For years, I have spent my holidays at home as we plan out our menu for our Christmas dinner. It’s traditionally grand. We cook food that usually lasts us AT LEAST three days (not even joking). 2016’s Christmas was a very different setting though. With all the changes that happened on the first two quarters of the year, we were led to having our feet touch an unfamiliar land to celebrate Christmas. So, having the spirited food enthusiast inside of me, I just had to make sure that I got my camera ready, lists of must-try foods and some comfortable shoes for all the walking (and eating) that I’ll be doing. I just cannot miss the good food the world has to offer, and this time, from the fast-paced world of Singapore.
Wide roads, high rise buildings and people of different races immediately faced me as we were on our way to our accommodation for our short stay in Singapore. Having been so used to the crowded streets and roads of Manila, Singapore effortlessly struck me with its fast-paced lifestyle that definitely rubs off on foreigners who come in to their rather small but packed vicinity. We arrived at Changi Airport a couple of hours before dawn of Christmas Eve. I knew there was so much in store for us so a good rest was just too perfect.
Christmas Eve, I woke up to a very chilly morning that was screaming for a holiday-style breakfast and steamy morning bath. With our friends having kilos of Excelente ham, which is very prominent in the Philippines especially during the holidays (BUT BOY, 1,300.00 PER KILO SHOULD GIVE YOU GOOD MEAT), I thought it’s not a bad idea to have it glazed and serve it with sunny side up eggs with runny yolks (CHOLESTE-ROLLIN’). Besides, what better way to have our Christmas Eve breakfast than having legit ham, right? So if my first morning in Singapore was any indication of how my food trip in their land would turn out, I definitely should have known that it wouldn’t be less than interesting.
I flew to Singapore with no expectations at all which was very much unlike when we flew to see Bangkok. I knew I was in for possibly the most interesting food trips of my life then so it was different setting in Singapore. I may have had bits of information and probably small hints of how it would be but there was no clear expectation. And that is probably the exact reason why I was so overwhelmed every time I see stalls serving food I haven’t seen or heard my entire life. My feet just wanted to keep walking just to see how far I’ll go while following the food stalls lined up in most of the areas we went to.
Just across the place we stayed in were series of hawkers serving pretty legit Cantonese food. I couldn’t complain. I was raised in a household that deeply celebrates Chinese (and a little Cantonese) cooking so my system may never hate it. My first shot at Singapore’s food was a clear soup with dumplings served with a smaller bowl of flat egg noodles in a rather sweet sauce (very much like the sauce of the canned pork and beans we have in here in the Philippines). It was simple and straightforward food. Maybe nothing special too, but for 3 dollars (SGD), how can I demand for more? At the late afternoon of Christmas Eve and the sun shining like it normally does in our country, I found myself craving for something sweet — and cold (or literally just anything I could eat). We were in the middle of the Chinatown near Bugis station so I was in a crazy line of food stalls (unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of them anymore) where we found a small place that served bing su (a Korean shaved-ice based dessert). I ordered Passion Fruit flavored bing su and Red Bean Rice Balls. The bing su was nothing special but the rice balls were pretty good. I’d love to write about everything I ate in Singapore but I want to minimize the length of this post so I’ll be writing that in a different entry!
If there was any problem that I faced whenever I ordered food, it was my innate sense of converting currencies. The conversion of our local money with Singapore’s is at (approximately) 43PHP to 1SGD. So, obviously, foods priced more than 20SGD is already a huge deal for me. I kept telling myself to stop converting currencies because I wouldn’t get to enjoy my food trip if I’ll always focus on finding how much it costs in the Philippines but I just couldn’t fight the urge to. Much more since we were running on a slightly budgeted trip so I needed to make sure that I do not overspend on food.
BUT this does not mean that foods in Singapore are generally expensive. Of course there are pricey ones but if you’re just zealous enough then you’d definitely find food at really good deals. For example, there is this hawker near our place that already went down as one of my most favorite food places of all time. It was simple, nothing grand but really good. Reminiscent of the kind of food my mom prepares during celebrations back when we were kids. For about 50SGD you’ll already get 4 different Cantonese dishes (and I mean really good ones) with really good servings.
So, the point is, if you want to get more out of your money, you just have to keep looking for places with good food with good prices. That means walking along the streets, maybe searching online and basically not eating at first options right away. There’s even this considerably cheap Michelin-star restaurant along Chinatown near Bugis station (but you may have to tolerate a pretty long queue). That’s definitely a good sign!
We spent about 4 full days in Singapore and I know that there’s definitely a lot more to extract out of their culinary identity. Walking the streets, you will be caught following aromas of foods being cooked that are rooted from different neighboring countries and some Western and European influences as well. It is not difficult to be overwhelmed as that would be the exact thing that could happen to anyone who would dare to understand Singapore’s diverse culinary gems. Within the span of 4 days however, I understood Singapore’s culinary identity as something that flows according to the people’s lifestyles. Foods are cooked fast and customers consume their food even faster. Most of the time, the food, regardless of its roots, aren’t too difficult to understand. They’re straightforward in terms of how they’re served but definitely complex during the preparations. Having different nations (on my observation mostly Indians and Chinese folks, so Malaysians too!) contribute to the population of their country, it is understandable that their culinary heritage has also adapted the culinary traditions of these varied cultures.
I’ve been told that Singapore has very little to no exporting power (correct me if I’m wrong) so it’s incredible how they managed to climb up the ladders of a powerful country while relying largely on their business sectors. And that idea is very evident not just in their lives, their ethics, their habits but also in their way of enjoying food! My stay was short but packed with good food finds. I’m definitely going back soon to try out more food but my next destination (or destinations *wink*) is really interesting too!