25 April 2007

Food: Erich's

So, I take a stroll through Chinatown last Sunday to check out the night market, but my mind was on an interesting point I noticed on the map: Erich's Wuerstelstand. This turns out to be an Austrian guy in a little food hawker stall cooking German sausages. Although I was surrounded by every kind of Chinese food you can imagine, I had a bratwurst. It was delicious. Apparently, Erich has been around for a long time, and his food is pretty popular. He grills them on a George Foreman-type grill (his stall is really no bigger than an office cubicle). The brat was better than any I've had in Dallas (well, except for the ones I cook at SMU pre-game festivities). It is a nice escape, if ever one wants a taste of the Old Country (Fatherland?). Photo courtesy of keropok.com.


One of Singapore's shopping wonders is the store, Mustafa's. It is a massive department store (really, everything store) in Little India. It has everything you could want - clothes (t-shirts to nice clothes), electronics (stereos, cameras, TVs, phones, and so on), jewelry (tons of gold), even groceries (fresh produce and seafood). You can get food from all over the place - I got some great date cookies from Saudi Arabia (sort of like Fig Newtons, only with dates). It has its own travel agency, and it has a large currency exchange operation. I wouldn't be surprised if it had a bank and an investment advisory, as well. Since it is so big, it uses its leverage with suppliers and can offer great prices. Because of this, it is one of the few places in Singapore where the price listed is non-negotiable.

It really is huge: it takes up an entire block and is several storeys high. It is very easy to get lost! What is amazing, however, is that it is open 24 hours a day, and it is always busy. It is a perfect place to visit after having coffee in one of the 24 hour cafes in nearby Arab Street (the Malay/Muslim section of town) or if you have just returned from abroad and your internal clock is not quite on Singapore time. I heard stories that Indians will fly through Singapore and schedule a few hour layover, just so they can go to Mustafa's and shop. It really is a local landmark. http://www.mustafa.com.sg/index.asp

23 April 2007

Lesson: Durian

I tried a local "delicacy" the other day - the durian fruit. This is a fruit so pungent that it is not allowed in the subway or any centrally-cooled building. The smell borders on neauseating, but the flesh of the fruit is buttery in texture and not too bad. It just leaves a lingering taste in your mouth that is not completely pleasant and different than anything you have ever tasted. It truly is only a taste a native Singaporean can love, I think, but I had to try it. A co-worker brought one in for me, all wrapped in a plastic container and glad bag. I had to go outside to open it up and eat it. I could only eat half.

Singapore - Overview Part 1

Singapore is a very Western city in the heart of Asia. It has distinctive English influences, and Western companies cater to its citizens, who combine high incomes with a love of shopping (Singapore's two pastimes are shopping and eating). Despite that, Singapore does have a very cool local flavor (actually, several flavors). It has four major ethnic groups: Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and Eurasian. Thus, it has four official languages: Chinese, Tamil, Malay, and English (which is the default). There are specific ethnic areas, as well: Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street (Malaysian/Muslim area). Each is neat, in its own way, with all kinds of cool shops that you would expect in these areas. In addition, there is a culture called Peranakan here, which is a mix of Malaysian and Chinese, combining parts of both cultures in its practices, its architecture, and its wonderful food.

Most Singaporeans own their own homes, which are often in high-rise buildings. Condominiums are plentiful, as well, and they are favorites of expats or more affluent Singaporeans. Prices for condos in high demand locations can go for more than S$3,000 per square foot! (US$1=S$1.50) There are older homes, however, and these include black and whites and shophouses. Black and whites are the old colonial homes. These are detached houses, and they were originally built in the 1800s to house British generals and governors. Later, they were occupied by Japanese generals, after the fall of Singapore in World War II (more on that in a later blog). Shophouses are converted Chinese shops. In the past, the merchant would have his shop on the ground floor, and he and his family would live above. Many of both kinds of these houses are now protected as historical artifacts. They are usually massive by Singapore standards, and they are beautiful.

The food here is incredible. You can get anything. Lots of different Asian food, of course. But, you can get any kind of Western food, as well. You will see more McDonalds, Burger Kings, KFCs, Pizza Huts, and Long John Silvers here than you would in many places in the States. And Starbucks locations are all over the place. There also are three major coffee shop competitors, so you can have our choice. My favorite is a local shop that serves its coffee with condensed milk and some sugar. It is very strong and very sweet!

There are two general types of restaurants - street hawkers/food courts (fast food) and regular restaurants. The restaurants are of all kinds - those catering to Westerners (with expat pricing) and those with more local flavor (and lower prices). I like the hawker stalls or street-side restaurants. These are usually open air. If it is in a food court/hawker center, there might be 30 stall from which to choose - Malaysia, Thai, Taiwanese street snacks, Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Indian, Peranakan, and so on. You can get an excellent meal here for around S$5, which is a little more than US$3. Interestingly, many Asians don't drink anything with their meals. You cannot buy drinks from the stalls - there is usually a central stall that will sell drinks, anything from Cokes to sugar cane juice to lime juice (a favorite here) to freshly blended juices like mango or papaya, as well as coffee, tea, and the local brew, Tiger Ale. And nobody here offers napkins (outside of the restaurants or Western fast-food joints). People don't use them, or they bring their own tissues. It drives me nuts! So far, I have been pretty adventurous, although I haven't tried pig's organ stew, frog's leg porridge, or chicken feet yet. I have eaten cockles in a noodle dish.

That's it for Part 1. Look on this blog for future overviews, so you can get a feel of what Singapore is all about.


Hello and welcome to my journal of life on the other side of the world! I hope this will give you a sense of how life is in Singapore and Asia and invoke a desire to visit and experience it for yourself. I will try to update this as often as possible, so feel free to visit this site whenever you can.