I had only heard good things about Singapore before going there. I knew I was likely to enjoy my time there but I didn’t realise how much I would love Singapore. It has something about it, something that draws you in. It may be the mix of old and new architecture, the cleanliness, the amazing food, its probably all of it. Things just work in Singapore, it was just easy. Now I know as a tourist you get a clouded view of places and there are definitely some dark corners to Singapore, but I just loved it there – ok maybe not the hilariously high humidity – but I came away wondering how I could get a job out there. To be able to enjoy the hawker centres, to have such a range of amazing cuisine on my doorstep, would be wonderful. Satay will never be as good again.
My trip to Singapore was for a travel trade show so my free time was very limited, but due to flight times I landed first thing in the morning which meant I had the whole day free. Fighting jet lag, I headed off to a hotel inspection with another of the show goers, and we were treated to lunch at the hotel, the Grand Copthorne Waterfront. It had a huge international open kitchen/ buffet set up going on. Not a buffet in the British sense of luke-warm yellow food, but bright, vibrant freshly cooked food from around the world. This was my first chance to experience the variety of cuisine that calls Singapore its home. I went for the local curry! Now I will not say it was the best food I have ever had but it did have some lovely fresh food on offer which after a 14 hour flight I was loving. Stepping out into the full humidity of the day I decided it was a good idea to walk back to our hotel as on the map it really didn’t look that far – I of course was not counting the humidity. It was a slow walk but it gave me chance to take in the sights and sounds of the city between Clarke Quay and China Town.
After a nap, and much needed shower it was early evening and knowing that I needed an early night before day 1 of the trade show, I headed up the road to the Maxwell Food Centre – my first experience of a hawker market. I felt a little intimidated wandering around looking at all the stalls wondering what things were, and there is always a touch of never the first day in a new place on your own. After a couple of laps, and having figured out what my potential gluten free options were, I headed for a stall that had a little queue, and had my first hainanese chicken and rice, and it was delicious. So simple but delicious! I sat there on my little plastic seat watching the early evening crowd of people coming and going, some for take away others to sit with family and eat. This was the Singapore I had heard about.
I always go prepared for trade shows with lots of gluten free snacks as I cannot always guarantee that there will be options for me to eat. However this trade show was in the Sands conference centre which backs onto the Marina Bay Sands Mall. In the lunch break I wandered and found what can only be described as the best quality mall food court I have ever seen. Kiosks selling food from every corner of Asia. I was so excited. It was packed. Getting a seat was going to be a challenge. After wandering past all the stalls I opted to go with something Vietnamese, pho, because who doesn’t want hot soup on a hot humid day. It was lovely. I of course returned here each day and tried different stalls including one of the Indian curry stands which was served very traditionally on banana leaves and everything was delicious. Now nothing here was signed with allergens from what I can remember so it was a bit of a guessing game. I am gluten intolerant not coeliac so I can take these risks ( I have a tendancy to play fast and loose with gluten when abroad and suffer for it afterwards). Cross contamination has never been an issue. As long as I avoid the gluten I am fine. I know a couple of the things I ate throughout my time there did have soy sauce in it but not in a large enough quantity for me to be severely glutened.
It turned out the first evening we were left free to our own devices so I convinced a couple of the ladies to visit Little India. I couldn’t quite convince them to eat at the Tekka hawker centre, but we found an Indian restaurant in the guide book and headed that way. We ended up at Lagnaa Barefoot Restaurant. It was obviously a favourite of tourists and those on food tours but we got a table outside and the service was friendly and the food was good. Being in the lonely planet book obviously meant they could get away with charging more. The meal was vastly more expensive than the previous evenings hawker centre meal. Its all part of the experience when having with dinner with people you do not know and who are not comfortable going a bit more off the beaten path. From here we walked a little bit and randomly found a bar just off Arab Street called Going Om. Not a bad spot for a random cocktail.
The following evening we decided to tackle China Town, which had a wealth of dining options but we felt a bit lost as we were not sure where to pick, so in the end headed into a Korean Barbecue restaurant. It was ok, nothing particularly over exciting as I have had better. It was nice to try something different, although I probably would have gone back to the Maxwell Centre if I had been alone.
My enjoyment of Singapore’s cuisine came into its own once I was alone and away from the trade show and colleagues. On the last evening I was given a show around of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Its impressive, but seen as I was down that way I decided to check out the Botanical Gardens and head down to Satay by the Bay another hawker market, although a little more fancy than ones I had seen previously. Getting myself a lovely cold drink in the very high humidity I sat and watched the world go by with my book until I was ready to eat. Here I faced my on going problem when I travel abroad – there is just one of me and no one to share my food! As I usually want to try more than one thing I end up looking like a super greedy person and of course a tad wasteful, although I always give it my best. I of course had to go with the satay – I couldn’t come here without having satay. I also went for a big bowl of veggies. There I sat, sweat dripping down my back as I munched my way through lots of delicious smokey satay skewers and a mound of vegetables. It was divine. This place is on my list for when I return with Mr Life London Food so I can try more things.
As the flights back to London depart late at night I had the whole day to myself, so I of course indulged in a food tour. I took a tour with Wok n Stroll, and did the Hawker Centre Discover Tour. It was awesome. I jumped on the metro ( and short walk) to Tiong Bahru Market. Here I met the guide and the rest of the small group. Our guide Simon took us upstairs for a quick introduction and some starter snacks, showing what would be traditionally eaten for breakfast or mid morning. From there we went down stairs to the fresh produce market which was very interesting ( I love a local market). Back up stairs and it was time for an early lunch. Simon disappeared and then reappeared with plate after plate of things. Most of which I could eat, others I couldn’t but that was fine as there was plenty to eat. I couldn’t possibly tell you what we ate, I should have taken notes, but it was a curious mix of things I recognised and other things that were quite different to anything I have had before. It was a brilliant tour and certainly would do another one with Wok n Stroll.
After this I had to explore the area of Tiong Bahru as it had the most fabulous art deco architecture. It is also apparently quite hipster, and I wandered past quite a few hipster cafes and bars. It was a lovely area to wander, low lying buildings, lots of trees, very different to the modern towers I had been surrounded by during the week. In need of air conditioning and more culture I headed to the National Gallery and wandered around the beautiful galleries in the even more beautiful air conditioning. This was the end of my trip. Driving to the airport I was sad to be saying good bye to Singapore as I felt I had only just scratched the surface and that there was so much more to see and eat.
On my return I have started to look more seriously into the gluten free options for Singapore and will behave next time I am there so that I do not gluten myself. But oh man the satay was so worth it!