Culture Food Travel

Didn’t I go to Singapore Too?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I started the blog off with tales of my Asia trip and then the blog was to morph into a lifestyle blog. Well, the “lifestyle” has been put on hold because of, well, my “lifestyle” – but all coming soon.

Well, referring to my trip in December & January, so far, “Asia Trip” has equaled “Taiwan” – at least until now.

I went to Singapore for a few days as well – I know, I know, its hard to tell, as there is nary a mention of that trip here on my blog. Why is that? Well, as Randy Jackson would say, “It was just alright for me Dog.”

A view from the Haji Lane area towards downtown Singapore

Singapore is a mix of Chinese, English, Malay (Indian) cultures. So, if you like food, you are in luck. And don’t get me wrong – I like it, and Singapore IS the cleanest and safest city on Earth. For example, I swear this happened:  

As we were walking down the street a leaf fell from a tree (we being me and my French-Polynesian tour guide extraordinaire Sofia. By the way, I never met a French-Polynesian tour/language guide who did not speak French or Polynesian, but that is another story…).

RIGHT AS IT HAPPENED, a city sanitation worker came with a broom and dust pan and scooped it up. UNREAL! I was certainly afraid to chew gum (outlawed in most areas) let alone spit or walk with dirty shoes.

The whole point of this trip was for me to stretch my comfort zone – but Singapore was not that much of a stretch. I now understand why many of my Caucasian friends love traveling there. The national language is English and there is a HEAVY British influence (the banks, the wine lists that are heavy on Bordeaux and Champagne, the architecture). Probably more important, the food in the mainstream areas is recognizable – steak frites in many joints, and, as Keanu Reeves on Celebrity Jeopardy would say, eleventy billion wine bars. And, no, not everyone knows Kung Fu.

Compared to Taipei, uh, Singapore was expensive! Anytime you get a large banking population, beautiful people, things are bound to be expensive. Lots of beautiful cars and women – but have to wonder how the everyday person affords it there?

Well, to get a good idea of how the everyday people of Singapore live, you must visit the hawker stands or food courts. They are the only cheap eats there. Great meals to be had for $2-$4 USD – with the Singapore specialty being the Hainanese Chicken Rice – basically just boiled chicken and fragrant rice-but boy, is it good.

Chicken Rice, A Singapore Specialty, from Tian Tian's in Maxwell Food Center - which, conveniently, was next to my hotel.
Yes, this is a menu. A board at a street food stand in the Chinatown section of Singapore
The first thing I had (after a nap) when I arrived in Singapore - ahhhhhh!
Strange Fact: Most places do not have napkins. You have to buy them - not kidding. Another way they keep the place clean.

The street food in Singapore is good…BUT…after being in Taipei, I think Singapore lives off its reputation (This is kind of how I feel about NYC – but that is another post). The reputation is mostly deserved, but somewhat over-hyped by all the Travel Channel “Singaporeati” (aka Bourdain and Zimmern waxing almost nauseatingly as to how good the food is) and, in this travelers opinion, is not quite up to par with Taipei when it comes to street food. I think Singapore also benefits hype-wise from its warmer climate HOT ASS CLIMATE (Note: I thought all the talk about the heat was bullshit given I had lived in Florida – nope, not bullshit – it is REALLY HOT there).


A few weeks ago, my good wine friend John Wight (go see him at Luce in San Francisco) was visiting NYC for his birthday. We hooked up for a Monday lunch at Les Halles since they do 50% off wine Mondays

He asked me if Anthony Bourdain has anything to do with the place anymore, and as I was explaining that Bourdain was nothing more than a marketing mouthpiece for Les Halles – no sooner did I get that out then in walked Tony to do a shoot at Les Halles…oops…

Anyway, as we were finishing lunch, Tony made eye contact with us and I said hi to him and that I had just been to his favorite Chicken Rice place in Singapore (Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in the Maxwell Road Food Center). We got instant street cred for that and John being in the biz, and he ended up talking with us for 10 mins and could not have been nicer.

Bourdain has been to Singapore dozens of times and waxed poetically about it, so I had to stand up for Taipei and say that I thought it was better and that a show in Taiwan was needed!

Back to Singapore positives – there are lots of cool areas, and you can definitely see the diversity. Sometimes the look and feel radically changes from one block to the next: A bargain & food hunter’s delight of a Chinatown seems to suddenly stop after you cross South Bridge Road and from there you magically walk into a few blocks that look like the French Quarter in New Orleans. A few train stops away (and let me tell you – it is a flat out joy to take the metro in Singapore – unbelievably modern, clean and fast – even the escalators go twice as fast), you are around Haji Lane and a heavy Indian influence. The NY Times did an interesting piece on Haji Lane – so I really wanted to go. It’s a cool and a strange spot at the same time – a tiny artist’s community that none of the artists can afford. Boutiques that sell $50 USD t-shirts as well as cold drinks since, as I mentioned, it is excruciatingly hot during the day in Singapore.

The Tanjong Pagar subway station in Singapore. I know, I know - looks like corporate offices - unbelievably clean
Small shops on Haji Lane. A hip artists community that artists cannot afford. This shop here sells both clothes and drinks - a product of the hot climate.
Plenty to do outdoors in Singapore - this is near Haji Lane
One of the "elventy billion" wine bars in Singapore. This area is right across South Bridge road from Chinatown and reminds me of New Orleans. When you go to a wine bar there, I hope you like Champagne or Bordeaux - a product of the huge British influence there.

Singapore has a lot of great things going for it – cool hotels (I stayed at the Scarlet boutique hotel), good shopping and interesting places to eat. You may find this to be a“backhanded compliment” to the food in Singapore, but the best thing I had was the pulled tea in an Indian section of town…Trust me, it’s an experience. It has nothing to do with the great oolong tea in Jeofen, Taiwan, but, believe it or not, hot pulled tea on a hot day is refreshing.

Pulled Tea in Singapore

If you do what I did – and only eat one “uber nice” meal, Singapore can be affordable. Aside from the great food courts and hawker stands, Singapore has a burgeoning high-end dining scene – new takes on traditional dishes. I went to one of the places I read about on my last night, Wild Rocket, and it was really good. It is definitely off the normal path, but because it was a little bit out of downtown in a quiet, residential district, you could have been anywhere in USA eating that meal.

At Wild Rocket, one of Chef Willin Low's signature dishes - laksa pesto linguine with quail eggs (I think we were hoping it had prawns, but it didn't). The waitress tried to keep us from ordering it saying it was an acquired taste, but it was delicious.
Lamb (and meat in general) taste so much better in Asia - its the real stuff with strong flavor.
You feel like you could be in any good restaurant in USA when you are dining at Wild Rocket - photo by Sofia - French/Polynesian guide extraordinaire

Also, the Buddhist temples in Singapore have some really interesting collections – and are good to visit even for those less than religiously oriented (like me).

A Buddhist Temple in Chinatown
Statue outside temple in Chinatown

Interestingly enough, after I left Singapore I was unsure if I would want to go back – hence the Randy Jackson quote at the beginning. But, as the time has passed and I write this, I realize that I did not see everything I may have wanted to see (I was only there for 3.5 days) and I owe it another chance. I now remember the cool galleries and shops in a more positive way – as well as the great gift-buying in Chinatown.

Thought this was true, not just of Singapore - of everywhere!

It was a much-needed excursion when I needed it (sorry, inside reference) and it was cool to get to a place you have always heard about and wanted to see – and after all, isn’t that what travel is all about?


1 thought on “Didn’t I go to Singapore Too?”

  1. Travel is always enlightening, in whatever form that may be. Personally I have immense love for Taiwan but, being Singaporean, I know where my preferences lie. You point out that Singapore wasn’t quite what you were looking for-largely because Singapore wasn’t much of a culture shock or boundary-stretching adventure. That’s largely because of Singapore’s history and role in the world. With modern Singapore being a product of the British East India company, the island’s role has always been that of a crossroads linking East Asia to South Asia and the Middle East, and Southeast Asia to the world (be it Europe, Australia etc). This outlook on the world has made Singapore a very cosmopolitan city in Asia in both its native born composition and its policy on immigration today. Thus, our hub status gives a position not too distant from that of a London, New York or Switzerland in terms of being a meeting place of people and capital. The strong British influence makes the description ever more apt. Noting this, in the context of what Singapore means to the region, its a great destination to explore. Please do return to our sunny island and see more. On a side note, I wouldn’t say that Malay and Indian cultures are synonymous as your paragraph above suggests. Malay in the Singaporean frame means those with descendants from the native peoples of the Malay Peninsula, the Indonesian islands or Singapore itself. They are a largely Muslim people as you probably saw in Kampong Glam/Haji Lane area. Cheers!

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