Saturday, September 25, 2010

Singapore III: The Final Smackdown

Here's the final installment of my Singapore adventures. Is it food? Of course it's food. It's Singapore.

(I also suggest checking out Wendy's blog entry about our trip. She mentions some non-food experiences like the amazing airport line and the racist subway baby. She also mentions omiyage, the Japanese tradition of bringing back crappy little gifts for coworkers, which I still don't entirely understand, since I spend most of my life trying to throw away the sort of things people bring as omiyage. Good thing she was along, or I would probably have seemed very discourteous to our office staff!).

Penang Hawker fare at the York Hotel:

Coincidentally mere yards from our hotel, this Malay smorgasbord was brought to our attention by Wendy's Singaporean friend Grace. A bit pricey to get in (well, compared with our $5 Little India dinner, anyway) but once inside, it was all you can eat, and weekend dinners included beverages as well. Here is Rose Bandung Drink, which we had before:

Too sweet. Not syrupy-sweet, even though it's made with syrup - it really almost tastes like you added the rose syrup to confectioner's sugar. Actually, they did, as far as I know. The green one here is Calamansi Juice, a form of lime juice. Absolutely delicious.
Top: Banana pancake, which I believe is called Apam Balik. Lovely, light and dessert-y, but we got it first because the line was shortest. Bottom is Penang Laksa (laksa is a type of dish, Penang is a region). Too spicy for me, but Grace informed us it's a Singaporean favorite.

Clockwise from top: Kway Teow Soup (lovely mild chicken soup-y broth with cilantro, my favorite), Prawn Mee soup (I think, too spicy for me), and oyster omelette (my second favorite. Creamy, fluffy, delicious. There was a warning sign at the stall cautioning you to enjoy it in moderation... apparently too much oyster can have ill effects.)

Left: Penang Rojak (mystery brown sauce over fruit; too much cucumber for me and I didn't much care for the sauce); right, Lor bak (essentially a varied tempura dish; fabulously crispy and fresh).

There were other dishes too, which I'll spare you, except to comment that no matter how much somebody tries to convince you otherwise, cuttlefish is inedible. Your first tip-off should have been the fact that the cuttlebone, hung up in budgie cages to allow the birds shave down their beak tips, comes from this nasty mollusk. I don't know about you, but I prefer not to eat things other creatures use as nail files. The Koreans have a monstrous yet popular dried cuttlefish snack. Justin and I theorize that the recipe goes something like this:

- Take used sneaker sole
- Smoke over burning tires until dry. Consistency should approximate gum scraped from beneath a desk.
- Dip in peanut butter.
- Gnaw vainly for a few minutes, then surreptitiously throw away.

Let it be said here that even Southeast Asians, who (I theorize, due to historical economic problems) can make food out of anything, could not produce an edible cuttlefish dish. I am hereby closing the door forever on cuttlefish.

The downside of the Penang Hawker Fare was the lines:

Took me about 15-20 minutes to get the Char Kway Teow (freaking delicious). It is kind of surprising, after our subway experiences, that nobody cut the lines. They did have to post signs saying a maximum of two dishes per person. If you go, go with friends, so you can make more efficient use of your line time.

Newton hawker stalls:

Newton had some bad PR when Justin and I last visited Singapore because of a skeezy hawker who served a bunch of American tourists and ended up charging them $20 a prawn. Signs all over the place remind you that it is illegal for people to sell to you at the tables for just this reason: you have to be able to see the posted stall prices. Wendy held down the table and waited with our luggage while I went around to the stalls to order. I was a bit trepidatious but all went smoothly and deliciously.

Since we'd had Malay and Indian food, I tried to get a bit of Singapore's other cuisines: Chinese and Muslim. In front of me is one of Justin's favorite dishes, a semi-bitter Chinese vegetable stir-fried with garlic, and in the below shot is a lamb murtabak. Murtabak involves a crisp eggy pancake/crepe with different items cooked in; in this case, ground lamb. There's a curry dipping sauce on the side. The drinks I'm holding are lime juice and teh tarik, which our Korea coworker Paul discovered in Malaysia by pointing to some old guys and asking to try whatever they were drinking. It's a special black tea with piles of sugary condensed milk, which you can get hot or iced. Absolutely amazing.

The downside to Newton? Besides the slightly stressful ordering (people holler at you to try to get you into their stalls, so you have to move quickly) and the overwhelming volume of choice, it has to be the fact that this is one of the hardest to get to places I've ever eaten. Not in terms of location - it's right beside a subway stop - but in terms of access. Presumably to prevent jaywalking, the entire complex has bars lining the sidewalks. You have to get there via a wretchedly steep overpass. Witness Wendy grapple with her omiyage-filled suitcase:

And that's all from Singapore!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kyushu National Museum

Many moons ago (actually, just one moon, almost) Justin and I went to the Dazaifu Flea Market,
where the weather was hot as a certain location's proverbial hinges. At the peak of the day's heat and sun strength, from about 12:00 to about 3, we bailed on the outdoor market to take refuge in the Kyushu National Museum.

The museum is several sets of escalators and moving walkways away from the temple complex, and you actually have to go through a mountain to get there. This sort of thing is not so exciting to my Yinzer husband, because putting paths through things is practically a Western Pennsylvania regional pastime, but to an Ohioan, it's kind of wild. When you pop out, you get this neat view:

I love how the museum blends into the hillside and gives you a view of what you just came through. Very clever.

The ground floor is free. One of the first things we saw was this fellow, engaged in a life-or-death struggle with two poofy dragon puppets:

Action shot:

We also saw one of the wacky Kyushu festival floats, with the red fellow in front taking a swan dive.

Is it offensive to say "Banzai?" What about "Geronimo?"

Justin tried on a Hakata costume, sort of:

The upstairs of the museum had more local history but for an entry price. Since we were technically still matriculated Edinburgh students at the time, we were able to get in for the student rate, about 240 yen or $3.00,or maybe $30, these days. It was worth that price but I'm not sure the full price would have been worthwhile. There are some cool individual items, like a buried pot of copper coinage (apparently it was imported from China to help stabilize the economy, but so many people hoarded it and buried it that inflation spiraled out of control) but the curation is minimal. Items are presented in a typical Asian museum style, which is to say, in cabinets by type, with little context for usage. Even I can only look at so many glass cabinets full of pottery shards.

If you're at Dazaifu, it's a great place to beat the heat, with a cute little gift shop. But stick to the free floors; the others really aren't worth the price.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Singapore Subway: Train is coming!

I have a huge post to write and put up about more Singapore food, but I thought maybe you guys could use a change of pace from Justin and me incessantly describing what we eat. The truth of the matter is that we work very long hours - we get to work by 7:30 and if we have to leave before 5:30 in order to free up our classrooms for after-school classes, then we keep working when we get home. As much as we like things like flea markets and museums, they're usually closed by the time we're free. Restaurants fit into our schedules much better.

BUT. Wendy and my gallivanting about Singapore in pursuit of said food would not have been possible without the support of the delightful Singapore subway system. This is a subway system that cares. It does not, for instance, wish for you to strip off your clothes to create a lasso in pursuit of an item dropped on the tracks:

Whether this is about your likelihood of getting hit by a train or the way you look in your jockeys is up for debate.

They also are deeply concerned about queuing. Singapore is a bit schizophrenic here. As a former British colony, Singapore favors polite waiting, but it is also a country ethnically dominated by East Asians (Chinese), a country in which queuing is generally perceived as a sign of weakness. (See my post from The Educated Burgher contrasting Scottish and Korean queuing styles for more details).

Consequently the subway has concentrated a great deal of effort in increasing queuing courtesy. This includes posters:

Stickers featuring women who got their makeup done at the Project Runway drag queen episode:

and a jingle!

I think "Train is Coming" is my second favorite random Asian song, behind the Korean entry, "Sweet Home Forever" (theme song for the HomeEver brand of grocery stores). Japan, you better get cracking!