Singapore Lion City. Part 1: Chinatown

Singapore is undoubtably a city for foodies. Wherever you go you will see restaurants and food centres with many hawker stalls within selling all sorts of nibbles, plates and bowls. Vendors tend to specialise in a particular type of food, e.g. chicken satay or fish balls or something meaty like that usually, and instead of cooking loads of different things ok, they focus on one or a few dishes and do that really, really well. It’s possible to stumble into a restaurant and be charged top prices in the touristy areas but if you are smart and eat like the locals, you can pick up a delicious dinner for under 5 Singaporean dollars.   
Example of nice but slightly underwhelming and expensive western food in the central business district where I was desperately seeking shelter from the humidity – Guac and Go

 

Unfortunately as a vegetarian, the hawker markets don’t always have a lot to offer those who don’t want meat or fish (there are some exceptions to the rule of course) but luckily Singapore’s incredible diversity of culture means there are PLENTY of places to check out.   

 Something I could get from the market – Freshly extracted cane juice from Newton Food Centre

The most exciting areas of Singapore to explore are Chinatown, Little India and the Malay village around Arab Street. Here you can really get the sense of the influence of the many communities that build up the identity of this country have on its diet and dishes.
 
I stayed in Chinatown just around the corner from the cute lanterned streets strewn with touristy stalls selling chopsticks and decorated pashminas. This was originally the area that Chinese immigrants settled initially, though obviously now everyone lives everywhere all throughout the city. The presence of the beautifully decorated Sri Mariammam Temple with its devotion to adorable cows is a bonus! 

 

Stumbling upon Yi Xin Vegetarian was a brilliant find. It’s kind of a top your plate as high as you can vegetarian restaurant. I ate here twice as the prices were so agreeable and the food was very tasty. There is a menu you can choose from but I just took the pointing option both times. I am very good at eating with my eyes! 

  

The first takeaway box I grabbed on the run was some kind of sweet and sour veggie fish dish, the second time I sat down to eat here with a friend and I picked several dishes to eat, the best being an almost char sui type roasted mock meat pork-style which was tender and delicious. Both times eating here I ended up leaving about 5 dollars lighter, which is incredible value. They even offer brown or white rice here which will appeal to the health conscious! Everything was really tasty apart from the bitter gourd dish which was a little alarming to my tastebuds. The clue is in the name! I want to go back on my last day in Asia to grab a stuffed steamed bun! Watch this space for an edit!

   

  One thing you can’t ignore here is the Durian fruit. It’s notorious; you can smell it a street away, you can’t get the smell off your hands and along with chewing gum, and smoking, it’s banned on the transport system here. However it’s also in many dishes everywhere and despite signs everywhere telling you not to carry it, people seem to love it. Each morning the best vegan breakfast on offer was at this little fruit stand in Chinatown where picking up some fresh pineapple or mango really was the best start to the day, but I had also noticed the spiky durian on sale there. With such a reputation, I had to try it! 

  The smell isn’t unpleasant or horrible really, it’s just very pungent and strong. Although some think it’s less reminiscent of ripe cheese and more like rotting rubbish, or even worse, flesh!
  
Apparently the flesh of the durian is the giveaway of how good it is to eat. The more yellow fruit tends to be tastier or riper and is therefore more expensive, opposed to the whiter flesh of the cheaper packs. I asked the seller for a punnet of tightly clingfilmed durian flesh, and on requesting a fork to eat it, I was handed a plastic glove.

   
This must be the way to avoid getting stained with durian juice, and presumably preventing yourself becoming a social outcast in Singapore! The taste was custardy and sweet but the texture is very, very creamy which in a humid, hot country isn’t my number one choice of things to eat. The flavour was good but the rich, thick texture wasn’t my favourite! Still, I’ve got to admire the clever durian fruit, my Singaporean friend told me if you wash your juicy hands through the shell, the smell goes. Smart stuff, little fruit, smart stuff!

 
 So far, so awesome Singapore, Little India next! 

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