Category Archives: Food

Tiong Bahru: everybody’s welcome

When I go to an upmarket city like Singapore, I’m less interested in visiting the world class shopping districts or experiencing the shiny Singapore Flyer, or any other high class tourist attractions as I am in getting as close to tasting local life as I possibly can. I struck gold when I hopped off the subway at Tiong Bahru, following a recommendation from The Culture-ist which described it as a suburb “where Singaporean ‘Aunties’ shop at the market for durian, ‘Uncles’ chow down on a bowl of Bak kut teh and their hipster twenty-something kids sip on a latte around the corner at 40 Hands”. I had to see it.

I started my tour with a walk through the Tiong Bahru Market, which is a smorgasbord of fresh produce, seafood and meats, cheap clothing, plants and cut flowers. The Culture-ist was quite right, I saw several Aunties there, shopping for their week’s supply of durian or their two bananas. It has a very local feel about it, not in the least bit pretentious.

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I slipped out onto the street to find said latte. I had hoped to sit on the street outside the Tiong Bahru Bakery and do a little people watching, but my plan was thwarted by its sheer popularity on a Saturday morning. And it’s no wonder; the offerings are delectable, and the atmosphere magnetic. So instead, I slunk sheepishly away, coffee and croissant in hand, to find a shady step to sit on. Not very glamorous. Being around hipsters always makes me feel ultra un-cool. At least there are lots of old people in Tiong Bahru; sometimes I feel more at home around the aged anyway.

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There really are loads of little hipster handouts and shops in the area; cafes, bars, speciality book stores and even a male grooming parlor. That’s when you know. But they are indeed refreshingly interspersed amongst old school Chinese eateries and tea shops. It’s a pretty cool confluence of old and new.

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Tiong Bahru is a residential suburb. The low rise, “International Style” blocks were built between 1948 and 1954 to provide extra housing after WWII. They provides a stark contrast to the typical high rise apartment buildings that characterize Singapore’s public housing. With so much construction and reconstruction happening in Singapore, this little bubble of architectural history is rare, as is the leafy atmosphere between the buildings. The suburb feels a bit like a university campus. It made me realise how much I appreciate the large gardens and big open spaces I enjoyed growing up.

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20131202-131224.jpgA new apartment building going up just around the corner from Tiong Bahru

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Finding Malacca

My plans have shifted somewhat over the past few weeks, and I now find myself in Singapore, waiting for my flight to Vietnam tomorrow. I left my place of work in Malaysia a month ahead of schedule, favouring more time to travel over extra money. Before crossing the border into Singapore to apply for my Vietnamese visa, I made a quick detour through the fabled Malacca.

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Malacca is a city steeped in history. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was the centre of the Malay world, until it was seized by Portuguese traders in 1511. The city was subsequently colonized by the Dutch, the British, the Dutch again, and then the British again before Malaysia declared its independence in Malacca at last in 1957. This layered cultural history is evident in the city’s architecture and infrastructure.

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I spent two nights in Malacca, and used my time walking around the beautiful streets and historical sites, exploring the famous Jonker Walk, and sampling the delights of the city’s bustling street food markets.

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Malacca is a charming city, but it is filled with tourists and that always makes me feel self conscious. One morning, I awoke early and went for a stroll to see if I could find local Malacca. I walked across canal bridges and through dirty backstreets to find it, but find it I did.

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Eventually it was scenes of elderly men reading newspapers and women washing clothes outside back doors that made me finally feel connected in Malacca.

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I picked up a kopi to go from a little Chinese corner restaurant, and as I strode through the streets, swinging my kopi packet along with me, I felt like I had made friends with Malaysia. There’s nothing that says you’ve become acquainted with a country quite like the realization that you enjoy slurping strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk out of a plastic packet through a straw.

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Pasar Malam di Malaysia

I’m a real market junkie, and there’s nothing better than an open air night market in a foreign country to feed my addiction. A pasar malam is a traditional Malaysian night market, and in the town near the lodge there’s a very cool one every Tuesday night. After dinner sometimes, I like to stroll around in the cool evening air amongst the families doing their weekly market shopping. The local pasar malam is a multicultural market; there are Indian, Malay and Chinese stalls, selling traditional products and food items alongside one another. It makes me happy.

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Bathroom Art in Mwanza

We found a great little restaurant in Mwanza, called Kuleana Pizzeria, that is super popular with locals and travellers alike. The seating area is a partially covered courtyard just off the street, and the inner walls are painted with bright murals, giving it an atmosphere not dissimilar to a vibrant train station. They serve fresh juices and fruit salads, home made pizzas and freshly baked breads, among other things. What I liked most about it, though, were the awesome signs painted on the bathroom doors.

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Night Market Magic in Zanzibar

Stone Town’s nightlife starts as the sun begins to set over the ocean, casting a pink glow on the waterfront at Forodhani Gardens. Food vendors trickle in, populating the square in front of the Old Fort with tables of local cuisine; seafood, fresh fruit, kebabs, ‘Zanzibar pizza’, falafel, cassava and green bananas; all beautifully arranged and lit with twinkling oil lanterns. Tunic clad chefs donning bright white toques proudly invite you to browse their offerings. Orders are heated on glowing coals and served with Tanzania’s finest peri peri sauce. Sugar cane juice is pressed in hand mills. Hand mills! It’s a feast for the eyes, I tell you.

Before I get too carried away, it would be false not to admit that the charm of the market is its real selling point. It’s a festive place indeed, and every night it teems with people in search of a snack on a stick or a good conversation in the cool evening air; but there’s definitely a trick to choosing your treat. Precooked seafood is not a great idea, really, but anything prepared on the spot is definitely worth a try. Even if you’re not there for your evening meal, Stone Town’s night market is the place to meet up with friends and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the beautiful harbour town.

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Milkshakes and Memories

 

I’m quite certain I’ve never tasted a milkshake quite as good as the ones from Friesland Milk Bar in East London. As a family, we used to get one almost every time we passed through East London on our way up the coast, and they were always accompanied by stories of my mother’s childhood, or previous visits to Friesland together. I can remember being so taken with the sealed bottles that they come in, and the satisfaction that they would stay cold for so long despite being cradled by warm little hands whilst sipped on slowly. Although I was always baffled by the dingy location and the general stock of the shop, I was pleased by the knowledge that it had been around for so many years. Mostly though, it was a real treat because the milkshakes just tasted so darn good!

Friesland started out as a tiny little dairy in 1924 and in 1948 it began selling ice creams and milkshakes from the corner shop in Tennyson street, where it is still located. The milkshakes are still made with the original secret recipe, which is now kept safely in a bank. I’ve read that people from all over come back to Friesland to remember the milkshakes of their childhood, and many take frozen bottles home with them.

On our way back from Port Edward last week, we dropped in at Friesland to honour our age-old family ritual. The interior has certainly been redone since I was last there, but little else has changed and the milkshakes are just as delicious as I remember them to be. I’m sure that nostalgia has a big role to play in their enjoyment, but it’s most likely that these really are the best milkshakes in the world.

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The Coolest Wedding Cake Ever

Yesterday I posted some pictures of my cousin’s beautiful wedding ceremony. I decided to have a whole separate post for the wedding cake because it was just so adorable. Every detail on this cake is particular to the lives of the bride and groom and their little son. The groom is a helicopter pilot who is also really handy with tools; the bride is a school teacher who was also a very competitive polo-cross player; their son, as you may have guessed, loves fishing (and helicopters, as it happens); and all the signs make reference to their various homes. It really is the coolest wedding cake I have ever seen.
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