Yes, the Lemur trip to Singapore and Malaysia is underway! We arrived in Singapore yesterday morning after a sleepless thirteen-hour flight, but luckily the energy of being here carried us through, at least till a much-needed afternoon nap. More to the point, our desire to be out and eating won out over tiredness, and we met up with Lemur friend Kenny* for a late breakfast. Our first stop was the Chinatown Hawker centre, which is a sprawling, labyrinthine food hall on the second floor of a concrete mall. It's nominally indoors but open to the elements, not air conditioned, but with breezy balconies around the edges. We wandered a lot, weaving through colour-coded sections, sometimes ending up walking in circles past the same kway teow stall or the same family with a giant fish on their table. It was the perfect introduction to Singapore food and possibly an extension of our feverish jetlagged minds. Eventually, we settled on mixed meat noodles with fish balls and fried wonton. The broth was spicy and tasty, and the tangle of noodles included delicious secrets like little cubes of deep-fried lard. So. Very. Good.
To follow up, we had some chee cheung fun, which came stuffed with pork and chicken, doused with a sweet sauce, and with a mild sambal on the side.
The chee cheung fun lady was really into Mr Lemur and insisted on posing with him for a photo, but then she got shy, sadly, so we don't have that one.
For dessert (because, yeah, breakfast needs dessert) we had a trio of almond, black sesame and peanut soup things. The consensus seemed to be that the peanut was best, although the almond was also really fragrant.
Later on, we met up with Kenny's friend Alan* who whisked us off for dinner. (*These are not their real names. I asked them if they wanted a nom-de-blog and they offered the names of their favourite childhood football players. See if you can guess what team they supported…) Anyway, off we went to Long Beach for that unmissable Singapore dish, chilli crab. Long Beach is housed in a former British army barracks, now converted in what is surely the Singaporean move par excellence, into a restaurant complex. Waits were long but we scored a table in the garden, which turned out to be quite lovely.
Of course, you can't just have the crab. Such reticence would be almost unseemly. No, you have to order a whole range of dishes, as if the crab were just one choice among many. It's amazing how quickly the madness starts to seem perfectly normal. So we began with deep fried baby squid, which were fried until really crispy, then tossed in a sweet soy glaze. The crispiness is a surprise, and the combination of crispy and sweet makes them quite addictive.
We couldn't resist home made tofu, which I swear was the best tofu I have ever had. I dream about tofu this soft and custardy. It was also fried, then topped with pork floss and cucumber, and came with a sticky sweet sauce. Singaporeans definitely like sweet flavours, but it was never overly sweet but a nice contrast to the savoury pork. Also, hello pork floss, my old friend.
Next up was otah, which is a local dish of fish paste flavoured with lemongrass, coconut milk, turmeric, dried chillies and more, steamed in a banana leaf. It was deliciously roasty with a mellow chilli kick. It doesn't look much but it's packed with flavour.
For a vegetable we went with morning glory with belacan, which one Lemur pal calls “lion” because of its musty, back-of-the-lion-cage scent. He meant it as a compliment, and I adore this dish in general. I might be spoiled for average lion, though, because this was far far superior to anything I've tasted before. The belacan sauce was a thing of beauty, both less pungent and more deeply flavoured than the usual kind. I'm sure the quality of ingredients here is just better.
Then, finally, the crab was brought to the table and set down with a flourish. There's not much sense of scale here but let me just emphasise that this was a BIG bowl. Inside was a truly giant Sri Lankan crab, cut into bits and set to float in a lake of chilli sauce. It comes with fried (fried!) bread to dip in the sauce, because we don't feel gluttinous enough. People talk a lot about chilli crab and they are right to do so. It really is that good. The sauce is seriously rich, but mild enough not to compete with the delicate crab. Apparently, they break the crab up a bit before cooking, so that the crab is cooked all the way through with chilli sauce and the sauce is infused with sweet crab flavour. It's messy food all right – you have to dig in with your hands and start pulling apart crab parts. Mr Lemur finds such things terrifying, but he gave it a good shot. Both Kenny and Alan are mildly allergic to crab, so it was really in a spirit of self-sacrifice that they brought us here. Still, we made it through the whole beast with no visible ill-effects and it was delicious enough to be worth any risk to life and limb.
We finished the night with a Singapore Sling at Raffles, which seemed like the thing to do. We expected it to be touristy but in truth it was significantly cheesier than we imagined. I thought it would still be a high-end cocktail bar but it was closer to a theme pub. The drinks were super sweet and not very alcoholic, and the music came from an 80s cover band who tortured us with loud renditions of such gems as Arthur's Theme. We learned something at least – perhaps something predictable about supposedly upscale tourist things being bad and downscale food being spectacularly good – but a lesson to continue as the eating frenzy continues.