As you walk around Hong Kong, you realize that there are those who visit and who even do business in the country, but who never get involved, like a bystander that avoids the puddles when it rains, and then there are those who are living the very heartbeat of Hong Kong because they must.
Hong Kong Museum of Art, flanks one end of Avenue of Stars along Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui, providing visitors a perfect starting point for walking down the waterfront.
These two sides of the same coin is most poignantly illustrated at Tsim Sha Tsui, along Victoria Harbour that shows the two facets of Hong Kong still meeting in this day and age, one of old China and one of what is modern China demonstrated literally by two vessels of different times passing each other. It is at this waterfront that western savvy gathering in The Peninsula, Intercontinental and Shangri-La meet eastern traditional that is just a stone’s throw from the harbour, down from Nathan Road at Mong Kok’s street stalls and wet markets.
Characteristic of Hong Kong is the information overload that greets you along its busy streets, not only from signboards that hang abovehead, but by all the minute happenings along the street and around every street corner. From the movement of goods from van to store, to the bargaining for the best prices and the rush for buses, taxis and the MTR, it’s tempting to want to observe everything when you’re there. For a first time visitor, it’s perhaps sometimes easier if you just ignored for the most part, the things that happen around you in order not to feel overwhelmed by it all, for Hong Kong like Singapore with a sliver of difference, seems also a city that hardly sleeps.
These pictures were taken mostly in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, with the wet market scenes most familiar and heartwarming to me.
Strangely enough the most common meat dinner in Sweden – at least in the mind of the Swedes themselves – would be a French slice of beef or an entrecôte, with fries on the side. But how did it come to be like this in the land of elks and the Midnight Sun?
Well contrary to Singapore, Sweden does not really have a tradition of eating out on a daily basis. In Singapore one would eat out three times in a day (and then some inbetween) without thinking about it, but in Sweden eating out has always been a little bit of an event where people are more likely than not to dress up a bit and expect something out of the ordinary. The up side of this is that this attitude from bygone days until now had helped create a ready market for gourmet cooking and fine dining, which in turn, had helped skyrocket Swedish culinary art to world fame.
However in 1954 the ‘French Bistro’ was introduced into the Swedish food scene by Chef Yves Fitoussy at the newly opened restaurant Cassi in Stockholm. Here the open bar kitchen was introduced where steaks could be fried very quickly in front of the guests and served instantly over the counter, and with French Fries – also a novelty at the time – on the side. The impact was tremendous.
The upcoming weekend is the traditional celebration in Sweden of the absolute longest day during the whole year and consequently the shortest night. Originally a pagan tradition, it is still celebrated with dancing around the midsummer’s pole – symbolizing fertilization of the soil – and in anticipation of bountiful harvest.
Nowadays the harvest is not so much the issue as a splendid opportunity to have a barbecue party in the garden and meet friends. With this in mind I would like to share one of the simplest ideas of the whole year as a perfect dessert – plain vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.
The strawberries however, not travel well and should be had ideally directly from the field.
All things considered this might actually be on of the few occasions where Scandinavia have an advantage over tropical Singapore. They might not have ripe mango, rambutan or lychee but – they do have sun ripened strawberries.
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.
In mid June, Sweden arrives to an outdoor temperature and general climate we have more or less permanent in Singapore – warm, though less humid. To Swedes this but a short pleasure that lasts for a few summer months.
At this time of the year, the remarkably short nights slowly transform the warm evening sunlight to a warm dusk that after midnight eventually changes back into a Nordic lavender coloured morning. You can sit there and just look at it outdoors in your garden, cuddled up into a blanket, cupping your favourite hot beverage.
In the pot.
The long dusk-dawn period with its purple hues, apart from turning the entire Nordic region romantic, also begs for garden parties. It is the perfect time to chit-chat with friends about everything and nothing and eventually, you realize that you have stayed up all night and that the morning has broken into a new day.
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.