Not a good day to rain, I thought. My sister and her kids are visiting, and they're eager to do some sightseeing. Our first stop is the National Museum. We wander through the exhibits, and my nephews are impressed by the story of Singapore, at how this tiny dot of an island rose to become a first-world country in a region of emerging nations. They admire the harmonious existence of three ethnicities in the country, and their strong influences on the culture and cuisine of Singapore.
Which leads us to lunch. And to Hainanese Chicken Rice. A whole chicken is rubbed with salt, stuffed with spring onions and ginger, then dipped and dunked in a large pot of boiling water. It is served with the most fragrant rice, first sauteed in rendered chicken fat, garlic and ginger, then cooked in chicken stock and pandan leaves. Three condiment sauces of chili, ginger and thick soya heighten the taste experience.
In the next stall, the surly cook stands in front of a huge wok, endlessly frying garlic and prawns, then pours in a rich pork stock to cook two types of noodles. As she covers the wok, she has only a minute of rest, until the finishing touches of beansprouts, chives, fish cakes, squid rings, eggs, and fish sauce are stirred in vigorously. Hokkien Prawn Mee (Prawn Noodles) is served with sambal blachan, a fiery condiment made of shrimp paste, chillies, and lime juice.
The boys order Roti Prata, a thin, layered Indian pancake made of flour, milk and ghee, tossed and stretched by the cook until it's as thin as skin, then folded and pan-fried until browned on the outside, but still soft and springy on the inside. Some pratas are filled with cheese or eggs, or a combination of minced meats, onions and eggs (then called Murtabak). A bowl of curry gravy comes with the order, to dip the warm pancakes in. Delicious.
Of course, they had to try the "unofficial" national dish, Chili Crab, made with plump and juicy crabs in a sweet and tart gravy of chili sauce, ginger, garlic and onions, thickened with beaten eggs. It's messy, but oh so scrumptious, and the rest of the gravy is mopped up by fried sweet buns called mantou.
Crispy baby squid in sweet caramelized soy sauce and sesame seeds, deep fried prawns with a topping made from cereal flakes and spices, and salted fish fried rice, where slivers of salty fish and eggs coat grains of fluffy rice. What a feast it was!