Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Singapore Redux

I really thought about not bothering to write a blog post about our weekend jaunt to Singapore. After all, this was my 4th trip to that wonderful city-state. What more could there be to write about it? But, after 2 weeks in KL, the contrast was so striking! I guess I am inspired, after all.

KL is.....fine. I mean no disrespect to this striving city of 6 million. There are a lot of things to like about KL, including the gorgeous mountainous jungles surrounding the city, the striking iconic buildings, the massive, airy (and comfortable) malls, and the interestingly diverse population. But KL is also fairly dirty. You can't drink the water. The traffic is awful, and the mass of highways is so confusing that we thank God every day that we had the good sense to get a car and driver for Lee.

The minute you land in Singapore you know you are in a very different place. Second best airport in the world (after Hong Kong), we speed through customs and are soon in a comfortable taxi, speeding along a bougainvillea-lined highway to our hotel.

Lee usually stays at the Regent or the Sheraton hotels, near Orchard Road, the big shopping area. But we decide to try something a little different this time and choose a small boutique hotel called Naumi. This was a good choice. Our room is very comfortable, there is a rooftop pool, a nice bar, and a good free breakfast. We are right next door to the venerable Raffles Hotel, and close to the River Walk and the Ocean, both great places to go for a run.

Once we unpack we take the MRT, Singpore's clean and efficient subway system, over to Orchard Road. We want to eat lunch in the food court underneath Takashiyama, the Japanese department store. On the surface this is a good idea, but I get completely overwhelmed by the number of food choices. We grab a table and I wander around but can't make up my mind. Much of what is available is completely foreign to me. In Singapore there are no worries about getting sick from the food, but I'd like to get something that tastes good to my Western palate. After all, this is the country that has a building shaped like a piece of Durian!

Finally I fall back on the time-honored tactic of foreigners in an Asian land. I look at what people are eating at the surrounding tables and ask a lady that is eating a rice and beef dish where she got it. It's not a bad choice, hot, sizzling, and spicy. Do I remember what it was called, however? No.

Now in a more adventuresome mood, we decide to grab some dessert as well. Asian desserts are not as sweet, and trend toward flavorings involving red bean paste. But I found a stand making pancakes with different fillings, including chocolate and banana. AND, we get custard filled creme puffs from Papa Beard, an odd-sounding brand name to be sure, but very yummy. We've had them before in Taiwan, and they're just as delicious here.

We go back to the hotel and go up to the pool. Initially it looks a little spooky, an infinity pool that looks like its spilling right off the 10th floor of the hotel! We sit in a shady cabana, but even so it gets pretty warm and we have to get in the water. The water is COLD, shockingly so. We can only stay in for a short while.

That evening we decide to try something different. We've booked a table at a highly regarded Greek restaurant name Blu Khouzima. It's a little hard to find, but once found it is indeed delicious. We get a grilled cheese and fig appetizer, and a smoky grilled eggplant dish that makes me want to go home and figure out how to cook. For our mains we get some lamb chops and an amazing "beef steak" that is so flavorful, tender and juicy that I can't stop eating it even though I'm stuffed. The only downside is trying to get a taxi back to the hotel. This can be difficult sometimes in Singapore if you are not in the downtown area. We finally have to beg the restaurant to call us a taxi, otherwise we might be there still.

Sunday morning I go for a run along the river walk. It's nice, but warm and humid. I wanted to run 6 miles, but cut it a little short, figuring it was better not to get overheated. We need to work up an appetite before lunch, so we decide to check out one of Singapore's many excellent museums. There is a Peranakan Museum that sounds interesting so we decide to go check it out. The Peranakans are the original native settlers of Singapore. Anyone of mixed ansestry that is a native Singaporean is considered Peranakan. They could be like the Baba-Nonyas of Melaka, Chinese and Malay, or the could be Indian-Chinese, Malay-Indian, you get the picture. They have a rich history and the museum addresses their culture, food, religious practices, clothing, etc. as you can imagine its extremely varied! I especially liked the exhibit on fashion, including the beautiful batik sarongs and lace tops called kabayas. Part of me wants a kabaya, although I'm afraid it would be like the sari; when would I wear it?

Now its lunch time and we're ready to hit the Maxwell Hawker stand. You've probably figured out by now that a visit to Singapore is all about the food. The hawker stands are great. There is so much variety, and it's clean and safe too.

Unfortunately on a Sunday a lot of the stands are closed. But I've been doing a lot of research and even though some of the best ones aren't open I still want to try some different types of food.

Lee goes and stands in the line for Bee Hoon, an amazing fish stew that we've had before. I look at the line for Tien Tien Chicken Rice, but even on a Sunday it's just ridiculously long, so I decide to experiment again. I get some Char Toui Pork with rice and several types of chili sauce. This is pretty good, basically barbecued pork. Then I go over to a neighboring table because they have something that sort of looks like a spring roll. I asked them where to get it, whatever it is and they point me to the right stand. Rojak Popiah turns out to be an interesting dish. I watch them make mine so I know what's in it. First they take a thin wheat pancake, they spread some chili sauce on it, followed by minced pork, chopped hard boiled egg, rice and a sweet fruit sauce. They roll up the pancake and cut it into bit-sized pieces. It's surprisingly good!

Finally I get us one more thing. Carrot cake is actually daikon radish mixed with potato, egg and onion, and fried. This sounds like an excellent idea but it turns out to be pretty disappointing because it's pretty mushy. I think I could make this better than the hawker stand did!

Not surprisingly we are incredibly stuffed after this meal. We go back to the hotel because we need to rest up for the last meal of the trip, chili crab!

I probably have at least five blog posts about chili crab, but I won't force you to look back through my two blogs to find them! Singapore chili crab is a wonderful dish. Take a big south china sea crab, steam it, crack it, and pour a spicy-sweet sauce all over it. You may find this dish in other countries, but everywhere else that I've tried it pales in comparison. And yet...

This time we decide to try a different restaurant. We usually go to Long Beach, but decided to try Jumbo instead. All the restaurants in question are open-air establishments along the coast. Tables are set out on the grass in East Coast Park, and God knows what happens if it rains. "You get wet" Lee says. Fortunately we've never had to deal with that.

What we DID have to deal with this time was bad service, a real rarity in Asia. They lost our order, and in the hour we ended up waiting for our food chili crab lost some of its magical aura. It didn't taste quite as good as it has in the past. Had it just gotten built up too much in my mind? Or was Jumbo not as good as Long Beach? I don't know when I'm going to get a chance to settle this question. It's hard to imagine that I'll never be in Singapore again, but it may be a long time.

Monday morning it was time to head back to KL. My trip to Asia was almost over. By Wednesday I was swinging my way back across the globe, and here I am, once again safe and sound in snowless New Hampshire.

It's great to be snuggled up with Harper in the recliner this evening. I love to travel, but part of the fun of traveling is coming home and appreciating my own kitchen, my own bed, and yes, my own little white dog. Now, if only Lee were here too, things would be perfect!

1 comment:

  1. I went to the Peranakan Museum the last time I was there. It was really interesting.

    I'm sorry about the dinner fiasco. But then I don't care for chili crab, so we've only gone for it once in all my trips to Singapore.

    Next time you go, try some of the restaurants at Dempsey Hill. We also like several of the ones near Holland Village.

    Glad you had fun and sorry that Lee has to be over there for so long without you.

    Take care. J



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