Singapore food stalls

March 3, 2008

Linda and I arrived in Singapore in the early evening of February 22, 2008. After checking into the Marina Mandarin Hotel, we went out onto the nearby Esplanade, next to the Performing Arts Center, to the food stalls. There was a big crowd having a good time. A rock band was playing in the bandstand at the end.

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We walked up and down the row of stalls several times and finally ordered twenty sticks of grilled satay, half beef, half chicken, with cucumber, a spongy vegetable and a bowl of peanut sauce for dipping. Linda bought two beers at the beverage stall and we established ourselves at a table in the front row where we could watch several stands with people ordering and their food being cooked and picked up.

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Picture taking was very difficult with the people crossing in front of us and the garish lighting creating high contrasts, but I got these two photos while sitting at our table; the first is of our satay stand and the second to its right.

The next day we went to the terrific Museum of Asian Civilisations. Afterwards I continued walking into the business district and arrived at the Lau Pa Sat market. This was the first market in Singapore, dating from 1825.

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The current cast iron building, made in Glasgow, was erected in 1894. It is surrounded by skyscrapers on three sides now with the waterfront on the fourth. While the Victorian gingerbread shell and roof have been preserved, the interior is all modern with much plastic, stainless steel, refrigeration and bright lighting.

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As I arrived just before noon, the stalls were setting up and only a few people were eating, which made picture taking of the stalls easier. But, as everything is made to order, I could get closeup photos only of the two dishes I ordered.

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My first dish was fishball noodles prepared at this stand. There were a surprising number of ingredients in the bowl, each poached separately in the broth. I had been given a choice of with or without chilis so I had to add some vinegar and a small amount of hot sauce to bring out the flavors, but I am sure that the dish with chilis, as most people here would order it, would be fiery.

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The second was Char Kway Teow, or fried flat noodles, which has been prepared here by the chef of this stand for forty years. This time I took the chilis; I fished them out and they left a good hot flavor in the whole dish.

Lau Pa Sat is an open air market and thus one is in the hot and humid Singapore air. Many people call this a “hawkers market” after the food hawkers who used to set up anywhere in the old days. Nostalgia buffs claim that the food is better at a hawkers market than at the new “food courts” which have the same formula of stands around the edge and tables in the middle, but are in air-conditioned shopping centers.

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The following day Linda and I walked through the food court above the Imperial Treasure La Mian Xiao Long Bao restaurant in the air-conditioned Marina Square Shopping Center where we had lunch. The stands varied much more widely than at Lau Pa Sat with Japanese and even Italian stands. The food courts are considered to be slightly more expensive than the hawker stands, although both are really good values. It is a common truism that food tastes better outdoors, but for me that is not necessarily true in a tropical climate.

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