Diversity makes up the spice in our food, so expect to see anything from local hawker food to Turkish kebabs or French quiche at our food courts. A local dish that exemplifies our cultural mix is the fusion ‘rojak’ – a fruit salad that originated from our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia, the Chinese have added fried fritters, while the Indians have their version known as ‘Indian rojak.’
The health-conscious amongst us reference Western cookbooks and skip the peanut sauce, drizzling it with light vinegar.
The Francophiles in Singapore know there are many good restaurants helmed by French chefs who love the weather and the adventurous diners here. Unsurprising, since French delicacies have similarities with the food locals dare eat. Think of the French escargot: in Asia, where fried insects and fish eyes are a delicacy, cooked snails fit right in.
In typical Singaporean bargain-hunter mode, reviews of cheap, delicious escargots are aplenty: diners vouch for the Singapore bred-and-birthed Jack’s Place restaurant, where a plate of escargots come at a thrifty S$10 + +.
The term ‘hungry ghosts’ is not about hordes of hungry workers swarming the Central Business District at lunch time. The Chinese believe that in this month, their ancestral spirits return for a homely visit. To entertain their supernatural guests, stage shows ( ‘getai’ in Chinese) are put up, complete with bright neon lights, and glittering, bedecked singers.
These shows do not come cheap – businesspeople have been rumoured to pay thousands for a singer to perform. Onlookers expect to witness colourful entertainment, gyrating (human) audiences, and also bidding wars for ‘auspicious items’ such as religious deities. Supernatural sightings are not guaranteed.
Stanley Kwok, owner of Island Creamery, is your modern day ‘ice-cream uncle’. If you’re nostalgic for cold desserts with local flavours, then you’ll like what’s sold at Island Creamery. He’s made the ice-cream uniquely Singaporean with flavours like Teh Tarik (Malay for ‘pulled tea’), Pulut Hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) and Tiger Beer ice-cream, to name some of the localised offerings.
No need to wait for the ice-cream man to come to you, Island Creamery has handmade ice-cream readily available in its air-conditioned outlets.
The cubes of lard melting in Char Kway Teow rounds up its sinfulness, but It’s not just Char Kway Teow that is laden with calories. Local favourites such as fried ‘black’ carrot cake -not the Western pastry version- contains 566 calories, partially because this steamed rice cake is fried with dark, sweet soya sauce.
There is a reason for all this calorie-laden food; our ancestors worked long hours doing menial work when the country was gearing towards post-war independence and the calories kept them going. A newcomer to Singapore can be forgiven for wanting to chow down the goodness though; fried food in a hot hawker center with your top button undone is cathartic on a bad day.