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Devout foodies flock to the hawker stands in Singapore, one of the world's cleanest cities. Check out the tasty Hainanese Chicken Rice at the famous Maxwell Food Centre; you'll want to find the Tian Tian stall. Explore the other stands and salivate over the combination of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European flavors with such items as barbecue pork, steamed pork buns, fish cakes, and Hokkien mee (seafood pasta infused with special flavors). —Susan Sparks This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: William Cho/Flickr
Gardens by the Bay is a complex of theme gardens and steel-and-glass-domed conservatories located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. The stars of the complex are undoubtedly the Supertrees: man-made, tree-like structures that serve several purposes, including being vertical gardens housing a myriad of tropical plants. Collectively known as the Supertree Grove, the eighteen trees range in size from 25 to 50 meters. As in nature, no two trees are the same. Just below the "canopy" of several of the trees, held up by dozens of very thin cables, is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway that takes you through one part of the Supertree Grove. Walking among and looking up at the Supertrees is like being in a futuristic forest with trees from another planet. As dusk falls they light up and cast a warm glow over the grove—enough to light the way for a relaxing stroll. There are two 10-minute sound and light shows each night. If you make it up to the OCBC Skyway before it closes you can watch the second show from there. Besides the show, the Supertree Grove is a great spot to catch a nighttime view of Singapore's amazing skyline and shimmering lights.
I fell in love with this independent bookshop in Singapore. Browse hard-to-find magazines, art books, and novels plus vintage sunglasses and Pez dispensers at this independent shop. You’ll also find handbound notebooks and letterpress postcards produced by the shop under the brand name Birds & Co. I could have spent hours here. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.
You know you have found Tian Tian at the Maxwell Road Food Center when you see the line of people waiting for tender chicken. If there is one dish that can be considered the national dish of Singapore, this is it. The chicken is boiled until it is ready to fall off the bone. The water is used for the rice, allowing the rice to soak in the flavor of the chicken. The condiments are key—each person chooses a personal combination of sweet and spicy to flavor their chicken rice. A tour of Singapore is just not complete until trying this dish, and Tian Tian is the place to do it.
The Fountain of Wealth, located in Suntec City Mall in Singapore's central business district, is the largest fountain in the world. Based on a Hindu mandala representing the universe, the fountain is lovely in the afternoon, when you can enjoy its ambience with a lunch on the terrace. Or come in the evening when the lights come on and a laser performance dazzles.
Singapore’s newest garden is also the most whimsical. Gardens by the Bay offers two conservatories that resemble armadillos; giant steel-frame trees put on solar-powered light shows at night. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, established in 1859, house the world’s largest orchid collection and a Healing Garden with more than 300 medicinal plants. Photo by Maik Ter.
When I asked some locals where to eat late-night, I was directed to the Lavender Street Food Court. I passed on the turtle soup and instead feasted on dim sum and the famous Singapore chilli crab.
Bam, slap, thwack. Woosh, woosh, sss. Ee, zzz, clang, plop. Thank you, auntie! Szrkst, szkst. Aaahh. This is the audible life cycle of Mr. Mohgan's Super Crispy Roti Prata. The libretto of the above prata operetta goes something like this: Mr. Mohgan throws a round lump of dough he's made last night before slamming it flat with his palm. First flip hits the aluminum countertop, then three consecutive flips in the air follow. It drops onto the hot griddle gleaming with ghee. Iron spatula fries the prata with loud scrapes, the only sign of authority from a mild-mannered man. Finally, it lands on top of a mountain of its brethren, and Mrs. Mohgan delivers it with dahl, mutton curry, or assam fish (the latter is best). She is so lovely you'll want to hug her—then you bulldoze the round bastard love child of Indian sub-contentinal paratha into your mouth. Here in prata spa, you sigh in contentment. If commercial prata, defrosted from factory dough at most food courts and coffee shops in Singapore, is as substantial as Justin Bieber, then Mr. Mohgan's is the sound of soul and the gospel of ghee. He must have sold his soul to the devil, at the crossroads of Crane and Onan in Joo Chiat, to ply prata with fingers light enough to inject strata of fluff encased between lightly seared, flaky surfaces. A flatbread normally regarded as a gut bomb that tastes like cloud nine? Right flippin' on.
Singapore’s largest Muslim house of worship, the gold-domed Sultan Mosque, is the focal point of the Kampong Glam neighborhood east of Little India. Walk along the nearby pedestrian-only street to browse trinket stalls and then head over to Haji Lane for its hipster clothing boutiques. A popular evening destination, the area becomes lively with bar goers and hookah smokers who linger at sidewalk tables. Along Arab Street, you’ll find fabric shops, a reminder that the area was once a textile district. After exploring the neighborhood on foot, take a break at one of the many sidewalk cafés for some fresh mint tea and homemade hummus with ground lamb. You can find authentic Lebanese cuisine at Beirut Grill on Bussorah Street.
Wandering around Singapore's Chinatown, I stumbled upon the city's oldest Hindu Temple. Somehow both beautiful and creepy, it is full of intricacies and mystery.
I’m used to chefs telling me they’ve made everything I’m eating: the butter, the bread, sometimes even the wine. But Singapore’s André Chiang takes the handmade ethos to the extreme at his Restaurant André. He proudly claims responsibility for the slightly uneven edges of my unglazed clay plate, bowl, and saucer. He molded and fired half the dishware in his restaurant. “I used to take pottery classes. I kind of like the imperfection,” he says. Menus are decorated with Chiang’s rough line sketch of the three-floor townhouse the restaurant occupies. For items the chef doesn’t make with his own hands, he collaborates with other experts. He worked with a Danish carpenter to design the dining room chairs and with a Japanese artist to create the porcelain bread baskets. His French nouvelle dishes, like artichoke barigoule with grilled needlefish shine the spotlight on a different sort of craft. “My goal is to highlight the produce that the farmers labor over,” he says. “The ingredients have been grown and harvested with care. That’s an art worthy of recognition.” Restaurant André. 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd., 65/6534-8880. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Photo courtesy of Restaurant André.
Serangoon Road, the main thoroughfare that cuts through Little India, is crowded with vendors selling saris, chai, and marigold and jasmine garlands, which residents deposit at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The Mustafa shopping center, home to the Gold Mart, is open 24 hours a day, should the need for a bangle or a necklace strike at an odd hour. —Jessica Battilana 320 Serangoon Rd., 65/6295-5855. Photo courtesy of AmAn Khan, Istock. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
The best fast food in Singapore's central business district can be found at Lau Pa Sat (Raffles Place MRT stop). This 150-year-old former fish, fruit, and veg market was converted into a collection of hawker food stalls in the 1970s. The market is shaped like an octagon with eight alleys emanating from the center. There are about 75 different stalls to choose from, selling everything from curries and dosas to dumplings and pig organ soup. You are sure to find whatever it is you are craving. When in doubt, do what the Singaporeans do and join the longest queue! Here are my top picks: Shanghai deep-fried pork and spring onion buns from the stall in the center at the top of Street Six. These are to die for. Help yourself to a little plastic saucer of chili paste for dipping. Thunder Tea Rice at Stall 12 on Street Two. Mohamed Restaurant at Stall 61 on Street Five. Get a plate of murtabak (stuffed roti prata) to share. Fresh lime juice or iced kopi (coffee) from the beverage stand in the center.
In a city obsessed with food, you’ll find some of the best, most authentic, and most inexpensive dishes at the hawker centers. Singapore resident K.F. Seetoh’s Makansutra guidebook shepherds you through thousands of stalls, pointing out “die die must try” dishes, including fish-head curry and roti prata flatbread. —Jessica Battilana Photo by France Ellen Pe-Aguirre. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
Head to Ann Siang Hill near Chinatown when you want to get away from the crowds in the city. During the day the open doors welcome you into restored shop houses with intricately designed tiles leading the way to chic and stylish clothing. At night enjoy the happening bars, the rooftops with views, the great vibes, and the bursts of color.
Tour the spice garden at Fort Canning Park with a botanist to see and smell chilies of all types as well as lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, curry leaves, limes, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Fort Canning Park is bounded by Hill Street, Canning Rise, Clemenceau Avenue, and River Valley Road. —Jessica Battilana Photo courtesy of National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
Food is an obsession in Singapore, and eating here is like a sport. When Singapore's king of hawker food, K.F. Seetoh, takes you on a food crawl, you know you're in for a serious challenge. Our first of five food center stops was Old Airport Road hawker center for the prawn noodle soup (studded with cuts of pig's tails that are eaten like corn on the cob) at stand #01-98.
The towering Marina Bay Sands development looks like an enormous space ship dropped down on the waterfront in Singapore. An outpost of the hip Bali beach club Ku De Ta sits on the 57th floor along with an enormous infinity pool. Down below are a floating night club and a floating Louis Vuitton story. The balls in the bay are wishing balls that are used for the New Year's Eve celebration.
Recently, a rumor infected Facebook like Snooki strutting into La Scala: Chin Mee Chin—a 98-year-old confectionery in Singapore's most laid-back neighborhood, one that shrugs off skylines with acronyms and nestles on its own terms in Straits Chinese architectural splendor—was closing. A rare moment of panic and stress rattled every Peranakan tile in Katong: This is where our grandparents gossiped, where our parents had their first dates, where we read on weekends before being shooed out for lingering. The rumor was as vicious as C.M.C.'s kaya is legendarily viscous, as a rich, stick-to-your-guts coconut jam perfected by Hainanese cook Mr. Tang when he opened it in 1925. It was also dispelled as quickly as the custard puffs and eclairs sell out straight from the oven. A sigh of relief fluttered down East Coast Road, emanating from C.M.C.'s old-world ceiling fans. That a humble homemade bun, toasted over charcoal before gobs of kaya are slathered on, could find itself at the center of a diabolical urban legend means it's time for it to go global epic. I'll get lynched in my village for breaking the omerta of our oral pleasures and inviting the world over for the best kaya on earth, but I'll be your Paul Revere of palate patriotism. Just leave things as you find them. As the third generation of aunties who run C.M.C. have. Because on an island where Michelin'd bakers have docked, C.M.C. kaya buns will have their croissants and kouign ammans for breakfast any day.
I remember the first time I had a traditional Singaporean breakfast. I was in Changi Airport on my way to an adventure. A traditional breakfast consists of 3 things: 1) Kaya toast and butter. Kaya is made from a type of leaf plus coconut jam, resulting in a beautiful, green, sweet spread 2) a soft boiled egg, and 3) thick Kopi, or pulled coffee, with condensed milk. With all the dynamic foods to be found in Singapore, sometimes the simple ones are overlooked. Next time you’re in this small island country, or stopping on your way to your next adventure, treat yourself to something simple and perfect. You won’t be disappointed.
One of the best parts of Singapore is Little India. The smells, people, and culture bring a little reality to this very manicured country. When I lived in Singapore five years ago, I used to love to visit this North Indian restaurant called Suriya. The food is great, the price is right and, since mostly Indians dine here, the food is very authentic. If you have a craving, just stumble in and grab a banana leaf full of goodness!
Regarded as one of the best zoos on the planet, a unique feature of the Singapore Zoo is the lack of fences to be found anywhere on the property. Exotic wildlife from all corners of the globe are allowed to roam freely throughout the facility, with strategically placed moats and land barriers serving as natural boundaries. Here, a curious, yellow-eyed inhabitant poses comically for the camera.
Chef André Chiang of Singapore's haute dining spot, Restaurant André, has an obsession with the Snickers bar. The young chef reinvents the classic American candy each year for his menu. He wanted to offer his guests a timeless chocolate dessert and realized that the components of a Snickers bar—chocolate, caramel, nougat, nuts—work perfectly no matter how you mix and match them. In past years he's made a white-chocolate Snickers, deep-fried Snickers, and a Snickers-flavored ice cream. When I ate there in December, he served me this fancy version which consisted of chocolate and peanut crumble, nougat cream and a dollop of chocolate-dusted Snickers ice cream.
I was fortunate enough to live in Singapore for a four-month internship, and I never ceased to be amazed at the fantastic hawker food there. One of the best hawker centres that I visited was the Old Airport Road Food Centre. I couldn’t get enough of the dragon fruit juices or chocolate avocado smoothies!
Even if you aren't staying at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, you can still enjoy a cocktail in the Sky Park next to the impressive infinity pool as the sun goes down. With views over the marina and central business district, the city eye candy is sufficiently attractive to make the expensive drinks worthwhile. If you come early enough there is no cover charge, and if you stay late enough you can join the posh bar crowd on the dance floor, where everyone parties like it's 1999. Other fabulous rooftop bar options around the marina include Level 33 in Marina Bay Financial Centre, Kinki rooftop in Customs House, and of course One Altitude, the highest rooftop bar in Singapore. Sometimes the vertigo is worth it.
In the center of bustling Chinatown, the New Majestic Hotel offers 30 rooms outfitted by Singaporean artists with such features as full-wall mirrors, four-poster beds suspended from the ceiling, and garden terraces. Windows along the bottom of the lap pool let swimmers peek at the Majestic Restaurant, which serves grilled rack of lamb in Chinese honey with pan-fried carrot cake. From $306. 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Rd., 65/6511-4700, newmajestichotel.com. Photo courtesy of The New Majestic Hotel. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
Pepper crab, buttered asparagus, and a frosty brew—this is probably one of the top five meals I've ever had. You'll find it at Hua Yu Wee, out toward the airport. Go there.
You can find almost anything your heart desires in Singapore, but you have to know where to look. If you want unique souvenirs, skip the megamalls and stick to street markets and specialty stores. You can bargain hunt at the Chinatown Night Market near Pagoda Street and stuff your suitcase with lacquered bowls, fancy chopsticks, and silk robes. For brightly colored porcelain vases and antiques, head to Katong, a traditional Peranakan neighborhood in the east. And if you’ve always wanted a taste of Bollywood, check out sari specialist Jinder’s on Selegie Road just south of Little India.
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