BY OLGA KARNAS
The obsession with food is a phenomenon of the island. The space may be limited, but the variety of dishes and ingredients is unlimited. Every tourist guide printed on glossy paper will boast about the cultural richness expressed in the cuisines from even the most remote kingdoms of Asia, and for once in the long history of guidebooks these accounts will not be exaggerated. From Malay traditional dishes through delicacies from many regions of China (note the difference between Sichuan and Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew), to the authentic chana masala served in Little India, an everyday visit in the school dining area at National University of Singapore turns into an adventure…or maybe a gamble, when a pig ear appears sailing through the bowl of soup, navigating towards the Spice Islands of Indonesia. For every meal is a celebration here, and while fishing the noodles out of your plate in a budget food plaza (these are called “hawker centers” here, and are an element of everyday life in Singapore) you never know who will politely ask join your table (the centers get really crowded) – a retired lady taking a break from grocery shopping or a yuppie taking a break from the overly air-conditioned office.
Here are some pieces of the Singaporean culinary puzzle:
Feasting in Tiong Bahru, one of the oldest parts of Singapore – roasted and steamed variations of the traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Nasi Lemak – traditional Malay dish composed of rice, fried egg, spicy sauce, sausage and differently prepared fish. Nasi Lemak was an important part of Malay weddings, as it was a symbolic dish offered by the groom’s family to the bride’s family to confirm they are content with the bride (and her virginity, to be specific).
Fried chicken in wasabi sauce and chrysanthemum tea (brewed using real chrysanthemum petals), Chef Chan’s restaurant, in the building of the National Museum of Singapore.
Cutting open a coconut in Chinatown, to retrieve delicious and refreshing coconut water and flesh inside.
Chili crab – “Who hasn’t tried the chili crab, hasn’t been to Singapore,” says our guide in the Joo Chiat district.
Otak Otak – spicy fish paste wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and grilled.
Colorful desserts made of glutinous rice.
A fancy hawker center in Ion Mall, Orchard Road.
And finally – DURIAN! The king of fruits, yet forbidden from the public communication because of its putrid, long-lasting smell. “You either love it or hate it, there is no middle way”, say Singaporeans.
Olga Karnas ’16 is blogging this summer from Singapore. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.