Travel Tales: Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

When we made the decision to go to Sri Lanka for my cousin’s wedding, it was pretty much a no-brainer that we would stopover in other destinations (Singapore and Malaysia) on the way there and back. Breaking up a long flight with two shorter flights makes sense right? 

Well it did. And then it didn’t. The afternoon before we were due to fly out, Jetstar cancelled our flight to Singapore and calling their customer service centre for a replacement flight gave us two options:

  1. A direct flight to Singapore three days after we were supposed to arrive, at which point we would have to leave for Sri Lanka almost immediately and not have time to enjoy Singapore at all
  2. Flights to Singapore on the day that we were supposed to leave….via a layover in Hong Kong. We essentially doubled back to Singapore after flying to Hong Kong, adding around eight hours to the overall journey.

Jetstar are known as Shitstar for a reason.

A crappy start to the holiday was thankfully improved with each day we spent in Singapore. While we all suffered in the humidity (my family are not summer people), it was good that we were able to start acclimatising to the humidity of South-East Asia in the relative comfort of Singapore and its air-conditioned malls – we certainly wouldn’t be able to retreat to air-conditioned comfort quite as easily during our stay in Sri Lanka! 

That’s not to say that we didn’t venture out of the malls of Orchard Road, because we certainly did. We spent one day in the Gardens by the Bay, the futuristic vast nature park that they’ve somehow managed to squeeze into densely-populated Singapore. We went on the Singapore Flyer which I’d never been on before, and managed to time our visit so that we had an entire pod to ourselves, sandwiching in nicely between two overcrowded pods full of Chinese tour groups.

The highlights though, were when we just spent time wandering around different parts of Singapore, sampling local fare at different markets. Having only visited Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little India and Tiong Bahru, I feel as though we’ve only scratched the surface of what those Singaporean districts can offer us…let alone, what the rest of Singapore has to offer! What about areas like Kampong Glam, Katong, Geylang…and I’ve never even been to Sentosa Island!

I guess we’re lucky that Singapore is so (comparatively) close to Australia, and that it would make for a great stopover to wherever we may chose to go on our next trip. Over the course of a couple of years worth of two or three day stays in Singapore, we may finally get to see, and eat, more around the country. Singapore…I’ll always be back.

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. 

Review: Kreta Ayer, Eastwood Sydney

I’ve only been away from Sydney for a year, but it feels as though areas like Eastwood have completely transformed. There’s such a range of restaurants that locals are spoiled for choice. Any restaurant that doesn’t tick the three primary boxes of value for money, taste and fast service, isn’t going to be in business for long in this area.

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Kreta Ayer is one of the new restaurants that have opened up in the time that we’ve been away from Sydney. In the space that was formerly occupied by long-time local institution Homer’s Cafe, Kreta Ayer offers a large range of Singaporean cuisine. Will the variety on the menu be its downfall? Sometimes, picking a niche and sticking to it is a much more successful approach in Eastwood.

Boneless Hainanese Chicken Laksa, $12.80 AUD
Boneless Hainanese Chicken Laksa, $12.80 AUD

We started off with the Boneless Hainanese Chicken Laksa, a mix of the tender poached chicken that one would more normally find with Singaporean chicken rice and a creamy laksa noodle soup. In eating this, I found myself wishing I had some of the fragrant rice one would normally have with Hainan chicken, or even for some plump prawns in the laksa.

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While each element was delicious on its own, I think I would rather order a chicken rice and a seafood laksa separately next time, to ensure that you get those extra ingredients that really complete the dish.

Penang Char Kway Teow, $11.80 AUD
Penang Char Kway Teow, $11.80 AUD

We went on to try the Penang Char Kway Teow, a dish full of the desired wok hei, but lacking a broad range of ingredients. While the dish was heavy on the noodles and bean shoots, it lacked sufficient plump and fresh prawns, or even Chinese sausage, lupcheong. I felt like Kreta Ayer skimped on the quality ingredients here, delivering less value for money. 

Cereal Prawn, $18.80 AUD
Cereal Prawn, $18.80 AUD

I wish I could say that the prawns that should have been in the laksa and the char kway teow were in the Cereal Prawns…but I would be lying. With less than a dozen cereal prawns in this dish, it really didn’t go very far in our group of three diners. And while I liked the concept of the cereal batter, I felt like it lacked thoughtfulness in execution. As the prawns were not de-shelled prior to battering, you lost the batter when you peeled the prawns and ate them. What then, is the point?

Pork ribs, $16.80
Pork ribs, $16.80

We finished with the Pork Ribs – surprisingly well executed and a larger serve than expected. The healthy serving of chewy pork ribs coated in a sweet and sticky sauce was very welcome.

Look, Kreta Ayer has one thing going for it – as far as I know, it’s the only Singaporean restaurant in Eastwood, and stands out as quite unique amongst a crowd of Cantonese and Shanghainese restaurants. However, if they don’t ensure they can tick all three of those boxes – value for money, taste and fast service – they won’t be around for long. Locals are discerning, and restaurants won’t make the cut in the long run if they can’t measure up to the likes of Taste of Shanghai.

Kreta Ayer is located at 172 Rowe St, Eastwood Sydney.