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Thursday, August 29

A Post To Make You All As Hungry As I Am... Or Not

As you all might have guessed, my family and myself are not nervous creatures when it comes to trying something new.  This makes food in foreign countries that much more interesting and fun to us, if not sometimes incredibly alarming and appalling.  I try to present every dish to the kids in a positive light and have them try at least one bite before throwing the towel in on something new.  Yes, even the wee one.  He knows the deal and realizes that dessert (however odd that may be too… he’ll eat it) isn’t coming until he does the compulsory bite.  Kimono Peanut is actually a very adventurous eater, so I don’t even need to play it up for that one.  I know some of you will disagree with my food choices and my rules for my children, but make your own choices and your own rules in your own home and leave me to it.  I’m doing my best to raise well-rounded, healthy children here and being an all-organic, all-the-time, vegan just ain’t gonna’ cut it here in Singapore. 

That said, let me explain food in Singapore.  To do so, know that the population is 76% Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian and 2% British/other European/Americans.  Therefore, food is an eclectic mix as well.  I guess it would have to be when you take 5 million different people and put them on an island about three times the size of Washington, DC.  You can find each individual cuisine if you so choose, with Western food being the least of its own ‘Western’ flavor, but generally, food is uniquely Singaporean… a mix of all Asian foods.  ‘Asian fusion’ is the trendy term at home.  Well, the Singaporeans?  They invented it.    

Like everything here, the food is Expensive.  I should say this in all caps, because it is indeed the most expensive place to dine I have ever come across with most restaurant meals averaging $85 SGD ($66 USD) for our little family of four, and this is before a single drink is added.  However, I won’t completely capitalize on the expensive part because of one of the greatest places ever invented and its prevalence here... the hawker centres.  These places were created because when Singapore stopped being a small jungle village and revved up its urbanization in the 50s and 60s, the powers-that-be began to look for a way to change the unhygienic and unlicensed food industry of street hawkers into something clean and safe for the fast growing masses.  Government agencies now own the hawker centers here and each stall within is given a grade for cleanliness.  I was told to stick with all “A” or “B” grades although it would be rare to find anything lower anyway.   

I was also told that if there is a line at a stall, while the food may be good, it might not be the best of its type in the center.  Apparently when Singaporeans see a line, they tend to queue up because they want to see what’s so important to wait in line for.  I’m not sure I buy that train of thought as I have since arriving waited in many lines and thought the food was fantastic and just adequate at others!  Then again… I’m no expert.   

The other thing with stalls in a hawker center, they each specialize in one particular food, perhaps with slight variations, but one food type.  So the stall that sells the unofficial Singaporean specialty of chicken rice, which my children could live on, they might have boiled chicken or roasted chicken, but that’s about it on the variation.  And I personally don’t recommend the boiled.  I find nothing appealing about the boiled skin part.  Ack. As for the picture, yes that is chicken feet, but no it is not the norm to have it served this way.  I still think the woman did this only for the foreigner as I didn't see feet with nails in any other bowl leaving her stall.

One of my favorite cakes in the whole world is carrot cake.  Imagine my surprise to see it at a hawker center!  Except... nope.  Seeing the picture wasn't enough to make me not want to try it; it actually made me want it more.  I'm not sure how it gets it's name because I didn't see a single carrot in the dish, but it is a pan fried cake with I-don't-know-what in it and then mixed with egg or sweet black sauce.  I choose the dish with both on it and still can't tell you which kind I liked better.  It's not mama's carrot cake, but it was delicious.

Now here is where the weak of spine should stop reading now.  I’m going to show some more of the oddities I have found in hawker centers.  There are 42 centres that I know of and I have been to three.  My goal is to hit them all.  

This first one, even the adventurous eater in me is going to pass on.  Although, it does remind me of that God-awful hog maw that is popular with those Pennsylvania Dutch back home. 
Fishball soup seems to be popular here.  I haven't tried it... yet.  But you know I will.

Chicken feet salad.  Now it is rare that I see any "back home" normal garden variety salads here, let alone many salads at all... but this is one I am going to skip.

Frog legs... sure.  I'll go for it.  And to use a word like porridge just makes it sound like all sorts of Goldilocks fun, doesn't it?

Duck is delicious!  And I'm banking on this being a decades old recipe from a Chinese family who knows how to make good duck noodle and duck porridge. 

   Fish Stew.  And this is much different than fishball soup, as in there is real fish and not just the fish's balls.  I kid.  Fish don't have balls!  Ha!  Don't worry.  I'm slapping myself for going there.  Anyway, I'm loving this stuff.  It's actually quite healthy too with a clear broth and fresh boiled fish, vegetables and herbs in it.  Although, I do pick the skin off the fish in it.  I just can't do skin. 

Desserts are a part of our dinners.  I mean, how else will I get my kids to eat some of this weird crap without some reward at the end?  It may not be cake and ice cream for my kids, but I think the desserts here are tastier and a whole lot healthier.  The longon in many of these is a little fruit.  Lychee, another fruit.  Coconut is prevalent.  And the jelly in everything?  Well, I am not quite sure what it is, but my kids now assume it's jello.  Let's go with that, shall we?  The far left dessert?  The one with the heaping of bright colors?  That is called ice kacang and it is wonderful.  Shaved ice with flavorings poured down it and sweet red beans inside.  I like it when they pour milk over the top too.

Drinks are sold at separate stalls.  Note the 'Kopi Museum' which I am guessing is coffee.  I have no idea why they spelled it that way when everyone else in the centre spelled it right.  But what I can't get enough of are the fresh juices.  I know juicing is the trend in the US, but I would much rather have pure and fresh watermelon juice than to mix it with spinach and kale.  Just saying.  I drink the green stuff too, but I am having a hard time thinking of ever going back to it now that these juices are at every place I go.

I've talked enough about food now.  I've got to go get something to eat.  This is why I can never be a food blogger.  *sigh*


Jacynth Chiang said...

I came across this blog while surfing the Net and decided to peep in just to see what the life of an expat in Singapore is like. Your food post is hilarious, and congratulations for having the guts to try the many local dishes here.. As a local, I can assure you that Chicken Feet Salad is not a norm and I have no idea what that is either.

And yes, queues don't mean the food is good. Most of the time, i don't bother at all, though there are some that are really worth the wait. Fish slice soup is certainly one of the healthier dishes in the local hawker centers. I love it as well. Perhaps you'd like to try Yong Tau Foo, where you get to pick the ingredients you want (usually different types of raw veg) and the stall owner will cook them for you in delicious, clear hot broth. These 2 are my personal favorites, as they are healthy and taste good.

Oh yes, the carrot cake.. I'm always amused by the reactions of the non-locals when they see this version of the carrot cake, lol! I love both versions, though the local version is oilier and I think, less healthy than the western version.

As for kopi, it's just a local dialect for coffee. FYI, there can be Kopi O, Kopi C, Kopi Gao, Kopi Siew Dai etc. that's just to say Coffee no milk, coffee with condensed milk ( or evaporated milk?), Coffee thick, coffee less sugar etc. i still get confused sometimes, lol, coz i don't belong to that dialect group, thus I don't quite understand some terms as well. And there's Teh as well, which is the dialect for tea. Then you have Teh O, Teh C too..

Anyway, just want to say that it's been enjoyable reading your blog and I hope you have a great time here. Same for the many other expats here who are having a hard time adjusting. It takes time to get used to a new place, and I know having horrible hair doesn't help lol. But I admire the guts of so many of you here for moving to another country completely!


Kimono Karen said...

Thank you, Jacynth, for the absolutely lovely comment! I am so glad you enjoyed reading my post! I'm always hungry for more knowledge from true Singaporeans, so please feel free to share insights with me on other posts too. There is nothing like learning the truth from a local instead of guessing like we crazy foreigners do. Thank you again for your comment!

Jacynth Chiang said...

To be honest, I'm a poor example of a true Singaporean, coz there are many places, history and stories that I don't even know about lol. I guess when we have access to so many fascinating places and cultures around, we tend to forget about our own tiny country. It's not as colorful or exciting as many other countries, but I'm thankful that at least it's safe. One thing's for sure, we tend to be a negative lot, lol, so bear with our seemingly black or expressionless faces.. I think most of us are alright, just don't get us started on politics or cost of living.. These are our pet peeves lol.

Kimono Karen said...

I think your country is so colorful and exciting, but I think we all tend to forget about our own country and the fun things that can be done. Yes, the access to places near Singapore are pretty amazing. I'm very happy it is so safe myself. And I have noticed the negativity. It's very surprising! But you have every right to think the cost of living is a little crazy. I have never lived in a place more expensive. Politics, I know nothing of, but will have to learn as I go.