We spent four glorious days in Singapura and I am still dizzy with awe and yearning! Can I please live there for a year or two? Hint hint.
Our visits to touristy spots like Universal Studios, Sentosa Island and the Esplanade and Orchard areas were really fun (thanks to our world-class tour guide la! luv you yots!). We also rocked our heads off at the Laneway Festival (which deserves a completely separate post).
But the highlight of our trip was really the great and cheap food! And I cannot stress that enough! I was close to getting crazy with excitement! No wonder my idol chef at large and world traveler, Anthony Bourdain, proclaimed Singapore as “A City For Serious Eaters.” According to him, “”New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Singapore’s the city that never stops eating. For a gastro-tourist, somebody who travels to eat, any kind of serious eater, Singapore’s probably the best place you can go for maximum bang in a minimum period of time.” Damn right!
For our first real meal (I refuse to count our late lunch at Popeye’s as a real meal), we got down to some serious business. And nothing can get quite as serious as trying the local fare in a hawker center!
Since it was the peak of dinner time on a Friday night and we were too tired to wander off from the Esplanade area, we headed straight to Makansutra Gluttons Bay (it’s in my itinerary anyway). Predictably, the place was packed with both tourists and locals.
Aside from the excitement to finally taste the authentic flavors of Singapore, immersing myself in the ruckus of a real hawker center was like an initiation rite that I so willingly accepted. Dork that I am, I was grinning from ear to ear despite the noise, heat and the lack of space to move around.
First stop was at the Alhambra Padang Satay where we ordered grilled chicken and beef satay. This dish, which consists of marinated, skewered meat, originally came from Indonesia and has become so popular in various parts of Southeast Asia. I have tasted quite a few satay dishes in the Philippines (Spice Fusion in Cebu and Krua Thai serve good satay) and I can’t wait to compare the flavors.
I must say that this particular satay dish is more spicy than sweet. The hot peanut sauce was not sickeningly sugary as well. The predominant taste of turmeric blended with various levels of savory and sweet flavors of different spices makes this a good starter. My taste buds have come to life!
Next stop was at the popular Boon Tat Street BBQ Seafood where we ordered the famous sambal stingray. It was my favorite dish of the night! The stingray was grilled just right, it was so soft and juicy inside. It had no hint of unpleasant fishy flavor at all. The slightly charred skin provided a contrast in texture with the delicate flesh. And don’t get me started with the sambal. Its fiery hot and bold flavors hit the perfect spot, we were addicted! We ate the stingray as if we were eating cake. Look ma, no rice!
The deep fried baby squid meanwhile, was the most fun to eat. Aside from the distinct salty taste of fried squid (think buwad nukos in Cebu, but crispy rather than chewy) and the spicy, tangy and slightly sweet flavors of the other ingredients, this dish has got a lot of texture. The interplay of the soft sautéed white onions, lush and crisp sliced cucumber and crispy baby calamaris added another profile to the dish. This would have been perfect with an ice cold bottle of beer!
And out of habit, we ordered the smallest plate of seafood fried rice. Ate about four spoonfuls of this just to buffer the plethora of flavors in my mouth.
Last but not least, my visit won’t be complete without a plate of char kway teow. Again, bold flavors and lots of texture, I would have finished this off by myself if I weren’t so full already.
And as a “gastro-tourist” in Singapore, I refused to drink that plain old soda found all over the world! The beverage that tickled my fancy was the fresh calamansi juice with plum (aka kiamoy). It became my preferred drink during our whole stay. It was literally everywhere, from hawker stalls and fast food places to fine dining restaurants. And yes it really tasted like kiamoy – sweet, sour and salty (nano nano). Awesome!
All I can say is, Singapore’s local food is full of heart. It is devoid of pretense and fancy snazzy what have you. Restraint is far from the picture as the bold, spicy and contrasting flavors assault the senses in a good way.
I was on a high that night. Now I understand the hype that is Singapore. It is indeed a glutton’s paradise. Sigh.