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: Street Food Karavan, Budapest Hungary

When we arrived in Budapest and checked into our accommodation, our Airbnb host spent a bit of time with us explaining where to eat. “Don’t eat anywhere in the city,” she said. “It’s so expensive, you pay at least 3000 Forint per person for anything. I like a buffet around the corner from this apartment, only 1000 Forint per person for all you can eat.”

She’s not wrong as many of the restaurants are quite overpriced by the standards of most local Hungarians. They seem reasonable to us as tourists with a higher income, but are quite out of reach for most others. So where do people eat when in the city then, if not in restaurants? Surely they don’t all go to 1000 Forint all-you-can-eat buffets?

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Answer – they head to the Jewish Quarter. Formerly the rundown Jewish ghetto, this part of Budapest is undergoing gentrification, and revival by the younger generations. It’s now a very cool enclave of hipster shops, cool cafes, vegetarian and vegan takeaway joints, ‘ruin bars’ in rundown buildings, independent designer shops and much much more.

With young hipsters and cool locations comes cheap street food. Street Food Karavan is where you can go for a variety of local Budapestian food trucks in one permanent location. K and I headed there one day for lunch before joining one of the free walking tours around the city.

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Our first stop was at Nyakleves which can also be found with a proper shopfront at 27 Budafoki Utca elsewhere in the city. Soups are their specialty with up to half a dozen different soups available every day. The menu does change depending on what’s in season, so ask the guy behind the counter to tell you all the options if you can’t read Hungarian!

Corn and crayfish soup, 600 Hungarian Forint
Corn and crayfish soup, 600 Hungarian Forint

I chose a Corn and Crayfish Soup which only cost us about $2.80 Aussie Dollars. While there were no large discernible chunks of crayfish in the soup, there was a strong lingering crustacean flavour and aroma which went particularly well with the creamy corn soup. I’d definitely order this soup again – hopefully next time with some crusty bread on the side.

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Our next stop was at Paneer who can also be found elsewhere in the Jewish Quarter at 53 Kiraly Utca. They brand themselves as the ‘real cheeseburger’ specialists, because rather than offering meat patties in their burgers, they offer fried slabs of different cheeses. Yes, you heard me right! Cheddar, emmental, camembert…they have it all.

Camembert Cheeseburger, 1550 Hungarian Forint
Camembert Cheeseburger, 1550 Hungarian Forint

We had the Camembert Cheeseburger for $7.28 Aussie Dollars. This may seem a little bit steep for a single burger with no fries or drinks, but let me remind you that it’s a whole slab of camembert cheese, deep-fried to oozy goodness! Served with a slice of smokey grilled eggplant and sweet blueberry jam and beetroot salad, this burger really hit the spot. It hit the right note of pungent camembert tempered with creamy eggplant, sweet jam, and fresh beetroot. Delicious!

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Our last stop was at The Street Buffet, which doesn’t have any other locations around Budapest. I wasn’t sure about them as they didn’t seem particularly well patronised by other customers in comparison to other stores, but K was keen to give them a try.

Chicken and bacon pirog, 700 Hungarian Forint
Chicken and bacon pirog, 700 Hungarian Forint

We ordered one of their Chicken and Bacon Pirogs (also available in a tortilla) for $3.29 Aussie Dollars and I’m afraid to say that it didn’t do much for me. The awkward shape of the pirog meant that every time you took a bite, bits of it would fall out making it quite a messy meal. The salad was also much too oniony, and the uneven distribution of mayonnaise made parts of the pirog too bland and other parts too strong in flavour. There’s a lot to be improved here, in the meantime take your chances with one of the other stands!

Street Food Karavan is the place to go for a cheap meal out in Budapest. With half a dozen or more different stands to choose from with vegetarian and vegan friendly options available too (you are in the hipster Jewish Quarter after all!), there’s something for everyone. Just make sure to follow the locals to the stands with the best food!

Street Food Karavan is located at 18 Kazinczy utca in Budapest, Hungary.