October 7, 2008

Singapore: Warning, eat before you read this.

Food, food, and more food. We spent our two days in Singapore eating. And why shouldn't we? In case you are wondering, the small island country of Singapore is located on the Southern tip of the Malay peninsula, next to Malaysia and Indonesia. The country is a mix of people originally from China, Malaysia, and India, so you can imagine the cultural blend. Four languages are spoken and are on all official signs. They are English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin.

This post is kind of a tribute to one of our travel heroes, the infamous chef Anthony Bourdain. If you haven't seen an episode of his show No Reservations on the Travel Channel, you've probably been living in a hole. And if you have been living in a hole, please watch so you know what we're talking about. He brings attitude and a love of food, to traveling. So in honor of Chef Bourdain, we ate, and ate, and ate our way through the city. We also took his suggestion that the best food always seems to be wherever there are plastic tables and chairs, and where the street dogs hang out. The local food stalls.

We started in Chinatown, near where we were staying at Tajong Pagar. On a side note, we stayed in a strange hostel that was basically a residential apartment. There are several like this in Singapore, so watch out if booking online.

Singapore was a great introduction to Asia for us. It was a little crazier and more authentic than the Chinatown or Little India in New York or Toronto, but it still had order to it. Ah order, where to begin. I'm sure you have heard stories of people getting fined for spitting, or smoking in public places. It's true, they even joke about all the fines on the tacky tourist tee shirts. From what I can recall, you can't eat or drink on public transport, no spitting, no smoking in public, traffic signals are followed by both pedestrians and cars, no demonstrations or disagreement with the current government. Basically, it's the complete opposite of New York City. I do like my political freedom, but I'll tell you, being in Singapore for two days made me want to move there. It's clean, safe, friendly, and did I mention it was ridiculously clean? Although, it did lack a certain bit of edginess which I love about New York.

Now back to eating. Where to begin. We started in Chinatown on our first day and visited several areas of food hawker stalls. The first stop was the Maxwell Road Food Centre, then on to the Cinatown Complex. Picture a giant food court, but each place is tiny, and specialized. There's the curry stalls, the noodle places, the stalls dedicated to the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice dish, which is a famous dish of steamed chicken over steamed rice. Basic, but really damn good. There's the vegetarian stalls, the Laksa noodle stalls, the the Halal food stalls, the fruit juice stalls, and of course the vendors selling mouth watering items such as pig's brain and fish head curry soup. We ate dumplings, we ate curries, we ate chicken rice, we drank the freshest fruit juice. Julie also had her Starbucks fix of an iced caramel macchiato, since you could find every American fast food chain.

We did manage to do a lot of walking as well and saw some beautiful Chinese buddhist and Indian hindu temples, as well as two old mosques. The Sri Mariamman and Thian Hock Keng temples were stunning. The layout of the city was a good mix of East meets West. Hawker stalls and electronic malls mixed with skyscrapers, and chains such as Hooters. Yes, they even had a Hooters restaurant right on the waterfront at Clarke Quay.

I should quickly go back to electronics. If you ever want to buy the latest gadget, being a computer, mobile phone, or mp3 player, come to Singapore's Sim Lim Square. It's a massive department store of five levels selling everything you can plug in or run on batteries, and it's half the price as it is in North America.

Our second full day was spent wandering around Little India, and I can tell you, it smelled and tasted like India. I visited India in 2001 and I felt right at home eating vegetarian Thali with my hands. Oh, I got right in there with the locals without shame. Thali, in case you are wondering is a plate of rice and lentils, and mixed with either meet or fish, and something like six or so vegetable sides with amazing degrees of sweet and spicy. The town was gearing up for Deepavali, the festival of lights, so there were banners and colors galore. Many travelers choose to stay in Little India, especially at the ever popular hostel called the Inn Crowd. So next time I might pick this over Chinatown, depending on what i'm in the mood to eat!

For our one big night out in the city, we were lucky to have locals show us a good time. My friend Noah put me in touch with his friend Justin, and we started the night at a great local Chinese Seafood restaurant with two of his friends from their cool tech company Garag3. After dinner they drove us around the Formula One track for the upcoming night race that was to take place in two weeks. As if the night could not have gotten any better, it turns out that I had two friends studying their MBA at INSEAD's Singapore campus, and there was a birthday party for our friend Lee. We danced, and drank, and caught up with old friends.

So after three nights and two days in Singapore, and our bellies full, we headed off to meet our friend Tal in Bali, Indonesia. We flew from Cairns to Darwin, and then on to Singapore with Jetstar Airlines, Qantas' low cost carrier.
Here are our photos from Singapore, so you really can see what we ate.


BjornLee said...

singapore never sounded so cool until i read this n i grew up here.. =)

it was great hanging out with u 2 and have a great time for the rest of your globe-stomping!

Mohan said...

We're glad to hear that you 2 had a great time in SG :)
It's our pleasure bringing friends around our little island.. Keep in touch!! :)

Anonymous said...

julie's smile couldn't be bigger, sipping on that iced caramel whatchamacallit

Anonymous said...

Hi! Julie,
Nice to read your blog reading all about Singapore there locality, foods available, there tidiness, praising Anthony.
All was a great experience while reading your post.
Simply great going to be like Anthony Bourdain!
Keep telling us more!