food place twice while traveling, but we had to go back to the Maxwell Centre the next night to try another stall. This time we had duck over noodles that was a little too drenched in sauce for my liking, but with those prices you can't complain.


They have also redefined the food court over there. Like Bourdain says, "where in America the food court is the nexus of all things generic and awful, in Singapore, these open-to-the-street food centres, coffee shops and hawker centres offer a near limitless variety of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes." Pictured below is a Chinese seafood soup served with white rice and a Korean bibimbap with various condiments; just an example of the variety of cuisines offered.


There are also limitless options when it comes to desserts. In the VivaCity food court after a trip to Sentosa Island, I had a snow cone-like concoctions with different flavours of ice syrup, creamed corn, condensed milk, red beans and jello. It was a strange and colourful dessert that somehow all worked together.

Singapore is a warm place. Actually, it's downright sweltering, especially in the summer months. So I appreciated the refreshing ice and jelly desserts as well. My favourite flavour combination that I found was lemongrass and aloe vera jelly. Somehow if I made these things at home they would seem strange, but here, it somehow works and its an appreciation of being creative with simple flavours and ingredients.


(Photo one: source; Photo two: source)


There are so many weird and wonderful things in Singapore that just seem so normal to everyone else. Maybe we take ourselves too seriously in North America. Where else in the world could food court and fast food be the best food around? And who mixes beans, jello and syrups together over ice?! Singapore is a mishmash of different cultures, styles and eras that could at first seem odd all smushed together on one island, but somehow that’s the charm of the place.

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