Language and food; the two most important facets of a culture. Lucky for us, the majority here in Singapore are multilingual, English being a widely spoken language and the one generally taught in schools. As a result, most people are fluent in the language.
So then there’s the food. We intended to eat our way around Singapore in the four short days we had to enjoy this new city. With so many dishes to sample, it was going to be an eating adventure.
“Food Playground”, a cooking class run by some lovely local women, sounded simply too good to pass up. Our class was to start at 9.30am. Because we are such early risers (and perhaps had a mild case of jet lag), this gave us plenty of time to find some breakfast.
Around the corner from Craig Street, where our cooking class was to be held, was Tanjong Pagar Plaza, a wet market below and hawker centre above. Naturally, this was our first stop. After a quick stroll around the market (and a rather smelly encounter with a few durians) we headed upstairs to find something delicious.
Using our full proof system from the previous day, we found the stall with the longest queue. We stood back and watched as the cooks did their thing. Two types of noodles were on order. One a thick, hokkien style noodle, lathered with a dark sticky sauce and the other a thin rice noodle. We observed as the man seamlessly tossed the noodles onto a plate, topping them with a sliced fish cake, fried egg and a meat that resembled a thickly cut ham.
We were getting many smiles from the locals as they watched us looking on with great interest. Before we had time to decide what to do a smiley, old Singaporean man dressed in a well worn, white singlet explained with a thick accent that this was the best stall in the market. He spoke with such eagerness and excitement about the food, explaining that it was all delicious and we couldn’t go wrong. Before we knew it, he had thrust us into the line in front of him. Those behind did not seem too upset about our queue jumping and looked on happily as we tried to decipher the menu. It was so lovely to be so accepted by the locals. They were so genuinely happy that we were there; eager to try something that represented them.
At the front of the line, the smiley man helped us order. Even though they were very busy, the lovely husband and wife team running the stall stopped to have a quick chat. We told them we were from Melbourne. They informed us that the woman’s sister lived in Doncaster and told us how much they loved Australia. The man gave us a sample of both the noodles on offer, topping it with the egg, fish cake and meat. It was such a pleasant experience. We thanked the three of them and made our way to one of the table.
We sat down to enjoy our first Singaporean breakfast. The old, smiley man approached us again, checking in that we were ok. He muttered something about ‘Kopi’ and rushed off.
Prior to coming to Singapore, as I do prior to travelling to any country, I had researched the local cuisine. I had read about ‘Kopi’- Singaporean style coffee made with condensed milk. Before I had time to explain what ‘Kopi’ was to Kristian, there was Mr Smiley again with a big mug of it for us to try. He placed it down on the table in front of us and gave us a big smile. We thanked him as he said goodbye and hurried off to catch up with his friends. The food was delicious. I think it tasted even a little better because of our special encounter.
This experience encapsulates the Singaporean people. They are full of energy, eager to help and are always smiling. People as warm as the country they live in!