Monday, August 23, 2010

The national pastime

It's kind of a toss-up between shopping and dining.

However, since I'm pretty sure that most of the people I know who have been here for more than three weeks would say it's dining (and that would be nine people out of Singapore's five million residents), I'm going to go with that.

And so begins my first (and still very naïve) post about Singaporean food.

Singapore has plenty of regular restaurants and food shops, but it's most famous for its hawker centers.

Hawker centers are basically open-air food courts with counters offering food from lots of different cuisines. As you walk up to the counter to check out what the stall is selling, the cooks/sellers try hawk their wares. Actually, it can even go a little farther than this and at some hawker centers you may be approached by someone bearing a menu from one of the stands in an attempt to entice you over to their stand to order.

One of our Singaporean colleagues invited the new faculty (and spouses) out for dinner at Makansutra Glutton's Bay. Makan means "food" or "eat" in Malay. So you can sort of think of Makansutra as "How to Eat", but Singapore style.

Glutton's Bay is a sort of a cleaned up mini hawker center. It has really good food stalls that were handpicked by a local food guru named K.F. Seetoh when he re-opened Glutton's Bay a few years ago (the original, in a different location, closed in the 1990s), but it's a good hawker center for beginners because, as our colleague said, it's not as loud or messy as most hawker centers and you can linger over your meal and the food is really good (imperative!). Its smaller size also gives it a nice ambiance and it has a fantastic view of the marina and CBD skyline and the Merlion ... none of which figure into the photos I took that evening. I did take this one of the crazy Noah's ark spaceship casino that opened earlier this summer.

Here's how we ate:

Oyster omelette, which is a fried egg and potato flour mixture that gets nice and crispy (from the potato) but is still soft (from the egg) and topped with small oysters (and cilantro).

Grilled sambal skate with calamansi (the little lime-looking thing that makes really delicious juice) and chili "vinaigrette"

Chicken, beef and lamb (l-r) satay with peanut sauce


Chili clams and "morning glory" (also called "water spinach")

We ate all of it. And then topped it off with some ais kacang (shave ice) with durian and chendol. It was too dark to take pictures of those, so I'll post photos of another outing for desserts sometime soon.

Food culture is really unbelievable here. It's like a whole nation of foodies. There is food everywhere and there are so many cuisines represented it's astounding. You think you like Chinese food? Well do you like Cantonese? Hakka? Hainanese? Hokkien? Peranakan? Teochew? And that's just some of the more typically local Chinese cuisines, not to mention the varieties of Malay, Indonesian, Indian, and other cuisines I don't even know about yet that constitute Singaporean cuisine.

The cuisine of Singapore is a force to be reckoned with ... a juggernaut to submit to. Ok, so I'm being dramatic (but only a little!) and I don't really mind acquiescing. And since we're waiting for housing and living in the university's executive center with no kitchen of our own, that's a good thing.

More to come ... we've already eaten so much more than this!

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