In many ways Dubai and Singapore, the recent big city stops on our trip, are fraternal twins. Both are multicultural, rich, glittery and hot (although one’s steamy and one bone dry.) Both governments run pretty tight ships. Both have changed immeasurably in the past 40 years. Of the two, I don’t mind saying Singapore appeals to me more- it retains some colonial charm amidst the glitz, the streets are more lively and pedestrian friendly and the dense landscaping helps it feel lush and cooler, even when you are in the middle of the Central Business District with sweat running down your back.
When Vance and I passed through here before we were only dimly aware of Singapore’s rich food scene. Talk about being asleep at the wheel! I’ve mentally kicked myself many times since while reading food magazine articles crowing about hawker stalls or local specialties. In Singapore, there is a perfect storm at work that makes the food so good; the many immigrant cultures that imported dishes or blended cuisines to form new ones, the history of small carts (now rounded up into hawker centers) where vendors specialized in just a few dishes they did very well, strict food handling codes and very picky Singaporeans. All this means any place that slips in standards will go out of business, and any place with a long line is serving up something gooood.
So determined was I to play catch up with Singapore’s food scene, I signed us all up for a walking food and history tour at 9:00 am our very first morning and then spent our last few days in Sri Lanka a hand washing/antibacterial gel zealot, determined we would all arrive healthy and ready to eat. You can only imagine my despair then, when I became ill, really ill, making offerings to the porcelain god ill, at midnight the night of our arrival, the thought of any food, much less laksa and char kway teow, entirely unappealing! Curses!
Miraculously, it passed and I rallied. I got up, I walked, I sampled fried oyster pancakes, curry puffs, rojak, sugar cane juice, chicken curry bee hoon mee and Hainanese chicken rice. We walked through a wet market and saw live eels, turtles, fish and frogs for sale. We learned about Singapore’s history and ate some more. I can’t say I was in full fighting form, which was a pity (so much good food!) but I was glad I toughed it out. In fact, it took most of our time in Singapore to get my appetite fully back. Lucky for me, one of Singapore’s most popular dishes, Hainanese chicken rice, is a great comfort food, consisting of chicken poached in a ginger scented broth, served with rice (cooked in the poaching liquid) cucumber slices and more broth on the side. Ginger, chili or soy dipping sauces come on the side, too. Mild, customizable, kid friendly, tummy friendly, really the perfect dish. (If you ever happen to be in Portland, OR, Nong’s Khao Man Gai makes a very similar version, and she sells her yummy sauce, too.)
As we’ve said before, we usually try to balance big sights with small ones, with some time for school and frisbee mixed in. The problem with Singapore is there are so many big sights! We didn’t want to miss the night safari (highlight- a flying squirrel narrowly missed pooping on Miles’s ice cream) or Legoland (just over the border in Malaysia) or the spectacular glassed in cloud forest at Gardens by the Bay, or the zoo or the Peranakan Museum….ok, the kids would have missed this last one but we had to sneak some education in there! With only four days we just crammed it in, but no one was ready to leave yesterday when we got on the plane to Borneo, so, Singapore, let’s hope we’ll be back for round three some day.