We are conscious of the intensity of the climate but it does not delay us as we meander along Club Street, just off Gemmill Lane. Linda had forewarned us of the exclusivity (and extravagant costs) associated with this popular Chinatown street. The cute little cafes and coffee shops are charming and inviting, not unlike the cute and quirky eateries one would find in Melbourne. We are in search however, of a more local and traditional experience.
Maxwell Food Centre, a popular hawker centre just off South Bridge Road in Chinatown has come highly recommended to us. The hawker centres in Singapore are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. They are undercover areas full of many varying food stalls selling local cuisine. Originally they lined the streets of Singapore but as Health and Safety regulations changed they were moved off street corners and condensed into one space.
Our noses go into overdrive as we enter the centre. We are hit with hundreds of different smells all at once. Whilst weaving through the crowds of people and navigating around the cafeteria-style tables, the smells we encounter are both highly appetising and intriguing to foreign and new. After a few laps through the various aisles of stalls we realise we have absolutely no idea where to start! It is all very overwhelming. With so many choices where should we begin? We decide the best thing to do is analyse the queues. We assume that the stall with the longest line must be the best.
“Tian Tian” with its bright blue sign above is the clear winner. Specialising in “Hainanese Chicken Rice” a popular and well-liked Singaporean dish. We line up in anticipation, hungry to try something new. As we near the front of the queue, we notice that both Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain have sampled Tian Tian’s fare. As a Bourdain aficionado I am thrilled at our decision and am even more excited to try this dish! At the first window we place our order. Naturally, Chicken Rice is our first choice. We admire another customer’s Bean Spouts and Cuttlefish and decide that this is also sample worthy.
We move onto the second window to collect our first ever Singaporean meal. With eager eyes we watch as the man behind the counter effortlessly piles a perfectly shaped dome of rice onto our plate. Another man quickly slices a beautifully poached chicken thigh into juicy strips and lays them on top of the rice dome. The skin of the chicken glistens as a lovely ladleful of chicken broth is poured over the top. Fresh slices of cucumber are placed on the side to finish the dish. We take our Chicken Rice and Bean Sprouts (which had been prepared beforehand) and scout out a table, eager to dig in.
The bean sprouts and cuttlefish are good, but the star of the show is the Chicken Rice. What a dish! The broth is full of flavour and brings life to the plain white rice below. The chicken is tender and juicy each bite packed with flavour. We now understand why everyone harps on about the Singaporean Chicken rice!
With full stomachs, we spend the rest of the evening wandering the streets of Chinatown. As it turns into evening, the weather relents a little, giving us some breathing space. There is so much colour and life everywhere. The streets are laden with bright market stalls selling everything from silk scarves and amazing paper cuttings to traditional Chinese medicines (like dried lizards and other dried oddities that we couldn’t make out). It is such a wonderful feeling being somewhere that is so different from home, seeing, smelling and tasting things that you have never encountered.
I am constantly amazed by the diversity of cultures. Seven hours from home and we are already transported to a place that makes us question our definition of “normal”, “commonplace” or “routine”. We slowly make our way back to our bnb, passing quirky Chinese Herbalists, crowded Buddhist Temples and brightly coloured Heritage Homes and I am quickly reminded why it is that I love travelling.