The skyline of Singapore has changed beyond recognition in the six or so years since I was last there, and so I realised pretty quickly that it was going to be through the meals I ate that I was going to reclaim what I remembered of my Singapore.
Topping the eating-down-memory-lane list was roti canai, which I wanted to eat for breakfast: it’s a Malay dish, more usually called roti prata in Singapore. It’s made almost like pizza, with the dough being spun through the air; the difference being that it is spun so thin you could read a paper through it.
Layered and folded, layered and folded, the eventual rectangular parcel is fried to a golden brown crisp on the outside on an oil drum masquerading as a cooker by street vendors and served with a curry dipping sauce. I like it with an egg (telur) broken into the parcel during the folding process.
What you end up with is crispiness on the outside, and chewy dough in the inside, which you dip into thin curry, eaten with your fingers as the sauce drips down your wrists.
I didn’t manage to eat it for breakfast – unless you count 1am as breakfast. We had missed supper and Susie B & Steve were fresh off a plane from London and raring to get their teeth into some local food. Hunger was chewing at our insides but we were perched up on the heady heights of the Marina Bay Sands tower at Ku de Ta, a bar with vertiginous views over the city.
So, together with Tracy P, we fought out way out through the hard drinking male expats and the dance floor filled with jerky bodies proving the old line that white girls can’t dance, and cabbed it to the Newton Circus Hawker Center, off Orchard Road.
Hawker Centers are a Singapore must-visit if you want to eat proper local food but don’t give a flying f**k about air-con, cutlery or table linen. Newton Circus is outdoors, surrounded by trees with fixed seating and a lot of concrete going on.
It really is a circus, edged with booths, each offering their own speciality. You find a concrete table, and give its number to the vendors, as you hoof around the edge greedily picking and choosing whatever looks good today. (Although hell will freeze over before I eat rojak again.)
I drank Tiger Beer, & ate roti prata, fried mustard greens with chilies, and chai tao kway or carrot cake – not carrot at all, but a chopped mixture of daikon (long white radish) cake made from rice flour & shredded daikon, garlic, chilies, eggs and preserved radish which looks both unpleasantly brown and pre-masticated but tastes savoury and soft and crunchy all at the same time.
Tracy got satay, Susie had char siu mee and Steve chomped through the claasic Singaprean staple: chicken rice.