All I can say is the dim sum was out of this world. I live in San Francisco and we can get some good dim sum here, but oh my. I tried not to get too adventurous because this was all new to my sister. Maybe she needlessly limited her restaurant selection in Minneapolis, but she repeatedly stated she never had food like this back in Minnesota, and that statement applied to the mango pudding and sesame seed balls.
Many restaurants are in buildings that appear to be simply businesses. You look up above street level for some indication that these restaurants exist. The day we arrived, with our systems out of whack, my sister weakened from the walking I made her do, and was in need of food, I realized we needed to eat – fast. I saw a sign for several restaurants in a building but had no way to know which was best. Or for that matter, the type of food they served, while I could tell they were restaurants it was not apparent what type. I made the bold decision to follow a family into an elevator and go to whichever establishment they selected, figuring they were local and if they could eat anywhere, and selected this place it could not be all bad. Boy, was that the right decision!
The staff in the restaurant was unsure of what to do with us; they were not used to dealing with non-Chinese speakers, but with a lot of pointing and hand signals, I managed to order. One thing we tried which I had not eaten before was the chicken feet. While very tasty, the texture was not what I am accustomed to – more chewy with cartilage – definitely not a western texture.
Also, not seeing any other diners with this dish, I could not determine if there was a correct way to eat them, and eating them with chopsticks about defeated me. I had no idea what to expect, except that I thought it would be tough to eat, and I was right. I had seen a sign at another restaurant promising boneless chicken feet and had hoped that ours would be the same, but was out of luck. Taste wise, could not go wrong, but for us the level of difficulty was off the charts, at least if you are to eat with chop sticks.
I made sure to walk through several wet markets and based on a suggestion tried the “dai pai dong” above one of the wet markets in Happy Valley. I was surprised to find I recognized more food than I anticipated. I had expected to find more unusual ingredients that had not made their way to the states. I did try fresh dragon fruit, having only had it dried before and found it delicious with its soft grey flesh and seeds which reminded me of kiwi.
We ate at Yunyan Szechuan (or Sichuan) Restaurant in the Miramar shopping center in Kowloon because of several recommendations and were not disappointed, it was delicious. I appreciated that the restaurants here have a lighter hand with sauces than back in the US. And while it was in a shopping center, it was not mixed with other retail stores, they had an entire floor dedicated to restaurants. We also tried the Yellow Door, in Central, which was referred to as a private kitchen, also incredible Sichuan food where I tried their delicious eel.
Again, it did not seem too different from food I’ve had in the states but I could appreciate the deft touch with the ingredients, as they all complimented each other, and one flavor or spice did not dominate. It was near the escalator in Central. I highly recommend it, but do not come early. We stopped by at 5:30 PM hoping for an early meal only to be greeted with what appeared to be the entire restaurant staff taking a restorative, communal nap with feet peeking out from under nearly all of the tables.
I had to visit the Hawker Centers, and they were much more plentiful than I expected. I had assumed that they would be less common, but it appeared that most large apartment complexes supported them as well as most malls. The food was generally very good, with, at a minimum, a selection of Indian, Chinese, and Malay. I understand from my Singaporean friend that they eat at these centers more often than cooking at home. Given the price of food here and not having to deal with preparation I can see why. My sister and I ate very well for under $10 US a meal for the two of us.
Not that I am a big gum chewer, but given the $10,000 Singapore fine for importing chewing gum I had to try the Prepared Cuttlefish, billed as the “Chewing Gum of the Orientals”. I’ll stick to my Altoid Gum, as I am convinced it did not freshen my breath – and the taste and texture were not what I am used to… well the taste mostly, was a bit strong for me.
I tried the ubiquitous chicken rice, (chicken with a garlicky rice served at room temp) that the diner could customize with an assortment of chili sauces. It was delicious and I could easily see why people came to Singapore to seek out the best chicken rice dish. Given the time constraints and all the options available to us, I felt fortunate in trying the dish once.
For Mother’s Day, we accompanied my friend’s family to Tiger Balm Gardens, or Haw Par Villa, for a Chinese Banquet. We had at least 10 courses, including Shark Fin soup, which I had never had before, and was dipping into it before I knew what it was. I am not sure I understand why they charge up to $50 a bowl. I understand that it is an expected dish on banquet menus, specifically weddings and is considered to have some medicinal value. Having just walked through the “10 Gates of Hell” in the gardens, I was not about to displease the elders at the table by questioning the selection of this dish, and I confess to being curious as to what the fuss was all about. While we were in Singapore, the Straits newspaper published several articles discouraging people from eating this soup, and told of younger generations seeking alternatives for their weddings and banquets.
Given the heat and humidity of the place, I greatly appreciation for the variety of cool and refreshing drinks. A popular brand of soft drink that seems to be local to Singapore is called ‘Whatever” or “Anything”. The difference is that one is carbonated. The gimmick is that you do not know the flavor, until the can is opened. I had tried most of the juices before; coconut, squeezed sugar cane juice, the lime juice. One I had not that I found delicious was from a vendor featuring what appeared to be Indian drinks, but cannot find my notes or remember the name, was a rosewater syrup concoction made with cream or milk with a higher fat content. It was richer than I am accustomed to, but the flavor was delicious and refreshing.