Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A slice of Singapore

Burrough Market? No, Pasarbella.
On a recent visit to Singapore, I was all ready to suss out the parks rather than just shop along Orchard Road. I had packed my sneakers and shorts, and was even contemplating renting a bicycle and checking out the very popular bicycle paths. But stumbling in the middle of the night to the bathroom in my son, B's apartment, I snagged my big toe in the door and ripped half of the toenail off. Hobbling back from the doctor's the next door, I knew that all physical activity precluding slow strolls were out, so what else was there to do? Well, stuff my face, of course.

I hate to admit it, but what can I say? I am digitally challenged. No, I don't mean I'm hopeless on the internet, but rather, I am always having problems with my fingers and toes, aka digits. A total klutz, I am either catching a thumb in the car door or steaming a few fingers while making dumplings. Once, I even lopped off half of a fingernail while chopping tomatoes, an accident that required an emergency visit to the hospital and micro surgery. Amazingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, all these accidents never seem to affect my appetite adversely!

Freshly shucked oysters at Pasarbella
So what else could I do since walking was out? Well, stuff my face, of course. B was very good about taking me to new places to try, some I hadn't even heard or read about. One was Pasarbella, just off Bukit Timah. It's touted as a farmer's market, which it is, of a sort. The food has to come from some farmer's market, right? Just not in Singapore, I guess. Fashioned after European markets like Burrough Market in London, it offers a variety of food and provisions in stalls, from fresh cheeses and seafood to butchered meats and artisinal beer. The quality of the food on offer was good but slightly inconsistent, but I did enjoy the novelty of the place and had some awesome oysters that were freshly shucked, pasta and paella.

Marinated fresh olives at Jamie Oliver Italian
Jamie's lemon meringue cheesecake
I had read that Jamie Oliver's Italian was open in Singapore, and after trying the one in London, was eager to see what it was like here. Located in Vivo City with another slated to open along Orchard Road later in the year, it didn't look or feel very Jamie Oliverish. The one I went to in London had a light and airy feel with clean lines. Here, it was more of a tropical version of sports bar like a Chlli's or Friday's. Again the quality of the food was spotty, with some of the salads and pastas being really good and others only so-so. I was hoping that lemon tart would be on the menu but it wasn't. The lemon meringue cheesecake was to-die-for though.

A whole bag of scrumptious seafood, Cajun style
As a belated Mother's Day treat, B brought me to The Boiler, a Louisiana style seafood joint that was situated typically, in an industrial area (don't ask me where!) The great thing I love about Singapore is its safety. No matter where you walk late at night, and even as a lone woman, it's safe and you're in no danger of being mugged. The brightly lit interior of The Boiler drew us in from the rather grotty neighbourhood. We tucked into a spread of the freshest seafood in a choice of sauces (from mild to very hot), all cooked in a bag and served on a plastic-covered table, communal style, to be attacked with our fingers. What made this meal great was the freshness of the crustaceans, with bread and corn to sop up the remaining sauce. A nice touch was the small plastic bag we were each given, in addition to the plastic bibs tied around our necks. I discovered that this was to keep our mobile phones in, so we could continue taking pictures without dirtying our phones. How clever and typically Singaporean to think of everything!

Apart from all this ang-moh (Chinese term, "red hair" referring to Caucasian) food, I was happy to discover that Singapore still has some gems tucked away in food courts. Local food that's served up in hawker stalls, with the owners single-handedly managing the place and taking pride in their offerings. Like the beef noodle soup I tried in the Jalan Pasar food court. Delicious and affordable, and best of all, without the after taste of MSG. The beef noodles (dry, with soup on the side) I had in the ION food court was pretty darn good, too, and good value as well.

Fine dining in Singapore rivals the best in the world, but you also pay a hefty premium for it. To those who claim that the island sucks when it comes to street food, find out from the locals where their favourites are located, and chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.  I've been blown away by what I've had served up in unpretentious stalls in HDB flats (Singapore's public housing projects) as well as restaurants opened by celebrity chefs. Singapore does black pepper crab, one of my all-time favorites, the best. Apart from all that Singapore can lay claim to - world's most expensive city, safest city, cleanest city - it is also a gourmand's paradise.
Divine french onion soup at Daniel Boulud Bistro Moderne

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