Singapore: noms and other stuff

Here are some noms and other miscellaneous photos of Singapore from yesterday (and lunch from today). Melissa and her friend Donald Low (a dean and professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore), took me on a tour of the city, concentrating on the old Chinese regions, with low storefronts and houses built early in the 20th century. They form a stark contrast—and a refuge—from the tall buildings that dominate the Singapore skyline.

I’ll concentrate on what we ate, but there are other pictures, too, and tomorrow I’ll post flower photos from the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which we visited today. A huge and spectacular site, it’s the only tropical garden to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

First, we began with a light morning snack: mine was green tea ice cream served with a hot glass of chamomile and ginger tea. You pour the hot tea over the ice cream bit by bit to get combinations of cold and hot, and flower and tea.

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We visited a nearby Buddhist temple, its quiet courtyard overtopped by the famous skyscrapers of Singapore:

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The temple contained a tile museum and shop, with beautiful handmade tiles taken from old Singapore buildings, like this set, which I believe were made in China:

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In the courtyard were various demons, with offerings to them. This long-tongued fellow was given offerings of cigarettes and Guinness!

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After walking a while, it was time for lunch (I’m told that at all hours, 24 each day, there will be Singaporeans eating). This is a famous restaurant serving Hainan cuisine which, though of Chinese origin, has been given a distinctive Singaporean flavor. This small country is the world’s center for cultural appropriation and alteration of food, and that is a good thing!

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Here is the staff inside the small open-air restaurant, which always has a line. The tables are outside on the sidewalk.

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Happy customers downing noodles.

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Part of our lunch: curried chicken.

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Fried pork:

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Curried vegetables:

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Donald and Melissa with the rest of our lunch—all the above plus squid, curried fish, and rice.

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Melissa was sporting a Professor Ceiling Cat tattoo in my honor; she found two of them in the airport in Los Angeles. They’re tenacious for temporary tattoos; this one has remained on through several days and half a dozen showers:

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I found a cat! How could I not go into a shop with a sign like this?

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The cat was a lovely tabby, which I believe resembles the famous Singapura breed, which has beautiful ticked fur. Its tail was a stub, probably due to an accident. Next to Bengals, Singapuras are my favorite cat breed (they’re also the smallest domestic cat breed).

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Do not disturb the moggie. Its bed is in the store window.

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Orchids at a nearby “wet market”:

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Dragonfruit at a fruit stall:

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I was told that these were plums:

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These were small fruits, the size of a pingpong ball, all connected to a stalk. Does anybody know what these are?

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Mangos. I’ve never seen the white ones before:

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It’s hot and muggy here year round, usually in the 90s (F) and with very high humidity. That mandates frequent stops for cold beverages in air-conditioned shops.  This one I absolutely loved: it was carbonated water and lots of lime juice, into which were placed ice cubes, each containing a frozen sour plum. The combination of sweet lime and sour plum was fantastic. This is called sng muay pop, a traditional Singaporean drink served in the traditional metal mug.

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With it we had gula malaka jelly, made with palm sugar and coconut milk, served with a condensed milk sauce.

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Walking down the street, we passed an open doorway and I heard Melissa cry, “Oh my God: a cat with a bowtie!” Sure enough, sitting on the stairs looking calmly at the passersby was a lovely tabby sporting formal wear:

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A close-up of the Bill Nye cat. This is adorable, though I’m not sure the cat is comfortable in a tie.

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A row of traditional Chinese houses, probably built around the turn of the last century. They remind me of the famous “painted ladies” of San Francisco.

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I’m told that these houses go for nearly $3 million each (Singapore dollars, worth about 72 US cents per dollar). Real estate is at a premium because the country is small and living space restricted.

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We had dinner at the Singapore Zoo, where we went for the Night Safari, a special section of the zoo open only between 7:15 and midnight. Because it’s dark and no flashes are allowed, I didn’t take any photos, but there were great animals. We got to see fishing cats actually fishing in a stream! It’s amazing to see a small cat dive into the water to catch a fish.

This is ayam panggang, a version of an Indonesian dish with barbecued chicken, a mound of rice, and vegetables, served on a banana leaf.

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Laksa, a Malay dish with noodles, shrimp, chicken, and spices served in a coconut gravy with chili sauce, peanuts, and other condiments on the side:

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Melissa had a Singapore Sling, the archetypal British-Singaporean drink invented in 1915 in the Raffles Hotel, where I hope to consume one soon. It’s made of gin, grenadine, maraschino, and sometimes Cointreau.

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My favorite local dessert, which I featured yesterday: ais kacang.

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Noms today. Mr. and Mrs. Chin took us to a very famous restaurant, Samy’s Curry, which has won many awards. It’s famous for a classic Singapore dish, fish head curry, an Indonesian-Malay dish with Indian notes: coconut milk and hot spices.

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Before the curry, we had a very Indian meal served on a banana leaf: rice, curried vegetables, and spicy chicken. I ate with my hands, Indian style. Along with it I had a lime juice and a fresh green coconut cut open for its water:

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The famous fish head curry. It was scrumptious, with the fish head loaded with delicate white meat, setting off the fiery red gravy.

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Some coconut water to cool things down. After you drink the liquid inside, you can spoon off the nascent coconut meat for dessert.

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Finally, a cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) at the zoo—the only animal I photographed:

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40 Comments

  1. Richard Bond
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I have certainly eaten very well in Singapore, including delicious fish head soup served on banana leaves, but I would still reckon that Bankok is better for both its variety of international food and its varied local cuisine.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Whoops! Fish head curry.

  2. Christopher
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never heard the phrase “painted ladies of San Francisco”, but it sounds a bit like a euphemism along the lines of “women of ill repute”, or perhaps for transvestite prostitutes.

  3. Rob
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful pics.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Just stop

  5. Florian
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Love the food shots. I’m curious is the banana leaf plate single use or cleaned and reused multiple times?

    • Steven Hill
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Single use, and not very clean. We always use a wet wipe to clean the leaf before any food is placed on it.

  6. Achrachno
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    The think the mystery fruit (between plums and mangos) may be “langsat” Lansium domesticum. At least it looks a lot like pictures on the internet, which is never wrong.

    Did you eat one? What was the inside like? Flavor?

    • rs
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      “Duku” in my indonesian (Lansium parasiticum). The seed is bitter!

      • Steven Hill
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Looks like to duku to me also. Seek out longan, which looks similar to duku, and manogosteen, which, despite its name is nothing like a mango: deep purple with seeds covered with an delicious white flesh.

        The Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel is pre-mixed and cannot be recommended. Try it somewhere where it is freshly mixed (I don’t have anywhere to recommend, unfortunately.)

    • Posted October 30, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      No, didn’t try one. I want to try the bananas the readers touted here earlier.

  7. rickflick
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Exotic food, humid heat. Nice vacation! Yesterday NY was 30 degrees (warmer to day though).

  8. Posted October 30, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The store window cat also had a bow tie. Maybe that’s the style in Singapore.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Two cats wearing bowties with the same argyle pattern? There’s more going on here than meets the eye.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Funny that the cat is described as “live cat”. I guess we know the result of the whole Schrödinger thing.😀

  10. John Frum
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Those ‘plums’ are panama red passionfruit.
    I have grown them here in Oz.
    Along with another yellow variety, they grew so well that they formed an arch at the back of the house that was thick enough for my cat to be able to sleep on it.
    The white mangoes are what I call Thai mangoes as they are the most common type in Thailand and are my favourite type as well.
    My neighbour here has a tree of them.
    The bunch of small fruits are called longan and are very common in SEA.
    They are similar to lychee.
    I have 6 weeks of cycling in Thailand coming up in January.
    Can’t wait, especially for the fruits.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Passion fruit is so good. I haven’t had a fresh one for years.

    • madscientist
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      The “plums” look to me like sour plums which you will find throughout China, Korea, and Japan; I would be surprised if they were Panama passion fruit. As for the little round brown fruit, those are definitely not longans – longans have a textured peel resembling that of lychee; the posts in #6 got it right.

  11. David Duncan
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Man, seeing and reading about these dishes, but not being there is torture.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Yup.

  12. madscientist
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    The fruit resembling ping-pong balls are called “lanzones” in the Philippines. I love that fruit, but beware the extremely bitter seed. A “seedless” variety was developed decades ago but I prefer the one with seeds. As with many seedless cultivars, you’ll often find a seed coating in the fruit (but no seed) and for me that’s far more of a nuisance than having a seed.

  13. Christopher
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Cigarette butts and an open can of beer? Come one, if that’s your offering, you’re not even trying! I’d be willing to bet someone also made an offering of vomit next to the toilet or a used condom.That’s not a religious shrine offering, that’s clean-up after the party.

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I believe that’s Felix Unger the Cat you ran across.

    Also, any idea what % of food consumed there is also produced there?

    And factoid – Cointreau was once produced in Lawrenceville NJ (near Princeton).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha! Felix Unger – good one!

  15. Kevin
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Singapore Slings! I could easily drink a dozen then I would be gone, gone.

    Having curry two times this week in response to the pics.

  16. James Walker
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I spent a couple of weeks in Singapore and Malaysia in 2013 and I’ve never eaten so well! A lot of what we think of as Malaysian cuisine is actually Peranakan – the fusion of Chinese and southeast Asian cultures and cuisines.

    If you have the chance, you should do a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in Chinatown.

    I loved the “kopi tiam” there – what were originally coffee shops that invited food carts in and developed a symbiotic relationship with them.

    The Singapore zoo is probably the best zoo I’ve ever been to in the world. The orangutans are free to move about the park and I was able to walk with lemurs.

  17. Steven Hill
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Whilst it’s possible the cat lost its tail in an accident, it’s more likely that it was docked, which is commonly done here.

  18. Steven Hill
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    The temple appears to be Thian Hock Keng, which is Taoist at the front, as shown in the picture, and Buddhist at the rear.

  19. Monika
    Posted October 31, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Ha! This post inspired me to cook a nice curry myself today. It’s so easy, just buy some chicken, chinese cabbage and every other veggie you like. Chop it all up, and you’re almost done. I’ve always coconut milk and curry paste (I like red and green best) in my kitchen.
    Here I am proudly and unashamedly appropriating this culture!

  20. Mike
    Posted October 31, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The food ,oh the food, I’m tying to reduce my intake and those pics are not helping.

  21. dabertini
    Posted October 31, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Who needs to go to Singapore? Just wait till PCC(e) goes and then double down on his great pix!! Thanks, they are stunning. Happy Halloween everyone!!

  22. Posted October 31, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Nice to see how things are different – and the same.

    “sng muay pop” – is that name in Malay?

  23. MP
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The mystery fruit is called “khaarek” in my language (Gujarati). It is quite popular in my region (Kutch)

    http://www.indiamart.com/jay-bhutnath-industries/fruit.html

  24. kamamer
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The Singapore Sling is one of those drinks Singaporeans kind of laugh at. It’s a tourist drink. That said, I really like them. Booze is certainly expensive there. Singapore makes drinking in Canada look inexpensive.


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