The Great Singaporean Food Crawl

Head to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel for views of this former swamp.
It was a long flight. Nine hours. I whiled away time productively – watched three films, caught 80 winks, even indulged in my favourite in-flight daydream - overpowering suave hijackers with high-tech weapons. I was glad though when the twinkling lights of Singapore appeared below. The first thing that struck me when the wheels of my flight kissed the tarmac at Changi was that it’s dinnertime. But Murphy was also on the same flight. And as usual he had other plans. First, he caused confusion at the immigration counters by causing a system break down. So, everybody had to wait for the erstwhile relatively simple act of putting stamp on paper. Stern looking immigration officials glared at everybody. As if it was a virus unleashed by one of the waiting souls. Next Murphy decided to make my only piece of luggage appear on a different conveyor belt instead of the allocated one. Forget the usual efficient 15-20 minutes; it took more than an hour to extricate myself from the clutches of Changi. By the time, I collected my luggage, grabbed a taxi and reached my hotel, it was almost 11. My partner (who had reached a day before) was in a state of euphoria after having sampled the enticing wares of a nearby Hawkers Centre (Singaporean for food court). She had though very thoughtfully packed six pieces of sushi for me as a midnight treat. She had assumed that the airline would provide dinner. Which, in the time-tested manner of most assumptions, was wrong. After reading so much about the superlative street food culture of Singapore, I definitely didn’t think that my first Singaporean meal would comprise of six forlorn looking pieces of sushi on a white Thermocol plate. I almost shed a tear. 

I woke up next morning, bleary-eyed, straggly-tailed, and a stomach growling in anticipation. We had
National University of Singapore. Green and full of character.
 a day devoted to all things grilled, steamed, fried, etc. There was not a moment to lose. First stop was the National University of Singapore where my bro-in-law was studying. Probably the most beautiful campus, I’ve been to. Varying shades of soothing green. Stately buildings. Even a corridor where apparently things go bump in the night. And of course, the buzzing food court. Correction. Quiet-as-a-library food court. It was a Sunday. And hence, closed. But Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, heard my anguished pleas, and conjured up a canteen a short walk away from the main campus. 
Finally, after almost 16 hours of being in Singapore, I got the opportunity to unleash my appetite. Vietnamese Meat Balls in a spicy broth. Diced intestines of some animal fried with chilies. A first. Delicious. Singaporean fried rice with chicken. A staple favourite of the residents. Everything washed down with freshly squeezed lemon juice. This time, I almost wept with joy.

Ice-cream bread. Tastes as good as it looks.
Later in the afternoon, we decided to do what most residents of Singapore do in the weekends – head to Clarke Quay, a smorgasbord of restaurants, museums, bars, clubs, etc. built along Singapore river. We walked the entire length of Clarke Quay almost to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. An exercise that helped in digesting lunch and more importantly envision a strategy for dinner.  It also gave us the opportunity to sample ‘ice-cream bread’. It is what the name suggests. A generous slab of ice cream wedged in between two slices of bread. A refreshing respite from the muggy weather. You can enjoy this break gawking at the colourful boats going up and down the river. I waved out to the tourists in these boats. They waved back thinking its some friendly Singaporean. And just like that I did my bit to enhance a nation’s reputation while enjoying a well-deserved break. 

The serious business of eating. A favourite pastime of Singaporeans.
Our next destination was one of Singapore’s famous food courts in Chinatown – Maxwell Food Centre – where it was refreshing to see that instead of smartphones, food act as conversation stoppers. As far as my eyes could see, well, about a 100-odd metres or so, I found myself staring at jaws champing rhythmically, occasionally stopping to imbibe frothy beverages.  A long row of stalls took centerstage while people milled around them in the manner of ants around a picnic basket.  

To whet appetites, watch the chefs cook.
It was a gastronomic version of Alladin’s cave. Chefs and their assistants bustled about with the efficiency of a well-trained army. Woks didn’t get a moment’s respite. Flames leapt around playfully as steaming heaps of noodles or rice or meat was tossed into them. One chef diced onions in a blur while another sliced succulent pieces of duck hanging from a hook with the delicate precision of a surgeon. Each of these char-grilled pieces falling softly atop a bed of steaming Singaporean fried rice or noodles. 
If you are on a diet, you might want to avoid coming here.
At another stall, a man with an expression full of intent was conjuring up plates of Singapore Chili Crab in the manner of a production line in a factory. One plate served. He tapped a little bell. It got whisked away. Another plate served. Another gentle ‘ting’ of the bell. It was a sensory overload. Besides these food stalls, there were older, established restaurants. Some boast of 1000-year-old recipes, while others carry endorsements of connoisseurs. The Tian Tian stall’s Hainanese Chicken Rice made Anthony Bourdain incoherent with joy. A photograph bears testimony to this fact. Most of these restaurants have regulars flocking to them. Eating out is a national pastime of Singaporeans. So, business is always good. In fact, it’s so good that in a country where owning a car is akin to a king’s ransom, most of the stall owners have a Merc or a BMW parked just down the road.

Yes, it's a 'spoilt for choice' scenario here.
As glazed-eyed diners holding bowls and plates heaped with delectable food floated past me, I panicked a bit. I was not sure if I’d be able to do justice to these culinary masterpieces. I didn’t even know where to start. I then took a deep breath and decided to let my sense of vision and olfactory glands guide me. In short, whatever looked good and had an appetizing aroma found its way to my plate. I headed back to my hotel with a happy song in my heart playing in a continuous loop.