Published: April 3rd 2009March 28th 2009
One of the main walkways across the Singapore River
Singapore is amazingly good at making a first impression. It is extremely clean and modern in it's skyline, transportation and general population. It is alive with activity and people are eager to show it off.
The diffusion of culture is rather amazing for such a small nation state. With only 4 million people they have a rather large ethnic diversity. Chinese, Malay, Indian and British cultures have combined to form a rather unique place. The mixture of cultures hasn't always gone well. At one point the government of Singapore decided to give each culture its own cultural hub. Therefore you have the typical Little India village and Chinatown set amongst the bustling skyscrapers. The cultures did however learn to adapt in their food.
I will flat out tell you that I despise the word "fusion" when it comes to food. Scientific terminology for tiny particulates have no place at the dining table. Yet the combination of Malay and Chinese food is rather tasty. The simplicity of Chinese cooking combined with the zest and spice of Malay cooking makes for good eating. The people of Singapore certainly know how to appreciate food.
The real struggle in Singapore is choosing
A Singapore specialty
what to eat. The decision became more difficult with the additional presence of Arabic culture. Will you have Dim Sum, Hainan Chicken Rice, Chili Crab, or Tao Kuay? It's always a tough call even though everything is good.
I went for Chili Crab and was greeted at the table with a gigantic crab that seemed to be bathing in a red sauce. Not quite sure how to go about eating the thing, I decided to watch my hosts for a little instruction. Apparently this was going to be a messy operation, one that involved grabbing, cracking and pulling crab apart then licking your fingers to savor the sauce. Wet naps, napkins, t-shirt tails and even a bit of the table cloth all played minor roles in this dinner.
Chili Crab is one of Singapore's signature dishes and after eating one it is easy to understand why. Back home crabs are often steamed and served with melter butter. We seem to have stopped with butter whereas here the start with butter and then add spice combinations and vegetables to create mouth watering sauces. I could easily spend a week sampling the variety of crab dishes In fact, that might
Home of the Singapore Sling
be a future trip for me.
Singapore is an extremely clean city. I do not recall seeing anything quite like it. It might have to do with Singapore's reputation as the fine city. Apparently all sorts of littering are punishable fines. Improper disposal of chewing gum, skateboarding and even bringing the durian fruit on the subway is a finable offense. Granted I agree with the Durian fruit fine. Something that smells that offensive should not be confined to the underground trains. All of these fines seem to have created the desired result of a trash free city.
This modern oasis of technology sits on a tropical isle. It is hard to grasp the fact that in the 1960's Singapore just recently gained it's independence and was little more than a fishing village with deep water ports. Singapore has rocketed to modernity but has managed to maintain it's own distinct identity even with all of the "westernization." Of course, Singapore's affect on visitors attempting to claim the territory is clearly obvious. Stamford Raffles fell in love with Singapore and spent careful time planning and helping design a beautiful city filled with riverwalks, botanical gardens and a separate island to
My host Arina showing me the ways around Chinatown
escape the city for some fun (Sentosa Island).
All of this knowledge was imparted to me through Arina. Sick and on short notice (less than 24 hours) she rose to the occasion to show this foreigner a great time in a great country. Her love of Singapore clearly showed itself as we explored Sentosa island. Her narration of the country's history should be written down and published by the tourism authority. Her knowledge of food led me to Chinatown for BBQ Pork (fresh jerky), chili crabs, a bowl of black death looking syrup simply called Black Seasame Healthy Paste and I even managed to stomach a some durian pudding. Very little of this would have happened if she didn't answer the call.
It's no wonder that authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham returned here throughout their lives. A place of cultural diversity and a combination of ethnicities that are uniquely Singaporean offer an excellent background for storytelling. As I sit in the famed Raffles Hotel with a Singapore Sling, I understand what all the fuss is about. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out what I want for dinner.
There are more photos below