Monday, 23 July 2007

Join The Queue

If you want to find the best food in a food court look for the longest queue. Singaporeans are very discerning when it comes to such matters and joining the back of a long queue is seldom a wrong move.

Mind you, there are some aberrations - the extraordinary lemming-like activity at the Doughnut Factory in Raffles City being one. Apparently the owner had originally wanted to buy the franchise of a well known brand, couldn't afford to, so developed his own.

The secret to his success? Innovation. Local flavours such as Durian, Chocolate and Durian or (presumably for the most jaded taste buds) Durian, Milo and Mango.

Our queue experience today was at the Redhill Food Centre which is adjacent to the market. We were running late so didn't reach the Bak Kee Teochew Satay Bee Hoon stall until about 2 pm.

Satay Bee Hoon is a yummy dish and the father and sons who run this stall are Bee Hoon artistes. Unbeknown to us another blogger had nominated this food outlet as the best for this local delicacy. I would happily second his opinion.

Satay Bee Hoon is a concoction of satay sauce poured over sliced cuttle fish, liver, chicken etc. on a bed of rice vermicelli. 'Bee Hoon' is the name for rice vermicelli.

I mention liver as it is something that seems to have disappeared off most western dinner plates in recent times. When I was a child my English-born mother would often make use of sweetbreads, stuffed sheep's hearts, tripe and liver - not forgetting kidneys on toast for breakfast. And quite delicious they were to.

Perhaps contemporary western cuisine panders too much to the squeamish? The Chinese have no such qualms and their food offerings are the better for it.

It could be also that having been born into a country where the sheep population was five times the human one, I was endeavouring to redress the balance but eating every part of the sheep possible!

Friday, 13 July 2007

Taking The Pisang

There are plantains aplenty in these tropical climes. It's not a question of 'going bananas' but rather deciding which of the many types one wishes to purchase.

My favourite are the Pisang Manis variety - a smaller variety with a compact texture and intense sweetness. They do not appear in any abundance in the local markets which seems to suggest there are few commercial plantations, unlike some other varieties such as Pisang Raja.

All of which leads me rather nicely one of my favourite deserts, goreng pisang, which is a calorie-laden fried banana and a local delicacy.

The Malays have a penchant to create kerepek (chips) out of a variety of edible items and kerepek pisang is another use for the humble banana.

'Banana Republic' is a more derogatory term usually reserved unstable regimes in various parts of the Pacific and Africa. To this group I would add the entity known as UNSW Asia. Fortunately I only have another week in the employ of this now defunct university and I shall be pleased to terminate any association with the Sydney-based UNSW.

I count myself doubly blessed to have secured a more senior role at Singapore's most prestigious university - the National University of Singapore, or NUS for short - and to be able to remain in Singapore for a few more years at least, all going well. Many of my former UNSW Asia colleagues have not been so lucky and local Singaporeans caught up in this mess have probably suffered most.

You Sweet Thing

Signage on Singapore public transport and in public places is nothing new. This is a country where rules count and long may it remain so.

It is my observation that some of these laws are more relaxed than they once used to be. Littering is one such example. When I first visited Singapore in the early '80's the thoughtless discarding of a chocolate wrapper or cigarette butt on the pavement brought a swift response, usually in the shape of an instant fine.

As I walk to and from my bus stop each morning, near one of the city's MRT stations, it is not uncommon to step through or around discarded rubbish and old newspaper on the loose. This is a great shame and I hope the authorities will crack down on littering as they once did. I suspect that the culprits are either new immigrants or a younger generation brought up with different standards in such matters.

There was some new signage on my bus this morning. Along side the usual pictograms which spell out "No Smoking", "No Eating" and "No Durians" (which by the way I believe to be grammatically incorrect - the plural of 'durian' is 'durian') there was another that said quite emphatically "No Sugar".

No Sugar?!

What do they think we are going to do on the bus - set up a coffee outlet?

I can only surmise that there has been a recent spate of burst sugar packets carried on board the bus, by Aunties pushing their wire frame shopping trolleys.

Or maybe we are sweet enough the way we are.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Like A Goth To A Flame

Today I met Singapore's only Goth.

At least I believe this species to be in the singular but I may be mistaken. His callow expression as he descended the concrete steps into Centrepoint's basement level was offset by a delicate touch of mascara smudged around each eye. He displayed enough steel body piercings to make him a danger in the proximity of any sizeable magnetic field.

Slouching past me, he was quite oblivious to the contralto pleading of the young lady opposite as she attempted to sell Bread Talk's latest yeast creation.

Bread Talk is an interesting phenomenon that has spawned many copycat franchises. Each tries to outdo the other with an increasingly bizarre concoctions for fillings. Not content with a mere sausage in a roll, the bakeries now produce buns with encapsulated local delicacies. Most famous are the chicken or pork floss varieties. The same company has also successfully franchised kaya toast.

Kaya is a very rich spread which contains (amongst other ingredients) duck egg, coconut milk and pandan leaf flavouring. Its green colour should not signal 'Go' but rather 'Stop' and think of the calories.

Today Orchard Road was very crowded as it was the last day to buy big ticket items before the additional 2% rise in GST, which comes into force tomorrow.

No doubt my friendly neighbourhood Goth was stocking up on his stainless steel finery before the price rise.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Einstein's Folly

I was never 'Good at Physics' in fact I would go so far as to say that my results in this subject were less than marginal.

However, I have a great admiration for scientific genius an in particular Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist. His theory of relativity is well known but I cannot help but wonder what his output might have been had he lived in modern Singapore.

I suspect that he too would have observed the social mores of Singaporeans, such as their propensity to hog the footpath and not budge an inch, even when faced with oncoming pedestrian traffic.

Indeed, a whole new branch of physics might have eventuated - Social Physics - and I am not referring to a modern definition of this terminology which deals with an individual's digital identity.

The 'Great Thinker's' new branch of Social Physics who have spawned many new equations. For example:

1S=TF (One Singaporean equals the total footpath)

This core equation could then be further expanded upon:

1SA+S=TF X2 (One Singaporean 'Aunty' plus her shopping takes up double the total footpath space)


1SA+S+M=D (One Singaporean 'Aunty' plus shopping plus her maid equals disaster - for opposing traffic)

You may well ask on what are these observations based. To which I would answer, on personal experience.

There is clearly not the same sense of personal space in public places as there is in the West. Europeans tend to fall in behind one another in the face of oncoming pavement traffic. Not so Singaporeans, although they are profusely apologetic if ever shoulder contact is inadvertently made.

There is possibly another good reason for this behaviour as we Ang Mo tend to occupy more space than our Asian counterparts in the first place, especially if one has lived here a few months and put on extra girth thanks to all of the great cuisine!

This leads me to summise on final equation of which the "Great Thinker" would have been proud:

1AM X 2G=3S+TP
(one Ang Mo with twice the girth equals three Singaporeans occupying an entire footpath)