Food, Glorious Food

A Singapore Photo Diary
(Last in a series)

This city knows how to eat. One wouldn’t go out of options regardless of the budget. In every housing estate or community, in almost every street corner, you will find hawker stalls. Singaporeans take great pride in them and is very much part of the local culture. It is deeply rooted in this country’s history.

You could almost certainly find a selection of Chinese, Malay and Indian fare as these are the major cultures that have shaped this country.

We tried eating at the local hawker area in the community where my friend lives. It has a food court-like setting with an open view of the street and is located in the ground level of one of the buildings of this residential block, which is a typical setting for this type of housing community. Other usual places are street corners, parks, even MRT stations.

I couldn’t help but notice how, even in the city, we don’t seem to be too far away from nature. I’ve noticed there are different types of trees lining the streets and some type of exotic birds finding home in them. There were a few I have seen who patiently waited for diners to finish eating so they could swoop down on the table and snatch some food. They don’t seem to me like the maya variety I often see in the Philippines. The ones here seem to don a different shade of color. It could possibly be the same specie under a different category or a different specie altogether, I’m not sure.

In Chinatown, there’s a lane aptly called Chinatown Food Street. It’s row full of restaurants and food stalls.

Chinatown is also a shopping mecca. Everything from souvenirs to electronics, apparel to jewelry, to all kinds of knick-knacks, you can find. And while you’re at it, you can enjoy Singaporean architecture like their traditional-style shophouses. To keep up with the theme of the place, local hybrid shophouses were also built.

The idea of trying new cuisine excited my taste buds. My mouth started watering. All these onslaught to the senses – the sight, the smell, not to mention the heat, made me feel a little heady. With so many choices, I had a hard time picking.

We ended up with Chinese. Because it’s Chinatown, after all.

That afternoon, we went to Sentosa – one of Singapore’s latest attractions. Well, “fairly” latest, I would say. The city seems to always have something new in the pipeline that the word “latest” tends to have a shorter lifespan here, with newer and newer attractions springing up (at least until recently) in a space of a few months.

I was surprised to see a huge Merlion standing tall in the park. I may not have seen the original one by the bay but this is the next best thing, for sure. I was happy to have found a Merlion, to say the least – and a huge one at that. Later on however, I learned that this Merlion was demolished in September 2019 to make way for a new project. It’s kind of sad learning about the news. Good thing I was able to take a photo of it, as keepsake (of sorts).

Did you know that this Merlion has an observation deck in its mouth? I didn’t.

Mandatory photo with Universal Studios’ iconic globe in the background. Because why not.

Oh, and there’s a beach called Palawan. I don’t feel so far away from the Philippines now 🙂

Given the heat however, this day has proven to be a little unbearable for outdoors, so we decided to cut our trip short and just went back to the VivoCity mall to cool down and prepared to go back to the hotel.

Before going to the hotel though, we decided to buy from the local Indian hawker stall just around the corner near where we were staying. We have been curious, or should I say ‘I’, have been curious to try Indian fare (for a change). I love the “carinderia” feel of the Indian stalls. They don’t scrimp on the servings too.

Some roti-and-chicken curry-with-basmati-rice goodness (and a Spartan feel to boot)

This has been an interesting experience, so far. I was having fun, for sure. But there are also some realizations. One is that everywhere you go (and I don’t mean just here in Singapore but anywhere in the world, I guess), people always seem to long for some Utopian pipe dream. The cab driver I talked to on the way to the airport on my flight back, opened up about certain issues they have with how things are being run in the country. He asked how I find Singapore. My answer was pretty standard: clean, modern, orderly. And then he started complaining about how they do nothing but work. Work, work, work all the time and not really enjoying other pleasures like vacations outside the country. He also mentioned about not enjoying the same level of health care on a par with other developed countries. And surprisingly, problem with the housing system.

Whoa?! For a moment there I felt I was thrown for a loop. Who would have thought, for example, that wealthy Singapore – known for its subsidies under HDB, have issues with housing? C’mon. I don’t have my own house myself, for crying out loud. How are you even complaining?? (just kidding). No, inequity and social inequality are real. I can totally relate. And the gap is only getting ever wider.

I mean, often when the media touches on these topics, it’s in a matter-of-factly (if not trivial) manner, usually in the context of economic health. Hearing it first-hand though from a local, gives the issue a face, laying bare the cost of progress in front of my eyes – a flipside to the coin not a lot of people know about. Ultimately, one has to question whether or not it’s worth the trade-offs. Only time will tell.

Not to take lightly of his predicament, I asked if he told the government his grievances. ‘Maybe there’s an amicable solution’, I said. Funny thing is that I couldn’t remember what his answer was now.

Speaking of funny, this guy (who is probably in his, I don’t know 50’s?) loves 80’s music and was fanboy-ing about Whitney Houston (yeah, you heard that right). He’s curious about the type of music the younger generation is listening to nowadays. I said: ‘I think it’s EDM. You know, DJs and stuff?’ (like I know, right?)

Thinking of my own personal grievances, my parting words to him were: “Well, other places are far worse, you know?”, thinking it might give him some consolation. I’m not very sure of that now, in hindsight.

Whew! Some story, huh? Anyways, prior to this I met up with a friend for dinner – a former colleague who is now based in SG. She introduced me to this famous hawker place called Newton Food Centre where some of the scenes in the movie Crazy, Rich Asians were shot.

We started off with some local beer, of course.

I tried Southeast Asian fare this time – Malay/Indo, and I loved it! I think because it’s closer to my Filipino palate, that’s why.

It’s an explosion of flavors – spicy, sweet, tangy. We had barbecued chicken wings, satay with peanut sauce, kangkong (I think it was, or maybe some other vegetable, I’m not sure), and oh, the stingray… it’s a revelation. Some sugarcane juice (which is big here) for refreshment.

And there it is. The final part to my Singapore adventure series. I couldn’t believe it took almost a year to finish (my goodness). Now I can delete some of the photos from my phone which has been clamoring for some space.

Here are the previous posts in this series you might find interesting:

Summit 2019 – Singapore
Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs
Singapore, Day 3 – Icons of the Little Red Dot

I don’t really travel much so this has been a welcome break from my usual routine. It was made even better, of course, by spending it with old friends. I am now feeling excited for Summit 2020.

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice – and getting lost in translation, too

An unexpected invitation led to some interesting discoveries of the metro – this time in Makati. We were invited by a former colleague to this event held at the Indonesian Embassy where some of the activities include cultural shows, bazaar, food stalls, film showings, etc.

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The gargoyle located near the entrance of the embassy’s main lobby

We didn’t get the chance to see the cultural show/s but we were able to taste some of the Indonesian food, which, actually, was our primary objective. Unfortunately, we came in a bit late so some of the stalls started closing already.

The Mertabak pancake stall which we were so excited to try, apparently, was already closed when we checked, although it didn’t really scream “We’re closed” at the outset. I mean, we still see them cooking, and there are people who are, actually, still waiting in line, so we thought we could still order.

And, so, here’s the funny story. We inquired about the pancakes, and, of course, we were replied back in Bahasa (Indonesia’s national language). Unfortunately, we know little, if nothing, about Bahasa, so one could understand the confused, dumbfounded-look on our faces. But we carried on still, as if we understood (and quite confidently at that, I must add), asking each other what flavor or type of pancake we decide to get for ourselves while pointing to the products’ list displayed in front of us. Good thing one of the ladies standing in line was kind enough to explain in Tagalog that the stall is already closed and that they were only cooking for those who have ordered earlier.

I thought to myself: ‘Really?? Darn!’

Very easily with those words from the lady, our bubbles burst. Our faces now turned from one of excitement to one of disappointment. As we say in the vernacular: “sayang”.

Oh, well. It is what it is. On the bright side though, we were happy and excited to be able to catch up with some Indonesian friends who were former colleagues of ours. It was nice seeing them again after a long time and learning of what they have been up to and how they’ve been doing all these years. It’s good to know of their accomplishments both in their professional and personal lives. We wish them all the best.

Ok. I digressed.

Going back. I was able to try the Bakmi Ayam (from Bakmi NyoNya), which, as per some online sources I’ve checked, is basically a wheat yellow noodle topped with diced chicken meat seasoned in soy sauce and topped with some vegetables like chinese cabbage and mushrooms. Fried shallots are often added as garnish. And just like many of the other dishes in Southeast Asia, this too has a strong Chinese influence to it.

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“Bakmi Ayam”

The dish, I think, has a more subtle flavor compared to the other Indonesian dishes I have tried before, and so I think I probably should not have added the chili sauce at the start as I find it difficult to discern the natural flavor of the dish. One thing I can say is that it didn’t quite create the same strong impression I had with Mee Goreng when I first tasted it from years back – savory, addictive and with a delicious aroma. Whew! I’m salivating just thinking about it. So, I guess I would just have to give it another try at some other time, maybe in their restaurant.

Now all of this spicy goodness had to be balanced out with something sweet. So, off we went to find some café or restaurant where we could get our saccharine fix. We ended up in Naimas, or Balay Naimas (as shown on the receipt I’m looking at right now). More than the food, what struck us most is the interiors and all the funny and witty quotations, and maybe just some random thoughts about food and food lovers, spoken out loud, framed and hung on the walls.

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There are also some pictures of famous Hollywood stars of yesteryears – the “classic” Hollywood – whose names I am not even familiar with, embarrassingly so. I probably heard the name or read about it somewhere but, it isn’t my cup of tea, really. My colleague, on the other hand, this friend of mine from work, is THE expert 🙂 She couldn’t stop gushing about it and could not stop taking pictures. Well, she knows her stuff. She knows her classic Hollywood. As they say: “Different strokes for different folks”. And as we say in this country: ‘walang basagan ng trip’ 😛

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We ordered their vanilla ice cream. Nothing spectacular, really. Just your straightforward vanilla ice cream right there.

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Afterwards, we met up with another friend from work together with her kids, and we decided to go to this place they usually frequent, Tutto Domani. Things we ordered were ‘Butter, Cheese and Sugar Crounds’, some pizza, chocolate brownie, and a club sandwich, for them, and just cappuccino for me. Cappuccino made more gourmet with some all-natural coconut sugar.

Butter, cheese and sugar crounds
Butter, cheese and sugar crounds

I like the way the foam was designed. Very intricate. Like work of art. In fact, sometimes it feels such a shame to mess it all up when it comes time for you to drink it.

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What’s interesting and nice about this place is that its location makes for some quiet surroundings.

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I may not be able to say the same for the inside, though – at least not all the time, I suppose – especially when the kids (and kids at heart) start playing with the toys (yes, the free toys provided by the café itself). Nice concept though, especially if you have kids with you, as this is an effective way to pass the time and a good form of distraction. Also good while waiting for your food to be served. Genius, huh? I saw people play card games. There’s probably some board games, too. And there’s even a guitar for music enthusiasts. Isn’t that cool?

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Aside from these, there are toys and other items (like key chains) on display that are actually available for purchase, most of which I think, if not all, are from abroad, or that are probably hard to find locally. There’s this collection or series of toys that caught my eye called Labbit (by Kidrobot) that has a cute bunny donning different types of costumes depending on the theme. I think these are what they call designer toys, which probably explains the heavy price tag (P600). It may not sound much but it’s definitely costly for its size, and considering that there’s probably nothing much you can do with it other than for display purposes.

Oh, but they’re so cuuute….

If money is no object, I would have bought one right that very moment. But, as it is, I had to stop myself. And so now I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Dang! Cheapskate problems.

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