singapore


The New Yorker talks about all things food in this fortnight’s issue, and in it is a heartfelt and hilarious laugh-a-minute piece by my favorite writer Calvin Trillin and his adventures in my favorite country, Singapore! So when he told me he was going to my hometown to eat the food I grew up noshing, on the day I was star-struck at Singapore Day, he wasn’t lying!

To critics of Singapore’s hawker system, who believe that street food only tastes sanitary, but not authentic in hawker centers, Mr Trillin offers this insight:

“For years as I’ve walked past food stands in foreign lands, I’ve struggled to keep in mind that for an American visitor the operational translation for signs that ostensibly say something like “bhel puri” or ” tacos de nopales” is “Delivery System for Unfamiliar Bugs That You Will Bitterly Regret Having Ingested.”… Gathering food venders into hawker centers, …, meant that a Western visitor not only can have a safe shot at a variety of Singaporean delicacies but can do so in a setting so convenient that his energy is reserved for eating.”
Take that, you hawker center detractors! Even locals do not have iron clad stomachs, so indeed the hawker center is a boon to all eaters of Singapore food.

I’ve loved Calvin Trillin’s writing ever since I picked up an old copy of Alice, let’s eat! , and to read his take on Singapore, the system, the people, and last but not least the food that we are all hungry for is an extraordinary treat. His description of the culinarily homesick Singaporean, whose first stop after a 15 hour transcontinental plane ride is not home but to Geylang/Newton/East Coast Park for their favorite local food fix is so evocative and so personal I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, to the shock of the other patrons in the Korean restaurant where I was reading/supping. Mine happens to be Qiu Lian Ban Mian, and I do not even need to leave the airport for it. What’s yours?

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Sunshine days, tropical heat and snaking lines of hungry eaters. The ingredients that made Singapore Singapore were all present in Central Park on Saturday. In a bid to stir up some patriotism and elicit goodwill amongst the overseas Singaporeans, the government decided to stage an I LOVE SINGAPORE event, with Kit Chan belting out “Home”, the requisite VIP GOH speech (the DPM was there. you need to be Singaporean to understand the acronyms) and the stars of the show, hawker/street food.
The lines were a little overwhelming at first, but worked more efficiently that the “line that morphs into a triangle that morphs into a bunched up mess” queue system that happens when one tries to get onto an SBS bus or an MRT train. The food was also very good, since the government managed to pay the best hawkers to close shop for a week and fly halfway across the world with their barang barang, and cook for the priviledged few in NYC and nearby cities for free. The servings weren’t generous (they had to feed thousands afterall) but the quality was uniformly good, if not even better than in Singapore. When was the last time you ever got chunks of beef in your prata curry? Dawn, my excitable young cousin happily chomped away on kiliney kaya toast, prata, char kuey teow, chili crab and downed a bowl of peppery bak kut teh in the simmering heat. Pictures of local specialties follow…

Yeo’s should make Gerrie and I their new spokespeople… seriously… Walter poses happily

Prata on the griddle. A mundane sight in Singapore, but so exotic in New York


Mr Char Kway Teow showing off his stirfry skills on the oversized wok. Unfortunately Uncle is very law by law.. Flirting did not yield bigger portions

I had much more fun than I initially anticipated, and was hardly guilt-ridden about not studying for my exam on this gorgeous day. The pleasure intensified when I met Calvin Trillin, my favorite food writer and talked to him for a good 5 minutes. Mr Trillin was quietly minding his own business and snooping around the tented areas perhaps seeking respite from the heat when Walt helped me accost him and I just descended on him like a starstruck groupie. And now I know which type of fan I am, not the dumbfounded type but the crazily chatty type that would not let her idol get a word into the conversation. I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of Singapore restaurants in the city but drew a blank, being so excited to see him. After I finally blurted out the location of one of my favorite places, he looked genuinely disappointed and said “i know exactly where you’re talking about. But isn’t it Malaysian?” and left. Oh god… my one chance in promoting my fair island’s cuisine to a man with great appetite and discerning tastes, and all I could do was to tell him to go to a Malaysian restaurant!!! Thankfully he will be eating in Singapore very soon under the watchful guidance of KF Seetoh and hopefully that may redeem our reputation as the street food capital of the world!

Singapore (Malaysian) restaurants in the city to feed that occasional craving:

Sanur (18 Doyers St, only place in Manhattan with Nonya Kueh)
Nonya (194 Grand St)
New Malaysia (Chinatown Arcade, Bet Canal & Elizabeth Sts, the one I told Mr. Trillin about)
Jaya (90 Baxter St, Bet White & Canal Sts)