I recently returned from one seriously amazing trip. After Christmas, I and three of my favorite peeps hopped a plane (or 5) to Asia for the first time in our lives. Wowza… what an experience. We spent our 10 or so days split between two locations: Singapore and a little island in Malaysia called Langkawi. What follows in this post is a quick chronicle of what we ate during our first stop. There may not be much detail in the descriptions because, frankly, I didn’t know what in the hell we were eating most of the time and the obvious language barrier prevented me from nosing my way into the scoop as I usually do.
Anyway, after we all final arrived and met up from our various locations, a cheers seemed the only natural way to start the trip.
Without delay, we signed up for a “food” tour. To say the least, it wasn’t exactly what we expected. I anticipated being guided from one local joint to the next, with and insiders scoop to the local culinary treasures. Yeah… not so much. Let’s just say that by the time food was actually involved, it was 3 and a half hours later and our guide had a small mob of HANGRY (that’s hungry and angry) tourists on his hands.
We did learn a thing or two though, so it certainly wasn’t all a loss. The first stop (and the only spot where food was actually presented to eat) was a fruit stand. Crazy, unfamiliar Asian fruits were available for tasting. Dragonfruit: delicious. The red is more flavorful than the white. Thai mango: more delicious than the mangos we get here. Obviously, freshness and ripeness plays a factor here, too. Chicago grocery store mangos are clearly not picked at their peek.
Our guide gave us the scoop on each and every one…
…including the infamous Durian fruit. Now this is something… um, special. Let’s just say that the two of my favorite peeps who also happen to be surgeons, compared its ‘aroma’ to those that send their co-workers gagging and running in the OR. Yes, it was probably the worst smell I’ve ever experienced. Ever. F-ing disgusting. But alas, what would my students at culinary school say if I didn’t even taste it? So I did. Weird. Strong. Savory with umami… like stinky cheese and garlic… but also sweet. Texturally, it was dense and soft… maybe like an over-ripe banana that you sucked off of a large pit, which the durian has several of packed inside its spiny, prickly, tough skin. (My bro is holding it in the pic below.)
So the actual food part came a good 4 hours into the ‘food’ tour. We were brought back to the hostel where we met, seated at enormous tables and served a spread of 40 or so different Singaporean foods (and my guess is, not the best version of any of them).
We learned that Singapore is very much a crossroads, which is clearly manifested in its cuisine. Most often you find foods of Thailand, India and Malaysia. This excites me.
The dessert spread seemed to be a lot of same-same. Rice, in one of its zillion forms, coconut, in one of its several forms, and sugar. Gooey, sticky, gummy, spongy and ultra sweet. Yup… that pretty much sums it up. (Oh yeah, and dyed. Ick.)
The real adventure started the next day when we experienced for the first time, the dirty beauty of the Hawker Center. Maxwell St. Hawker Center, I think I love you. So fabulous. A permanent gathering of little booths selling foodstuffs galore! And for dirt cheap.
So we got right to it, of course. We split up and headed in four different directions. Where ever there was a line, someone got in it. We ended up with plates and plates of goodies to taste… most of which we were completely clueless about. All the better.
Roasted meats with condiments…
And noodles and rice and curries everywhere!
Here’s me and my bro waiting for who-knows-what. It was delicious!
Oooohh yeeeaaaahh…. the plates of food. My man has a nose for fried chicken. I don’t know how he does it but this was his first discovery. Fried chicken with bean thread noodles and a fried egg. Everything’s better with a fried egg.
This was one of the hands-down winners. The most delicious, rich curry I’ve ever tasted. I tried to ask the little old lady what the spongy stuff was that was floating in it but all she could get out was, “cheekin, cheekin.” No, not the chicken… the spongy stuff. What is it? Maybe a type of tofu? Seitan? A bread? I have no idea but it was sooooo good all saturated with that amazing, soupy curry. Love.
This was pretty damn tasty too. Also my discovery, thank you very much. It was billed as a “white carrot pancake”. Well, there was nothing pancake about it, nor could I determine what this “white carrot” was that they spoke of. Initially I thought it might be a parsnip. Upon first bite, I ruled out that idea. It was certainly a root of some type but nothing that was familiar to me. I did notice the use of tapioca in its root form more and more during the course of the trip so perhaps that’s what it was. Not sure. If you have answers about these things, I’d love the info. (Comment below!)
This is me in curry heaven. (The crAsian sodas were really good, too!)
And the piles of deliciousness just kept coming. Roasted duck with rice…
Noodles in a salty, meaty broth…
Tangy, zippy cabbage, green beans and marinated chicken…
Yes, a truly amazing place. One of my favorite stops on the entire trip.
The next stop that day was in Chinatown where I couldn’t resist buying a young Thai coconut to sip on. It was different than the coconut water I’ve had before. It had almost a savory, earthiness to it. So delicious. You can see that I’m concentrating very hard on putting my finger on its unique flavor .
We were still stuffed at this point so we didn’t taste the squid on a stick.
Nor did we taste any of the beautiful breads from the random Austrian guy in the middle of Chinatown. Strange, huh?
There were open shops with boxes and boxes of a meeelion varieties of dried fish. Maybe someday I’ll learn what one does with all these stinky little fishies.
Although it wasn’t our intention, the next day we ended up at yet another hawker center. This time, though, it was in the middle of Little India. Total score.
We didn’t go quite as crazy at this one, and, in the end, we like Maxwell St better, but it was still a very cool find.
This one had stalls selling meats, produce, etc for you to take home, too.
As we rushed with all our might, away from the horrid durian stench that overwhelmed most of the produce section, we ran into this: A giant heart hanging on a hook in the TDZ (that’s Temperature Danger Zone). I’m pretty sure that the US Dept of Health would not approve of this .
I’m also pretty sure we were the only two white girls there…
But the curries and rice were delicious.
And we all agreed that this mango juice was a liquid sent straight from the gods, themselves. Man! Why was that stuff so good?!