Last year was a particularly challenging year for me, struggling to balance with full-time work and part-time studies, and so when it came to deciding how I was going to spend my time during my Christmas break, particularly New Year’s Eve, I decided to take the plunge and spend the very end of the year in a completely different country. I had been wanting to visit Singapore for some time after I heard it was one of the best cities for foodies, and so I decided, on a completely spur of the moment decision to book flights for a four day quickie trip to the city that never stops eating.
Day 1 (30th December, 2013)
After a seven hour morning flight on Singapore Airlines, I decided to go straight from Changi airport to Hotel Ibis at Bencoolen. When the airport automatic doors opened to the taxi rank, the heat slapped me in the face like a hot damp fish. The humidity was stifling, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Sweat instantaneously broke out all over me, and before I ran back into the air-conditioned shelter of the airport, I reassured myself that as Singapore was so cosmopolitan, it would be air-conditioned wherever I go (…wishful thinking, ha!).
I had thought Singapore would be easy to get around as there were so many ex-pats there so everyone would speak English, however with my taxi driver I found it easier to converse with him in Chinese Mandarin. Surprisingly it was easier for me to use Mandarin over English a lot of the time during my trip, and it was then that I really appreciated being moderately bilingual.
Once I had checked in, I decided to check out my surroundings. On the drive there, I had established that if I was open to a walk, Marina Bay Sands was within my area. With my sense of direction however, I somehow found myself at the complete opposite end of where I was supposed to end up, at Farrer Park which was a whole four kilometres (50 min walk) from where I wanted to be. At least I had taken stock of my surroundings and directions. I was already significantly sweaty and sunburnt after a whole afternoon of wandering the streets of Singapore rather lost, so went back to my hotel to change before I caught the MRT down to Marina Bay Sands; a much more reliable method of getting there.
On my way to the closest MRT station, Bugis, I walked through a local hawker market a mere two minutes away from my hotel. There were vendors in the middle of the square selling various cold drinks and what looked curiously like ice cream bars. I went in for a closer look.
They were rectangles of frozen ice cream in various flavours, which they then sandwiched together with two pieces of crisp wafer. I selected a Mango one for $1, which had little nuggets of delicious frozen mango embedded within the block of creamy ice cream.
Walking further through the market, I knew my nose wasn’t deceiving me when I spied a stall selling fresh jackfruit and durians, all cut up and ready to eat…
If I ever did want to try it, it would be here, but unfortunately it failed to appeal to my sense of smell so I moved further in through the markets. There was an open-air traditional food court selling all sorts of traditional Singaporean dinner dishes for $5 or less, and the markets selling a variety of clothes, shoes, sweets and other touristy paraphernalia.
The MRT is amazingly clean, efficient and one comes every two or three minutes along the main line; none of this waiting for 15 minutes with Sydney CityRail! I got off at Bayfront Station and wandered through the underground passages to emerge into Marina Bay Sands.
Marina Bay Sands is enormous, flashy and opulent. There’s a “river” down the middle of it where you can sit in a gondola and get rowed downstream and back up, and it’s full of the international luxury brands you would expect to be there: your Prada, Omega, Burberry, etcetera. They also had a wide variety of luxury restaurants: a pizza bar, a steakhouse, and I chortled as I strolled past the massive line outside Din Tai Fung. After experiencing the real deal in the city where it was first established, the other branches have paled in comparison for me. I walked past all of these stores in my camisole top, denim shorts, Lonsdale backpack and joggers with a very precise destination in mind: the food court.
Before I left, I had read an article by Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix with their recommendations on where to eat in Singapore, and Terry had pointed out Noodle Star in the Marina Bay Sands basement food court. They are known for their “la mian”: hand-made noodles.
It’s quite hypnotic watching the chefs stretch and slap the bundle of rice flour methodically, and I had to tear my eyes away to have a look at the menu.
I selected a Ramen with Minced Meat (Pork), Mushroom and Spicy Sauce ($6.80), which is similar to the Taiwanese Zha Jiang Mein that I’m incredibly fond of. Service is fast and efficient, and it’s a mere five minutes later that I’m sitting down with a tray of noodles and a complimentary bowl of light pork broth thrown in.
Normally I’m not a fan of cucumber, but it had been so finely julienned that when stirred into the noodles with the flavoursome, meaty and spicy sauce it served as more of a textural component than flavour.
After dinner, I wandered through Marina Bay Sands, up the beautiful open Promenade and caught the MRT back home for an early night.
Day 2 (31st December, 2013)
Day 2 I woke up bright and early ready to tackle the infamous shopping district of Orchard Road. I decided to drop by the local Bugis marketplace open food court for a traditional Singaporean Breakfast Set ($2.60):
A traditional Singaporean breakfast set consists of kaya toast (coconut and pandan jam sandwiched between two pieces of white toast), a strong black coffee or tea sweetened with condensed milk, and two very soft-boiled eggs. The eggs were so soft-boiled that they were only just cooked, with some of the whites still clear. The toast was crisp, crunchy and sweet, but I found the little plastic spoon given to me for the eggs too flimsy for spooning the eggs up. Eventually, time was against me and I gave the eggs a quick scramble before downing them in one go. Don’t even think about asking for your eggs to be more well-done.
Speaking of strange breakfasts, a man came over to share my table and I noticed that he was having stir-fried rice noodles with a fried egg and what appeared to be a number of chicken nuggets. Most unusual.
My first foodie stop at Orchard Road occurred at The Paragon Shopping Centre. I had heard about Da Paolo Gastronomia having cronuts almost identical to those that had first emerged in the US, so when I stepped into the store it was like I had gone into pastry heaven.
I selected a single Salted Caramel Crodos ($4.90) and took it outside to devour. Crispy, buttery, flaky and sweet but not overly so, it was everything it was promised to be and oh so much more. With the dusting of caster sugar and salted caramel icing, it resembled a doughnut, but the height and the irresistibly light texture was the essence of a croissant. The little crunchy malt balls on the top finished off a perfect creation. It was ridiculously tempting to go back and try another flavour, or even one of their dessert boxes, but I had a whole day of shopping ahead of me so had to sadly move on.
I browsed for a while before having a late lunch at the Food Republic food court in 313@Somerset. Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix had recommended Thye Hong for their Char Kway Teow, and I made the mistake of ordering a medium ($6.30) instead of a small. The medium was what you would expect from ordering a large serving in Sydney; the photo hardly justifies its sheer size. I struggled but managed to finish three-quarters before conceding defeat.
The flat rice noodles were so deliciously smoky and charred, soft and tender. The bean sprouts and spring onions provided a nice amount of crunch, but I was a bit disappointed that aside from the sprouts, onions, noodles and the occasional cockle there wasn’t much else in it. I’m probably spoilt for when my mum makes her version of it it has a whole refrigerator-full of different vegetables in it, but isn’t half as charred.
For a quick afternoon refresher, I skipped downstairs to another un-named shopping centre on the look for fruit ice, and had a Mango ice ($2.70), which consists of shaved ice, condensed milk, mango nectar and fresh mango pieces.
I shopped for a bit longer after lunch before returning back to my hotel. I had been deliberating on whether to visit a bar with a view of Marina Bay, but it was a particularly overcast day and so I decided to just save my money and take a wander down to the Promenade at Marina Bay Sands and secure a spot to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks. Keeping in mind how long you have to hold onto a spot near Sydney’s waterfront on NYE, I hurried down at 7pm to find most of the Promenade surprisingly deserted. I decided to grab dinner first, but the food court was overflowing with people, and I had no luck in trying to find a table, even for one, at one of the fancy restaurants in Marina Bay Sands.
I hang my head in shame when I admit I ended up buying a bottle of water and a sandwich from a 7/11 convenience store, then sitting down on the boardwalk overlooking the water to have my “dinner”. I had zero internet connectivity, merely my camera to entertain me for four hours. The time passed very quickly though, and when the clock struck midnight, the view of the fireworks over the bay was beautiful, but hardly anything compared to Sydney! But then again, I guess I’m biased… ;)
Day 3 (1st January, 2014)
I had planned to set the whole of my last full day in Singapore aside to visit Singapore Zoo. I grabbed breakfast on the way to the Bugis SMRT station at various stalls in the market: a chilled soy milk ($1) and three pieces of a peanut butter pancake ($2.70); one for breakfast, and two for later.
You haven’t had real peanut butter before you’ve had this. It was literally crushed, roasted peanuts that were barely held together with a bit of butter. It was moreish, filling and the texture of the pancake was light and airy. It’s apparently a popular breakfast option in Singapore for those who like to grab and go.
It took me over an hour and a half to get to the zoo, and while I did enjoy myself the heat eventually got the better of me and it was mid-afternoon when I got back to the hotel in desperate need of air-conditioning and a nap. Such a weakling!
During the couple of days so far I had been in Singapore, while I had internet access I had been using the app Tinder. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a social networking app allowing you the opportunity to meet people within a particular distance that you can select. After sifting through a number of people, I had chanced upon meeting up with a fellow called Lee, who was down from the UK and visiting his family. We set a time and place to meet, and described to one another what we were going to be wearing to allow us to identify one another a bit later.
We were meeting at 10pm, and so I most certainly needed dinner before that. I decided to check out what the waterfront restaurants across from Marina Bay Sands had to offer, and I walked into the first restaurant I found, Pelican Bar. I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows at the prices compared to the prices of the street food I’d been having so far, but thought that the price probably included the spectacular view as well. I therefore settled back and ordered a Mojito ($18) while I waited for my dinner.
A mojito is my staple cocktail and I was disappointed in this one. Extremely sweet; so much that I was wincing, and barely enough lime juice to cut through the sickly sweetness and nor was there enough mint. To make matters worse, my Pelican Burger ($32) then arrived:
$32 for what lay on my plate was really quite ridiculous. The chopped steak patty was tender and cooked to my request of medium-rare, but the prawn-toast bun, smoked ketchup, fries and house pickle was very underwhelming. I couldn’t help but think about how many street food meals I could have bought for how much I paid for that cocktail and burger with fries.
The one good thing about the disappointing meal was that it provided me with the perfect vantage point for the 9.30pm Marina Bay Sands light and water show. A breaktaking display of laser beams and water fountains, it was synchronised to classics that could be heard across on my side of the bay.
Once it had finished, it was 10pm and I went to Merlion, where I met my new friend Lee with very little difficulty. When I suggested we check out 2am Dessert Bar on the other side of Singapore city, he was more than happy to accompany me.
I remember seeing this place featured on one of Poh Ling Yeow’s travel segments on television and it had been quite easy finding it on Google as it was the first place that popped up when I Googled “dessert bars Singapore”. The closest SMRT station is Holland Village, with the bar being situated a short walk from the station but down a very inconspicuous-looking street and the entrance is at the side. Go up a steep flight of stairs and the framed artwork consisting of apple and lime marshmallows, and you’ve reached a very modernly-decked out, suave and chic bar.
The tables for two are situated along the wall which consists of a long, cream leather-cushioned booth which extends in a way that you’re semi-reclining next to one another with the table between you. Bring me grapes and feed me! ;)
We had been looking forward to a Koppaberg cider each, but they were unfortunately out so we went for the Zagara Moscato D’Asti (Italy)($18 per glass). It was extraordinarily light, refreshing and a perfect palate-opener for our desserts ahead.
Lee had selected the Tiramisu: kahlua jelly, espresso ice cream ($16) and while it looked a little like an atomic bomb of cocoa had gone off in the bowl, it was deliciously creamy and I loved the dark, flavoursome intensity of the kahlua jelly and the fluffiness of the espresso ice cream.
I had selected the Red Miso Caramel: mustard crumble, miso lemon foam, mustard yuzu meringue ($15) because of the sheer ridiculousness of the combination, but it was a little too strange for me after a few tastes and Lee enjoyed it more, so I allowed him to polish it off.
The foam pieces were highly unusual and fizzed on the tongue. I found the miso a little too strong and overwhelmed the remainder of the dish; I just found the combination of miso with sweet too mind-boggling and my tastebuds couldn’t handle it!
I was so happy that I had brought a new friend along, who asked if I had space to fit in a third. Did I?! It took some deliberation, but we went with the Purple: purple potato puree, blackberry parfait, leather, lavender marshmallows, fruits of the forest sorbet ($18).
…hang on. Did the menu just say leather?!
The “leather” turned out to be the little strip squiggling down the middle of the dish – a strip with a chewy texture that reminded me of roll-ups and with an amazingly intense berry flavour. It was a stunningly presented textural dish; each element perfectly made and bursting with flavour. My favourite of the evening.
By that time, it was past midnight and I needed to conserve my energy for my last day. I bade farewell to my new friend, but not before adding one another on Facebook and promising to contact the other should I drop by London or he visit Sydney. I love making new friends!
Day 4 (2nd January, 2014)
I took the luxury of sleeping in a little to make the best of my late check-out. It was a little annoying that I had a night flight and wouldn’t be able to return to my hotel room for a quick refresher shower after wandering around Singapore for my last day, but oh well. I packed, left my luggage downstairs with reception and made my way once again to Bugis SMRT Station where I decided to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon at Orchard Road again to see what I could fill the rest of my mostly-empty suitcase with.
I hadn’t had breakfast yet so wandered down to the Paragon shopping centre food court, Food Opera, when I remembered that I hadn’t yet tried laksa while I was there.
Okay, so laksa for breakfast is probably a bit too much, but it was about 11.00am at this point, so let’s call it brunch. The stall had declared themselves as being Third Generation Laksa Prawn Noodle, and had various newspaper articles taped to the front of the stall so it looked like a good place to go. Remembering my lesson from the char kway teow a couple of days before, I selected a small laksa for $5.20.
You can choose your noodles, whether you want flat rice noodles, thin rice noodles or egg noodles. The lady recommended thin rice noodles to me, and I declined the addition of cockles. The additions to the laksa itself are fairly sparse, but included two prawns, a few pieces of fish cake, a boiled egg and a few pieces of spongy tofu, all of which was more than enough for my breakfast. The noodles were perfectly slippery, coated with a light orange sheen of the flavoursome prawn oil. It was my first taste of laksa and I had originally been a little hesitant about the combination of prawn paste with coconut milk, but I found it a very comforting soup with a lot of depth and not too spicy.
Lunchtime a bit later on I returned to 313@Somerset’s Food Republic, where I had my first taste of another Singaporean dish, Carrot cake ($5 for small). I had the choice of either “white” or “black” carrot cake; I couldn’t really understand the servers to ask them what made the carrot cake “black” but decided to go with it anyway – maybe it just had more flavour with the addition of soy??
With my own research, I discovered later that the “white” is plain, while the “black” is seasoned with sweet black sauce or molasses. Close enough! :) The funny thing is, there actually is no carrot in the “carrot cake”. It’s a dish made of cubes of steamed rice flour and white radish, fried in an egg-like omelette and garnished with spring onion. I had the fresh chilli sambal on the side, and I couldn’t believe how hot it was, and how much they had given me!
I needed a cool-me-down and so paid a visit to McDonalds. As much of a gourmet foodie I may seem at times, I really do find it interesting to compare the McDonalds across the world to see how each country differs in their menu selections, store layout and prices. What I noticed about Singapore McDonalds was that they have a “dessert bar” (could you call it one though, compared to the 2am Dessert Bar?) situated separately from the main cashier registers, where you can just order cold drinks, sundaes and ice creams.
I had a Passion Crunch McFlurry ($2.80), which was simple vanilla McFlurry soft serve in a cup, with fresh passionfruit pulp over the top and a scatter of crispy rice crisps. An intriguingly tasty combination.
I had been saving the best ’til last though, and checking my watch to ensure I had enough time before I had to return to the hotel and head to the airport, I jumped back on the SMRT with my shopping and went up to Lavender.
I was looking for Windowsill Pies, whose Vodka Lemon-Lime Pies had been listed as part of the Top 50 things to eat before you die in a number of foodie articles I perused when researching on Singapore. It was a meltingly hot afternoon and the place was a (seemingly) very long walk from Lavender station. I walked past a number of deserted mechanics and was questioning whether I was in the right place when I stumbled upon it.
Gloriously air-conditioned, the cute little cafe was full of little chairs and tables, and the glass counter held a number of pies on display. Your usual pumpkin or mint and chocolate, or the chocolate “truffle” which included real truffles, and the one I had come for, the Vodka Lemon Lime Pie ($8 a slice). I chose not to mention to them that if there wasn’t a layer of pastry over the top then technically it wasn’t really a “pie” but never mind that…
Oh. My. Goodness. My first mouthful sent me straight to heaven. The crust was the best pastry I’ve ever tasted: flaky, buttery and perfectly crisp even under the curd. The curd was creamy and zesty, but not overly so, still being quite sweet. But it was the perfect cubes of vodka jelly that stole the show – who had ever thought of creating a pie around the infamous vodka lemon lime soda? The dessert was pure genius.
And so ended my foodie trip to Singapore. Looking back, I can’t believe how much I managed to eat and see during those four days, which passed faster than I could have imagined. It was an extremely cosmopolitan and very clean city; not somewhere I could see myself living in the long term, but definitely visiting again very soon!
I hope you all enjoyed my little travel diary… ;)
And to celebrate the Chinese New Year, Year of the Horse, yesterday I made some gorgeously flaky traditional Pineapple Tarts. I made them entirely from scratch: own pastry, own pineapple jam! It was divine. Look out for the recipe on Monday!
Until then, take care lovelies… Happy New Year xx