A day of eating

Written by Chaz on 5 July 2011

We began Tuesday, our third day in Singapore, with one of my favorite foods we had on our trip: mee siam, a spicy noodle dish. Vernie explained that, unlike in the United States, any food can be eaten at any meal. Back home, I might have cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a more prepared meal for dinner, but in Singapore, I could eat those in any order. Except they would probably all be something spicy.

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We bought the mee siam at a “coffee shop,” which in Singapore is nothing like a Starbucks. In fact, it’s more like what an American might call a food court (though, in Singapore, a food court is yet another thing). A coffee shop is made up of a bunch of different stalls, each selling one or two dishes, and only one stall sells drinks. The drinks stall is usually the most lucrative and is thus usually run by the owner of the whole place, who rents the rest of the stalls to other food sellers.

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Though plenty spicy, especially because of the chili we mixed in, the mee siam was also a little sweet, which I thought made it an especially palatable breakfast meal, among the various spicy noodle dishes we had. Though the name, which means Siamese noodle, suggests a connection to Thailand, it’s yet another of the only-in-Singapore dishes that are so plentiful.

After we gobbled up the mee siam, Vernie got us a dish of tau hway, a sweet soy dish that reminded me of the banana in coconut milk that we made in cooking school. Though simple in its sweetness, the texture of the soy made it almost like ice cream.

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Never ones to miss a market-going opportunity, we took a lap through the adjoining market and hawker center, another uniquely Singaporean term that refers to basically a large coffee shop (which is basically a food court).

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After breakfast, we lounged around Vernie’s apartment for a little bit to catch up on blogging and build up our hunger for lunch. Her friend Ivan joined us for lunch, and generously agreed to drive us since our lunch place wasn’t very convenient to public transportation. Yes, even in Singapore, such a place exists.

Our lunch dish, katong laksa, was another noodle dish, but it was totally different from the mee siam. It was much soupier, and like a Thai curry, it was based on coconut milk. Also more or less unique to Singapore, katong laksa comes from the Peranakan cuisine that results from a mixture of Chinese and Malay food. It’s found especially in the eastern part of the island where Vernie lives, from which it takes the Katong part of its name. Some even call it Singapore’s national dish.

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The laksa was much less spicy than the mee siam, and of the many noodle dishes we’ve tried, it was one of the most flavorful but least spicy. It came with an otak-otak, a fish cake wrapped in a banana leaf, that could be eaten with the laksa. We also had a plate of rojak, fried dough and fresh fruit in a sweet brown sauce. The rojak made a great side to a noodle soup.

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Our experience at the laksa place underscored the value of having a local guide for our food tour. The food was delicious, but there’s no way we ever would have found it on our own, and we probably wouldn’t have known what to order even if we had.

After lunch, we stopped by Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, a well-known bakery. I had told Vernie that I wanted to bring some kaya, the Singaporean coconut jam, back to the U.S., and she said Chin Mee Chin was the best place to get it — it’s where her family gets it. So I got two little plastic containers of freshly made kaya to pack into my suitcase.

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Ivan dropped us off at the MRT, and we headed downtown to visit two of Singapore’s distinct ethnic neighborhoods, Chinatown and Little India. We made loops through the heart of each, exploring the various trades and shops that have become particular to the two neighborhoods.

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Eating can be exhausting, so we headed back to Vernie’s for a swim and a nap before our dinner plans.

 

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