Stuffing oneself in Singapore

This post can also be entitled, 5 things I got to eat for the first time in Singapore. (This is what happens when you can’t decide on a title.)

On my last evening in Singapore, my three friends living and working there decided to take me to Makansutra Gluttons Bay. I wanted to eat Singapore’s famous (1) Cereal Prawns for dinner, which I didn’t get to eat on my previous Singapore glutton fest a year ago; Makansutra was a no-brainer choice if you want to have some of the country’s popular hawker stalls in one area. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s also convenient if you don’t know where else to go.

Judging from our appetite a few nights ago when we we annihilated a platter of Lamb Tanjine, chicken kebab and other middle-Eastern fare in Deli Moroccan in Bussorah Street at the Arab Quarter, we were obviously not just going to have cereal prawns, with small servings of rice and a modest plate of veggies. No. As a Manila-based British chef I interviewed before observed, we like to eat with our eyes. Ooh, that looks good, put it on the tray. That too. And that. And soon our table looks like a spread for a fiesta.

We also love our carbs. So in addition to a huge platter of fried rice to go with the cereal prawns, we also had char kway teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried in pork fat…no wonder it was so good) and another noodle dish, the name of which escapes me now. And we couldn’t just have cereal prawns for ulam. We got BBQ chicken wings (you must try the chicken wings!) and a plate of garlic kangkong (a bit of greens on the table).

The cereal prawns from one of the stalls at Makansutra Glutton's Bay

The cereal prawns were buttery and the skin was fried to crispy goodness. The char kway teow was just as flavorful and rich as I remembered it and the chicken wings had a good smoky flavor and juicy meat clinging to the bones. I would go back to Singapore for these two simple dishes in a heartbeat. Continue reading

A little bookshop in Duxton Road

It’s the smell that gets me. Every time I step into a bookshop (most bookshops anyway), I feel like I’m snuggled in between the pages of a book. (You know, when you buy a new book and you bury your nose in its pages, and even run your thumb across the pages to fan the smell of book paper–I love that!) And for anyone who loves books, what could be more satisfying than stepping into a small shop that just smells of books and have shelves and shelves of it.

On my last day in Singapore a few days ago, while my friend K and I looked for a place to have lunch with the girls, we explored Duxton Road in the Tanjong Pagar area. As the past trip to Singapore last year proved, I am a slut for shop houses, and when I saw that Duxton was lined with lovely shophouses, I made sure to explore it.

I was told that the conservation shophouses along Duxton used to be occupied by a number of seedy bars. Well, after it cleaned up its act, different businesses have opened up shop, including Littered with Books.

shophouse!

Littered with Books in a conservation shophouse along Duxton Road in Singapore

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Vacation calories don’t count, right? (Eating our way around Singapore)

Anyone who’s been to Singapore swear by its food. Due to the country’s cultural diversity–a melting pot of mostly Chinese, Indian, and Malay–it’s no wonder that the food scene thrives. Eating out is often considered a national pastime and I made sure to participate on my most recent trip.

For all of Singapore’s signature dishes, it was amusing that for my first two meals, my friends treated me to a delicious Taiwanese dinner in Din Tai Fung (love the xiao long bao; have no photos to show for it though) and a Nepalese brunch at Everest the following morning. Both were excellent, so who was I to complain.

slouching somewhere

Nepalese coffee at Everest

When we went to the Night Safari Zoo, P (who had just arrived and was famished) wanted to grab a bite to eat before we hopped on the tram. I recommended the sambal stingray because I wanted to taste it as well, forgetting the fact that P only likes it mildly spicy and the sambal was far from mild. He liked it though. He just tried to eat it as fast as he could; maybe his taste buds wouldn’t notice the serious beating it was getting.

Sambal stingray. A must try for anyone who wants a dish with a serious kick

After the Night Safari, we went to the hawker center Lau Pa Sat (18 Raffles Quay) for dinner with our friend Terrie. It’s considered by some local foodies as the best place to get good satay (for Pinoys in SG, it is also where Tapa King and the lechon stall Mang Kiko’s are located). Its outdoor area along Boon Tat Street (opened only in the evening) has so many satay stalls (and quite the aggressive stall owners and street vendors), but I gravitated toward stall #8, which was called “Best Satay.” And what do you know? There is still truth in advertising.

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Ann Siang Hill Shophouses (I feel pretty, oh so pretty…)

If shophouses could sing, the ones in Ann Siang Hill would be happily singing the West Side story ditty. In this curvy, sloping road and the other nearby streets, many shophouses beautifully line the area. Fortunately, the day before we left Singapore, our three friends who were living and working there decided to take me and P to a walking tour around that part of Chinatown.

Rows of elegantly-restored shophouses

Love the colors of these two shophouses

According to a Singapore travel guide, most of the shophouses in this area used to be occupied by Chinese clan associations and groups. While some still remain, most of the shophouses we saw have been turned into chic boutiques, bars and restaurants. We went inside several shops and it was no surprise that inside such lovely shophouses were lovely things for sale–from Scandinavian furniture (in Style: Nordic) to books (The Picture Bookshop, Books Actually) to racks of knick-knacks you never thought you needed.

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Shophouse love in Singapore

I was prepared not to like Singapore. I have been holding a petty grudge against it a few years back, since it started luring a few of my close friends to work there. (What with the promise of higher salaries for the same work you do in your own country, yeah most people would bolt.) It didn’t help that when I first went there more than six years ago for an overnight work-related trip, all I saw was Orchard Road and what seemed like a long stretch of shopping centers and high-rises. As first impressions go, it appeared like a  sleek city of shopping and I wasn’t much of a shopper. But two months ago, when my brother-in-law was invited to have a photo exhibit in White Canvas Gallery in Singapore, I took it as an excuse to finally see my friends in the country they now call home and spend more than a night (four nights, to be precise), getting to know the small city-state that travel guides tout packs a lot of attractions.

Among its attractions, what I was most interested to see were the districts that possessed culture and character in every corner. Singapore had been criticized for the lack of both when it began to prosper back in the 1970s and 80s. But it does have them, albeit too gentrified for some. And the charming shophouses definitely boast both culture and character in its history and architecture.

Shophouses were the one thing I immediately loved about Singapore. Heritage buildings from the 19th and early 20th century, they stand at two or three stories, typically narrow, and often restored with its intricate curves and arches and lovely combination of colors. Originally, the structure of a shophouse featured a work space for the ground floor and residential quarters for the upper levels. Thankfully, they still line (or dot) several areas, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Emerald Hill and though not as well-restored (and it seems the least gentrified), a few in Little India.

First stop: Little India. Can you say colorful?

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