You'll never go hungry in Singapore, I was told. There is food on virtually every corner, and many places are open 24 hours And in this cross-roads city, it's not just the sheer number of restaurants, but the incredible variety of cuisines that are available. I ate Malay food, several different types of Chinese cuisine, Indian food, Indonesian food, Japanese food, Middle Eastern food, and one night, Italian. For the most part I tried not to eat anything I ate at home, or that I thought I could easily find at home, and generally let my hosts do the ordering.
What did I like? Fried bananas with red bean paste. Delicate pancakes folded over slivers of duck with crispy skin. (The rest of the duck returned later that meal cut into tiny bits and stir fried with green onions and puffs of rice noodle.).
Balls of spicy chicken thread onto a skewer and grilled. They are piled onto trays and when you order they are rapidly picked off the top of the stack, dunked in sauce and slid into a bag.
Tiny, the size of my fingernail, deep fried prawns, heads, tails, shells and all. Salty and crunchy, they were as addictive as pretzels. Once I got over eating the eyes.
Singapore's signature disk, chili crab. Think Maryland crabs, but spicier and larger. They are typically sold by weight, and served with small buns that have a fluffy white interior, perfect for sopping up (and moderating) the spicy sauce. I had them at a lovely, elegant restaurant not far from the university where I was staying. You eat these with your hands, it's definitely a messy affair, so when they brought out the crab, they also tied bibs around us. Unlike the traditional lobster bibs, no weird graphics!
A cup of thick plain yogurt with mango sauce, bought at a hawker's market. (Hawker's markets are collections of food stands, like Philly's food trucks, but all gathered in one spot. Incredibly cheap, wonderful ways to sample lots of different things.)
Prata, a fried flat bread. Think tortilla or naan. (See the photos, it's a marvel to watch being made - like pizza dough, but at high speed!)
Steamboat buffet. You order two types of broth which are brought to the boil on a hot plate on the table. Pick what you would like from a list of about thirty different things to cook in the broth. Thin slices of beef, whole prawns, spinach, lettuce, tofu. We had a spicy broth and an oxtail broth. All this came with a steady stream of soup dumplings, steamed dumplings with a bit of meat inside and a tablespoon of broth. I hiked about 3 miles in the morning, and another 3 in the afternoon, ate fruit and yogurt for lunch and still couldn't do justice to this marvelous meal - or have room for dessert (though I did try a bite of a "jelly" of unknown flavor, definitely herbal).
Pizza. Crisp, perfect anchovy pizza.
Acquired tastes that I didn't acquire. Sesame ice cream. I like green tea ice cream, I like sesame as a flavor, but this combination did not do anything for me. Korean street sausage. Think a corn dog, rolled in potato cubes and deep fried. Another hawker's market sampling, at a stand that was supposed to be the best place in Singapore to get this treat.
Barley water. Soy milk, unsweetened or with simple syrup stirred in. My usual drink of choice (Diet Coke) was hit or miss. I could always find it at the hawker's markets, but some restaurants only served non-diet sodas. Lime juice turned out to be a fine option. No alcohol, on top of the jet lag that would have been a sure way to sleep through a meal!
Things I was too chicken to try! Durian. Apparently you either love or hate this stinky fruit. (I asked the students doing a writing workshop with me to do an exercise about durian - it was instructive for us all!) The smell is so strong and off-putting that you cannot bring it on public transportation in Singapore, and it's banned from many hotels. After one of my hosts told me that he tried durian to see what his wife so loved about it, I asked him what it was like. "I threw up!" This was not an encouraging sign. I did see fallen durian on my walk in the jungle, but never managed to find a good time to sample it. Dinner with my university hosts just did not seem like quite the right spot!
Pig offal soup. It's the name, totally the name. I have it on good authority that it's actually quite tasty!