When I was just a week in living in Singapore, I was temporarily staying at my friend’s unit in Ang Mo Kio. We were ravenous by dinnertime and there was a hawker center nearby the unit. We headed down to check out the food. For the lack of imagination and bravery, I ordered a takeaway of lemon chicken with rice in a styrofoam container. I ate that dry dish in my friend’s place with sadness and concluded right then and there that I will never enjoy any food in Singapore and I will be stick-thin for discovery of my impotence to Singapore foods. Boys, was I wrong in both conclusions. Singapore has offered me tremendous gustatory satisfaction and it is indeed a mecca for a variety of foods for every tastebuds. I have to fight off my temperance in resisting foods because there is no lack of temptation of it anywhere you go around Singapore. And somehow, I surprised myself that even my tastebuds has changed as I lived for 6 years in Singapore. Those foods I used to not like or “peculiar” eating habits by Singaporean were adapted like second nature.
Here are 5 ways that Singapore has changed my tastebuds & my eating style:
1. Chili sauce with everything
Like many new expats or travellers, when faced with what to eat, you veer towards the familiar. You would head to the nearest McDonalds joint or any familiar fast-food joint to play it safe. So there I was in a mall, looking for an early dinner and entered. KFC. In Philippines, I enjoyed my chicken and fries with a warm sea of brown salty gravy but understandably in another country, I would settle for ketchup without any hard feeling. But I was surprised to learn that fries and chicken were served with chilli sauce. They do have ketchup but chilli sauce is always the first choice. Of course, I took the ketchup and dipped my fries liberally into that mush of red sauce. But as years go by, I have learned to love that favourite Singapore condiment of chilli sauce that was made in so many different ways. My favourite type is that crispy sweet fried chill sauce usually offered together with duck rice. I still very cautious in taking too much sambal sauce but I have learned to love chilli sauce in eating all my dishes. Now, I often asked for chilli sauce on the side when I eat any Singaporean food.
2. Started to love the King of Fruits
I am not loved Durian. I am from the Visayan part of the Philippines and the southern regions of the Philippines are more familiar & accustomed to Durian more than us. My mother who studied in Davao during her college years love durian but I never had any liking for it: its weird texture, it’s strong offending smell until I lived in Singapore. Singaporeans love their durian. They go nuts over it. They would have feasts, eating them by hands and savouring every bit of it until you see the seed.
3. Loving the carrot cake that is not made of carrot
Source: Visit Singapore
I heard people raving about the carrot cake in Chinatown so when my hubby and I went there to try dimsum, I also wanted to try their carrot cake. It was surprised it didn’t look like a cake nor did it look or taste like carrots. It was in fact made of white radish and white flour with a bit of scrambled eggs. I didn’t enjoy one bit of it. I left it almost untouched in the hawker table like a jilted date. But there was one office meeting that our boss brought several wrapped brown paper moistened by the hot carrot cake inside drizzled with sweet soy sauce. I gave the carrot cake another chance and I could stop eating it. From that time on, I would constantly crave for the black carrot cake (there is the white carrot cake devoid of the brown sauce). When I am in a hawker center, if there is a carrot cake by any chance, I would often order it especially for breakfast. My favourite carrot cake is found in Alexandria hawker centre placed in a replica of a green leaf glass plate.
4. Orange is the new food
Eating out in food court, you have a variety of food choices: Chinese, Indian, Malay. There is the chicken rice stall, the noodles shop, the mixed economic rice stall where you get to choose different type of dishes place in a place full of rice, the yong tau foo stall, duck rice, indian muslim dishes, the vegetarian stall, Malay food, roti prata, etc. I usually opt for chicken rice or duck rice or the mixed veggies rice shop. I rarely try out the other shops. But then when I got pregnant with my 2nd one, I started to try out Malay food and I was hooked. I love their Nasi Padang, their mee rebus, laksa (this one is more Peranakan than Malay) , tahu goreng and especially their mee siam. I am in love with that orange rich spicy soup with thin rice vermicelli noodles swimming together with fat prawns. This is one of my comfort food. My favorite mee siam is from this halal restaurant called Royal’s Cafe. They have a branch in Singlap, in Jalan Pisang and NUS University Town.
5. Kopi Addict
I have always been satisfied with 3in1 coffee. In fact, I am perfectly happy with 3in1 coffee until I discovered Singaporean kopi. I tried it once before and I taught it was too bitter, too strong. During my clinic days working as a doctor in a busy clinic as a way to build morale for us tired healthcare troops, our medical director would have a ‘drinks fund’ for us doctors. He would activate it during busy days even if he is on leave. The clinic manager would asked the health attendants to get our drink orders and buy us our drinks in our nearby hawker center. Due to few choices, either kopi (taken in different ways or teh, I opted for kopi. I didn’t want to insult the kind gesture by refusing a drink order and saying I am happy with my 3in1 coffee. Then as busy days became more often so was my coffee preference changed as days goes on. I find it comforting during my frantic workload. So even without the drink fund, I find myself craving for a warm cup or an iced kopi to accompany me in my work. It somehow ruined tastes for other coffees. I never enjoyed Starbucks coffee now and in our trip to Korea, I never once enjoyed any cup of coffee there inspire dubbing themselves a coffee country.
I still have several other discoveries and epiphanies in how Singapore influence my relationship with food. One, if I may add is the Otah Otah. It is a grilled fish cake made of ground fish meat mixed with tapioca starch and spices wrapped in a banana leaf and tooth pick. I tried it before with a nasi lemak. I thought it was like our Filipino sweet dessert and expected a sweet treat. I was repelled by its spicy salty taste by surprise and never tried it again until my 6th year in Singapore when I tried it again and loved it. I always take it with my favorite 328 Nasi Lemak.
I was glad living in a foreign country has opened my eyes and allowed myself to be adventurous in trying out new things and trying new foods. It made you realised that embracing new culture can awaken your timid spirit and your tastebuds, too. I was grateful I have great local friends who would take the time to introduced me to their foods which I now love and crave.