Monday, July 14, 2014

Vacationblog: Singapore Day 1

Day 1 in Singapore actually started 6 hours after arrival to the airport.  T!ff's family helper insisted on going to Ghim Moh Hawker center for breakfast because apparently I had told her I used to go there with my family since it was close to where we used to live.  I have no recollection of eating there but a vague idea that my mom might possibly have shopped there.  Honestly they all kind of look the same, and unlike my dad, I didn't have a "favorite stall" who knew my order.

Once I remember attending a lecture given by Anthony Bourdain where he mostly spent the hour talking shit about Paula Deen, but at the end there was a Q&A session in which someone asked him what his dream restaurant would be.  He answered that it would be a hawker's center-type place--a place where there are lots of stalls and each stall does one thing and does it well. It'd be cheap and efficient and all of these tables where you sit down and just stuff your face with this amazing food.

This is essentially what we did but first of all, how does one choose from all of the stalls?  I wasn't really sure what we were looking for as T!ff and I wound aimlessly around the tables.  She decided apparently at random to stick with one and then got in another line but explained later that the way to go is basically to find the longest line and wait in it.  Obviously the logic is that if other people are lining up for it, it's obviously worth waiting for, right? It is the Singaporean way. Anyway, the organized chaos of the hawker center, the brusque, efficient but polite way of the vendors and the astonishing speed with which food is dispensed made me appreciate how much Singaporeans love eating and how much vendors love providing the food for them.

We ended up getting two bowls of lor mee, which is an egg noodle dish in a viscous vinegar broth dotted with rando meatballs and other bits of questionable meat parts, and chee cheung fun, which is plain rice noodle rolled thinly and chopped up, smothered in hoisin sauce and sesame.  We polished both dishes off with two cups of teh tarik (literally "pulled tea" which is a black tea sweetened with condensed milk and poured between two cups at great distance to mix and give it a bit of froth.  It looks way easier than it is--T!ff's house helper/majordomo did it once and burned both her hands horribly. All of it was delicious and best of all, the lor mee was a new dish for me.

It's odd, living here for three years I spent a lot of time pursuing food from "home" or sticking to "local food" that was familiar to me, which means mostly Cantonese food or food that my mom is comfortable with.  I lament that I never felt the urge to go forth and try new things, in food and in the incredibly rich travel opportunities living in the Straits gave me.  Instead I have to fly fucking 48 hours to get back here (first world problems, yeah yeah). With all of this great hindsight to guide me I determined that the food we ate would include at least one new-to-me item on this vacation.

After this we were rather stuffed but carried on to the other side of the hawkers: the wet market. I am somewhat familiar to this aspect of Asia--when we were living in Hong Kong my mom would occasionally take us to "gai see" where we would see great hulking sides of pork, beef head and the like.  Mostly I enjoyed the soya milk treats, which is pretty much what I also did when we lived in Singapore 10 years later.  You can pass by and see all sorts of standard meat cuts in their glass cases, but ALSO interesting things like black chicken (what makes it black???), frog, all sorts of whole fish, and then the safer stuff like fruits and veggies.  It boggles my mind that even groceries here are dirt cheap.  A package of shimeji mushrooms in NYC puts you back $2.50 a pack.  IT IS 90 CENTS HERE. Same thing with other produce.  The thing that I always insist on buying in bulk is mangosteen.  Their cost is unspeakable back home but here you can buy it by the kilogram for dirt cheap.  Once T!ff and I sat with a 2 pound bag and ate the entire thing.  Inside is a delicate white meat that is juicy, sweet and succulent.  The ultimate tropical treat!

After this, we did a bit of touristy sightseeing--Singapore is always under construction and sometimes it even yield something; in this case it was the Gardens by the Bay, which is adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore's new(?est? and possibly the first?) casino.  The Gardens themselves were lovely albeit crowded.  Lots of flora from all over the world crammed into a soaring glass dome all while being in a climate controlled environment with a skywalk that gives you a birds-eye view of the whole thing was pretty neat.  Of course we had to have lunch and here I will have to pause.

In a mall in the States or any amusement park or anything that involves the word "food court" the food will invariably be shitty.  It'll be bad for you, it'll be expensive, your options will be awful, and you'll feel robbed and one step closer to a heart attack.  In a land where people are so passionate about food, this is not the case.  Not only were there several restaurants to choose from, the food court was phenomenal!  At my insistence we ate "local" food which involved nasi lemak (fried chicken over a flavored coconut rice) and hokkien mee--both new foods.  We also had ais kachang for dessert which is shaved ice on steroids and all sorts of weird toppings--creamed corn, red bean, peanuts.  All of it was new, all of it was delicious and ALL OF IT WAS CHEAP.

Again there was a slight pang of how it could have been different had I been more... open minded?  Self-aware enough to try new things? Adventurous? At the same time there was a tiny seedling of pride in seeing how far I've come ... and also feeling emboldened to go forth and do MORE new things.  It strengthens my resolve to travel more, meet more people, eat different food, learn different cultures and learn more about myself in the process.

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