Thursday, 7 March 2013

Singapore Indulgence

Singapore is probably seen more as a transport hub for flight stopovers or Asia financial centre than a tourist hotspot. That said with casinos popping up and the addition of a Universal Studio in Sentosa, the government has been working on changing its ‘sterile’ reputation. My original plan was Vietnam for a few days during my 2-week stay in Hong Kong, turns out Vietnam would take up more than 1 week on its own, so we opted for an easy trip to Singapore instead.

The 3-hour plus flight wouldn’t be worthwhile without staying at Marina Bay Sands. Its renowned Skypark that spans across the three buildings houses the largest outdoor infinity pool in the world. While access to the 57th floor Skypark can be purchased for c.£15 to enjoy the impressive view over the city, only hotel guests are allowed in the pool area. For £260 a night (room only), I thought it was worth the money.

The casino / shopping complex connected to the hotel was equally impressive, with shops that range from 7-11 to Cartier; eateries from foodcourt to Marcus Puck’s. Plenty of outdoor space too in the city of gardens: the promenade area offered leisurely walks along the river to take in views of the iconic skyline and more; Marina Bay Garden on the other side of the hotel to more UFO-looking constructions.
With such a good mix of cultures in Singapore, hawker centres are ideal for sampling a bit of everything. These semi-enclosed food centres and shopping mall foodcourts dominate the dining scene in Singapore. Though I have been told I need to venture as far from the city centre as possible to find authentic food, I just couldn’t be bothered, especially when it was raining almost everyday.
The first one we went to was Smith Street in Chinatown. Not as big as I expected and I was more intrigued by all the surrounding stalls selling delicacies for Chinese New Year.
£3 for 6 satay skewers. Yea these were alright, though nothing worth writing home about. The leaf-wrapped parcels were odd, they were brittle and not dissimilar to rice that were a few days old, pressed and reshaped.
Laksa weren’t bad, lots of coconut milk and plenty of heat, interestingly mixed with tiny oyster morsels... but it only had one type of noodle in it. The best was no doubt wok-fried foods, fried rice was piping hot with lots of seasoning and flavours.
The second one we went to was Lau Pa Sat near Raffles Place, a stone throw from the financial district.

This is probably the most touristy one and so there were inevitably touts pulling us towards grilled rays and chilli crab. I am prone to seafood allergies so rays are out; my folks don’t eat crab. Most dishes were below-par except for the oyster omelette, which was easily the best oyster omelette; crispy edges, packed with little oysters and runny eggs in the middle.

Despite my love for street-side eating, I wasn’t too impressed by the hawker centres in Singapore. Perhaps it was because food wasn’t freshly prepared – everything was precooked and they just mix the ingredients together in a wok upon order. And perhaps all dishes were quite heavy with grease and chillies. So for contrast, we paid a visit to Iggy’s, the World’s Best restaurant in Asia.

Snack shops around the city were great. Mr Bean, found in major MRT stations, served delicious soya milk pudding and round pancakes. Local stores selling traditional delicacies like deep fried dough were much better than HK. Our winter is Singapore's rainy days, so we spent a few hours around boat quay, where the ex-pats cluster for their happy hour.

We took breakfast like the locals, kaya toasts and kopi or milk tea with condensed milk. I LOVE kaya, a sweet spread made with egg yolk and sugar. Dad thought bread was generally more fluffy. Toasts are served with water-boiled eggs for breakfast, which were like poached eggs – brilliant stuff. Ya Kun is a reliable local chain, but even food court stuff was very decent.

Like proper tourists we bought a batch of “bbq meat” (Bakkwa) from Bee Cheng Hiang, even though they are also found in HK. The grilled pork belly is so much better than the traditional sheets of pork loin, they costs double, but the streaky belly tastes 10 times better.

I liked Singapore, it’s not as sterile as people make it out to be. But a bit like Taipei, I wasn’t mad about the food. Individually, I like Malay food, Indian grub, Indo cuisine and Chinese dishes, just not the versions offered in Singapore. Marina Bay Sands, however, is definitely worth coming back for.

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