Singapore: A Trip to the Hawker Centre

The Hawker centre is a theme park for foodies – old favourites and things you’re afraid to try, for fear of being ill.

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Welcome to Maxwell’s in Chinatown. The idea is to grab a seat (I used a t-shirt to reserve mine, but if you have a child that’s even better) and then line up at one of the dozens of food stands to order what you want. It’s busy, it’s shouty, but it’s quick – the freshest fast food you’ll ever eat.

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There was too much to try, so I went for a variety of snacks instead of a sit down meal. This plate of spicy tofu cost $1 SGD.

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Next up, a couple of savoury bean cakes. Red and green. They have the consistency of a bean burger, but are pale on the inside and not very flavoursome. They were filling though. $1 SGD each.

I then went for a stroll to find something sweet but was distracted by a queue of about fifty people outside this chicken stand:

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A couple of the customers showed me what they’d bought:

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Combined with dishes from other stands and fresh fruit juices too, all six of them had prepared a feast for less than $50 SGD.

Finally, I spotted a sign for carrot cake:

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Sadly, they’re pieces of grated radish, water and flour (is that the cake part?) that are stir fried and mixed with a spicy sauce.

The porridge wasn’t what I expected either:

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It’s like a fishy hot rice pudding. Frog porridge is a popular version too.

Names and colours really can play tricks on your mind:

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These are only hard boiled eggs with food colouring, but it puts you off, doesn’t it?!

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In my search for something sweet, I did try one of these – a cempedak fritter. For me, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Although the juice tasted sweet, it had a really chewy, slimy texture and smelled like urine. Thankfully, the stall also sold banana fritters, so I took one of those as well. $2.40 SGD.

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Not all the fruits here are deep fried. There are stallholders who’ll happily stuff as many as you’d like into a liquidiser. Their menus will explain why certain fruits (and vegetables) are good for you too. I chose a simple ‘ABC’ – apple, beetroot and carrot for $2.50 SGD.

It was a good way to round off lunch. If you’re hungry for variety, a Hawker Centre is the place to go. If you’re not, just stroll around and watch what’s going on.

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This man was making dumplings at the speed of light. Every single one was exactly the same size and shape with a delicate twist at the top.

Tempting, aren’t they?

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“It’s Just like Canary Wharf – Only Hotter”

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In some ways, my friends back home were right. A Friday night at Marina Bay is swarming with expats letting off steam – bankers, PR professionals and on this occasion, an unkempt backpacker who hadn’t been a part of this world for a very long time. Due to the generous hospitality of these working folk, the globetrotter travelling machine temporarily malfunctioned.

But beyond the bars and in the cold light of day, there’s more to Singapore than you might think. Take a look at these Peranakan houses:

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And shophouses:

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They’re a colourful reminder of Singapore’s cultural history. So is this:

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Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple is the oldest in Little India. It turned out to be the most welcoming too. As I wandered around, staring up at the statues, a man thrust some greaseproof paper into my hand. A few seconds later, it was filled with rice and spicy lentils. A kind gesture towards a non-Hindu.

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For a taste of the country’s colonial past, a friend and I sipped a Singapore Sling at The Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. Two of those signature cocktails came in at around $60 SGD but that’s the price you pay for putting yourself in Ernest Hemingway’s shoes. I wondered if his own feet kicked around the monkey nut shells that were scattered around the floor. The bartender told us it was a tradition. The bar used to be the only place in the city where you wouldn’t be punished for such a crime.

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Singapore does have its rules. Look at this line for the MRT. There are coloured arrows on the floor – red for waiting and green for alighting. You can also get fined for drinking or eating anywhere at the station, or on board.

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It’s the most orderly and the most opulent city I’ve visited so far. Never before have I seen shoppers use a boat to get from one luxury store to another. This is a mall at Marina Bay Sands. You can get a fantastic view from the top of the complex (there’s an infinity pool there too, of course).

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A real Wheel of Fortune. I spotted it as I was peering into the Bhudda Gaya Temple and with only one month left of my trip, why not take a random guess at what the future might hold? You’re told to place your finger at the animal which corresponds to the year you were born. Then, like a telephone dial, you spin it around – ladies go left, gentlemen go right. Mine stopped at number 4. This is what is said:

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I’ll settle for that. Next stop – China.