A big city or a small country? Singapore is many things, but for me it is mainly fusion cuisine and smart electronic gadgets.
by SeenThat on April 29, 2008
In Singapore there are as many shopping malls as subway's stations, and each mall hosts at least one food plaza.Asian Food PlazasUnlike their parallels in western malls, Asian food plazas are close replicas of Asian markets, where each shop specializes in very few, related dishes; buying a whole meal at one place is not possible. In Singapore, each plaza hosts Chinese, Malay and Indian shops, allowing thus the customer to create combinations hard to achieve elsewhere, at affordable prices. Each shop in particular and plazas in general are classified according to their cleanliness and quality with letters: A is the best category and C is the worst; in spotless Singapore eating from the floor of a C institution is completely safe.A very recommendable food plaza is the one at the Raffles City Tower, just in front of that central landmark in Singapore: the Raffles Hotel.Raffles City TowerOccupying an entire city block in front of the Raffles Hotel, the Raffles City Tower could not be better located within downtown Singapore. It houses two hotels and an office tower, located over a shopping mall and a convention centre and it was opened in 1980. Within the complex, the 73-storey Westin Stamford is the world's sixth tallest hotel. The mall is connected to the City Hall MRT Station by escalators from the building entrance.It was built on the former site of Raffles Institution, Singapore’s first school. The building aluminum-finish and straight lines give a twentieth-century contrast to the mainly Victorian architecture of the surrounding quarter, especially that of the Raffles Hotel. Most important of all – for this entry at least – is the Food Junction court on the third floor. The court is one of the best of its kind in the country, providing clear menus, an exceptionally graphic display, comfortable seats and immediate access to a posh shopping mall and the subway. Following are four typical dishes of the area, which would give the hungry visitor a truthful taste of South East Asian cuisine.LaksaIt is hard to point at a specific Singaporean dish, but not impossible since the tasty Laksa soup is available everywhere. The heavy, hot soup with coconut milk, chili, rice noodles, small omelettes and sometimes even clams and shrimps, is a winner despite the hot climate of the surrounding city.The variation served in Singapore is actually Curry Laksa – to differentiate of the Assam Laksa which belongs to other coasts – and is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisines.Chicken BiryaniBiryani is a general term referring to dishes including Indian spices, basmati rice, meat, vegetables and yogurt; the word is derived from the Farsi and means "fried." The spices may include saffron, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, wasabi, bay leaves, coriander, mint, ghee, ginger, onions, and garlic.The version served here included three different colors of rice, orange, yellow and natural white. Each one is cooked separately and gets the color of the specific spices used for the process. Then - just before the serving – they are mixed up together creating a cheerful sight. A crispy nan-like bread, pickled vegetables and peanuts covered with a tasty sauce accompanied an awesome piece of chicken.Pork Ribs ClaypotIn this Chinese cooking method, an unglazed clay pot is submerged for a few minutes in water before cooking, then filled up with the food and placed into an oven. The walls of the pot help to diffuse the heat, and as the pot warms it releases the water as steam.Many dishes are served in this category; I found the pork ribs claypot to be one of the most attractive. The fat pork meat benefits from this oil-less cooking method. The meat and accompanying vegetables are atop a generous ration of white-rice. A word of warning: the claypot is rabidly hot when served, extreme care should be taken.Ice KachangIce Kachang (Kachang is the Malay word for bean) is the ideal dessert in the hot weather: red beans and corn on ground ice and covered with sweet flavored, bright colored syrup and jelly. Concentrated milk is drizzled over the whole creation. Some of the shops serving it add fruit toppings; the customer is allowed there to choose from the enormous variety of tropical fruits available in Singapore.
The Raffles Hotel bears the name of the founder of modern Singapore and is one of the main landmarks in the country. Its Long Bar is famous for the Singapore Sling which can be enjoyed in its delightful tropical surroundings while reading some fine book about the southern seas. Wouldn’t Conrad’s Victory be a good fit? Especially so, since he was one of the patrons here… Other famous guests include Rudyard Kipling, W. Somerset Maugham, Anthony Burgess and Queen Elizabeth II.The Raffles HotelDating back to 1887, the Raffles Hotel is one of the better known attractions in the city-state. Built in a Victorian-Colonial style it is located at the very center of Singapore’s downtown, unobtrusively blending among the charming architecture of the area. It includes a tropical garden courtyard, a museum, and a theatre; in 1987 it was declared a National Monument.The Long BarSingapore Sling’s home, the stylish brown wood plain decor of the Long Bar reminds of a Malayan plantation building circa 1920. Its open design lets the refreshing breeze in; moreover, it features a very attractive cooling device: wooden-fans were attached to an electric motor creating a strangely old-fashioned look.In addition to almost every imaginable cocktail, the bar also serves traditional pub dishes and snacks; during the evenings a band performs contemporary and popular hits.The Singapore Sling HistoryIn the hotel's museum, visitors can appreciate the safe in which Mr. Ngiam locked away his recipe books, as well as the original Sling recipe.The Singapore Sling was commercially prepared at the Raffles Hotel for the first time in 1936 by a Hainanese-Chinese bartender called Ngiam Tong Boon. He prepared the drink with a recipe written in a hurry on a bar-chit by a hotel visitor who asked the waiter for it. Thus, the origin of the recipe is not exactly known, despite the various legends surrounding it; I brought here the version offered to the bar’s customers.In the beginning, the drink was meant as a woman's drink, hence its shocking pink color; nowadays it became a drink enjoyed by all, mainly due to its fame. The Singapore Sling TasteI carefully read the recipe provided with the menu and the first doubts appeared; it was an obviously hyper-sweet drink. "You won’t forgive yourself if you don’t try it," was my reasoning – one that put me in troubles more than once.Waiting for the drink to arrive, I dutifully wrote down the recipe. Afterwards, despite the ghastly color, I took a sip from the tall, slim glass; it resembled one of those medicines for colds. However, the cocktail turned out being the perfect prelude for an extra-bitter espresso coffee at the same location.The Singapore Sling Recipe30ml Gin15 ml Cherry Brandy120 ml Pineapple Juice15 ml Lime Juice7.5 ml Cointreau7.5 ml Dom Benedictine10 ml GrenadineA dash of Angostura BittersGarnished with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry The SouvenirsThe Singapore Sling Glass and matching shaker are can be purchased as souvenirs. Operating HoursCocktails are served from Sunday to Thursday between 11:00am and 12:30am, for the kitchen services arrive between noon and 7:45pm. Friday, Saturday and public holidays eves, the bar stays open until 01:30am.
by SeenThat on April 30, 2008
Bugis, The PeopleBugis is the name of the most numerous of the three major linguistic and ethnic groups of South Sulawesi, on Indonesia's third largest island. They have a legend-like reputation for being honorable, pirates, sailors, sea-traders, fierce warriors, industrious and rice growers; they converted from animism to Islam in the early 1600s.In the nineteenth century, some of them were mercenary soldiers of the English Empire, and helped to the establishment of the British colony in Singapore. However, they are also considered to be the pirates pestering the adjacent coasts during the same period. They were awarded a neighborhood next to downtown Singapore, known now as Bugis; eventually, they left the city-state shortly afterwards.Bugis, The MallIn the 1980s, the old Bugis neighborhood was remodeled as a covered shopping mall, simply by enclosing the historical street under an attractive transparent cover and remodeling the houses, an MRT station is under the street level. It looks like a life-sized museum of the colonial era in Singapore; the shops occupy the original wood structures. Its main covered plaza features an extremely minimalist and attractive fountain which features music and light shows at night.BreadTalk, The ChainBread Talk is a chain specializing in bread, with more than twenty outlets all over Singapore; they have spread out to adjacent countries. The bright lit shops are very pleasant and modeled in a clear, minimalist, clean glass design. The shops feature see-through kitchens, separated from the counter and sitting space by transparent glass panes. The contrasting colors used for the décor are unique for each store; the one in Bugis faces also the main street outside the mall.BreadTalk, The BreadBread is a foreign concept in the rice-oriented cultures of South East Asia, and it was quite a challenge for the prophet who created BreadTalk to penetrate the market. To accomplish that, the variations of the basic product were created; many of them approach what westerners would call a cake. However, despite the way you define them, the creations are unique delicacies; every human should aspire to taste at least once in his life. Creams, vegetables, meats, and everything edible has found its way into these breads, which feature creative names as well. The signature breads are the chicken and pork floss buns, but many kinds of cakes and personal cakes are available as well.BreadTalk best known creations are:Crouching Tiger, Hidden BaconNamed after a well known American-Chinese co-production movie, this bun is a plain looking crusty loaf with rashers of aromatic bacon, melted cheese and a dash of black pepper.Moshi MushroomLoads of mushrooms and tender chicken chunks are simmered together in this bread roll with butter and parsley in a light puff pastry, which welcome your day with a Moshi-Moshi Japanese-style greeting.Mount FujiThe Mt. Fuji is a very sweet creation, done with crisp icing-dusted crust and a porous, light buttery interior filled with cream; excellent as a companion for a coffee and before a trip to Tokyo.FlossMaybe the best-known creation is the shredded pork bun, a regular sweet bun covered with hairy, shredded pork. The shredded pork itself is very popular in Thailand, but by putting the meat over the bun the chef created a new and tasty definition of the word sandwich, a de-facto inverted sandwich.
Chinatown, SingaporeIt would be strange to talk about a Chinese quarter in a city where near 80% of the population is Chinese – attempting to justify it would be weirder - but this is a fact: along South Bridge Road in Singapore there is a Chinese Quarter. It is more a shopping quarter aimed at tourists than a residential one. Chinatown was designed as such in the Raffles Plan of Singapore, in 1819; however, it is home to a small part of the Chinese population, which is the majority in the city-state. Raffles allotted the land southwest of the Singapore River for Chinatown; following his segregationist design of the colony, people from different classes (as per his definition) and different provinces were given different areas. Despite this racist design, Hindu and Muslim temples were built there in the nineteenth century and have survived until the present. The Sri Mariamman Hindu Tamil Temple has a twin in Silom Street, Bangkok.Despite the name, the leading architecture style is Malay-colonial, with light wooden structures creating long, undistinguishable lines; to some extent the area reminds of the colonial parts of Macau. The main attractions within it are the Chinatown Heritage Centre, Chinatown Food Street, and Chinatown Night Market.Reaching ChinatownThe Chinatown MRT Station is in the middle of the pedestrian Pagoda Street; South Bridge Road is within walking distance from there.The EstablishmentThe restaurant occupies a niche on the important South Bridge Road – one of the main ones in Singapore. The few tables scattered in the small and spotless room give a feeling of homeliness. The service is professional, though the view of the main street is not very attractive.The MenuThe full menu of Ocean King’s includes (the original spelling was kept; all the items had similar prices):Turtle SteamboatTurtle SoupTurtle ClaypotTurtle DumplingTurtle Hor FunTurtle Fried Ginger and Spring OnionTurtle CurryTurtle Rou ZongTurtle Braised ClaypotTurtle PorridgeFrog PorridgeBlack Chicken SoupKampong Chicken SoupTortoise SoupPork Rib w/Chinese Herbal SoupVegetable w/Oyster SauceBBQ Turtle MeatAnd the specials:Fresh sliced turtle meatChinese Wine Steamed Turtle SoupCrocodiles and TurtlesMany of the Chinese restaurants in the area serve crocodile and turtle meat. It must be emphasized that the reptiles are grown in specialized farms and not hunted in the wild.Crocodiling a TurtleAttempting to try almost everything in life at least once, and preferably twice, I entered Ocean King’s and ordered a quite expensive Turtle Claypot. In this Chinese cooking method, an unglazed clay pot is submerged for a few minutes in water before cooking, then filled up with the food and placed into an oven. The walls of the pot help to diffuse the heat, and as the pot warms it releases the water as steam; the water contributes to the cooking process.A few minutes later, I got the attractive claypot; it was dangerously hot. Many chunks of a dark meat covered the short bones scattered atop the rice; they were hidden under a thick layer of strongly flavored fat. The dish was accompanied by a fatty turtle soup. Both dishes had the strong, peculiar taste and smell of this meat and provided thus a valuable experience of this type of cuisine.
by SeenThat on May 3, 2008
A feeble ocean breeze from the southern seas attempted to brush away the tropic heat of the long gone day; desert streets and closed shopping malls hid their shame under a gentle fog, the streetlamps-light was attractively diffused. Not far away, downtown’s skyscrapers resembled a studiously deconstructed pyramid. In a subtle way, scenes from Blade Runner came to mind.Despite its loneliness, never did Singapore look more human to me. Its denizens and constructors were sleeping elsewhere, but left their spirit and work as a silent testimony of their masterpiece. It was the perfect place for sitting down, relaxing with a cup of coffee and writing a few pages. During my stays in the island-city-state I spent several delightful lights in such a way. Maybe these nights were the main reason for my recurring visits.Finding the place didn’t take long; in front of the Bugis Shopping Mall there was a nameless Chinese fast food establishment working the whole night; next to it was a similar Indian one, but the first coffee sealed the deal.Its front was open to the street; despite that, all the tables were indoors; sidewalk cafes are not allowed in spotless Singapore. The adjacent kitchen was in clear sight and an inseparable part of the dining area; this was part of the place attractiveness. At that single-digit hour – one hand’s finger were too many for counting the hours since midnight – the kitchen created a much needed ambience of homeliness. There were humans within performing well-known, soothing cooking rituals. Despite the time-apace coordinates, the place was solidly located within a nineteenth century Kampong; a palm oil or rubber plantation couldn’t be far away. The nearby ship atop Bugis’ main entrance reminded of long-gone pirates.The place was never empty. Patrons came and left, always ordering their food without glancing at the stained menus; the coffee, the tea and the Chinese fast food were obvious. A Chinese woman wearing a fancy dress placed a big paper napkin around her neck and raised a greasy bun with obvious delight. Disliking food at night, I chose coffee and the obligatory fried buns served with it. The preparation method was typical of South East Asia and fascinating to watch. Boiling water was poured from a big kettle into a big cotton filter filled with coarse ground coffee and dripped into a glass. The glass was previously ad partially filled with condensed milk; the final result was a black and white dichotomy, transformed after mixing into an opaque dark brown. The coffee, both because of the preparation method and the addition of condensed milk was very dense, with an extremely heavy body, reminding very much of a chocolate drink, it was the perfect cup for a lonely night in a foreign place.
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