I love marketing. From Barcelona, Spain to Bali, Indonesia and in in this post, the east of Singapore, I think having time to market is a privilege. Often times, the market place is combined with places for eating, where one can sample the people’s street foods. Located in the eastern part of Singapore in Tampines neighbourhood is the Circle Market (Tampines Round Market and Food Centre). This place comes alive from the break of dawn and winds down just at about noon each day, with its most festive days being the weekends. On weekends, marketers are greeted by a flea market carrying an array of eclectic goods in makeshift stalls that frill the outmost circle of the market place. The combined amenities of eateries, market stalls and flea market activities resonate as a heartbeat of the neighbourhood. If cooking at home, one is most likely to be able to bag most ingredients to grandmother’s dishes here.
The wet markets in Singapore are attractive socio-economic spaces for the community. On a recent visit (2 Dec. 2016) to Singapore by Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi toured Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre the morning, hosted by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan .
I had planned to visit Palawan Beach at Sentosa, and when in a car, it was only to follow the road signs. Turning mostly left when on Sentosa, we were greeted by a female peacock crossing the street. She looked pretty in mid-morning, just doing her own thing. Turning into the carpark to what I thought was Palawan Beach, I hesitated getting out of the car when greeted by what seemed to be an ongoing student orientation activity taking place by the beach. Crowded and loud, I wanted away from crowd. But I got out of the car in either case, and walked further on, farthest I could from the noise and activities. Ahead, a neat pool of purest azure beckoned against the planted perfect coconut trees on a sun-hid day at Sentosa. The water so still, it reflected the tall, slim resort structure of the building adjacent. It was a gorgeous sight. That pool belonged to FOC Sentosa. Address, 110 Tanjong Beach. Considering path dependency and the enclave of reality grids, would I be surprised at all to find myself a quiet space, at FOC Sentosa, Singapore? Perhaps not.
FOC Singapore is a concept dining brought from Spain to Singapore by Barcelona-born chef Nandu Jubany. Its initial Singapore restaurant opening is located in the heart of Singapore’s financial business district by the Singapore River.
A tropical storm raged just out from under the hawker centre night shades. Within the compounds of the hawker centre in a small enough area, an elderly male busker had put on the most upbeat of ’80s dance tunes. He stood just beside a flattened cap he had placed on the ground, moving energetically to the beat.
“You should go out in the rain, and dance!” said a voice that stood to my right.
I looked to my right, caught a pair of sparkling eyes that belonged to that familiar voice, and smiled. I wanted to. I’d be soaked through to the skin in warm rain, something I could never do in the Nordics.
“This is your kind of weather” the voice encouraged, “go dance!”
Looking at the elderly male busker grooving to his own chosen ’80s dance tracks, he had by now asked his female companion to join him in the show. I shook my head in reply. “It’s not polite if I outdid them.” I said. “Worse still is if people just stared at me, and didn’t throw me any money…
I remember his hands firmly gripping me around my ribcage, under my arms, then lifting me decidedly over two square tiles. He landed me unceremoniously unto a tidied space in the apartment and then went about working again. I was about four years old, and wondered how come he could not just have asked me to hop over two square tiles. The man was a construction worker who was at the time, halfway through tiling the floor to the living room. That was one of the earliest memories I have of watching my parents’ new home, their first Singapore government built HDB (Housing and Development Board) flat come to life. Although not literally the “final stage of [their] housing ladder” [1:195] it was however, a confirmation of a fairly secure economic status reached for our small family,
I had not known that sun ripened fresh cut fruits served with ice drizzled over them was a concept dish until I had moved out of Singapore to live in Sweden. In the nordic countries, a ‘fruit salad’ was what you might find as a type of side dish to the cheese platter, by which the fruit bit might be cut pears and/or green grapes. Perhaps marmalade as the fruit bit is also possible. So you’ll end up with having a fruit salad of different tiny jars of artisan marmalades, to the cheese platter. Different.
But it would be a day of any weather that living in the east of Singapore close to the beach, I would find myself encountering a mixed fruit platter as part of my favourite things to eat at the hawker centres located in this area. I liked in particular, to have a fruit platter at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village, which I had only all my life known as Lagoon.
A quiet and slightly grey Tuesday afternoon of 22 Nov. 2016 silhouettes the Louis Vuitton Island Maison located long the Marina Bay Sands Promenade in Singapore. Its striking asymmetric architecture of mirrored walls characteristic of the buildings of the bay area, is a unique concept for the luxury brand that opened on 13 July 2011. The nautical interiors are the keyworks of internationally acclaimed and award winning architect Peter Marino.
What I love about the promenade at the bay is that you can comfortably plunk yourself down on the wooden decks just outside the island mansion of Louis Vuitton and look out over the waters, in contemplation of the city skyline, or else, the myriad shades of Sea.
Whilst the field of transdisciplinary research contemplates the effectiveness of the use of metaphors as a means to transcend boundaries between different fields of academic research, walk the streets of Västerås on a sightsee tour and you’ll find anything but the use of metaphors in street names or buildings, the sign designating the name of the road being metaphor enough. There is one skyscraper in the entire city, and that is aptly called, ‘The Skyscraper’. This weekend, I had the opportunity to go a little farther out of the city centre to the former abattoir, to a farmer’s market called ‘The Market Slaughterhouse’. You’ll find this market right next to the city’s landmark energy plant in the midst of a romantic industrial setting. Most street and building names are so straightly connected to the city’s power and energy industrial roots that one might come to think that the effort of keeping things in two dimensional vectors was considered effort enough in deployment of metaphor in itself.
Having observed two vector namings in three dimensional space, entering Saluhallen Slakteriet came as a surprise visual
After four years of a bottle of Baileys Irish cream sitting in the liqueur cabinet – because anything Baileys is not the thing to bring home to your husband, and because women like me buy alcohol based on the design of the bottles – I decided I could as well do something with it.
So, chocolate mousse pie infused with Irish cream liquor it was to be, on this Scandinavian late summer’s afternoon, noted by the meteorological station as one of Sweden’s warmest summer days this year. I already had some nice dark hazelnut chocolate cake that I could use for a pie crust for this project and some Valrhona Abinao, that I thought could add in a nice way with some tempered eggs. I managed to convince myself the refreshing lightness of this pie is but disguised, in the heavy dark chocolate of it all.
Occasionally it sometimes is that after I’ve served up a dish for a meal, the question comes, “That was not bad – what went into that?” followed by, “How did you make that?”
It’s here that I find myself halting in mid-sentence, trying to recall what went into the dish and how it came to be.
Some pictures to share of a study visit from a university in Singapore to the Swedish west coast.
Part of the narrative and evening’s conversation revolved around the historic trade relations between Sweden and China, and how Singapore en route continues till today, to be an important trade partner for Sweden.
The historical voyages of the Swedish East India Company (1731-1813) more often than not started from this very spot where we now stood in the garden. Known as Vargö Håla, water was taken on board the ships from the surrounding fresh water wells, and good sailing winds were awaited in the waters between the islands right here, that through a peculiarity of the Gulf Stream was kept ice free even in the winters.
Stepping out of the car where I was dropped off, a few steps in through the surrounding pavement and I found myself in old Telok Ayer Market. It being early in the morning, I found it rather like an empty school canteen just after the morning school bell had rung and all students had filed neatly into their classrooms. Not one table filled with anyone at all, except me.
The symbolic flower for the month of May is the Rosa Chinensis or the China Rose, which shares the same name / title to one of my paternal grandfather’s favourite songs, “Rose Rose I Love You”.
That song was first recorded in 1940 by Yao Lee and then by Frankie Laine in 1951 with the lyrics of the latter unrelated to the original.
What I found interesting in Laine’s version is that the song references a girl, possibly named Rose, as a “flower of Malaya”. This reference brought me back to the origins of Clifford Pier in Singapore, built between 1927 and 1933 and named after Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements at the time. The pier was one of the busiest embarkation and disembarkation points in Singapore that belonged to the Straits Settlements Crown Colony during the early 1900s, from immigrants to the trading of goods. That Customs House at Collyer Quay stands in close proximity to what was once Clifford Pier today is testament to its history.
Already when we last met, the Valtulina family hinted at that they were preparing a move to a new location. It would be a great improvement they told me, since they had seriously outgrown their family living room sized premises in the Bukit Timah area. Because of this, it was with great expectation we went to take a look at the new restaurant, Valentino’s, at Turf Club Road.
Greeted in family tradition with a warm hurricane of emotions at their door, we were whisked almost immediately, into the kitchen, where Valentino stood at the heart of it all.
I had certainly missed the Valtulina Family!
Gianpiero Valtulina, setting up the private dining quarters of the restaurant. Gianpiero, or ‘Papa’, has been a guiding hand in the process of the building of the new place. His influence and finishing touches can be seen in the beautiful decorations furnishing the home and restaurant.
The private room here can seat about forty-five persons. Perfect for that larger family or corporate event.
With so much movement in the place, I couldn’t help wanting to capture all details on camera, from the rustic brick enclaves in the main dining hall to the stash of deliciously piled ripened tomatoes and garlic that sat in proximity to various cheeses all carefully stored.
It took about a half hour to orientate myself in the new expansive place, from walk-in freezers to the various bakery and kitchens, the main dining hall and the Valentino Garden outdoors that already housed a healthy citrus tree, to finally sit down and come to process the information and impression of their new restaurant.
It was about a generation ago that anyone who wanted to swim in the waters of Singapore, whether river or sea, would and could in kampong spirit and enthusiasm simply jump in. Today, a stunt like that would most certainly get some raised eyebrows, if you didn’t end up yourself being hauled in by authorities in reminder of areas cordoned off, for reasons accorded, from bathing possibilities.
In the prescriptive social fabric of Singapore that can be both helpful and hindering at the same time, an area promoted for leisurely activities that includes sun basking and swimming is the Island of Sentosa with a mission of being “the world’s favourite leisure and lifestyle resort destination”.
As a little Garden of Eden of sorts is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, that’s beautiful for an afternoon stroll. As an integrated part of the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden that houses innumerable exotic varieties of the country’s national flower.
Sitting happy in the Orchid Gardens’ collection, the largest display of tropical orchids in the world, are more than 3,000 species and hybrids with about 600 on display. Every year, more vibrant and enduring hybrids are added on.
Within the compounds of the Botanic Gardens is Burkill Hall. Built in 1866, it is a fine example of an early colonial bungalow with its trellis constructs to its ground floors, tall windows adorned with matted drawn blinds.
Burkill Hall used to be the Director’s House, and its current name commemorates the only father and son pair, Isaac and Humphrey Burkill, to hold the post of Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens.
It’s been just about two years since my last visit to Trattoria and Pizzeria Capri in Singapore. In the ever changing landscape of Singapore, it’s a relief to step into Capri again, to find friendly and familiar faces and to pick up the conversation where it was left off, with hardly a glitch.
Interior of Capri with tiles of the Amalfi Coast, home of the Iannone family.
Much of our conversation revolved as usual around the different types of Italian food by region.
For anyone coming to Singapore for the first time, or the occasional visitor who wants to check what’s up in the city, the Singapore River with its numerous landmark bridges and quays is the natural place to start.
Since the founding of Singapore in 1819, the Singapore River has been the center for much of the island’s trade and economic activities.
The area around the mouth of the Singapore River was known as the Old Harbour. This was the busiest part of the port, with most trade taking place along the south bank of the river, at Boat Quay.
As early as 1822 this area was designated to be developed as a Chinese settlement, after which the Chinese, mostly traders and labourers, settled here in large numbers. Conditions were squalid but Boat Quay flourished, rapidly exceeding in volume the trade on the north bank, where the Europeans had their offices, houses and government buildings.
Mid-19th century and onwards
From the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the new steamships started calling at the port of Singapore. Hundreds of bumboats would fight for limited berthing space. Incoming cargo were laboriously carried from the ships anchored outside of the river mouth. Sacks of goods streamed into the road on the shoulders of coolies. Here was a brisk trade of raw material such as rubber, tin, and steel to food and manufactured goods.
Only in the 1960’s did the commercial importance of Boat Quay start to decline as the ships grew and the role of the bumboats in the shipping industry was superseded by mechanized container handling.
It is difficult to talk about Marina Bay Sands in Singapore without mentioning numbers. However, from the moment you set your eyes on this building the first time, until you enter its car park and start finding your way through its numerous shopping malls – complete with in-built waterways, fountains and sampans – the proportions of this undertaking becomes mind boggling.
Furthermost out at one end of the Sands SkyPark, on a 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub.
Marina Bay Sands’ three hotel towers are connected by a sky terrace on the roof named Sands SkyPark that among other things features an infinity swimming pool and a number of restaurants and bars. Furthermost out on the 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub. In the middle of a lush garden, with trees and plants and a public observatory deck on the cantilever, you can enjoy a stunning view of the Singapore skyline.
A few weeks ago, a new restaurant opened in an old shophouse along Club Street in a dining concept that combines fine quality ingredients with culinary heritage and tradition.
It is perhaps not surprising that Truffle Gourmet is located in the heart of the most fashionable and lively district in the midst of Singapore.
Club Street is one of Singapore’s older streets. It is situated at the edge of Chinatown just adjacent to Cross Street and Amoy Street. In these quarters during the 18- and 1900s, Chinese immigrant labourers would find letter writers and calligraphers to help them stay in touch with their loved ones back home.
Today, a long stretch of bars and restaurants offers a variety of interesting places presenting good food in stylish surroundings.
The CHIJMES cluster of buildings along Victoria Street is what to me remains as one of the more beautiful architectural features in the changing landscape of modern Singapore.
Having grown up in another Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), I feel right at home strolling the grounds of this one in the heart of the city. From the rooftop, you’ll get a good overview of the courtyard and the corridors of adjacent buildings that lead to once classrooms, today turned into office spaces.
The Chapel’s gothic architecture is breathtaking when basked in the morning light, in the quiet hours just prior to the rush of the city’s daily traffic.
A few years ago in Singapore, I had the opportunity to accompany some friends on their apartment hunting. There were several newly built units to view and we drove from place to place, spending long days on the road, bouncing from northeast to east and then west of the tiny island state.
From growing up in Singapore I remember how my mother spent time in the kitchen, over the weekends and in the evenings when she got home from work. Sometimes we dined out, but very often it was wet marketing where possible and then home to cook.
What caught me by surprise on this round of apartment hunting was how much smaller the kitchens in Singapore had become. It was as if the architects did not think of kitchens as a working space that should be able to function. In these apartments, home cooking seemed a non-activity for the household’s engagement, the oven being relegated to a token that marks the minimal existence of the kitchen space.
But being in Singapore, and considering all its wonderful facets of dining out, I can see how the kitchen at home has literally been spatially re-configurated both in the minds of people and in material dimensions, simply because eating out in Singapore is so much more than, a necessity.
I have an affinity for quiet corners in today’s current targeted 7 million inhabitants Singapore. And whether explained by quantum theories of alternate realities, or on a less philosophical level, simply taking the time to find that quiet spot during peak hours in the heart of bustling Chinatown, PS Café at Ann Siang Hill is an utterly serene and cosy meeting place.
Ann Siang Hill is the name of a one-way road located in Chinatown in Singapore. Situated immediately inland of the old harbour, it is today one of the more authentic areas that remain of old Singapore, right at the heart of where all trade of the olden days of this developing city would have taken place.
My stay-in girlfriend just asked me “what is your definition of me as your girlfriend” and I replied “Cohabitation Partner”.
I googled “cohabitation in singapore” and was very intrugued in finding your page. It’s been 4 years since you published this and I see that nothing significant has changed. Outlook towards marriage still revolves around getting a place of their own.
Unfortunately after all these years, you’re still correct. I’m 37 this year & come from a fairly traditional family. I took quite a while before my parents could accept my “defiant nature”.
In your view, how are we going to cross this social tradition in Singapore?
Having grown up in Singapore, I’ve had the opportunity to observe Sentosa transform from a relatively quiet and exotic city getaway with accessible beaches that you could drive up to, park and picnic if you so wished, to one filled with attractions today such as Universal Studios alongside Resorts World that have both locals and visitors gather by the hundreds over the weekends for some fun.
This time my curiosity was piqued about the American W Hotels Worldwide’s newly opened W Singapore hotel and residences located at Sentosa Cove. A place targeted as part of the Singapore government’s efforts at building exclusive residential areas, this one in particular being currently the only seaside marina residential area in Singapore.
Part of my culinary adventures is to combine bits and pieces of knowledge and inspirations picked up from one context and transfer that to a different context, in anticipation of the results. Besides which, I didn’t think I could get away being back in Singapore without cooking or baking with the family.
If it were not for a kind Samaritan I met along the way who pointed out directions to the Fullerton Pavilion in Singapore, I would have taken much more time before landing at the day’s lunch venue – Catalunya Singapore.
Coming in from the scorch of the mid-day tropical sun, it took a few seconds for the eyes to adjust to the dimmer interior of the bar and restaurant, though the line of sight didn’t need to venture farther than the reception to find a touch of Gaudí’s influence in the gleaming white broken mosaic pieces that clung to the columns of the dining interior. This influence of Gaudí would also continue, as I found, through the dining experience in the shapes and motifs of the plates and utensils on the table. Not two steps into the place, I was surrounded by individuals who spoke Catalan and Spanish, déjà vu and I felt right back in Barcelona again, and felt right at home.
I have often written about Italian hospitality and how their spontaneous generosity has the ability to grab and wrap you as a warm blanket. Just a few days ago I found myself back at what I have to admit is one of my all time favourite Italian restaurants in Singapore, and was hardly out of the taxi when I met the first of the Valtulinas outside of their restaurant at Jalan Bingka.
In an instant I was properly greeted Italian style, and promptly whisked into Perla Valtulina’s next door pastry boutique for a peek at her latest creations for their upcoming new restaurant and pastry boutique, to be located at 200 Turf Club Rd (#01-19) in Singapore.
Having not been back in Singapore for a while it felt I had missed quite some happenings on their side, not in the least that there is now a sit-in dining possibility at the pastry boutique – an option I thought brilliant for a chocolate addict such as myself – with the equally delightful possibility of takeaway gelato.
Naturally everyone has their own shortlist of things to do when swinging by their hometown and when the opportunity arises. One of those pit stops on my list is to hit the pretty touristy Long Bar at the Singapore classic Raffles Hotel.
The perpetual question when coming home to Singapore from a long stay abroad is – what developments will I discover this time?
The rapid speed of life in general and the perpetual state of flux and development in Singapore make for that the only constant one can expect in Singapore, is change itself. In the background would be the distant rumble of hundreds of gigantic diesel engines of the more than 400 container ships and tankers anchored along the skirts of the Singapore shoreline. The humidity, the temperatures and along the East Coast, the curious intermingle of the salty sea air and the familiar aromas of various types of food – Malay, Indian, Chinese, Nonya etc.
One of the distinctly comfortable things to find is that there still exists home made ice-lemon tea, and with it why not a portion of the Indonesian influenced Nasi Padang in a heartland coffee-shop of the East?
A comfortable lunch in a non-air conditioned place – a priceless comfort in a rapidly developing world.
I think my experiences with Mexican food prior to Casa Latina in Singapore, with the girls Azul and Janice, were mostly American Tex-Mex style limited to tacos, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, quesadillas and tequilas! Azul herself is from Mexico City, having lived in Singapore for some years now, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for this excursion on Mexcian culture via food when she introduced us to some Mexican fare right here in Singapore! And recently in November of 2010, Mexican cuisine was added by UNESCO to the list of world’s “intangible cultural heritage”.
In the past month of December 2010, I had the pleasure of organizing an executive education program delivered in Singapore for the Asian wing of a large Swedish multinational. The three moduled program that launched in Singapore focuses on the topic of Doing Business in Asia and the Singapore module in particular, focused on the Challenges of Leadership.
It was an evening of intrigue, to wine and dine in the combined master efforts of the Family Ferragamo, prior to this evening, better known to me for their craftsmanship in shoemaking than wine making, and Chef Carlo Marengoni of Ristorante Bologna at the Marina Mandarin in Singapore.
The evening’s conversation, despite the rounds of wines, revolved around the internationalisation of small niche businesses, such as the Il Borro portfolio of wines. And as I found out in conversation with both Salvatore Ferragamo and Franco Russo, who is the Sales and Marketing Director of Il Borro wines, the intention was to move towards an integrated experience of a luxury culinary tourism. Previously, wines were brought into dinner for just that specific context and event. Not much was explained about its background and where it came from, rather the focus was more on the wine making processes and the taste of it as set on the table. The aromas, flavours and tones were then strictly marked on a scorecard and the wine ranked according to the panel of diners that evening.
It was somewhere between lunch and tea, that I met with Valentino and Perla in the Ristorante Da Valentino, located along a stretch of previous shophouses at Jalan Binka, nestled in the midst of a housing estate in the Bukit Timah area that to me, was quite like Opera Estate where I grew up in the East of Singapore. Here Valentino has three units, a private dining room, a pastry shop and their main restaurant.
Upon entering the restaurant I was greeted by Singaporean families decked in their most casual Saturday wear, in t-shirts, Bermuda shorts and slippers, finishing off their lunches at the pink table-clothed tables, as if they were at home in their very own kitchens. The sight and the atmosphere could not help but fill you with a feeling of warmth and sincerity. You felt welcomed right into their family.
The Executive Chef for the restaurant and this family business is Valentino himself, and on the menu you would often find dishes created by his mother, Alma. As a guest, you could expect to be greeted and seated by his father, Gianpiero.
An exciting part of this venue is the pastries and dessert shop that is taken care of by Valentino’s sister Perla, literally adding the cherry on the top of the entire dining experience at Valentino’s.
Tucked away in the cozy heartland of Tampines in Singapore, not too far from Tampines SAFRA, I was surprised to find an ice-cream parlour with a sleek orange and cream interior called Blic. Following my instincts in finding good ice-cream, I went in. The place served up authentic homemade ice-cream and sorbets without preservatives, artificial flavours or fillers – a pure food philosophy that was right after my heart!
Ben Chung of Blic (Ben and Larry’s Ice Cream) is the creative force behind Blic and has created more than 40 ice-cream flavours of which some 20 flavours are rotatingly available at the counter at any one time.
That gorgeous melt! Seasalt Malt, Kahlua Cookies Caramel and Tiramisù.
Ben’s first original creation was Seasalt Malt, inspired by Japanese ice-cream parlours and a variation of a popular Japanese Seasalt Caramel he once tried.
Personally, I have to admit I’m not too adventurous when it comes to ice-cream flavours, preferring all my life to stick with dark chocolate, rum and raisin and coffee flavours. Then several years ago when sushi bars were becoming popular and established in Singapore, I tried Matcha or green tea ice-cream which I thought was radical! I’ve personally never tasted an ice-cream flavour that was sweet-salty as in this Seasalt Malt flavour, so this was a first! Another first was Kahlua Cookies and Caramel, where I’ve only ever tried the conservative Cookies and Cream flavour prior to my visit to Blic.
For the small community of Italians in Singapore, La Braceria is like a home away from home. Tucked away in a residential cove off 6th Ave, even the entrance of the restaurant is obscured by large, leafy potted plants, so that when you walk in, you feel as if you’re walking into a private garden of your very own.
Quiet and cozy, the interior is not large at all, though warmly lit. What immediately caught my eye was the brick pizza oven that features prominently behind the counter near the kitchen entrance, making it the sort of kitchen I would yearn to have at home.
In the middle Fabio Iannone, with friends.
In good company.
The crowd at La Braceria is distinct, willfully understated and elegant. Dressed mostly in smart casual, they are people who enjoy good food and wine and take their time doing so. You can expect too, to meet an eclectic mix of Europeans and Singaporeans alike at the restaurant.
The Pandan Chiffon Cake is a staple on the Singapore culinary scene, hitting right at the heart of the kampong and its people, so to speak. I grew up eating it at breakfast, tea-time and possibly any other time of the day in between full meals. Because it’s so lightly textured, it’s not unusual for fans of these chiffon cakes to finish about half of a cake before noticing what has happened, guilty that they hadn’t shared more of it with other guests at the table.
This gorgeous looking, moist, light and spongey pandan chiffon cake featured here, is not mine. It was baked and given to us by a family friend of ours named, Nurul.
The Raffles Hotel was established in the Late 19th century and rapidly became a meeting place for the rich adventure seeking class of western men of leisure, British colonial officers and businessmen seeking fame and fortune in the Far East, and to whom “See you at Raffles!” became the signature parting words.
To the general public, Raffles Hotel became famous through literature. Those who could not afford to travel but stayed home, read and dreamt, were swept away by the romantic writings of the greatest authors of their time, the most influential of which was probably Somerset Maugham who actually lived at the hotel and wrote some of his stores in the Palm Court.
In 1987 its importance was recognized by the Singapore authorities by naming it a National Monument, not a small thing in a city where anything older than last year could suddenly be torn down and replaced by something more modern.
Although it started out as something much more modest, the ambience inside the Hotel brings back echoes of colonial splendour with its unique blend of tropical gardens and classical colonial grandeur.
Stories and myths build romance and there are many such surrounding the Raffles Hotel.
Many of Maughams short stories deal with the lives of mostly British colonists in the Far East, and are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the colonists by their isolation. For example one story entitled “Rain”, which charts the moral disintegration of a missionary attempting to convert a Pacific Island prostitute. Maugham himself maintained that many of his stories presented themselves to him in what he heard during his travels, which made him leave behind a long string of angry former hosts. Which, is probably why he eventually found himself writing at a hotel, abuzz with even more rumours from all faraway outposts of the British Empire.
As its literary fame eventually faded away in a world dominated by digital social media, Raffles Hotel remains famous as the place where the Singapore Sling was invented by the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon sometimes during the first decades of the 20th century.
In this highly competitive culinary atmosphere that is Singapore and worse still, if the dishes in question belong to one of the country’s core ethnic groups of Chinese, Malay (even Nonya food), Indian or Eurasian, it isn’t easy to make it to the top recommendations list of places to eat of Singaporeans.
Muthu’s Curry along Race Course Road with its approximate 40 year long history came highly recommended as a place for good Indian food. What today is a restaurant chain, began in 1968 as a one-man hawker stall serving staple south Indian food on banana leaves. It was already famous during the 1970s for its full flavoured and generous servings of fish-head curry, and its signature dish has grown in popularity and reputation in its 40 years of development.
Just a quick tangent on Singapore eating…To get a feel for the local culinary scene, I would personally recommend that anyone visiting Singapore first hit a hawker center for their meals to try any, if not all authentic local food. Places such as the East Coast Hawker Center or the hawker center that is completely out of the city center that lies in the corner of Bedok in the East of Singapore (Bedok corner hawker center as I know it) serve pretty good inexpensive local fare. Other more familiar places that most visitors to Singapore might learn of from brochures obtained from their respective hotels or tour guides would be the East Coast beach (skip the seafood outlets, go for the hawker center), Chinatown for Chinese cuisine, Little India of Indian cuisine and Geylang for Malay cuisine that all have ethnic specific local cuisine.
Hawker centers are also known to charge a little less per dish / meal for no less tasty meals compared to their indoor air-conditioned counterparts of food courts and restaurants that you find along Orchard Road or in the heart of the city for example.
A basket filled with naan in a variety of flavours.
But alright, if you want out of the tropical heat after a long walkabout in Little India and you’ve heard about Indian food served on banana leaves, then Muthu’s Curry is a recommended experience for well-cooked authentic (mainly) south Indian food. The prices are mid-ranged, though definitely pricier than the coffeeshop and market stalls that you can find all around the area itself.
Singapore’s night life is a vibrant one and CHIJMES, located in the heart of the city center that’s a short walk from the river banks of Boat Quay, is one of the coziest places to visit by night. The scene of people mingling, moving to the beat and generally having a good time is a familiar one.
But walking through the early 1900s built CHIJMES (now brilliantly restored) in the morning has a different feel than being there at night. The entire place alive with people, good food and music just the night before, is absolutely still of activity. You witness tables and chairs arranged in good effort after the spoils of the night before and the mynahs true to their Sanskrit etymology, bright and cheerful, hardly minding the disarrayed furniture, walk the lawns with you and bid you good morning as if welcoming you to their turf.
The food culture is nothing short of fantastic in Singapore, where 24-hour eateries are quite common. Coupled with the dramatic changes of new buildings, new places to shop and explore – and I say this with absolutely delight – there are new places to eat! Singapore’s west in keeping pace with the city center’s developments, has also grown.
If you’re visiting Singapore free and easy and headed towards the Jurong Bird Park, you could make a stop over at the Jurong Point shopping complex that sits right beside the bus terminal, and explore one of Singapore’s heartland hangouts with general good food and a 24-hour grocery store called NTUC.
The extended wing at Jurong Point is not exactly new, but it’s the first time I’ve visited the place in almost a decade. I’d like here, to extend a warm Thank You to Professor C. Guan, who took the time to show us around the place and introduce the cafés Ji De Chi and Bakerzin .
Ji De Chi
The Ji De Chi café at Jurong Point has a vibrant culture where students and pensioners alike find their way there to have their favourite dessert. Translated from Mandarin, the words ji de chi means remember to eat, which I personally found ironic in my situation because it seems that I’ve been doing little else other than eat since my arrival.
I thought I was familiar with Singapore desserts having grown up here, but I was astounded at the array of mid-day snacks presented in the menu so much so that I had trouble picking out what exactly to have. It didn’t help that I pretty much liked all that I saw on the menu and the cookie monster in me wanted a little bit of everything.
Perhaps uncontestable is their puréed durian dessert, served cold with a touch of pomelo fruit and sago seeds.
The ambience of Ji De Chi is distinctly Chinese, where the theme and branding extends from the uniforms of the waitresses to the hard and squared wooden stools to the matching dark wood tables and decorations on the walls. It calls to mind an old school coffee shop, which these days in Singapore is a rather popular manner to style an eatery. The four-legged stools wouldn’t rank as some of the most comfortable to sit on, but they are nonetheless nostalgic in a sense and contributes to the tone and texture of the place.
Pictures of favourites or best sellers adorn the wall facing at Ji De Chi, helping customers navigate their choices.
Desserts are served hot or cold and you’ll be presented with a comprehensive menu that tells what you can expect from your order. Prices of desserts here range from low to mid-range, so you’re not likely to blow your budget on any mid-day snack here. If all else fails with reading the menu, a look at pictures on the facing wall will help navigate your choices.
Vanilla ice-cream with a hint of peach, arrived in a lovely presentation.
An innovative combination of a ripened slice of mango wrapped in glutinous rice and rolled in coconut flakes.
Overall, it’s a place that I wouldn’t mind visiting again, though in the Singapore context, it’s more likely that you spend your days discovering a new restaurant, a new eatery, a new hawker etc. and will hardly find the time to even go back to your favourites.
In contrast to Ji De Chi that is more oriental, Bakerzin at Jurong Point leans towards the occidental, in fact, French, with bright contrasting colours and neat interior decor.
The main counter of Bakerzin at Jurong Point.
The Bakerzin chain was established just over a decade ago and has its roots in French bread and pastries. So it was not surprising that what we spotted at this outlet and what we were drawn to, were the delectable looking macarons (petit gâteau rond moelleux) on display at the counter.
The macarons here are infused with a touch of Asia, so you’ll find variations of matcha or green tea maracons. You’ll also find variations of chocolate maracons and fruit flavoured macaros such as lemon, strawberry and banana – all equally sweet and scrumptious!
Iced-lemon tea, an all time favourite beverage when in Singapore.
Quieter in ambience than Ji De Chi at the time of our visit, which is something I perhaps appreciated after a day of walking around the busy shopping mall, it’s a place where you can relax and have more than just dessert. On the menu are soups, salads and even pizza.
When here, a recommended try for dessert, other than their macarons is their warm chocolate cake!
Every time I’m back in Singapore, I am immediately stunned at how much has changed since my last visit – new high rises that have plugged yet another green area, new roads I’m unaware of that make finding my way back home like a tour of the neighbourhood, an old favourite coffeeshop is gone etc., and then I am struck at how much that’s still and perpetually, the same.
First of all, all these well meaning information signs that are there to make us all feel happy and safe, while in reality perhaps create more confusion than help, such as this pedestrian sign that embellished a building site area in great numbers.
And then the obsession with perfection, that everything here has to be neat, clean and tidy. There are new and neat litter bins everywhere and not enough litter to go around. So even the insides of the litter bins are clean.
Clean on the inside as well – that’s efficiency on a whole new level.
And for exercise – shopping!
And then there’s Singapore’s national sport above and beyond everything – Shopping. That every year when the Winter rush and the New Year’s rush and the Spring rush is over, businesses think it is time to spice things up with the Great Singapore Sale. Regardless of your intentions there is no way not ending up buying at least something. Everything from designer clothes to hopelessly outdated electronics (from last month), shoes and household items alike, are on sale.
Not exactly a Renoir in atmosphere but Singapore architecture brings ‘sky light’ to a different dimension. While there is ample cloud cover on most days in this tropical city, the sun can be ferocious on a clear day and Singaporeans deal with the sun by carrying umbrellas in all sorts of designs and shapes – metallic or reflective ones on a sunny day to a plain matte black for the thunderstorms. So it’s perfectly natural that umbrellas or canopies are incorporated into building designs and walkways.
A patterned canopy tops off the pastel shades of windows in Clarke Quay.
Street name on pastel.
At Clarke Quay, you’ll find one of the prettier sky lights in the form of large umbrellas or canopies covering the walkways. Set against these brilliant overhanging structures are the roof tops and windows in pastel shades of colour that lends a festive flair to the place even at its busiest times.
It’s eye candy architecture.
Fountains under the umbrellas where children play.
Too add to the light-hearted mood of the place, the fountains at the central intersection of Clarke Quay invite children of all ages (and some adults too) to dance and play under its water arches, the laughter of the children synchronized with the pattering of the water from the fountains.
Yesterday came as one of the best days to take a stroll through the heart of Singapore’s financial district, it being Vesak Day on a Friday, leading up to a long weekend in this city country that hardly ever sleeps. Vesak is an annual public holiday, sometimes informally called “Buddha’s birthday”. This long weekend meant that the streets were virtually empty along Raffles Place, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. At the nearby parking houses, one could see such unusual signs as, 889 parking lots available…
We began at Raffles Place, walking through Boat Quay and landing up at Clarke Quay. Together with looking at old pictures of the area from an art gallery at Clarke Quay and then realizing what fantastic infrastructure they’ve built these days in the same spaces made the entire walk through the area surreal.
At Mulligan’s, Clarke Quay.
It’s quite a difference from a cool 8C in Sweden thereabouts to land in 28C with a humidity that constantly cloaks you. It doesn’t take long walking in this heat to make you want to run to the nearest water cooler for a drink and any drink sitting in a bucket of ice becomes all at once attractive and desirable!
Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, former beauty queen, and current academic – has this year graduated with a PhD from the University of Gothenberg in Sweden with a thesis that compares the management styles between her adopted country, Sweden, where she is a PR, and her native Singapore.
“I came to notice that there were many foreigners coming to Singapore to set up and run Asian market head offices. Among those were many Swedish organisations. Based on Singapore’s financial and economic strength, it was apparent that these foreign companies were part of what made Singapore a successful business hub,” she said.
Her curiosity led her to get in touch with businessman Jan-Erik Nilsson, who lived in Sweden. As one of the founders of the East-Indiaman Gotheborg III ship project, it was Jan-Erik who encouraged her research plans. In 2002, she left Singapore for Sweden to begin her doctoral studies. Four years later, she and Jan-Erik married.
The talented Eurasian has a BA (Hons) from the National University of Singapore and graduated in 2000 with two separate masters degrees: an MA in English Language from NUS and an MSc in Information Studies from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
As if she wasn’t busy enough with her studies during her undergrad days, she also took time to represent Singapore at the International Miss Universe Pageant in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. Around that time, she also appeared as an actress in the MediaCorp TV’s series Brand New Towkay. But her passion for academic research never waned, and she returned to academia.
She hopes her thesis Swedish management in Singapore: a discourse analysis study will help Swedish executives doing business in Singapore to better understand the culture here and will also “show how different cultural backgrounds can make or break any cross-national deal, however brilliant things look on paper”.
As well as her academic life Cheryl, who speaks Swedish and Mandarin in addition to English, keeps a fusion blog on her Northern European experiences, writing on fashion, food, travel and lifestyle.
Thank you, to the Eurasian Association of Singapore, for a wonderful write-up and an update on Eurasians around the world. The October to December 2009 issue of The New Eurasian is out, and personally, I’m already looking forward to the New Year’s Eve Maquerade Soiree! For more information on October to December’s upcoming events, please visit the EA’s website.