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July 24, 2017 | by  | in Food |
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Singapura Blitz

During the winter break I was lucky enough to spend a week in Singapore, floating on its perpetual summer breeze. It happened that my bowl-cut wearing, disco-loving friend Robin was passing through the city for a couple of days. Robin’s a recent graduate of VUW and was embarking on a massive solo Southeast Asia trip and  Singapore was his first stop. Having myself spent many turbulent adolescent years in the Lion City, showing him around became inextricably linked to notions of “Asian hospitality”.  Robin had a day to spare and wanted to eat his way around the island, and so I couldn’t have been more enthused to lead the charge.

Our first stop was the Maxwell Food Center located on the outer fringes of the Chinatown district. Tian Tian Chicken Rice, found within the center, has been hailed by foreign critics as serving the best Hainanese Chicken Rice on the island. Large cutouts of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey adorned the stall front windows, making me feel a little like a helpless tourist. However it was melt-in-your-mouth perfection from the start — the chicken moist, succulent, and surrendered. The harmony between the steamed chicken, the garlic and sesame infused rice, and chili sauce left us with nothing but mirth.  

For our second round we ventured just around the corner to The Coconut Club. Tucked in a refurbished shophouse, we dined among décor that charmingly represented both old world and modern Singapore. We learned that a recent guest of this restaurant was none other than everyone’s favourite (alleged) serial killer Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. We watched as large plates of Nasi Lemak (coconut rice with fried chicken/fish, crispy anchovies, egg, and sambal) emerged from the kitchen with bourgeois vim — worlds apart from the more typical Nasi Lemak wrapped in modest banana leaf pyramids. The coconut rice was so fragrant and fresh that Robin had to order two extra servings. The owner of the restaurant, a thirty-something hipster-artisan type, was so serious about coconuts that he purchased a specific plot of land within a coconut plantation in rural Malaysia that grew coconuts of the right density and creaminess to make the dish just right.

Not wanting to overload Robin with too much too fast, we headed to Little India next for something a little lighter — roti. The shop we ended up at, Habib’s Famous Roti Canai, served roti in a myriad of forms and flavours. We hesitated to order right away, stumped by the dazzling variety.

At which point the shopkeeper facing Robin remarked, “You are very picky.”

“Excuse me, did you say I’m picky?” Robin asked.

“Oh no, I said, you are very pretty,” the shopkeeper said with a nervous glance.

Robin is pretty, and it was a nice compliment I thought, but perhaps out of place and a little awkward. Regardless, we savoured a “plaster roti” — a roti with an egg cooked sunny side up, “plastered” on top of it — and a “tissue roti” — a thin crispy conical-shaped dessert roti, finished with chocolate sauce and honey.

With the sun finally off our faces we headed to Geylang that night. Robin had seen a recent portrayal of this notorious vice district on a recent episode of Criminal Minds. While known to many as the criminal underworld of this manicured city-state, Geylang is also known to locals as a vaunted seafood haven. Barbecued stingray, chili crabs, blood cockles, and oysters cooked in crispy omelets was the order of the day. Robin was tempted to order the frog leg porridge, but I could not bear to partake. Instead, we watched petty gang members and sex workers on the streets around us, to the cacophony of rattling woks over a high blasting flames.

Before we said our tender goodbyes, our stomachs full and feet sore, we consciously and unironically imbued our masculinity one last time by binging on Tiger beer and an array of tropical fruits, including durians, mangosteens, rambutans, and watermelons. Now our hearts were full. Singapura (its pre-colonial name), thanks for the feast.

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