05 June 2007
A self-professed pastime of Singaporeans is eating. "Makan" is the Malay word for "eat" or "food". Singapore is a city of many races, and its food reflects this. Singapore is the culinary birthplace of a number of delicious dishes including Bak Kut Teh (pork ribs simmered in pepper and garlic broth), Indian Rojak (a collection of fried stuff like dough fritters, prawns, chilli potatoes, fried coconut dough and squid, served with a sweet potato and chilli dip), Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles (thick yellow egg noodles and rice vermicelli stir-fried in pork-seafood stock with pork, prawns, and squids), Laksa (Peranakan rice noodle dish with garlic, shallots, dried shrimps, and coconut milk), Chicken Rice (the Singaporean national dish), and Fish Head Curry Soup (a whole huge snapper head cooked in a spicy, tangy tamarind curry with ochra and tomoatoes). Makan is such a serious endeavour that there is a guidebook of local eateries called Makansutra ("sutra" being Sanskrit for "guide"). It is great! I have found all kinds of fantastic places with unbelievable food, from golden pillow curry in Geylang (as close to a red light district as you will get here) to chicken noodles in Chinatown to Laksa in Katong. The nice thing is that the guidebook focuses on food hawkers, the (mainly) open air food stalls and stands that serve excellent food for around US$3. Of course, you always have to leave room for a Singaporean coffee (kopi), which is made with a healthy dollop of sweetened condensed milk. The coffee is made by pouring hot hot water through a coffee "sock" which contains "coffee powder." The coffee is then poured through the sock (essentially a filter, although it looks like a sock) again, making it very strong. The final drink is made by cutting with water and adding the condensed milk, or you can get kopi-o, which is black coffee with sugar. It is generally too bitter for no sugar, and having just the coffee (not diluted with water) will keep you up for 48 hours.