Saturday, November 14, 2009
I like to eat good food, who does not? When I travel, one of the simple pleasures I indulge in is eating local food. Interestingly, I find that the food sometimes reflects the place and its culture as a whole. I also find that, for whatever reason, the places where I like the food tend to be the places I like in general. For example, traditional German meals are simple to understand, hearty, rich in taste and more than adequately serve the purpose of filling one up, yet the food is not particularly dramatic. I like Germany, Germans and German food for these reasons. Singapore is no exception to this rule.
Food in Singapore is colorful, spicy, uncomplicated and overwhelmingly comes from the sea. It is impressive, yet functional and modest at the same time. The decision of what to eat is relatively simple because all of the traditional eateries have exactly the same menus. Don’t assume this to mean there is a lack of variety, however. There are large outdoor food courts like Newton Circus and there are open air restaurants, like those found along the Singapore River’s downtown waterfront. The decision on exactly where to eat is much harder, given that they all serve the same things. This decision is complicated by the fact that all the vendors have a spokesperson who accosts any passersby and attempts to convince them that their food is the best. This is a scene not unlike what one may encounter in various red light districts around the world. While it makes the decision process harder, it does offer the opportunity to successfully haggle for various discounts or extras such as a free round of Tiger beer.
I have always preferred seafood to any other form of food on the planet. Glorious was the day when my parents had a Thanksgiving dinner of steamed oysters, hush puppies and beer instead of the tired old turkey. I like spicy food as well, so the choices in Singapore suited me. Another interesting thing about the East is that any creature is fair game for the table. One sees it all in Singapore-eels, stingray, various things neither I nor most marine biologists could identify.
In the US, some creatures never make it to the table because they are considered inedible, though we have never actually tried to eat one. On a side note, the catfish is one of the few creatures in the U.S. to go from undesirable to mainstream in a single generation. Hooray for the catfish! The rattlesnake and the bullfrog have only seen limited success at best.
My first meal in Singapore was barbequed stingray. It was pretty good; a little stringy but good. A stingray would have never made it to the table in my house growing up. When my brother or I caught a stingray it was promptly executed, with extreme prejudice, I might add, so that it would never sting again. Then it would be tossed in the water to be feasted upon by crabs and the like. Speaking of crabs, my next meal was a chili crab. I am not sure exactly what kind of crab it was but it was huge. Imagine a very large Dungeness crab steamed, its shell smashed and covered with a spicy red chili sauce. Uncomplicated, exciting and impressive all in one, and, yes, it was quite tasty.
I like the food in Singapore and I like Singapore. Its food is a good reflection of the place and its culture.