Eating in Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

Most travellers who have visited Singapore will cringe when I say this, but one of Dad’s favourite places to eat during our stay was the Food Opera food centre in the ION Orchard mall. I know, it’s not a legitimate hawker centre and you won’t walk out smelling like satay or prawn mee. But importantly, you do walk out feeling cool and refreshed after enjoying a meal in air-conditioned comfort, and that feeling is worth a million dollars in the overwhelming heat and humidity of Singapore.

We visited Food Opera a number of times during our visit, and never ate the same thing once. From chicken rice to bak kuh teh, yong tau foo to beef noodles, there’s enough variety at Food Opera to ensure that you can try something new with every meal. And while prices are slightly higher than what you would find in most outdoor hawker centres, you get your money’s worth in hygiene and comfort. The food isn’t bad either, and consistently reminded Dad of the kind of food he used to eat in the sixties in Hong Kong – truly traditional Cantonese cooking, without fancy modern embellishments. 

We did eat in outdoor hawker centres of course. We had Satay by the Bay after a stroll through the Gardens by the Bay, and cooled off with 2-for-1 weekday cendol from the same hawker centre. We made our way to Little India where we had murtabak and biryani. Kaya toast and roti breakfasts at random kopitiams along the road were not uncommon. 

The Chinatown markets were a hit as well, where we tried popiah, kueh pie tee, and what was literally THE freshest and most delicious wife cake I’ve ever had in my whole life- and I’ve eaten my fair share of wife cake! Shout out to Mini Toast House in Chinatown Markets (Shop #02-105) for their awesome wife cake. The other highlight of Chinatown was of course, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. The meals themselves may be simple, but the execution is brilliant – well worth a visit.

We’re lucky enough to also have the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in Singapore…expats / locals who can take us to fantastic places for dinner like No Signboard Seafood for amazing Singaporean chilli crab, salted egg yolk prawns, and chilli and garlic pippies, before finishing off the meal with some durian from a roadside stall. Or who can take us for delicious steamed buns (bao in Chinese, or strangely, pao in Singaporean) at Tiong Bahru markets before finishing off with matcha and almond croissants from the fancy pants hipster Tiong Bahru bakery.

In the few days we had in Singapore, I can honestly say that we never once had a bad meal. We didn’t plan ahead and book for fancy places, we really just stumbled across places and ate where we saw locals congregating. Our main goal was to always try something new at each meal, so that we could introduce my dad and brother to new dishes and flavours – and I think we succeeded in that as my dad absolutely loved Singapore’s food (though not the humidity!).

Singapore really is a foodie’s paradise, and I just know that the next time we go back, we’ll have just as good a time as we did this time. 

Chanoy Honeymoon: Cixi, Zhejiang Province, China, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Finishing our long European honeymoon with a quick stopover in China to see the maternal side of my family only helped to emphasise how ridiculously lucky we were to take the trip and to have the opportunities that we had. It’s not just that a trip of this magnitude would be entirely unaffordable for most of my Chinese family members. It’s also the education and the worldliness that we had growing up in Australia that has contributed to us wanting to go overseas to explore different places.

My family members are all entirely content living where they live in China, and never venturing outside of the country. “You don’t have this ingredient in Australia do you,” is a frequent sentence uttered at my grandmother’s dining table as they take delight in serving up strange sea creatures up for dinner. The idea of having to travel overseas and only eating hamburgers and steaks is horrifying, because they simply don’t know that there’s anything else available.

They’ve never been taught about the nuanced differences between different “Western” countries, and so French, Polish, Greek and English cuisines all meld together as a homogeneous cuisine of hamburgers and steaks. Why go overseas for that when you can have fresh fish and clams for dinner every night? After all they believe that it’s not like there’s any other historical or cultural things of interest to be found in other countries, because China is the greatest country in the world with the best culture and history.

This insular world view is made all the more ironic by the fact that the village where my family live is now more developed than ever with a greater exposure to the Western world. I even saw Westerners on local business in the hotel we stayed in! I spent a lot of time reminiscing to K about how things used to be whenever I visited as a child, and how different it now is.

Where we once had to do our business in a chamberpot, now there’s indoor plumbing. Where my grandfather once toiled in the fields, now the fields have been turned into factories and tiny one-room homes for the migrant workers flocking to the area for factory work. Where we once had to take an overnight ferry to the area from Shanghai, now there’s a new bridge that cuts the travel time to two hours on a public bus.

Just the fact that there are now restaurants and street food stalls in the area highlight how things have changed. They never used to exist because everyone cooked at home – what was the point of going out to eat? It’s only with the growth of the migrant worker population (now outnumbering the ‘locals’) that cheap restaurants and street food stalls have opened up to cater to those who don’t have full kitchen facilities in their tiny one-room residences.

I guess it just goes to show that even as the country develops at a breakneck pace and the standard of living is raised in China, it will take much longer for people’s mentalities and worldviews change. It certainly doesn’t help when the local CCTV news station reports on news the way that they do. My relatives remarked to me at one point, “Oh, isn’t it lucky that China doesn’t have shootings the way America does? We’re so safe here.” Yes, if you ignore all the corruption, human trafficking, drugs and domestic violence statistics…

I love China, the food, and my family of course. But I can’t help but wish for them to have greater exposure to the world and different ways of thinking that aren’t dictated to them by the Communist Party.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Krakow and Warsaw, Poland, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

There’s a friendly rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw in Poland that reminds me of the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Krakow holds a grudge against Warsaw for taking the title of ‘capital city’ away from them, and proudly claims that they have a longer history and local culture. For their part, Warsaw generally pretends that Krakow doesn’t exist and claims to be the epicentre of everything truly Polish.

Both cities have their attractions but just as I’ll always be a Melbourne girl rather than a Sydney girl, I have to say that Krakow rather than Warsaw holds more appeal for me. Built on a slightly smaller scale, Krakow feels more real and authentic, rather than artificial and manufactured. To be fair, Warsaw can’t help being a bit artificial – their ‘old town’ might look old, but it was actually only built in the past 50 years as the city was almost completely devastated by World War Two. As a result, what looks old is actually quite new, and what’s new are entirely cold and alienating monolithic Communist-era buildings.

By far the highlight of our time in the two cities were the free walking tours we did with the Free Walking Tour Foundation. While there are many cities that offer free walking tours, Poland does it particularly well. In each city, they not only offer the standard sights and history tour, but also a handful of themed specialist tours.

We did the Food Walking Tour in Krakow, as well as the Street Art Tour. In Warsaw, we did the Warsaw at War tour and the Alternative Warsaw tour. These specialist tours give you a fantastic insight into not just the ‘old town’ touristy parts of a city, but also into local culture, food, lifestyles. It’s an experience that I can highly recommend – guides are well-informed, knowledgeable and very engaging in the way that they talk about their city as well. You can tell when someone is passionate about their work, and these guides definitely were!

I also recommend doing a daytrip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz when in Krakow. It’s not a fun or exciting trip. It’s incredibly bleak and sad. But it’s important. There was a quote by George Santyana that was painted on a wall in one of the buildings in Auschwitz, and I think it applies in this case: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

While most of us will spend some time in school learning about World War Two, it’s hard to truly understand the true human impact of the atrocities committed in camps like Auschwitz. It’s not until you start to see the photos and hear some of the personal stories of people who were sent to the camps that you really begin to see what it meant to a whole generation of people. Lives were changed irreparably. Families lost loved ones. Whole families were lost. A whole community of people were lost.

Couple a visit to Auschwitz with some of the free walking tours focused on the Jewish history of Poland for a greater understanding of the devastation wrecked by the Holocaust. Be prepared to cry.

The food in Poland can a bit hit-and-miss, more so in Warsaw than Krakow I think. Our meal at Na Bednarskiej Pierogi in Warsaw was highly disappointing and it was really just the pastries we bought from Croque Madame that were particularly enjoyable. Our meals in Krakow were much better, with a good meal at Polakowski and a fantastic food walking tour around the city as well.

To finish this entry, I’d like to reiterate what I said about our meal at FamilijnyIf you feel lucky in being able to travel, then spread your good fortune where you can. Visit a canteen that welcomes homeless people if you go to Poland and order more than you need. Your leftovers won’t go to waste.