When my husband first said "Let's stop in Singapore on our way to Bali this spring", I replied with an energetic, "sounds great!" I'll embarrassingly admit that I had very little knowledge of Singapore culture and the city itself other than the fact that hawker centers were raved about and that the city was known to be very food driven. Of course, that was enough to get me excited for the journey.
After a long, 19 hour flight, the immediate observation upon arriving at Changi Airport was the stark cleanliness. Immaculate, floors gleaming and not a spot of litter to be found unless looking inside of a trash bin head first. It was 6:25am and eerily silent. We received our bags (thankfully) and headed off in search of the MRT. If you're not familiar with the MRT, it is heartbeat that runs throughout Singapore, their metro system.
This system is so utterly impressive with it's ease of use, affordability and further proof that city is doing something right given the ability to maintain a perfectly spotless vessel for mass human transportation. I was pleasantly surprised by the signage and anything one needs for getting around. It seemed impossible to get lost, each stop clearly announced and displayed. It was also entirely written in English. Singapore is a great introduction for getting your feet wet with Asian culture if you haven't actually been to Asia before and aren't sure where to start. A large population of Singapore residents speak English, which makes any visit foolproof for exploring. After a few minutes of observation while in route to the hotel, my eyes wandered and there it was. Oh there it was again and again and again. Cameras. Everywhere. We've all heard stories from one time or another about Singapore's strict law enforcement and that it is a republic unwilling to tolerate law breakers regardless of the incident large or small. I was prepared to be filmed but I never expected the incalculable amount of cameras that lined the city inside and out, from old broken down buildings to modern new high rise structures. They are all around you and it's quite alarming before you finally forget that you are being watched and carry on with your day. It was very rare to see law enforcement out on the streets and I now have an unrelenting curiosity to learn how 24 hours of video footage covering the entire city of Singapore is monitored. It's truly remarkable to me and I'm still unsure what I thought about it all, that being said, I felt a strong sense of safety throughout our stay.
Emerging from the MRT to get to our destination, the air was still and muggy, felt much like Orlando in the midst of summer. Our hotel, The Quincy, wasn't ready for us as we arrived much earlier than check in. We dropped off our bags and made our way down Orchard Road. Orchard Road is a long stretch of very high end shops, particularly the stretch near The Quincy. We spotted Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada and so on. Any and all top notch brands, even high end brands you've never heard of can likely be found on this popular road. We ventured back down below to the MRT stop we had initially been let off on. Beneath the bustling city of Singapore you'll find vast, labyrinth like, shopping malls, restaurants and eating villages. So much of the city life happens underground or inside of high rise shopping malls. I have to wonder if the oppressive heat and humidity are the reason for that.
Hunger was setting in and I referred to the research I had done prior to the trip. When seeking out local eats I wasn't sure if we'd find very good food in the area, since it really is known for shopping and the "better" food was known to be located in other parts of the city. The Takashimaya food court on the other hand had been called out in several guidebooks as something worth checking out in the area.
Once we ventured below the surface there was no shortage of eatery options, signs pointing to Level B, Level D and so forth. We saw signs for Takashimaya and knew we were in the right place. First stop, Octopus Balls!
This warm, savory treat was a welcomed gateway to the Singapore way of eating. The adorable packaging housed 3 balls of dumpling like consistency, filled with octopus and served with mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce, piled with bonito flakes that wiggled and curled on top of the piping hot balls.
A quick, on the go fast food bite that's better than chemically manufactured chicken nuggets any day of the week, 3 balls for $2.50.
Next up, Hainanese chicken rice. If there is one stand out meal Singapore is most known for beside the chilli crab, it is their chicken rice. To ask a local who makes the best chicken rice in Singapore, is like asking a New Yorker who makes the best pizza. There are plenty of great stops, they all might be a tad bit different and everyone has their favorite for certain reasons.
The whole chicken is boiled in stock till tender and soft. Served with rice that has also been stock basted and a dipping sauce (not pictured) of spicy chilli and ginger. It may not be the most beautifully plated meal but I'd be lying if I said I didn't fall in love with the flavors of this dish and its simplicity. There are subtle notes of garlic and ginger running through each bite which I believe were probably part of the liquid to boil the chicken. Even though it was my first chicken rice and there was nothing to compare it to, I was impressed and really enjoyed it. Although I can't recall the precise cost, it was a very reasonable, good sized meal under $5.
Moving on from the chicken rice, the crispy glazed duck called.
This duck was heavily glazed in what I'm sure was a blend of soy, ginger, garlic and probably some hoisin but I can't be certain. It was served in quarters, on the bone with some fresh greens. Despite the fact that the bone to meat ratio was much higher than I had hoped, it was very good and I was at this point, thoroughly satisfied with our first meal. The Takashimaya food village was a wise stop, very modern, air conditioned and although not as authentic as a true hawker center, it provided good training to prepare my unseasoned self for eating the Singapore way.
Travel Tip:Thanks to Greg and Claudia Nunn who alerted us to carry tissue packets around as hawker centers do not supply napkins.
After what I'm sure was quite a raise in my sodium levels, I needed something sweet and I needed it fast. As we walked through to the other side of the food village, I spotted an ice cream vendor. With many exotic and some familiar flavors as well, the sign on the counter indicated that the sweet corn was available for a short time only. In fact, it was April 8th, the last day, so I had to have it! Going with a double scoop, I thought the black sesame would be complimentary to the corn. At first bite, the consistency was more of an ice milk than an ice cream. The corn was fantastic, you could detect notes of vanilla and egg but the obvious summery sweet corn taste was bold and upfront. The sesame took a bit more time to get used to. This was the grittier of the two and the undeniable taste of roasted, nutty sesame was very apparent. But the more I ate, the more I liked it and taking bites of the two together seemed really well balanced with the corn on the sweeter side than the earthy sesame. An interesting combination no doubt and one I was glad I opted for.
Wrapping up day 1, an evening visit to Marina Bay Sands was in order. The Marina Bay Sands is a luxurious hotel and casino located on the bay with three incredibly tall, heart stopping skyscrapers attached by an upper sky park. You can visit the sky park without obligation but while we were up there, a drink from the Ku De Ta bar was a must. At 57 floors up, the drinks were expensive and not the best cocktail I've had in my life, but you tend to forget about that while you admire the breathtaking view. My knees were weak looking down at the city below, my stomach dropped with fear and there was a deafening silence regardless of how many others were up there reveling in awe. We witnessed an amazing moon that night. Vibrant burning apricot, with dramatic clouds gliding through, it didn't seem real but fast forward 12 hours from the morning routine we knew so well, home was far, far away.