Monday, October 18, 2010

Tasting Singapore

Shucking oysters at Oscar's in SingaporeI fly in and out of Singapore's excellent Changi Airport multiple times every year. However, I had never taken the time to visit the city since my vacation here four years back. Nothing much seemed to have changed in this efficiently run 'city-state' at first glance. I was happy to get inside the airconditioned interior of the taxi; it was was very hot and humid outside. From the 31st floor of the Conrad Hotel, I looked down on the Fountain of Wealth around which the Suntec City towers rose into the skies. At a distance was something that was new - the Marina Center with its iconic Singapore Flyer.

Suntec City is best known for its upscale shopping mall and restaurants spread between five towers. The towers are built around the large Fountain of Wealth - once the largest such fountain in the world. Every evening, lights and music are turned on to create a festive atmosphere for the visiting hordes of shoppers. The Marina Bay with its fancy residences, hotels and the Singapore Flyer is relatively new and a popular attraction in Singapore. The Singapore Flyer is now the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world (larger than the London Eye).

Singapore Marina Bay
Singapore Fountain of WealthHowever, what I love most about this city is its medley of cuisines. Food is a national pastime for Singaporeans. Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Western traditions have come together and created the perfect culinary potpourri for the adventurous foodie.

The Conrad Hotel itself is home to Oscar's. The Sunday champagne brunch seemed to be popular with guests and locals alike.

I went over to the sashimi bar and watched while they prepared slices of tuna, salmon and sword fish for me. I have grown to love sashimi; nothing like sinking your teeth into slices of fresh fish dipped in good wasabi and soya sauce.

Fresh seafood at Oscar's in Conrad SingaporeI returned to the cold seafood bar and got myself some oysters. They had a few varieties and I tried some of each. They also had a variety of crab, prawns and lobsters with a variety of dips.

Appetizers at Oscar's SingaporeThen to the noodle bar for some won-ton soup prepared a-la-minute for me. The girl at the bar was doing this for the first time, got quite flustered and one of her colleagues had to help out! At dinner the next day, I tried the famous Laksa soup made with rice noodles, prawns, bean sprouts, a quail egg and that special spicy prawn paste that gives the soup its distinctive taste. Yummy!

Noodle Bar at Oscar's
Wonton Soup
Laksa SoupThey had a variety of Chinese, Malay, Italian and Indian dishes available. I had gorged on the appetizers so only had space for some Chinese seafood fried rice. Finally ended with some desserts and a cup of black tea.

During lunch, my colleagues took me to a Taiwanese restaurant. Din Tai Fung is an award-winning restaurant that specializes in xiaolongbao, small steamed buns or dumplings.

The Menu at Din Tai Fung
Din Tai FungThe xiaolongbao was exquisite. Served in steaming bamboo baskets, these 'dim sums' were filled with meat and soup. Yes, soup! Which means, popping them straight into your mouth will guarantee a few blisters. I followed the lead of my local colleagues by making a little hole in the dim sum and slowly sucking the soup from them before eating the rest.

Xiaolongbao at Din Tai FungThey served up a complimentary dish of thinly sliced tofu and glass noodles with seaweed that was quite appetizing.

Tofu Noodle appetizer at Din Tai FungWe also ordered a dish of Crispy Golden Prawn Pancakes that were delightful. Prawns inside that seemed to be batter fried in egg.

Crispy prawn pancake at Din Tai FungThe Spare Ribs of pork were very tasty too as were the other accompanying dishes of prawn fried rice and stir-fried spinach.

Spare Ribs at Din Tai Fung
Dim sum at Din Tai Fung
Stir fried greens at Din Tai Fung
Fried Rice at Din Tai FungFinally, came the very interesting Longevity Peach Buns in pink and white! These buns, also known as shao tao are made in the shape of a peach and filled with lotus paste that is quite fun to eat. Peaches are well known Chinese symbols of longevity and there is a Taoist story about the Queen Mother of the West who has a magical peach tree which bears peaches granting immortality to those who eat them. The tree however only bears fruit every three thousand years. The peach shaped steamed buns are made to symbolize those magical, immortality granting peaches.

Longevity Peach Buns at Din Tai FungAll in all, an excellent lunch experience. One more day to go and if opportunity presents itself, hope to try out the famous chilli crabs and Hainanese chicken rice at places recommended by locals.

Next in this series: Tasting Singapore Part II

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