Eating Through Singapore: My Recommendations

It’s funny how there’s often a gaping chasm slight disconnect between the aspirational selves we craft in our minds, and who we are in reality. I spend a great deal of mental energy convincing myself that I am a high-minded idealist whose ideal day would be spent making beautiful music and philosophizing about art and society, but if we’re being honest here, I really just live for food.

Which is why I happily hopped on a 17-hour flight to Singapore back in March, with the sole intention of spending my time sleeping and eating.*

*Before you scoff at my lack of culture and refinement, I did visit the National Gallery, which I loved.

To assuage any guilt I had over not practicing with some 57349453 concerts on the horizon, I brought my music with me, as is standard practice when I travel anywhere, and studied it in the hotel room…

…which often was broken up by long breaks in which I added to an ever-growing list of places to get food:

Sadly I was not able to get to the majority of the restaurants and food stalls on my list, but here stands my recommended list of what to eat.


Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodle (8 Raffles Avenue) was one of the first places I stumbled into. Their iPad ordering system (with pictures!) is super handy and the food, of course, is 👌🏻.

The prawn noodles were enough of a meal, but I am greedy and am physically incapable of resisting fresh oysters. And pineapple juice. Shut up, I have a lot of food-related weaknesses.

Quick note: after you’re finished with your meal, pay at the counter in front of the door. Don’t be like me and sit around in confusion doing nothing at your table.


Makansutra Gluttons Bay (8 Raffles Avenue, directions here) is a glorious gathering of food stalls, also on Raffles Ave, with cute hipster lights and plenty of seats. I don’t know if you’re supposed to do this, but I ran around placing orders at three different stalls. The vendors seemed cool with this, and even helped me fit all my food on one tray.

I wish I could have sampled more offerings, but it was just me eating and there’s only so much I can eat. I noticed over the course of several days that eating is very much a social thing in Singapore, and I seemed to get a lot of looks for eating by myself, which hasn’t really happened to me in any of the other cities I’ve eaten through.

This is relevant because after I successfully carried my food to a table without dropping any of it (a serious concern of one of the vendors), I noticed a couple next to me occasionally glancing my way and murmuring in Chinese. I caught a couple of phrases: “…she’s all by herself” and then, a few minutes later: “…must be really hungry.”

I was really hungry, thank you very much.

I felt somewhat vindicated when I spotted a single guy a couple tables over also all by himself with just as much food in front of him as I had, who was taking phone photos of said food just like I was. “Aha, I am not weird!” I thought to myself.

A few minutes later, his friend sat down to join him and they proceeded to eat together.

The place is called “Gluttons Bay,” guys. I am not weird.

In any case, the platter of skewers from Alhambra Padang Satay was phenomenal—I highly recommend it, and have to admit it’s designed to be shared. Bring a friend when you go; you’ll get to order more food, and you’ll escape the locals’ judgment.


Hainanese Delicacy/海南美味佳肴 (14 Scotts Road, 5th floor of the Far East Plaza mall) is one of those hole-in-the-wall places with criminally cheap and delicious food. I couldn’t let myself leave Singapore without trying Hainanese chicken rice, but didn’t want to go somewhere overpriced and touristy.

I was buoyed to see a line of locals out the door here, and was quickly seated at a communal table between strangers. Fine with me. If you’ve eaten at one of those no-fuss alley restaurants elsewhere in Asia, this is just like that.

I didn’t see a prominent menu, so I just asked for chicken rice, and was promptly hit with a barrage of options: steamed or roasted, did I want a vegetable, what type, etc. I answered more or less at random, but was quickly served several plates of utter deliciousness. (That rice!)

By the way, everything in the photo above cost under $10 total. It helps if you speak Mandarin, but is not necessary. Be willing and ready to scarf your food down while seated next to or across from strangers.

Bonus: Sunfirst Fresh Fruits (14 Scotts Road, 4th floor of the Far East Plaza mall) for fresh juice. I got a cup of freshly blended papaya milk—just like grandma used to make.


No Signboard Seafood (414 Geylang Road) is a super-must. Be warned: this is a famous joint so 1) if you go during typical meal times there’ll be a wait, and 2) everyone in the world will tell you the story of how the place got its name. (The story is that it started as a stall with no name, so its customers called it “No Signboard.” That’s it, that’s the story.)

Our cab driver was very chatty, and warned us that the Geylang area of Singapore was not the nicest—as he drove down one street, he pointed out his window and said, “That’s where all the street walkers are.”

Because I am terrible at discerning human speech and I had food on the mind, I heard him say “street hawkers,” as in food vendors. I opened my mouth to ask him which ones he’d recommend, but luckily he kept talking and I realized in time that he was talking about escorts and not delicious food.

Anyway. Go to Geylang for the seafood, not the prostitutes, kthxbai.

  

Recommended: the white pepper crab (their signature dish), fried prawns (I ordered the cereal prawns, which were delicious, but imagined they’d be equally delicious without the cereal), 空心菜/kang kong, and fried 馒头/mantou. This was enough for two people to comfortably eat with a bowl of rice each.

Note: When you’re seated, a server will place a bowl of peanuts on the table and ask if you want them. This is a trap. They charge extra for the peanuts, and in any case you are not here to eat peanuts. You are here to eat white pepper crab. Don’t be a fool.

(They also offer bibs for an extra charge. If you are a messy eater, swallow your pride and say yes.)


If you have more recommendations for places to eat in Singapore, please share! I’m going to attempt to do more of these eating guides from now on because I take eating very, very seriously.

 

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The Three Most Important Problems in “Beauty and the Beast”

(Image from Animation Magazine.)

I had very little inclination to see the live-action Beauty and the Beast after seeing multiple clips and hearing half the soundtrack, but as it so happens I am in love with a certain someone who wanted very badly to see this movie, and we all make concessions in the name of love, as clearly demonstrated in the aforementioned movie. I have many strong opinions about so many things in this movie (then again, I have strong opinions about basically everything), but these are the three things I have deemed The Most Important Problems.*

*Those of you who know me may be surprised that the aggressively mediocre singing is not one of my three Big Problems with this movie, to which I say this**: yes, the bland auto-tuned, digitally constructed lifeless android singing voice of the otherwise lovely Emma Watson is cringe-worthy, and Gaston’s lack of deep baritone goodness is a crime, but Disney was kind enough to warn us all going in by pre-releasing recordings. Hats off, actually, to the sound engineers, who are the real heroes for creating something out of almost nothing and preventing this from becoming a Les Miz/Mamma Mia/Phantom of the Opera-level, aurally offensive mess.

**I told you I have very strong opinions about basically everything.

Problem the First
Before the “Be Our Guest” scene, the harpsichord comes out to play and the other enchanted objects urge him to play more quietly. “Sotto voce,” the harpsichord responds in confirmation.

Ahem.

HARPSICHORDS HAVE A FIXED VOLUME AND CANNOT PLAY MORE QUIETLY AND THE HARPSICHORD HIMSELF SHOULD KNOW THAT. SHAME ON YOU, HARPSICHORD.***

***”But it’s a double-manual harpsichord, so he could simply play the quieter manual and that would count as playing quietly!” you protest. That was my thought too, reader, but I’m pretty sure I saw both manuals going so either Mr. Harpsichord is full of it or he’s just too fed up to correct his friends.

Problem the Second
Yeah, it’s the harpsichord again. In another moment in the movie, he plays the theme from the “Funeral March” movement of Chopin’s second sonata as a gag.

Excuse me, but the movie is pretty clearly set in the baroque era, SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE CHOPIN, AND THEREFORE THIS THEME, EVEN EXISTED. #SORRYNOTSORRY FOR THE CAPS LOCK, THIS PARTICULAR ANACHRONISM REALLY IRKS ME.

Problem the Third
Finally, not a harpsichord problem! In the closing ballroom scene, it appears that the violinists are playing with modern and not period bows. For a movie that took such great pains to make a period-appropriate harpsichord come to life, it’s a real shame they couldn’t rustle up some period bows for the violinists. ARE THE VIOLINISTS TIME-TRAVELERS? EXPLAIN YOURSELF, DISNEY!

That is all. I bring this post to you because the internet is already saturated with a deluge of thinkpieces about whether this remake is too derivative of the animated original, whether LeFou’s outrageously rampant gayness is awesome, terrible, or will cause the world to implode upon itself, how the movie is too feminist, how the movie is not feminist enough, etc. etc. etc. I can promise you that hardly any of these essays will talk about accuracy in harpsichord portrayal, or musical anachronism in a movie where none of the musical numbers are remotely close to being in the baroque style. So here I am, a random person with strong opinions who picked a weird hill to die on, to offer my thoughts. You’re welcome, internet.

But Disney, I have to give you credit for featuring a harpsichord as a character. A+ for effort in raising harpsichord awareness.

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On Artists With Opinions // The Sunday Reading Roundup [2.26.17]

One of the things I most often have to defend (sometimes to others, and mostly to myself) is the relevancy of all my non-musical activities to classical music. And lately, as our current socio-political climate has gotten only more charged, I’ve seen an alarming rise in a certain sentiment towards non-political figures who choose to offer their thoughts on the crisis du jour.

Said sentiment, often in need of being cleaned up, can be summed up thusly: “Shut up and go back to making music/dancing/acting/[insert verb for other forms of art-making here].”

The idea is that if you’ve chosen to create art (“art” here being used as a catch-all phrase encompassing all forms of creative expression), you only have permission to create things for others to enjoy, and that you have somehow ceded your right as a thinking person to share your thoughts and opinions with others.

So, before I dump my laundry basket of weekly reading on you, I want to say a couple of things about what art is, and what it is not.

Art is not created in a vacuum.

Art is not meant to be consumed in a vacuum.

Art is not solely a vehicle to beautify the world.

Art is a distillation of its creator’s worldview, shaped by personal experience.

Art is a reflection of the world in which it is created.

Art is meant to challenge as well as inspire.

An artist who uses their medium as a form of expression (and not merely a craft that exists for its own sake) has a responsibility to observe humanity in all its terrible beauty and wonderful dysfunction, and to think critically about that beauty and dysfunction. An artist’s task is to tap simultaneously into that which is personal and that which is universal, and one doesn’t do that by pretending the outside world doesn’t exist.

So don’t give artists grief for thinking about things outside of their craft, because that’s their #$@%ing job.

Now, here are some of my favorite things that I’ve read/watched this week. Some slightly different themes emerged, so I’ve categorized accordingly.

Articles

Excellent pieces whose weird clickbait-y headlines are a disservice

Washington Post: “Refugees are already vigorously vetted. I know because I vetted them.” by Natasha Hall

During nearly four years as an immigration officer, I conducted in-person interviews with hundreds of refugees of 20 different nationalities in 10 countries. I saw countless refugees break down crying in my interview room because of the length and severity of the vetting process. From that experience and numerous security briefings, it’s clear that the authors of Trump’s order are unfamiliar with the U.S. immigration system, U.S. laws, international law and the security threats facing our nation.

Huffington Post: “I, Too, Am An Immigrant. I, Too, Belong.” by Raj Panjabi

(Found, upon reading this one, that the article was primarily an excerpt from a commencement speech, and that while it is indeed a powerful immigrant narrative, its focus was on the power of selflessness, neither of which were reflected in the headline. Oh well, HuffPo, you do you.)

Like many other refugees and immigrants, my journey has not been ”self-made.” As I share below, I believe the Americans who acted selflessly — providing my family with shelter, helping my parents secure jobs, sponsoring our green card applications, and mentoring me as a teenager — helped make my journey possible. I believe the selfless acts that shaped my life matter, as ever, for the lives of refugees and immigrants across America. And I believe no person, no policy, and no institution can strip the power we each have to act selflessly.

Pieces whose headlines could honestly have used a bit more clickbait

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber” by Susan J. Fowler

(This blog post has gone viral without resorting to having a clickbait-y headline, so really, who am I to fault it?)

When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.

Lowrider: “Richard Montanez — Raza Report” by Henry De Kuyper and Mike Landers

(This article is from 2011, so really they’re forgiven for not being clickbait-y.)

His [Richard Montanez’s] enthusiasm is contagious, and his empathy for human struggle is genuine. He’s the product of a low-income Latino family and knows all too well what it’s like to work hard and barely make ends meet. Now he is far removed from that struggle, as Richard is the executive of multicultural sales and community activation at PepsiCo North America—a far cry from his initial job as a janitor with Frito-Lay. 

Pieces whose headlines got it just right

The New York Times Magazine: “The Stir-Fried Tomatoes and Eggs my Chinese Mother Made” by Francis Lam

This paragraph is, as the kids say, my everything:

I knew that I wasn’t going to figure out a recipe for it, because I realized that my not knowing how to make this dish was akin to my Cantonese getting rusty, to not knowing when Chinese New Year is every year. It’s because I’m not an immigrant, only a son of immigrants, and so I know only the frayed facsimile of the world that my parents grew up in. Being part of a culture without living in it is like being in a long-distance relationship. You can make it work with grand displays of affection and splendid visits, but you don’t get to have coffee together on a Sunday morning — the little things, the stuff daily life is built on. 

[Note: my mom (and grandma and aunt) also made this dish, and taught me to make it, but their version is vastly different.]

The New Yorker: “When Immigrants Are No Longer Considered Americans” by Hua Hsu

The history of immigration policy is filled with moments like these, when a group goes from subhuman to superhuman within a few short years, because of political winds beyond their grasp. […] It’s a reminder that the “Creed of Democracy” contains limits—that no amount of assimilation or integration will protect you when an alien requires conjuring; that being a model citizen means little when laws can be enforced arbitrarily, and you no longer qualify as one. Yet many of us still try to live up to such impossible standards.

Language Realm: “Translating Puns in Harry Potter” by…?

So how do you translate a pun? Although there is, obviously, no one solution to this problem, there are strategies and tricks that help. You can hope for a happy coincidence between your source and target languages, unlikely though this is; you can find a close alternative, which sometimes is obvious but often requires considerable thought; or you can recreate the entire pun in a separate fashion, which requires a lot of effort and may fail. 

Buzzfeed: “Muslims Shouldn’t Have to Be ‘Good’ to Be Granted Human Rights” by Sara Yasin

had to smile, to be polite, to dissolve the hostility of those who thought Muslims were savage, alien creatures. I had to accept the explanation that these incidents were either less significant than they felt or just evidence of one individual’s ignorance — and that it was my responsibility to change their minds. I was never supposed to see them as the product of all the vehement anti-Muslim narratives in pop culture and the news that helped justify the surveillance and arrests our communities experienced in the aftermath of 9/11. Over and over again, my non-Muslim friends told me to brush these things off because they didn’t really see them as part of a bigger, systematic inequality: That would have meant thinking about what role they had in changing it.

I don’t know what’s going on, but Cracked is killing it

Cracked: “6 Big Differences That Turn City Dwellers into Liberals” by Loey Nunning

Suddenly multiculturalism isn’t some failed, politically correct agenda, it’s just your neighborhood. Cities are diverse because this is where people come to find jobs, and the vast majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal, live in them. By the time you show up in town, this huge kumbaya-world stew has already been boiling for ages. When you live around people from all over the world, you get to see first hand that most immigrants are normal, hard-working people, just with cool accents and better food.

Cracked: “The Real Reason for the Trans Bathroom Panic” by Ian Fortey

The idea of people being out there who are transgender is difficult for some to deal with. It’s a relatively new idea for some folks. But those people also need to appreciate an important point, and that’s who gives a shit? Who gives a shit if you’re not comfortable with gender identity and trans rights? If it’s not about you, why does it matter to you? 

Cracked: “6 Surprising Things You Learn in the Alt-Right Media Bubble” by Robert Evans

If you want to build a movement, here’s the first thing you should know: The best way to convert someone to a point of view is not to get in their face and scream inflammatory slogans. It’s to simply filter the facts so that they arrive at the conclusion you want on their own. Modern white nationalism has mastered this.

Documentaries

Lately I’ve been binge-rewatching Parks and Recreation and Veep (what can I say, there’s comfort in TV shows centered on ambitious and conflicted women) but I’ve ventured back into the wonderful, beautiful world of documentaries.

BBC Earth’s The Blue Planet

I know this series is going on sixteen years old (!), but I haven’t rewatched it since it came out, and all I can say about it is [heart eyes emoji]. It’s on Netflix!

SOMM: Into the Bottle

Highly, highly recommend. It’s beautiful, it’s informative, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s an inspiring reminder that art is art is art—that the drive and the struggle to create is universal, and that there is meaning to be found in toiling to create something that, in the end, exists for only a moment.

(Photo taken by me, from a 2015 trip to Paris.)

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