Singapore strikes you the minute you arrive.
There’s the beautiful, bold architecture.
By virtue of the heat, the outstanding botanical wonders.
And, of course, the food.
“Just as the weather is central to the British identity, food is central to the Singaporean identity,” says the website, A Philosopher’s Madness. Food is so important in Singapore that the phrase, “Have you eaten?” is said to be the most common remark made when a Singaporean makes a new acquintaince. So, when a friend of a friend introduced me via email to a chic Chinese woman on my first day in Singapore she naturally suggested a meal.
“Chilled Black Fungus?” I asked worriedly as Amy started to order lunch for us at the swanky Imperial Treasure Restaraunt at Shanghai Ngee Ann City.
‘The language needs some improving,” she admitted, but with assurances that the dish really was perfectly delicious. And it was. She was also right about other menu choices that were simply not meant for the faint hearted.
“Live Prawn, perhaps?”
All I could imagine were blue veined, otherwise transparent, muscly creatures pulsating on my plate. But the website China Highlights makes the point that my choices could have become far more exotic than this. “The Chinese (have a) preference for “many ingredients rarely seen in Western cuisine, like winter melons and yams, tree fungi and lotus pods, frogs and dogs, feet, tongues, ears, and all manner of internal organs.”
I was lucky to have Amy, who is of British and Chinese heritage, ordering for me and attuned to the boundaries of my culinary limitations. She selected dishes both rich in flavor and high in artistic presentation, like this core of lettuce shaped like a celadon flower. What followed were other beautifully prepared vegetables that, carnivore though I am, offered a convincing argument for conversion to a vegetarian life. The unusual food here is wonderful but unfussy, much like the people themselves. They just get down to the business of cooking and eating, unlike the French, for instance, who elevate dining to a more refined, but no less delicious art form.
Colonization and its position on the Asian trade routes contributed to the influx of foreigners to Singapore which in turn produced a variety of cooking here. The Singapore Food Culture Blog describes the foundation of Singapore’s international cuisine this way. “It has its origin in India, China, Malaysia and other countries in the region, leading detractors to claim that there is no such thing as Singapore food. They are only partially right because Singapore’s cuisine is ‘Singaporeanized’, a fusion of the many cultures and races that have lived together on the island.”
It’s like a twofer or even a three-fer when it comes to food diversity here.
Internet searches reveal that the mere 6 million people who live in this city state have almost 7-Thousand eating outlets to choose from with Singapore adding approximately 2 new restaurants everyday.
Understandably, according to Wikipedia “in 2011, four Singaporean dishes were included in the list of ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods.
So, whether you buy your meal from a hawker’s stall or from a fine dining establishment you will not be disappointed. Eating is a national pastime here and there are plenty of places to satisfy everyones’ palates from places that cater to the dietary restrictions of Hindus and Muslims to those who are vegetarians or a growing population of avid food adventurers.
Singapore is certainly well positioned for the new vogue in international exploration where food is putting the fun back into travel. According to Forbes Magazine writer Nancy Gagliardi “51% of leisure travelers want to learn about interesting cuisines or experience a memorable meal while on vacation, up from 40% in 2006.”
“Everyone likes good food and you don’t need to be rich to afford it,” says Erik Wolf, executive director of THE WORLD TRAVEL ASSOCIATION who also spoke with Forbes Magazine about the growing popularity of culinary travel.
And this applies to older travelers as well as the young according to Forbes contributor Lea Lane who writes about a survey revealing that the “younger generation is no longer seeking a party-animal atmosphere when traveling, and instead wants to fully immerse themselves into new cultures, and feast on local cuisine. In fact, of the group surveyed, experiencing a new culture (86%) and eating local foods (69%) were listed as common determining factors for motivating people aged 18 to 24 to travel — ahead of partying (44%) and shopping (28%).
More specifically, 98 percent of younger generations ranked ‘eating local cuisine’ as something that was very important when they traveled. In fact, 37 percent of millennials avoid junk food when traveling.”
Interestingly, we did the same thing. For two months of traveling around the world there were no french fries, nothing deep fried at all, and nothing processed. Just fresh local dishes. And although not one pound was shed, none was gained either. Just one of the unexpected pleasurable results of dining far away from home. A observation certainly not lost on the novelist James Michener when he wrote this about the objectives of travel. “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”