“You must try rojak before you leave Singapore” some crazy person said to me at some point. So with my days dwindling down on the red dot I wandered many a hawker centre and decreed that if I saw it I would eat it. I saw it. I tried to eat it.
The venue was the Golden Mile Food Centre on Beach Road which is quite a large eatery you can browse through to find your poison. I found rojak.
Rojak is a fruit and vegetable dish. Rojak means “mixture” in Malay. It’s a mixture of fruits and vegetables but it’s totally ensconced in a gritty paste mixture of water, shrimp paste, sugar, chili, and lime juice. Singapore rojak tends to have cucumber, pineapple, puffy, deep-fried tofu and youtiao (cut-up Chinese-style fritters) and raw mangos and green apples. All topped atop with crushed peanuts. They were all apparent in my dish in abundance.
At first, I was surprised by the taste and I thought I actually liked it. That passed. I just didn’t like the combination of contrasts between sweet and sour and fruity and savoury. I chose the $4 dish which was the equivalent of a Starbucks Grande. I guess. I valiantly tried to battle my way through it and attempted to find a combination of tastes that I liked. I kind of liked the apple bits and the tofu bits but that’s if you forced me.
Anyway, sadly, this was one of the last dishes I tried and it was my least favourite. But I’m glad I tried it. Like I tried to ride a skateboard once. I won’t be trying it again. It’s just not nice. But try it if you like the culinary clash of sweet and savoury from time to time.
There is a building in Singapore called Orchard Towers. It goes by another rhyming moniker… It has four floors. And certain females “work” there. Do the math.
It’s a dodgy building which you can’t really walk around as a lone male without getting cajoled or cat-called into a darker realm.
Nestled between the business emporiums on the third floor is Thai Tantric. Out of the way, tucked into a corner, it stands alone and looks very very average. At best. Behind the banality though lies a very authentic and very very tasty Thai food experience.
Having been there twice now I have seen two sides to the Thai Tantric experience. The first time it was around 500pm or so and the place was empty and we had the pick of seats (so we chose to sit outside in the dank corridor).
The second time visiting there was about 7pm or so and the queue snaked outside as every table was bursting at the seams. We waited thirty minutes to get a table. And it was worth it. But give me no wait any day.
The service is fine but it’s the food that will linger long in your memory. On both occasions I had the Thai Spicy Chicken Wings and they are. Truly spicy. The kind that stings but gives you that pleasure soon afterwards. The burn lingers. And it’s welcomed.On the first visit there one of the surprisinghorizoners got the Tom Yum Soup I believe and it nearly blew his brains out. But in a good way. On the second occasion we shared some other dishes; the green curry was tasty and flavourful, the phad thai juicy and succulent, and we got some sort of shredded beef which was also delicious. Beer wise you can wash everything down with a Singha beer.
On a forgotten and cold January evening back in 2008 after a long day at work I took two trains from mein Zuhause in Düsseldorf through Köln HbF to Koln-Nippes. The destination was the Kulturkirche Köln and an Iron and Wine performance. The fact that I almost fell asleep standing up was not entirely up to Sam Beam’s lullaby-ish crooning vocals slathered atop soothing drifting melodies. As I mentioned it was a long day at the office and the venue was manically centrally heated (which was unusual for an ex-church). The commute was a killer too.
After writing all that out I now realise that I actually saw Iron and Wine along with Calexico in Krefeld (on the back of their collab album In The Reins) which is a little northwest of Düsseldorf back in 2006. From what I remember I had a sick stomach. So, man, I have not had a lot of luck with watching Iron and Wine.
So I was happy to test out my stamina and sickness levels now in 2018 in Singapore after a long day at work to see Iron and Wine again. Ten years later. At least there would be air-con to keep me sitting up-right. But sitting is more conducive to sleeping so I was worried.
Before getting into the concert allow me to….allow myself…a minute to dissect why I like Iron and Wine. I have no clue how I got into them. Their first release The Creek Drank the Candle in 2002 was followed up in 2004 by Our Endless Numbered Days. I guess Iron and Wine just clicked with me on an emotional level; most of the songs are melancholic and soothing. I think I needed that type of music in my listening repertoire. Songs like Sodom, South Georgia, Bird Stealing Bread, and Love and Some Verses still stand out to me as meaningful over 16 years later. I’ve lost track somewhat of Iron and Wine’s offerings from 2009 or so on (the last album I remember delving into was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and then I just lost track) until 2017’s Beast Epic but I’ve put in some listening time recently to get back into the Iron and Wine listening mood. There is a mood involved. It’s not work-out music.
So to the concert then. The last time I was in the Capitol Theatre was to watch The Force Awakens. It’s an historic theatre which dates back to 1930 or so and has been renovated numerous times with the last face-lift taking place only a few years ago. There are no food or drinks available once past the ticket collectors. The sound seemed to be very good. The seating is quite flat so you end up craning your neck around whoever sits in front of you.
Iron and Wine came on stage with a subtle musical nod. Starting off with the meandering Trapeze Swinger the scene is set for the rest of the night. Sam Beam’s vocals are like polished wood. Not mahogany or something heavy; more like willow or ash. Yeah, that’s it. His vocals carry each song to places where they wouldn’t go without him. He is a great talent and it was a pleasure to hear him perform.
But wait. I had a problem with the performance.
It’s just that every song is warped into new and weird melodies and in different keys to the studio albums. I love live music and I appreciate artistic expression but I’ve never witnessed any artist radically change the melody so much as Iron and Wine. Bird Stealing Bread, which is one of my favourite songs, lost it’s sweet chorus line which brings together the song beautifully. The live version just aimlessly went along with no central hook. Does Fever Dream really need to plod along any slower? It’s one of Iron and Wine’s slowest songs on track and the live version just stretches it out and again the melody gets warped into something unrecognisable. Call me old fashioned but I want a live version of the album song. Sure, tweak it a bit but don’t make it a mutant.
Anyway, that’s my gripe but I did enjoy the night. Musically it was very polished and Sam Beam’s voice is something to behold live (even if it’s a twisted version of the album songs!).
I will leave you with two versions of Bird Stealing Bread and you can decide which one works better.
I donned my ranger’s jacket, compass, backpack, hiking boots, and a grimace to make my way over to the far west of Singapore to catch Stereophonics this week. The [email protected] in Jurong East has become a popular event venue in recent months for small to medium bands to visit. A lil’ out of the way for the core city citizens but off I went.
Again, as I’ve been in Singapore for what I would call an expanded stretch of time this was the second chance I got to see Stereophonics in Singapore. The first time was way back in the nose bleeds of 14th August 2013 surrounded by the humid green confines of Fort Canning park on the back of their Graffiti On The Train tour. The [email protected] venue is an interesting one; it’s on the third floor of a department store. “Where are they playing? In the kitchen appliances section?” I quipped to nobody as I escalated my way through household sundries. I was wrong, the event hall is nearest to the sofa set section.
Stereophonics put on a good show. It’s all on the shoulders of Kelly Jones’ vocals it has to be said. If he caught a bad virus that ruined his vocal chords somehow that would not be good for them in the long run. His voice can be raspy and melodic, soulful and soft, high-pitched and sweet. All at the same time.
Their songs have amassed over time like stones (not the Rolling Stones, just stones). Their albums have been rolled(!) out every two years since 2013’s …Train. Before that there was a 4 year break back to 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On which had been their last release in their first series of pumping out albums every two years (Pull the Pin 2007, Language.Sex.Violence.Other 2005, You Gotta Go There To Come Back 2003, JEEP 2001, Performance and Cocktails 1999, and Word Gets Around 1997). That’s some regular workflow right there but perhaps that 4 year break was good as 07’s and 09’s releases are probably the weakest in their tome..
Anyway, the concert. Very good. Great pace and a great mix of the better parts of their back catalog. Starting off with a couple of the more recent hits they get into their set-list with a laid back swagger. C’est La Vie, in particular, getting the size nines a tappin’. They dip forward and back in time throughout the main body of their show and it’s quite a confident selection of standout songs from their oeuvre. Stand outs for me were Have A Nice Day, Step On My Old Size Nines, Grafitti on The Train, and Traffic. Which is quite a varied selection from over the years. One song which was played due to technical songs was Bill Davey’s Daughter (which can be a major highlight of their set list if they wish) which rarely gets a run out usually. Nice. It has to be said a Stereophonics songs are best when Jones can spill his emotional guts out with his amazing vocal range and all these songs are prime examples of this.
Rounding out the main set list were a trio of older classics that take me back to 1999 and college in Dundalk. The aforementioned Traffic, Just Looking, and Local Boy In The Photograph. I slipped back to the back for a sneaky taxi run as I knew they only do a two song encore (thanks setlist.fm). Their usual encore are the raucous Bartender and the Thief followed by the sweetly sugared pumped up rock love song Dakota. Both excellent send off songs.
Wild Honey has two branches in Singapore; one in Scotts Square and one in the Mandarin Gallery. We rolled into the Scotts Square establishment early on a Saturday evening. Decor is quite homely and living roomy. We were greeted by a hostess at the door and in a brain spasm I said we had a room booked instead of a table. That was fun. And also the last form of non-robotic human interaction we would have.
Wild Honey’s raison d’etre is an all day breakfast menu. It’s a wide ranging menu with a lot of choice. These were our choices:
I opted for the Norwegian to get my brain ready for the type of fare I’ll probably be stuffing my face with for the coming few years.
Here’s what they looked like when served ala expectation vs reality:
Not bad again.
So Mrs. Horizons was very happy with her bowl of grains but I was less so with my Norwegian. It tasted fine, don’t get me wrong (Pretenders, 1986) but it was just too soft of a dish. Gloopy. Mushy. Sloppy. Everything had a runni-ness to it. “What about the asparagus and brioche bread?” though I hear you yell. Didn’t help. The bread has a nice initial crunch but then that had the soft vibe to it. Then the asparagus was just too hard in the midst of all the splurge. Balance is what is needed. Remove the hollandaise, remove the salmon pearls, remove the avocado (tiny portion that is is). The poached egg yolk is all that is needed for a sauce component. The salmon ends up drowned in egg yolk and hollandaise. Respect the salmon!
Anyway this is what it looked like when you cut one portion in half. Nsfw.
It has to be said the beer choice is not wide; one IPA and one Belgian ale. A mojito was chosen under duress here. Both dishes were steep on cost and were in the mid to high $20s.
Service, as I alluded to earlier, was to-the-point and monotone when ordering the food. It was fine just not overly friendly. Getting the attention of the servers to pay the bill was more work than I wanted to put into it. And I was full of gloop at that point too. Wild Honey is also cashless so don’t bring your birthday money. All cards that exist accepted. Probably.
I would go back again to appease the veg(etarian)an but would choose another dish. And grow a fondness for drinking Mojitos more.
As Finland will be our new home come June we planned a trip to check out our proposed city of dreams (Helsinki) with Finnair. People are surprised when they find out Finnair fly direct to Singapore daily but it’s a pretty popular route nonetheless. It takes about 11 hours and 30 minutes SIN-HEL and 10 hours 40 minutes HEL-SIN.
The Booking Details
Finnair’s website is fine; nothing to complain about. The upsell of Economy Comfort is not too “in your face” but on first glance there is not too much difference seat-wise and once you get on the plane and sitting down you realise how little a difference your experience is from the “normies” in normal Economy seating. Do not expect Singapore Airlines level of Premium Economy on Finnair’s fleet! This is what Finnair offers with their Economy Comfort model:
Our Economy Comfort seating option in the front section of the Economy Class cabin makes your intercontinental travel even more pleasurable.
8–13 cm (3–5 inches) more legroom
Seats are located on the first four or five rows in the Economy Class cabin (depending on the aircraft type)
Better headrests (excl. A350)
Boarding and exit among the first customers
Only on intercontinental flights: Noise-cancelling headphones
Only on intercontinental flights: Personal amenity kit: earplugs, eye shades, socks, toothbrush & toothpaste in cotton bag with Marimekko “Kivet” pattern
Free Wi-Fi for 1h in widebodies
The 3-5 inches of legroom are welcomed, surely. On our flight from SIN-HEL we did not get an amenity kit but on this return route we did. Odd. The EC seats are part of the main cabin; there is no feel of this being anything more than a few inches legroom offer. They are the same seats and they don’t offer any more width than normal economy seats. Economy Comfort seats also get noise cancelling headphones which is good. Personally, I’m an ear buds person due to over-ear headphones pressing against my glasses making them uncomfortable after a few hours.
Bare bones. Thinnest seats evar. I know this is becoming the thing to do to cut costs and weight on A350s and 787s but, man, these seats are minimalistic. Every movement from one passenger moves the row. Comfortable they are not. The headrest is fine and adjustable.
Foodwise, yeah, it’s airplane food. It was edible. Nothing at all to commend or to vilify here.
Flight attendants are cordial and communicable and on this route tend to be Singaporean based. I know this as I had a chat with one of them in the galley (swaying back and forth in the un-ending chop). They do the route, take two days off, and do the return route. Rinse and repeat.
One nice feature of Finnair’s A350 fleet are the two in-flight cameras; one on the tail and one underneath which gives some stunning views of the planet as you zoom along. On this particular route the camera underneath was not working but the top one was and it was interesting to see how the plane reacted to the turbulence; it actually was more reassuring to see how little the plane was moving when it felt as if we were bumping around quite a bit.
The in-flight entertainment is ok with a range of movies and TV shows but after flying Singapore Airlines a lot over the last seven years I found the range to be quite limited. I guess I will have to get used to that. The TV screens are big with a USB port situated underneath for phone/tablet charging.
Free wifi for one hour is available to Economy Comfort customers. It didn’t work. I tried several times.
Finnair own two versions of the A350 and we had the pleasure of flying both versions on this trip:
Version 2 is slightly more favourable to flying in Economy Comfort due to the bathroom proximity although if you are flying as a couple and you want a two seater then row 1 in version 1 is for you. The problem is you never know which one you’re going to get (just like chocolates so you could find yourself in a version 2 instead of version 1 and you will have the extra seat beside you in row 21.
Roughly an hour shorter than SIN-HEL but it is still a double digit flight time at 10h 46min (which mentally makes it looooongggggg). We were lucky I guess as some days this route takes up to 11h 30mins.
The route is pretty straightforward. Unfortunately for us, on this particular day, no matter what altitude (we were at 37k, 39k, and finally 41k feet) we were at there was light chop nearly throughout the entire flight. There might have been maybe a half an hour when it was silky smooth. It made for an annoying flight experience to say the least.
With a departure at 23:55 from HEL; this flight suits people who can sleep during the night. So that counts me out. It took me 3 or 4 days to get back to normal once back in Singapore; that’s even with the A350’s extra technology bits to help combat jet lag.
It’s a unique route; one that might attract inquisitive travellers from each country. Obviously with Finnair using the latest and greatest plane it’s an attractive flight package for the average flyer. Looking closer though and you will see some distinct flaws in the flight package. The seats have to be the highest concern; too hard and too thin. In-flight entertainment needs to be more comprehensive; with the price and size of SSD drives these days Finnair must be able to get more movies and TVs squeezed in their platform.
A number of years ago if you mentioned ramen to me I would initially muster up visions of lid peeling and add-boiling-water-to-sachet-contents endeavours. Followed, naturally, by the depressing and soul sapping wait for all the processed ramen things and dried up sachet contents to congeal together to form a cheap and instant artificial flavour buzz to keep you going.
Perhaps those instant ramen cups are one of the worst slights ever bestowed upon a cultural dish in the world. Ever. If we are to point fingers we have to point them at Japan as not only did they invent the insanely delicious fresh and flavourful traditional ramen dishes but they also kicked off the instant ramen industry too. You can even visit the Instant Ramen museum in Yokohama if you so wish.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that ramen in its traditional form and actually created fresh and from scratch with no artificial flavours or cellophane is an amazingly flavourful and filling eating experience.
Sanpoutei Ramen sits underneath the bustling and busy Shaw Plaza on Orchard Road. It’s quite Japanese looking on first impressions, and we managed to get into a booth near the back past the more open front of house. The decor brought me back to being in Japan. Well done interior designers.
So basically ramen is delicious. Good ramen is better than mediocre ramen. Most ramen will hit the spot regardless. But good ramen is what you want. Obviously. And Sanpoutei Ramen has good ramen, in my opinion. Specifically the Tonkotsu ramen variety with which I am most familiar with. I fell in love with this type in Fukuoka and I don’t see why I would try any other types! I will but it will take a lot to deter me from ordering Tonkotsu.
What is Tonkotsu ramen then? Primarily the main difference is the broth which is made of pork bones (tonkotsu actually means “pork bones” in Japanese). It transpires into a creamy, soupy broth which is rich and highly flavourful. Plopped into this amazing base is a heap of noodles (Sanpoutei Ramen uses a beautifully soft noodle), some strips of pork, hard boiled egg, mushrooms, and some green onions. Filling? Yes. Tasty, yes? Filling? Yes.
After my 10 years in Asia and as I look forward to my impending move back to Europe I will always endeavour to hit up a ramen place from time to time to refresh my love for this dish that never fails to delight me.
I meandered towards Robert Mee Siam recently to try out a quite underwhelming (visually) dish called Mee Siam. It was perhaps one of the weirdest (but not in a bad sense) taste experiences so far. “What even is it?” I asked as I experienced the various tastes with each chopstickfull? Let me ask the internet…
Ok, so Mee Siam mean Siamese Noodles in Malay. It’s a bunch of vermicelli noodles (bee hoon) plunged into a shallow bowl of sour sweet gravy accompanied with a boiled egg, chives, and little crunchy airy fried bean curd things. Added to it, is a dollop of sambal chili paste which I found to be more sweet than spicy. Prior to serving some generous squeezing of lime took place.
I accompanied mine with some sugar cane with lemon drink thing. Was nice.
The elderly couple who run the Robert Mee Siam stall were very friendly and the wife half of the partnership was curious about me as I waited for the husband to serve up their pride and joy. And laughed at me when I asked for chopsticks as opposed to the old fork and knife.
The gravy definitely has the most influence in this dish. Made up of (or as the internet tell me) a concoction of rempah spice paste, tamarind and taucheo (salted soy bean) it has a gritty but light texture. It definitely leans towards a sweet sector of the taste spectrum with tart undertones. You can see a few chili flakes floating around in the gravy but it certainly is not spicy (or I’m becoming immune like a hawker centre super hero).
The vermicelli noodles are soft and when eaten with a few crunchy bean curd cubes, some chives, and a bit of egg it actually is a pleasing taste mixture of flavours.
Mixing the sambal chili paste all through the dish makes the most sense and getting everything all mashed around gets the myriad of flavours clambering over each other throughout the meal.
All in all, an interesting and unique dish with some very unexpected and unusual flavours. I think I liked it. But it was weird. I would try it again. I think.
At $3 a serving, it’s a perfect introduction to a dish you may not go out of your way to try.
Find Robert Mee Siam here (the car park outside the Whampoa Food Centre also houses some Blue-crowned hanging parrots at random times):
One of the ones I was not looking forward to on my Singapore Food Staples list was Fish Head Curry. I don’t deal well with seeing the once living creature on a plate. I have a very precise set of skills in disassociating live animals with dead meat. It’s how I survive. And now with my daily diet leaning heavily towards vegetarian/vegan and the seldom meaty splurges I dive into are the ones on this list, the disassociation is waning somewhat and I am feeling more guilty with every meat dish I try.
Onwards, though, I am still enjoying meat so onwards into the breach! And with Fish Head Curry I was Mariana Trenching this thang. We loped along to Samy’s Curry restaurant on Dempsey Hill to hit this thing…head on.
The dish is commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia but steeped in Indian and Chinese cuisine. The fish head is served in a curry which is quite spicy (but not overly so) with a strong tomato taste throughout. Some ochre and eggplant are floating around in curry. When the bowl arrives the fish head is nicely camouflaged in its own meatiness and it’s only when you start dishing out the meat that the true head form takes shape. There is no hiding from the fact that this dude was once living.
Served on a banana leaf at Samy’s, the obvious accompaniment for a curry style dish is some naan bread. Gathering fish, vegetable, and a slathering of curry within a pillowy cushion of naan gives you the perfect bite. The fish (white snapper so we were told) was more akin to chicken in mild mannered taste and not at all fishy; quite light and refreshing. Chicken of the sea?
Gone. At least this fish was not wasted in any way.
The small Fish Head Curry at Samy’s goes for $21 and it was good as a starter for three people sharing. We did binge on some biryani dishes after this to fulfill all dinner expectations that were had.
Samy’s itself is an interesting place, hidden amongst the foliage and amongst some other eateries. It has a good reputation and for a reason; the food was solid, tasty, and of a good quality. The service was little so-so with English a little rusty on their behalf (and maybe ours) but nothing to stop going back to (although they did charge us for something that wasn’t delivered but it was easily taken off our bill). The interior is 1980s school cafeteria in, oooh let’s say,….Ireland?! But you aren’t going for the interior you are going for their menu contents. And the menu contents are something you will come back for.
There’s a little place snuggled into a far corner of Gardens By The Bay where people go to find an elusive patch of grass and feel free. And fly kites.
Marina Barrage makes Marina Bay. The water slowly lapping at the feet of downtown skyscrapers and the Merlion is a man-made reservoir created by the dam at Marina Barrage. Also worth noting is that it is a freshwater reservoir. Another Lee Kuan Yew vision ticked and in working order. Water supply, flood prevention, and another place for residents to chillaxe. Result.
The wall that makes it all
So instead of having another gray, montone building blotting the landscape some clever people created the building into an arching, swirling, grass roofed structure where people like you and me can run around, play ball, fly kites, and lounge around. One can marvel at downtown Singapore on one side and a slice of the seemingly permanent armade of cargo ships waiting to dock at the Port of Singapore.
It’s worth the extra walk away from the touristic happenings at Gardens By The Bay. It’s quiet, chill, and a nice relaxing viewpoint of Singapore which differs from other vantage points around the island. Of course, there are rules. It’s Singapore afterall. Check out last picture below (from a design point of view, the red lines go behind all the icons which could signify they are all unstoppable!). You can still have fun, don’t worry!