The clock was ticking on our final full day and there remained several “Heritage” and self-identified “Really Should Try to Eat” foods still to conquer. “Coffee Hut” at the Berseh Food Center was where our food day began. Two orders of “Kopi and Toast” were placed; amusingly we were handed one of those paging devices and motioned to take a seat. Except, no one else was at the stall.
Not surprisingly our order was ready quickly. Just two bites into the toast, slathered perfectly with the Coffee Hut’s own Kaya spread, we understood. In fact, we requested a second order of Kaya Toast, we liked it that much. The Kaya spread was not at all what we were expecting, especially for Tony, who in general despises coconut. Now, the hunt is on to find this product in Vienna.
No time to waste Instagramming coconut jam toast, though. From Coffee Hut we walked over to Kampong Glam, so named in Malay for kampong (village) and the gelam (paperbark tree) whose bark was used for shipbuilding. But first, a slow and careful wander through the abandoned Muslim Cemetery, the final resting place for Muslims who migrated from Kerala, India.We had arrived just after a morning rain shower, and the steam rising from the overgrown grass swirled around the markers, some tilted, some crumbling; and at that moment we felt like we were in a secret, exotic location yet we were steps away from busy Victoria Street.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but Kampong Glam impressed. The diversity of color on the shophouses was matched only by the sheer variety of stores and restaurants, several with little shrines containing offerings of oranges. My camera was snapping in overtime!
At one point I spotted a Heritage Hawker I originally did not think we could fit in the schedule, Zam Zam Singapore, established in 1908 and the oldest Muslim restaurant in Singapore. Who cares that it was but 1000 in the morning, I walked in…and my face fell. All the tables were filled! Just at that moment, though, we were ushered upstairs and informed, “the air is cool up there.” The upstairs was about as busy as the tiny lower level, and the air was indeed cool. We beelined to two empty seats and before long had two lime juices in hand. Ahh. Knowing what the day held in store, and spying the ginormous size of even the “Small” Murtabak around us, we shared the finest plate of Mee Goreng to pass my taste buds. I have prepared the dish at home, or so I have thought; let me just write that the overlap between the two recipes is small.
Leaving Zam Zam happy, our approach to the Sultan Mosque was postcard-perfect; shuttered buildings and palm trees aligned symmetrically; and the Turkish patterns of the many restaurant’s outdoor benches like the inside of a kaleidoscope. And color, lots of color. The mosque was closed for prayer, but we have been inside mosques before, and so walked over to the Malay Heritage Center, a well-spent hour learning about Malay culture and heritage.
Our route afterwards took us along Arab Street and its stores of glorious batik and silk and other fabrics I know not what to do with. What I do know, however, is how to measure and so brought home enough silk to have someone with talent transform the fabric into new curtains for our master bedroom at home. (On a funny aside, Tony is more than 2 meters in height. As we passed a fabric shop for gentleman’s suit fabrics the shopkeeper offered to him, “I make you a tall suit for a short price!”) I almost, almost, got caught up in a Persian rug shop; clearly my high from last spring’s rug-purchasing escapade in Marrakesh had not worn off. Had I not been thirsty and thus losing interest in the many handwoven rugs being unrolled before me there would have been another magic carpet in Tony’s suitcase. Of course, I now regret my impatience.
Time to eat! Our destination was the Michelin one-star Hawker, Tai Hwa Eating House. We queued with locals and fellow tourists, and in a half-hour or thereabouts we whisked through the soup line past the “Do Not Touch Me” sign (for the chef, we wondered?), collected our Teochew dry bowls and broth and had wedged in at a table for 8 with about 12 other people. As I wrote previously the noodles were quite good, really, but Mr. Ng’s noodles near our hotel had won my heart.
The view from the 30-minute mark.
The Michelin Master at work.
Uh oh! Rain clouds looked ominous as we were leaving our second lunch, but we made it to the Peranakan Museum before any steamy drops could further moisten us. I won’t write much here except that we found our visit to be an exceptionally good use of our waning hours in Singapore. Between reading the placards along the “Heritage Trails” in Chinatown, touring the Malay Heritage Center in Kampong Glam and the Peranakan Museum, our knowledge of and sense of appreciation for the extraordinary melting pot that is Singapore felt richer.
Some of the unique Peranakan porcelain; the crane is a symbol of longevity.
Guess what? Time to eat again! The clock ticking, now counting down to the beginning of the evening light show at Gardens by the Bay meant that “dinner” needed to be quick. Chili crabs to the rescue! I can not recall the exact place we sat, but we did get to select our crustaceans from a tank, and presto! before we had finished our first glasses of lime juice the steamed and sauced crabs were delivered to the table. Yum. Yum. Yum. The crab meat was sweet and the sauce spicy; with a little steamed rice on the side, the ideal fast food for us.
We reached the Gardens moments before the light show began, and found a comfortable space on the opposite side of the lake for the show. I would have written that we thought we had the best seats in the house, but moments after the show began Anna Grace messaged from the skywalk that runs high up in the “trees,” “Look where we are!” To the honors musicians go the spoils.
Not quite. Though DD and her musical peers had to return to their hotel, we adults decided to head to “Satay Street,” an almost unfair gastronomic trap: the aroma from the grills lure one closer; then, while you’re distracted by the sight of hundreds of satay sticks stacked and waiting to be charcoal-kissed, the “hustlers” (as DH called them) usher you to a table. Surrounded by tables and laughing people and heaps of sticks of grilled goodness, there is no more hope for escape. Two beers and the minimum order of 26 sticks (10 beef, 10 chicken, and 6 mini-lobster sized shrimps) were placed before we even realized what we had done. But, what fun! (For the record, we ate all 26 Satay sticks!) And that Satay sauce? Seems I’ve been doing that wrong, as well.
By this point in the evening? early morning? we were done, and hailed a taxi back to the hotel for the night, the plan being to sleep in to prepare for the long day ahead.
Except, no. My eyes opened with the birds, so I paid it forward and woke Tony. We dozed lightly with our coffees on the terrace and then took ourselves to Mr. Ng’s noodle shop for one last breakfast. (You might be surprised at how satisfying a Teochew bowl can be in the morning.) Oh, such good noodles, and so much fun watching families laughing and eating together on this Saturday morning. But the clock was ticking even faster…
…to the Singapore Botanic Gardens on this final morning, and the ideal activity for the time remaining. I will not write that the air was cool and dry, but it being morning the gardens had not reached max humidity and were pleasant to stroll through. The Orchid Garden was a treat even with the crowds; but the Ginger Garden was a little disappointing because many of the plants were not blooming. Still, as with the Peranakan Museum we were pleased the gardens had been part of our itinerary.
The Orchid Garden version of the Mona Lisa Gallery at The Louvre. I’ll wager that most of these people did not even know of what they were snapping a photo.
In the Celebrity Orchid Garden were several dozen orchids named for dignitaries that had visited. This one, for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
One in memory of Princess Diana.
And this one, for Crown Princess Michiko of Japan.
Now there remained not enough time in our schedule for Tian Tian Chicken. I know, I know. We traveled all the way to Singapore and did not even sample a signature dish; as it turned out, this would be the beginning of a trend for the remainder of my Asian holiday. But what to do for lunch? The bus route from the gardens took us straight down Orchard Road, and from deep within the recess of the Singapore-food-research part of my brain I recalled a nondescript and top-rate basement Hawker Center serving “something” memorable enough to warrant queues by locals. I hadn’t made much note of it, given that Orchard Road and its two-kilometers of shopping malls was not on our itinerary, but I was approaching hangry. Desperate times call for desparate measures, so I jumped off the bus at the top of the road in search of a basement Hawker Center whose name I could not recall, serving a dish from a stall I could not remember.
Two blocks later I recognized the Hawker Center sign from memory and darted down the stairs. Scanning the small space quickly I spied a queue at one stall, and one stall only. Success! Two orders for Prawn Mee from a Heritage Hawker were placed. Tony joked with me over our meal (another spectacular dish of fresh prawns and handmade noodles) that while I can rarely remember to tell him when my wagon needs petrol, I can recall one food stall out of thousands from something I read on the Internet. It is a gift that I have.
In our haste to eat I completely neglected taking photos. In my defense I wanted time to shower and we both had to finish packing, our impetus being that the driver would be charging promptly from 1845 onward. To the hotel we scurried. We showered; we packed; and exactly on time we stepped into our hired car for the drive to the Singapore American School for the performance.
The SAS campus is like a resort village; with a student population of 4.000 it dwarfs AIS Vienna five-fold. The organization for arriving cars and guests, and the world class acoustics gave what is normally a high-caliber performance even more star power. Anna Grace has now performed in three HS level honor orchestras; and Tony and I (and Anna Grace) agree that the SAS venue was premiere!
At the intermission of the three-hour concert we both changed from concert attire into travel attire; once the concert ended our driver, who had been chilling with the many other drivers waiting at the school, whisked us to the airport in time for our respective 0130 flights. Tony connected with Anna Grace and fellow musicians, teachers and parents for their Vienna return flights while I boarded my six-hour onward connection to Seoul. Barely had the cabin doors on my flight been secured than did my eyes close, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 from earlier in the evening playing in my head and lulling me to sleep.