Looking for authenticity and local flavour, I headed to a hawkers market in Chinatown one weekday lunchtime following the crowds of office workers. Coming out of the MRT (the very clean and easy underground system) at Chinatown, the biggest queue of locals was by the Sichuan Mala hotpot stall. Not even sure what a hotpot was I wandered round in a bit of a daze overwhelmed by the choice. It was hot, humid and crowded. A particularly enthusiastic vendor encouraged me to try a freshly squeezed sugar cane juice; it was sweet, refreshingly cold with a hint of something subtly grassy – delicious, and it cost only $1.50 (Singapore dollars).
Next I queued up at the mala hotpot stall, asking two lovely Singaporean ladies in front of me in the queue to give me a hand, as they were a bewildering array of ingredients. The idea is that you choose things you fancy and the staff stir-fry them for you in mala sauce which is a spicy oily mixture of chilli, garlic, Sichuan peppers and spices.
I chose pork belly, bok choy, green beans, tofu/beancurd, garlic shoots, broccoli, mushrooms and beancurd skin, and my lovely new friends found me and my family a table to sit at and asked the cook not to put in too much chilli! I took a ticket number a little apprehensive about what we would end up with but the results were delicious; garnished with peanuts and fresh coriander, we got a big bowl to share with plain rice that was spicy, salty, intense and fresh.
Lunch cost $16 (Singapore dollars) for three.
That evening we decided to eat out in the neighbourhood in which we were staying: Kampong Glam. We had already tried fresh fruit that morning from a little store across from our hotel buying trays of pineapple, papaya and watermelon for just a few Singapore dollars. Further down the road, opposite the famous Sultan mosque, we found a small Arab Biryani restaurant called Islamic Restaurant. We ate a simple but delicious meal of chicken biryani and tandoori chicken from the Islamic set menu with naan bread and rice. The Islamic Restaurant opened in 1921 and is a bit of an institution; it has a great friendly old world ambience. The Biryani and Tandoori set menus cost $13 (Singapore dollars) each; we also had a soursop juice that cost $4 (Singapore dollars).
Our stay in Singapore was over all too soon but I manage to have one last delicious food experience at the airport. I had missed out on Little India so I was determined to try some vegetarian Indian cuisine. I tried a quartet of Indian dishes that were Peas Upmar with Sambar (semolina, carrots and peas), Wadai (deep fried lentils), Coconut chutney and Dhal.
Singapore was great; friendly helpful people, clean, safe public transport, stunning architecture and best of all, a whole array of wonderful authentic food to try – two days was not nearly enough so I’ll be back for sure!