For the most part Singapore is shopping and eating. I don’t go for the former much and excel at the latter. Singapore’s melting pot means a wide variety of cuisines from around Asia plus the usual metropolis offerings of Italian, steakhouses, American/Irish/Brit-themed pubs, etc.
Chinatown should be the first stop for anyone. We screwed up and stopped for lunch along the Singapore River at Black Penny pub. Two for one lunch special. I ordered a pint of Kilkenny as it was happy hour already. My medium-rare burger came out blackened and well done (but not done well!). Due to a computer error the orders never went in and so came out after a long wait. Hungry customers don’t send food back. The 2 for 1 wasn’t on the check and so we had to have that fixed. Unfortunately there was no fixing the S$9 Coke (yowza!). Didn’t he say “four ninety-five”? Nope. “For nine (unintelligible part that must have been ‘Singapore dollars’)” Ouch. Down the rest of the river hosts were aggressively seeking to fill tables so one wondered if shenanigans were afoot. Whatever. Serves me right for getting Western food. A pleasant sideshow at least was some unexpected bird watching.
In the end we headed to Chinatown all three nights we were in Singapore for at least dessert or something. Chinatown is about the food. Food Street (really Smith Street) is a line of steaming and sizzling carts and booths set up next to a long line of shared tables under a canopy. Most of the must-try menu items can be found here. (Never mind Esplanade’s Makansutra Glutton’s Bay food area, it is weak by comparison, slightly pricier and smaller. On the other hand, it does offer a decent view of Marina Bay in the evening. Your call.)
The red lanterns crisscrossing on wires above Smith Street are a hint at the history here. At the end of the 19th century Smith Street was the red light district. Singapore is and was a major port after all with plenty of sailors and the immigration population was predominantly male. The shophouses on either side of the tables where we were eating were once filled with Chinese and Japanese prostitutes. An historical marker notes that life was hell for these women who were often beaten and cheated or struck with disease. Loh Sai Soh, a madam at No. 65 was stabbed in the chest after trying to stop a nonpaying customer. Suicide was common. Some jumped from the windows others, while others took a foggier exit with an opium overdose.
An unlikely (but welcome) food attraction in the midst of the Asian delights made me nostalgic for Wisconsin. A brat stand?!? Sure, why not. Singapore is, after all, a melting pot. Erich, an Austrian, is selling bratwurst and Bavarian pretzels at Wuerstelstand in the heart of Chinatown’s Night Market. His blog offers some random observations of life in Singapore.
I settled on chilli crab for dinner which is perhaps the most raved about Singaporean dish. It is surely the priciest street food I’ve ever had at S$38 and eating it was no small challenge. There were no tools to open this stuff except a flimsy fork which by the end of the meal appeared to be giving me the finger.
As everything was swimming in sauce, I abandoned all hope of remaining clean. It was a humbling experience. When the plate arrived passersby looked on enviously. By the time my eating efforts got into full swing, they seemed less inclined to order it. At one point shrapnel flew when a stubborn bit of shell gave way. Ms. Peung started laughing. “What?” Um, there’s something on the side of your mouth, Kevin… you have a piece of shell on your face. Sure enough.
The old man who cleared tables all night smiled at me and pointed to where there was a small sink behind the kitchen. I tipped him for that. We’re not supposed to tip. Against the rules says a guidebook. Ah, the rules… check back for my next post about the land of rules and some more food!
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