Monday, April 16, 2012

Singapore, Part III: The View From the Top

{Psst... here are Part I and Part II!}

Singapore's intense heat and humidity, combined with my insatiable desire to eat everything in the city, convinced me that I would not run during my time there.

But once I realized there is a great running path encircling Marina Bay, I just couldn't resist. I had to get an early start, and I ended up sweating more than I knew was humanly possible, but it was more than worth it.

It was by no means a record-breaking 3.5-mile run — I took my time, stopping to take photos with my little Canon S95 and chugging water frequently — but I loved experiencing Singapore in the morning quiet. I also loved how the photos turned out, thanks to the dramatic clouds and ethereal light of the rising sun.

I tend to prefer evening running, but the feeling of pounding along a mostly-empty sidewalk is unmatched. It's the feeling that the city is all yours, if only for a half-hour or so.

Of course, I felt like I "earned" the eating extravaganza that followed. : )

First up: Another trip to Maxwell Hawker Centre for chicken rice.

It may not look like much — it's, um, just chicken and rice — but it's considered to be Singapore's national dish! The queue at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice certainly reflected its popularity, so I had high expectations.

Even Mr. Bourdain offered his ringing endorsement.

My initial reaction after a few bites was, quite simply, "Meh." It's chicken. It's rice. And...?

But as I ate more and more, I began to appreciate the tenderness of the chicken and depth of chicken-stock flavor in the rice. The glistening sauce that was spooned over the dish was the highlight. I think I missed out on the full experience, since I passed over some spicy-looking toppings at the food stall (I'm a spice wimp), but I ended up quite enjoying my chicken rice. I left not a single grain behind!

For my next trick, I chose an embarrassingly large plateful of fresh fruit. Let's call this a palate cleanser, shall we?

Here we have dragon fruit, honey mango and... something on a skewer back there. The seller told me the name but I didn't quite catch it, and my attempts to Google it have been fruitless (sorry, bad joke). Someone please tell me what it is! (Edited to add: It is jackfruit. Thank you, helpful commenters!)

I wasn't a huge fan of the mystery fruit. The flesh was kind of tough, and each piece contained a huge, awkward pit. The dragon fruit was crisp and refreshing but not all that flavorful, and the mango was divine, as mango tends to be.

I then joined another crazy-long line for Zhen Zhen Porridge to see what all the hype was about.

I had a little guide to Singapore that called out Zhen Zhen as a must-try, and it recommended ordering a side of thinly sliced raw fish to mix into the porridge or eat on its own. That was my plan for the 45 minutes I spent in line, during which I observed three things:

1. The teenage couple in front of me couldn't keep their grabby hands off of each other.
2. I was the only clearly foreign person in line.
3. The menu was written in Chinese and did not include a speck of English or any photos I could point to. This caught me off guard because most everything else in Singapore is written primarily in English with Chinese, Malay and Tamil translations provided. Uh-oh.

I ended up not getting that side of raw fish due to the difficulties presented by observation #3. I tried to ask for it and thought the woman understood me, but my order arrived sans fish and I didn't pursue the matter. The line was still a mile long, and I would've had to interrupt the flow of things to order again and pay. In hindsight, I  could have sought the assistance of someone else in line, but... damn. I didn't.

Anyway, here is the pristine porridge...

...and mixed.

This dish was piping hot, smooth and savory, with delightful crunchy bits adding nice texture. I realized that it actually contained cooked fish at the bottom, but it was bland and didn't contribute much. I really wished I'd been able to order the side of raw fish that so many others walked away with. It included tons of yummy-looking toppings that could be mixed into the porridge, and I felt like I missed out on the full experience due to my being ill-prepared to order properly. Maybe next time!

I will now stop boring you with food. Let's go grab a beer on top of the Marina Bay Sands.

A Tiger with a view.

This crazy-looking building is a massive hotel that features a rooftop infinity pool and observation deck with incredible views of Singapore. One can visit the observation deck for S$20, but the pool is reserved for hotel guests only. Apparently it used to be open to walk-in visitors and it was wayyy too crowded for anyone to enjoy. Understandable!

I'm happy for these people, really. And only a little bit jealous.

The observation deck, called the SkyPark, was pretty crowded itself since I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset. Everyone was staking out the best spot to take photos.

The evening was quite hazy, so the sunset wasn't a show-stopper. The skyline transformed from this... this...

...and, ultimately, to this.

I had no idea there would be a laser show — or, excuse me, a water and light extravaganza — so this was a great surprise! It happens twice every night and three times on Saturdays, so be sure to catch it if you're in town.

I bet it looks pretty cool from across the bay with the Marina Bay Sands in the background... but I liked being at the center of the action.

This was definitely a big "wow" moment in my travels, and an unforgettable way to close out my time in a city that won me over with its unique, delicious food and unabashedly spectacular lights.


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  1. wow, these pictures are amazing!! and the mystery fruit is jackfruit, i'm pretty sure :)

    1. Thank you, and thanks for solving the fruit mystery! : )

  2. That is jackfruit. you should stop by Malaysia (Penang especially) if you really like hawker food.

    1. I did spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur, but had some difficulties there and didn't make it to Penang — but I did read alllll about the amazing food there in Gourmet Traveller magazine! Maybe next time.

    2. Aww I'm sorry you had some trouble here. Hopefully if you make it here again, it would be a better experience.

  3. mMmm.. Tian Tian's! I think it's all in that ginger dipping sauce. Delicious to the last bite. I envy you for getting up early to run. The pictures from the morning looks amazing! We got lazy and slept in every day. LOL


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