Banana Leaf Apolo, Bukit Brown Cemetery, Dim Sum, Din Tai Fung, Four Seasons Champagne Brunch, Geylang Claypot Rice, Little India, Original Peanut Pancake, OverEasy, Parents, Peranakan Museum, Red Star Restaurant
Back in February on the same day that Brian and Melli left, my mother arrived after a long trip from Boston (via New York and Hong Kong). As luck would have it, it started raining about five minutes before I had planned to take a cab to the airport, so naturally my attempts to use the awesome iphone app all failed.
After about 20 minutes of frantically running up and down the street I finally managed to flag one down, but my bad luck continued when there was an accident on the ECP right before the airport. So, what should have been a 15-minute cab ride was about 30 minutes, and unfortunately my mom made it out of customs and had to wander around the terminal for a bit until I could find her. It was a rare instance where Changi’s awesome efficiency actually worked against me!
Anyway, I eventually retrieved my Mom with minimal difficulty after she had a brief wander around Terminal 1, and we made a beeline for dinner at my go-to dumpling Place, Din Tai Fung. Over the course of my parents’ visit I think we ended up eating there four or five more times; you can’t knock the awesome xiao long bao, service is always prompt and efficient, and the prices aren’t too bad for all the good food that you get.
My Dad arrived a couple weeks later while my mom was touring around Southeast Asia. Between the two of them, my parents’ visit spanned about five weeks, and we were fairly exhausted by the end of it. That said, we hit up tons of great restaurants and they managed to visit lots of museums and shops while they were in town. Here’s a quick-hit list of everything I can remember doing; if it wasn’t clear up to this point how much I like food, I think you’ll get the picture:
The Peranakan Museum: A gorgeous building near City Hall that houses some really interesting displays on the food, fashion and customs of the Straits-born Chinese.
HY California: Fun sushi place in our old neighborhood with some fantastic views of the ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay. I highly recommend the Fried Chicken Roll and the Singapore Roll (Tuna, Salmon, Avocado, Tobiko, Mango, Rice Paper & Spicy Miso Sauce).
Once Upon a Milkshake: Excellent spot for a calorie binge; we went to the Orchard Ion B4 location. Try the Agent Red Velvet. YUMMO
Dim Sum at Red Star Restaurant: This place on the 7th floor of an old HDB in Chinatown is kind of a Singapore legend (note the history described in the IeatIshootIpost story I linked to). By most accounts they might not consistently serve the best food, but it makes up for that in history and atmosphere. My Hong Konger friend/co-worker Rainbow is of course a dim sum connoisseur and made all the arrangements. She wisely called up and found out that it starts to get packed at around 11am, so we showed up at 10:30 and got the last open table in a very crowded room filled with pushcarts, giggling children and old grandparents reading newspapers.
The food was pretty good, but I think my mom was most entertained by Rainbow’s high level of engagement with the wait staff. At one point she chased down a cart with char siew pau to ensure that we got it fresh. Amazingly, by the time we left there was a line stretching TWO LEVELS down the stairs, so I’m definitely glad Rainbow called ahead to get the lay of the land.
John Erdos: A chi-chi furniture store located within posh Dempsey Hill. My mom was determined to help redecorate our apartment and we would have purchased a wooden bench there, but they were out of stock at the time. Worked out for the best since a few days later we found out we’d have to move anyway!
Lau Pa Sat Festival Market: One of Singapore’s oldest hawker centres and our go-to spot for late night food while living at MBR (it’s open 24 hours). There’s a huge range of food here, from classics like chicken rice and carrot cake, to Korean BBQ, to an Indian wing, to Vietnamese, to even Wendy’s (there’s also like a $5 tourist surcharge compared to most other hawker markets). Of course it’s also home to the famous “Satay Street”, which serves the city’s best range of grilled meats (so long as you can stand the outdoor seating and smoke coming off the grills). Bonus randomness points for the Filipino karaoke band that plays on the elevated stage in the middle of the market.
Korean BBQ at Red Pig: Korean BBQ is pretty popular here, and this joint on Amoy Street in Chinatown is the best place I’ve found. Prices are pretty good, the staff is super-friendly, and their special spicy “Red Pig” pork and kimchi are both delish. Plus they have a super-cute mascot that’s posted all over the walls and menu:
Drinks at OverEasy: After my Dad arrived we took him on a big walk around the Marina to help him stretch his legs and ward off the jet lag. This spot in the One Fullerton Complex has incomparable views of the Marina and Marina Bay Sands:
They also have an awesome menu of cool cocktails and breakfast-themed items like Huevos Rancheros and Pancakes. Yet for some reason they refuse to open before 5pm, even on Sundays when they would absolutely do a bonkers brunch business. Anyway, we stopped here midway through our walk with my Dad and he chose to enjoy a Singapore Sling. Not surprisingly, he thought this one was better than the pre-made stuff at Raffles.
Dinner at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre: I was chided by KF Seetoh when I said this was my favorite hawker centre because apparently this, too, is touristy and not hardcore enough for true Singapore foodies, but whatever, they have some awesome chicken rice stalls (including Tian Tian, which is always sold out or closed by the time I get there) and lots of other good places. We went here for dinner with my father, who got to try two kinds of chicken rice, wonton noodles, popiah and rojak.
Bukit Brown Cemetery: I’d been here once before (on the advice of just about every expat blogger in Singapore), and knew that my parents would appreciate the history of the old tombs as well as the almost stunning tranquility of the lush, slightly overgrown paths. There are very few places in Singapore where you can go and feel completely alone, with only the noise of the birds (and monkeys) to drown out your thoughts. It’s incredible to believe the highway is a few minutes away (or that the government wants to build a new highway right through the middle of this gorgeous gem). It saddens me to think it might be gone, or at least severely altered, by the next time my parents visit, but at least I’m glad they got a chance to experience it in its current, marvelous state.
Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake: My dad requested this place after Anthony Bourdain featured it on The Layover: Singapore. OMG was it worth the taxi trip to the food centre in the middle of an HDB just off Commonwealth Road, and the 25-minute wait in line. The peanuts are hand-roasted and the crust is doughy and just slightly sweet. I’ll say it again: DELISH.
Dinner at Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India: Kind of a touristy restaurant in Little India (which we first learned about watching Living Cities: Singapore in Australia) but whatever, the food is delicious, the atmosphere at long communal tables is really fun, and the prices aren’t terrible. My dad, the hubs and I ate about three dinners’ worth of food in one sitting, and ALL OF IT was amazing. My particular faves are the daal and the butter chicken. We happened to go on a Sunday night, which is pretty spectacular for people watching in Little India since the streets are teeming with foreign workers who have the night off and there’s Indian music blasting everywhere. I don’t think my dad ever expected to see so many Bangladeshi men walking around holding hands in his life.
Geylang Claypot Rice: Yet another spot visited by Anthony Bourdain on The Layover. I knew my parents would enjoy seeing the somewhat grittier Red Light district of Geylang (just slightly different from sterile Marina Bay), but the food here was equally killer. Crispy, perfectly burnt rice baked in ovens, melt-in-your-mouth soft shell crab, and delicious stir-fried Asian greens were all mega-highlights. What’s more, Rainbow made an encore appearance for my Dad’s benefit and entertained my parents beyond belief with her impassioned dialogues with the wait staff. At one point three different people – including the chef – came over to discuss our order with her, and after dinner she insisted that my Dad accompany her into the kitchen so they could inspect the old school ovens (and of course the chefs were happy to have her). I think my parents are ready to adopt Rainbow.
Tandoori Corner near Novena: Our friends Nad and Joanna (who has basically been my Singapore fairy godmother from the moment we decided to move to Singapore) live near this excellent Indian restaurant on Balestier Road. We dined outside and every single dish was excellent; I highly recommend if you live in the Novena area.
Champagne brunch at One-Ninety at the Four Seasons: Before we ever came to Singapore I was reading that this is one of the island’s best brunches. It’s kind of a family tradition to go to brunch at the Four Seasons in Boston on Christmas Eve, so I figured this would be the perfect ending to my parents’ marathon visit.
Although we got off to a slightly rough start – no one ever brought the coffee & water that we asked for, until finally i had to stand up and wave over the manager – the food quality and selection was topnotch. I definitely got my money’s worth with Veuve Clicquot Champagne, and I know my dad enjoyed the custom martini bar. The sushi and raw bar were fresh and constantly replenished (we sat nearby), the carvery kitchen served up grilled steak and lobster, and the desserts room was delectable (I rate desserts based on how many chocolate offerings are available; here there were about 10). The room lacks the ambience of the riverside Fullerton or the astounding 70th floor views of Equinox at the Swissotel (where we went a couple a weeks ago. I’ll blog about it…someday), but it’s tastefully decorated with fresh flowers and someone playing piano off in the distance.
My father and I also went to see the play “Cooling Off Day” presented by the Wild Rice Theatre Company at the SOTA Auditorium. Between the Singlish, bad hearing and a lack of knowledge about Singaporean political in-jokes I think my Dad maybe picked up about 10% of what they were saying (he certainly enjoyed the “dueling-hawker-stands-as-metaphor-for-political-parties” sketch, though). I’d say I maybe got 80% of it at best. But I think we both came away with a new appreciation for the importance of voting here and what last year’s election meant to the Singaporean identity. It was honestly one of the most interesting and enlightening evenings I’ve spent in my 1+ year here.
During their stay my parents also got in a great deal of pool time (for people not working, I suppose a stay in Singapore isn’t so different from renting a condo in Florida or something), as well as visits to the National Museum of Singapore, the Botanic Gardens, the Long Bar at Raffles and the Titanic Exhibit, which I sent them to after strong recommendations from Crystal and Laura. They both came back raving about it – my father was quoting random Titanic statistics to me for days – so cheers to my fellow bloggers for the sound advice!
My parents are fairly active but not overly so, and found the city both easy and comfortable to navigate. They each spent over two weeks here, but I don’t think we came close to exhausting all the museums, parks and historical sights that I’d wanted to show them. Probably because we spent most of our free time eating. But of course, it doesn’t get more Singaporean than that, does it?!