Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Visit to Singapore

Singapore.... Singapore is crazy, particularly coming from semi-rural central Java.

For one thing, I think it's the most diverse city I've ever been in. It's a Commonwealth country, so you have the British influence, and it's a global city so you have tons of tourists and immigrants and expats. It's one of the top Asian cities, so you have massive populations from Korea, Japan, China, etc. Singapore historically has been the meeting place of Indian, Indo-Malay, and Chinese culture, and all of them are strongly represented. It's disorienting to have things that are familiar to me but in such separate places, suddenly grouped together here. To see little India with Chinese, all of the Chinese things labeled in Indonesian, and the general language of communication being English even in the most authentic of enclaves? Very bizarre.

It's also hot. It's hot like most of Indonesia, but we happened to live on a mountainside this past year and it was beautifully cool for the last six months during rainy season. I count my blessings and am now having to adjust to the heat we'll be living with all the time. It's generally somewhere near 90 degrees all the time. ALL the time. Even before the sun comes up. But when the sun is up, or you're moving (at all), it feels like it's over 100 degrees. So basically, as soon as you leave air conditioning, you are sweating. Even in the shade. Even without moving. So. I am adjusting.

It's wealthy. Man. Talk about the rise of Asia. America, look out, you got one coming. I swear the most common car I see is a BMW. We gripe about how much Americans are addicted to their phones, but America's got nothing on Singapore. It's like sci-fi movie sometimes, with everyone around all looking at their own screen.  I asked about the equivalent of an American Target and people shrug - luxury goods are where it's at here. There is mall after mall after mall, all filled with high-end goods. Mall culture is definitely not out of style here - shopping is like what Singapore is for, apparently.

I'm not complaining. It is overwhelming and for the most part we aren't shopping sort of people, but given how isolated we are from Western goods in our small towns in Indonesia, it's a huge treat to drop by Ikea and H&M. And it's sort of mind blowing when the mall location maps are touch screen and proceed to give you directions like google maps. The city is kind of over the top.

But what we REALLY love is the food. We love Indonesian food, but we miss variety from all over the world, and Singapore has exactly that. We have eaten at a few Western-style spots, mostly Chilis!

What we've had almost every day, though, is Indian food. See, eating at Western-style spots means eating at American prices, which is not how our budget is made. So, to save money we eat at our guesthouse sometimes and we have found that Singapore serves affordable food at hawker centers and food courts. In the US food courts in malls are generally lukewarm, unappetizing spots. Not so in Singapore! I've discovered that every single mall has a food court that represents food from all over the world.

So, we've loved having more naan and biriyani and chicken tandoori and daal and chai. We've also enjoyed the Singaporean Indian murtabak and prata/paratha.

We are loving teh tarik, which is supposed to be a Malay special of "pulled" milk tea, made frothy by being poured between glasses. Let's be honest, it's hardly ever actually pulled these days, and it's essentially the same the same thing as Hong Kong milk tea or sweetened British milky tea. Regardless, it's good. I also have tried teh halia (ginger milk tea, just like central java), and bandung, which is rose water drink that I wouldn't recommend but comes in a thrilling shade of pink. Singapore also make amazing coffee. They make it dark and strong and add sweetened condensed milk so that it's creamy. I never had a bad cup. So, so good.

I got a traditional Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs and soy sauce. Well, I LOVE the kaya spread they make here, which is like a coconut pandan butter/jam. So good. The soft boiled eggs are a mystery to me. They're just one step away from raw, and it's basically egg soup that you dip your bread into. Weird by my tastes.

I also love love just basic chicken rice, sometimes called Hainanese chicken rice. It's roasted or broiled chicken on coconut rice, but done so flavorfully and topped with chili sauce, ginger sauce, and soy sauce. I wasn't expecting much given the simplicity of the dish but dang, it was SO good.

The major fail for me was laksa. Could have a been a bad bowl, but ... it was a pretty bad bowl. Not my favorite mix of flavors. Too.... fishy. And I like fish. So, not sure what to say about that.

All in all, if you are an adventure traveler, Singapore is probably not for you because it's too much about shopping and glitz and glam. However, glitz and glam is not all there is to Singapore. It has amazing food, great international neighborhood, and some absolutely stunning attractions, my favorite of which was the Gardens by the Bay. You can get in free, but if you're just doing it one time you need to pay for entry to the Domes, and maybe for the shuttle to beat the heat. We were blown away. It's like a botanical garden/children's garden/park all rolled into one. 

And now here we are in the middle of nowhere, where there is no cheese available and local pizza is made with kraft singles and ketchup. Yikes.


Unknown said...

I have photos from 1989, going back as a teenager to visit my native Ireland after years in the U.S., and the equivalent of pizza in Derry was...some sort of gummy bread product, with tomato paste and cheese that didn't melt. No herbs. And I don't think it was real cheese. My siblings and I took photos of it for posterity, it was so bad. :) Italian food in Ireland has improved dramatically since then-- maybe the Internet? And it's definitely a more diverse country now, so, Italian immigrants? Anyway, there were so many foods that were better in Ireland than in California, and we chose to go to a "pizza" place. I'm not sure what we were thinking. Jet lag, probably. :) Sounds like you had a wonderful and delicious visit to Singapore.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing kacie, so jealous. my husband will be traveling there for work, I will have to share this with him. -molly-