My friend Jing Wen has an expression to describe practically everything: “It’s nice!”
New pair of fashionable shoes? “It’s nice!”
Fun trip overseas? “It’s nice!”
Perfect sunny weather with a cool breeze? “It’s nice!”
A yummy plate of noodles? “It’s nice!”
A really yummy plate of noodles? “It’s really nice!”
A really, really yummy plate of noodles? “It’s really, really nice!”
At first I was a bit nonplussed. Being a writer, it bothered me a bit that she couldn’t find any other adjective to describe her positive feelings towards something. I tried to get her to use other descriptive words, but she stubbornly insisted that she is “Singaporean” and that she shall talk the way all Singaporeans do.
Thus I relented. And soon enough, I found myself using the same expression—especially when I find a particular food I really, really like. The thing is…even though they only use that one single adjective to describe good food, their expressions say it all: the widened eyes, the raised eyebrows, the foolishly happy grin on their faces. Descriptive, flowery words are just extraneous in the face of truly wonderful food!
In addition, I guess sometimes, words fail us when we come across some really good food. At that time, just the utter blissful expressions on our faces will do. And honestly, Singaporeans are so surrounded by fabulous food that it’s no wonder they run out of descriptions to use.
You see, I haven’t visited too many countries…but I have to boldly say that Singapore has the best food out of all the places I have visited, hands down. Truthfully, this country is freaking small, their recreation and theme parks and all other tourist attractions suck…but they damn well know how to make freaking delicious food!!
And you don’t even have to walk too far, or pay too much, to fill your belly with amazing food. Just walk down your apartment, and you should come across at least 2-3 different hawker centers. Hawker centers are open-air complexes that sell all sorts of different local fare:
They aren’t meant to be places where you kick back in a comfortable chair and get fawned over by attentive servers. Everything is self-serve, you’ve got to bring your own napkins and water, and you sweat and slurp together at the same table with strangers.
Visit a hawker any time of the day, and it’s always bound to be crowded. That’s probably because eating is a favorite pastime of Singaporeans, and there is no more authentic and cheaper way to indulge in this pastime than to eat at a hawker center.
Jing Wen and I went for lunch one day at the Bedok Interchange Food Center. It was hot. Really hot. And all the frying food and steaming dishes and packed bodies made the place feel like a sauna. But if you’re a Singaporean, you’re so used to the heat that you think nothing of slurping from a bowl of piping hot soup in that 90+ degree weather.
Well, I’m no Singaporean. I must admit I have been pampered by the perfect 70 degree weather in LA, and I’ve been taking 3-4 cold showers a day. But I was not about to miss out on my hawker fare…because that combination of cheap and amazing food wins me over every time.
I walked around the hawker 2 times, pondering deeply over what to order. And then I got drawn into this particular stall:
A long line! You know what they say about Singaporeans? They are kiasu—meaning, “afraid to lose.” If one person discovers a great foodie place, there will be a huge crowd swarming towards that place the next day. And they usually are right. Thank God for kiasu Singaporeans— I’ve found Lunch!
I ordered a bowl of Fishball Mee Pok. You get the option of having it “dry” or as a soup, and I got it dry with chili oil/sauce, and it came with a bowl of fishball soup:
Topped with sliced fishcake, minced pork meat, sauce, and lettuce.
I love the noodles. It’s so fun to slurp. Lovely texture, and enough flavor for me to eat it by itself.
Mee Pok is a type of noodle that is flat, curly, and yellow (from the addition of eggs, I think). It is most popularly used in this dish, tossed with a mixture of chili, oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. Every sauce is different from each stall, and it can make or break this dish.
The same can be said of the fishball soup:
The flavor of the soup shows the expertise of the cook, and I am pleased to say that the soup was awesome. Intense and delightfully savory, without being too salty or strong.
The perfect fishball also must retain a good springy-ness, without being too fishy. I thought the fishball here was wonderful. Man, I have not had good fishballs in forever!
Jing Wen unfortunately did not fare so well with her choice. She ordered a curry rice dish:
“It’s not nice,” she said woefully.
She didn’t finish it, but she also ordered an order of Chwee Kuey to share with me, and proclaimed delightedly, “It’s SO nice!!!”:
At 4 pieces for a dollar, this was a freaking daylight robbery. In this case, I was glad I got the better end of the deal, because this was freaking GOOD!
Chwee Kuey is soft, savory mound made from rice flour and water and then steamed. It is then topped with diced preserved radish, and chili paste if you ask for it. Jing Wen left the chili for me because she knows I love the spice. It is really, really oily…but Singaporeans usually eat this for breakfast. They must have stomachs of steel!
Now, I know some of you are weary of dining in such…open places. Or perhaps you have very low tolerances for heat and humidity. If you’re afraid of the cleaniness of hawker centers, you really have no reason to be, because the Singaporean government have extremely strict sanitary regulations and frequent check-ups. So no, you won’t get dyselxia from that harmless (and delicious) bowl of Mee Pok.
But if you truly want to have that experience of variety and street food but without that sweltering weather, Singapore has indoor places for you, too. I’ve already mentioned its food court here and here, but I also suggest visiting the basements of big shopping centers. Namely, ION Orchard and Takashimaya.
Jing Wen and I visited both places today for our “lunch” after Sunday service. We visited ION Orchard first:
Besides a food court, the basement level of ION also holds many different kinds of food stalls selling a whole variety of portable foods, mostly Japanese
We got drawn to the okonomiyaki station first:
We got the bacon okonomiyaki, topped with bonito flakes (Japanese dried fish flakes):
Served hot, crunchy, and oh so satisfying!
But not exactly filling, so I hopped on to the next station that caught my eye:
I got a Ume Chicken with Plum Sauce in a Steamed Bun from R Burger:
I thought it was cool how they seared the letter “R” onto their bun.
Loved it! The bun was hot and soft, while the chicken was moist and slathered with a sweet and sour plum sauce.
Next, Jing Wen treated me to a box of pancake roll-ups from Pinle:
Pancakes, rolled up with peanut, red bean, green tea, and cheese fillings. She only ate the cheese-filled one, and gave the rest to me. I loved the green tea pancake the most!
The pancake is nice and moist and fluffy, while the green tea filling was creamy and sweet. I actually prefer Jollibean pancakes, but this was free so I ain’t complaining. Thanks, Jing Wen!
I started getting really thirsty…so I got myself an ice-cream cone.
This ain’t a regular McD’s ice-cream cone, my friends. This is a Hokkaido milk ice-cream cone! Don’t really know what the difference is, except that the ice-cream is less sweet, yet creamier and richer. Amazing. You’re never too old to lick on an ice-cream cone with a goofy smile on your face: We then headed towards Takashimaya for even more goodies, but first, stopped by a bakery to gawk at some lovely items:
Jing Wen couldn’t help picking out a baked cheese stick:
It’s actually more like a very thin crispy dough wrapped around some Parmesan cheese like a wrapper:
I didn’t get to try it, but Jing Wen said it was “nice”.
Okay, enough distractions! We marched determinedly towards our second destination:
I preferred this place to ION Orchard. I mean, it has like four (or more?) bakeries in this one space!! And almost every stall gave out free samples! Ooh la la~
Ah, how can your head not spin with giddy joy at such a place? “Isn’t it nice?” Jing Wen squealed at me, happy to see me so elated.
I saw a promotion going on in a donut bakery called Pop Doh, so unconsciously started walking towards the place:
And somehow, three donuts popped magically into a tray and I was lining up for the cashier.
Mango custard donut, bacon and cheese donut, and seafood donut.
I didn’t eat these on the spot, but on my way home. Surprisingly, I loved the mango custard donut the most. The donut itself had a good, firm bite, and the mango custard inside wasn’t cloying at all, but had a lovely fruity taste and creamy texture.
The seafood donut had a tangy crab salad inside it, but the bacon and cheese donut was a disappointment…I couldn’t taste much of the bacon or the cheese.
Meanwhile, Jing Wen disappeared to get some takoyakis:
Remember the last time I featured them? It was in Hong Kong, and Jing Wen had complained that they were not as “nice” as the ones in Singapore. Well, she got her fill today!
Whereas, I certainly got my fill of donuts today. I couldn’t resist buying a pack more, when I found out that they were so much cheaper for 5!
(From right) Lemon cream, chocolate banana, maple syrup, orange chocolate, and honeymelon mini-donuts.
I gave Jing Wen the chocolate banana and orange chocolate ones. Unfortunately, I thought these were lackluster. They even tasted a bit dry and stale. I was most excited about the honeymelon donut, but all it was was a tasteless cake donut topped with artificially-flavored honeymelon icing.
Still, I had tons of fun! I’ve noticed that all my activities in Singapore seem to have something to do with food. I told you eating is a pastime here! No matter where you go, you’ll be seeing someone munching on something on the streets like this:
How can you not get hungry with all these people happily chowing down on such delicious foods? Who the hell cares if all they can say to describe the food is “It’s so nice”? Because even I come to an utter loss of words to say when I eat the food here. It is just simply that…nice.
Oh, and I’m not even close to being done. I’ve got just about two weeks left here, so anticipate more nice goodies to come! Such as these “Choco Banana & Caramelized Hazelnuts” waffle ice-cream sandwiches…
Question of the Day: What is your most common word to describe good food? And which area in your opinion, has the best food in the world?