Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The REAL reason why Singaporeans are returning to Singapore

My dear readers, I haven't been (entirely) honest with you. After subjecting you to the ordeal of Why Singaporean leave Singapore and Why Singaporeans return to Singapore, I have the moral obligation to tell you the truth.

The REAL reason why Singaporeans are returning to Singapore in droves (no official figure here so you can't prove that I'm wrong) every year is because of a four letter word:


Really, the Singapore Tourism Board got it right in their tourism slogan that Singapore is unique. Well, it is in a way, with just under 5 million souls milling around a piece of rock that is barely over 700 square kilometers in size day after day. Sometimes, I wonder why the people haven't tear their heads off yet.

In fact, it's probably the food that keeps Singaporeans going. Ok, let's not go into the discussion of conspiracy theories here.

Sir Stamford RafflesAnyway, Singapore is unique in the way that it has been a gathering place for many cultures when Sir-Stamford-Raffles decided to set up a trading port in a sleepy fishing village at the tip of Malayan peninsular in 1819. Bless the good man. He died seven years later, just a day before his 45th birthday in London and never really realized that he had planted a seedling that would flourish into a food paradise halfway round the globe.

As the trading port grew in size and stature, people of different cultures (I used to be able to memorise all those minority groups for my history class back then) made their way there to eek out a living. Some of them made it big while others languished as mere slaves for their entire lives.

Singapore-trading-portThe Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian, Peranakans and Malays from the Malayan Peninsular, the Sumatrans, the Javanese, Tamils from southern India, Sihks from north India and I'm not even considering other minority groups - all congregated in Singapore during the British colonial rule. And all of them did one common thing, they brought along their cuisines to Singapore.

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Singaporeans' penchant for food grew. Not even the Great Depression in the 30's , the Japanese Occupation in the 40's during World War II, the threat of Communism in the 60's, Cold War in the 80's put an end to that. The internet boom in the early 90's did slow it down a bit as Singaporeans were either busy with startups or minding their tech shares portfolio. Well, after the tech bubble burst, it's back to business as usual.

Put a group of Singaporeans together and all they can talk about is where to find food that is cheap (oh yes) and good. Every single Singaporean can recount where and when they had the best tasting sample of a particular dish. It's almost an obsession.

Just to let you have a glimpse of how fightening it can be, here's my (part) list...

Hainanese Chicken RiceHainanese-Chicken-Rice - My dad brought me (when I was seven) to a stall on the second storey of a hawker centre in Margaret Drive and I have stuck by it ever since.

I brought my wife (then girfriend) there when we were dating and would have probably demand my kids to make the same pilgrimmage if not for a fact that the building was torn down after I left Singapore.

Roti PrataRoti-Prata - 138 Casuarina Road. While we were dating (see how cheapskate I am?), wife and I will frequent this place, which is pretty far away from Thompson Plaza where many other (inferior) roti prata sellers set up shop.

Singapore-Crab-beehoonCrab Bee Hoon - definitely Melban Seafood over at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3. We had to call to book a seat and even with a reservation, expect to wait for 40min or more. In order to cope with the demand, the phone had to be left off the hook to reduce overbooking.

lor-meeLor Mee - My dad (quite a streetfare gourmet himself) brought me to this stall in Bukit Purmai that serves one of the most delicious lor mee ever. Interestingly, the shop opens only for 3hrs a day and the queue stretches for more than 20m and will only shorten nearer to its closing time. The seller must have added cocaine or something into his soup stock as there was a scuffle when someone tried to jump the queue. Imagine that.

If you've not noticed already, I have been enjoying myself quite a bit writing this post. Now, I'm sure you people out there have some favourite eateries that you're just dying to share with us. Come on, don't be selfish, just give us a shout in the comments section.

Or better still, if you've enjoyed this piece, please stumble it, digg it and reddit it so that the more people will get to read it. Even if you don't like it, do it anyway.

Read also...
6 reasons why Singaporeans leave Singapore
5 reasons why Singaporeans return to Singapore

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Deb said...

You Hit The Nail Right On The Head, CK! I could be sitting at a great multi course dinner somewhere in north China, or feast on a buffet of Filipino food in the Philippines, or indulge in seafood in Cambodia, but what do I dream of deep, deep down in my heart? chicken rice.

Thank God all my trips are short ones. I've discovered, I think, for me, max 3 weeks away is all I can tahan. I never lived abroad b4, I think I will die if I do. :(

Frances said...

Yup! Food is always a good reason. Singapore's also great for shopping!

lina said...

Same as Malaysians - we never go far from all those delicious food. :D

Even after only a week out of Malaysia, I started craving for my usual Malaysian fare (and spicy food!)

India Travel Junction said...

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Martin Miller-Yianni said...

I'm dribbling with the food thoughts right now!

Anonymous said...

Hehhe..I didn't expect to hear food. But in a way it's true...somehow the food you grew up with cannot be substituted with another. Btw, I am Hainanese...and my relative (owner of a restaurant biz) makes vy good Hainanese chicken rice.

xiaocangshu said...

Wow, I didn't know that memorizing the racial groups migrating to Singapore (beyond the Chinese, Malays, Indians and Europeans) used to be necessary for History.

Jasmine Shanea said...

Hope you are staying warm my friend!

Sher's coming back to SG and we are going to meet up and eat like pigs (well, pretty pigs that is). Will take into consideration all your yummy recommendations.

When is it your turn to come back? lolz. We can then all meet up and have a blast! :)

Dutchie said...

Jasmine Shanea & Sher - pls make heaps of pix n let us salivate from a far distance, can :-) ?

Dutchie said...

CK, I can taste those delish pix in my mind ! Crab Bee I hv yet to try. A coffee shop opposite Alexandra market has a Hor Fun stall that serves a beehoon soup with generous slivers of succulent fish filet n a mix of seafood including crab claws ! Too bad the row of shops were torned down.

My mom's Lor Mee comprises of slices of stewed bacon n 5-spice meatballs. I hv tasted strange combination at my aunty's with shredded steamed fish - too fishy for my taste. My own concotion is stewed eggs n pork, the gravy enriched with crushed garlic (with bit of water), red chillies n black vinegar - absolutely yum !

Actually I liked soupy dishes - beef balls, fish balls, wontons n yong tau foo. Satay Beehoon is hard to find. Anyone know of a good recipe for home cooking ?

The abundance of food varieties in Sg is the result of people paying for it n hv the "nose" for them. Typical dutch street food is limited to fries n deep-fry snacks. I wonder if this is the case of the frugal-mindedness, the down-to-earth mindset or a lack of adventure/inspiration?

We hv Pasar Malams in the big cities once a year (high entry-fee, sales of handicrafts n Indo Food) n it's buzzing with visitors.

Sydney or Melbourne(?)has success with a multi Asian foodcourt. I can only dreamed of it here .. sigh ...

Rudy said...

Mmm.. I'm hungry now! :-)

Food is the best reason to come back home. I'm the same thing with Indonesia.

Where in Singapore is the outdoor gathering place for food stalls? I forget the name of the place.

melai said...

Exactly! I lived in Singapore as a domestic helper and my sister and her family were a permanent residence before they migrated to Australia and believe me, I wanna go back to your country because I misses all the food. It was there that I learned to try variety of Asian food, specially your very own food. And you know what? here in the city I live in (Alliston, Canada) there is this Asian restaurant that sells Singapore noodles but, it's different if a real Singaporean cook the dish.

Ripalo Cal said...

hi...jz dropped in to say hi...pls visit my blog. Thx =)

and oh...i was jz jk abt the singaporean part in my blog...dun take it seriously.

fabulousabstinence said...

Man, I should have eaten breakfast before I visited you and iWalk's blogs. And thanks for the rich history lesson.

PuNiao said...

To be honest, it's hard to find good Lor Mee in singapore. I used to stay at Tiong Bahru when I was little and there's this stall that sells noodles (the coffee shop is owned by this guy called Ah Heng) and their noodle was really great. But the moment their noodle stall went to TV and got introduced on magazines, newspapers, etc, their standard dropped. The noodles got lesser and they even increased the price. So much for old time's sake, right?

jakill said...

Mmmm. It's over 40 years since I was in S'pore, but I still remember the food. Those crab claws. Nasi goreng. And the satay to die for at the stalls in Katong.

daria369 said...

Well at least I'm now all set to visit SG - with the list of addresses of where to eat good food and all... Thank you & see ya there!

SheR. said...

Wah!!! Food.. I miss them.
I guess I'm very SE Asian at heart. I love my spices. The spicier the better!
Jasmine... pig out time! Yippee!!! Just leave all the western food out. Thanks!
Dutchie... I agree it's easier for SG to adapt to Aus as there are so many Chinatowns!! I envy!
Food here sucks after sometime. No one knows what is Chilli!!!! They will offer me Paprika instead...duh!!!!
On second thought, I love food in M'sia! Honest and not too much into packaging. I like! :) Roti Canai, teh c.. here I come!!!

Nomadic Matt said...

now im hungry and want to eat. good thing i live in asia where food is 24/7

G@ttoGiallo, the Instigator said...

Who said you like food you're used too ? If it is true, I'm a renegade ! Yes, born in Italy, I definitely prefer asian food.
My best gastronomic memories are linked to Boat Quay... after a Sg Sling.

bloggista said...

Not just for Singaporeans, but for other nationalities as well. I am from the Philippines but one thing I miss in Singapore are the food - you got the best seafood noodles (spicy), crabs, and esp the bak ku teh. Im hungry now. :-)

waitingkitty said...

I love the chicken rice at Margaret Drive too! It's not there anymore?! Where has it moved to?

C K said...

Hmm.... right now I'm thinking of braised pork (with buns), roti prata/canai and yes, murtabak.

Well, I wouldn't mind some chicken rice either... wait and chai tao kuey as well. Sorry, got carried away.

Definitely. But then again, the prices aren't much cheaper as compared to London. At least that's what some Singaporean friends told me after visiting London.

Heh? Now, now... is it Japanese food or Malaysian food for you? Make up your mind, will you? :P

Hmmm, I've got this ligering suspicion that you're merely dropping links. But I'm going to let this go this time... hope that you get some visits to your site. Oh well...

Welcome to the club, my friend!

@my bug life,
Heh, what do you expect to hear then? You're Hainanese as well?? My mum is a Hainanese so I grew up eating chicken rice. Slurp.

Haha, all that memorising makes the difference between scoring 99 and 100.... eh, I'm kidding of course.

@jasmine shanea,
I'm huddling in my North Face now. Would you do me a favor? Can you take a couple of photos of what you guys eat and send it over to me ( The sight of them would probably kill me. But hey, it's worth it...

Not so sure when I'm due back for a visit but will drop you a message if I do. Cheers!

Oh yeah, great minds think alike.

I know exactly which stalls you are referring to but I've not got patronize them before. A pity really.

Ok, this is killing me... stew eggs & pork... 5-spice meatballs... gosh.

My wife cooked me some chicken rice yesterday and I'm still drooling whenever I think of it. Hmm... perhaps we should have it again tonight.

Is there any signature dish in Indonesia. I'm sure there are. Care to share a couple with us?

I think you are referring to the Esplanade, which is at... well, the Esplanade. There's one other over at Chinatown's Smith Street as well.

Honestly, I've never tasted 'Singapore noodles' all my life when I was in Singapore. Perhaps like you said, Singapore noodle is simply noodles prepared by a Singaporean. lol.

Those they are sold over here in London (Singaporean noodle) taste absolutely nothing like any of those varieties back home...

C K said...

Thanks for stopping by. I was looking through your site but didn't come across anything about Singaporean....

Hey, thanks for the compliment... believe me, my stomach was growling as I was tying out the post.

Haha, I know exactly what you're talking about. The same thing happened to a 'western' food stall in Ang Mo Kio S11. The standard plummets after it went on tv. Sigh.

Wow, that was just after Singapore gained independence isn't it? I've not been to Katong really. I know there are some stalls over there that whip up a mean laksa.

No worries, mate. Just pop by some of the sites that I've listed on my Singaporean blogroll and I've sure any of those authors would love to bring you around for a food tour.

Actually, I do miss the 'western' food back home. I mean, you don't actually get chicken cutlet/chop over here in London do you? Well, enjoy the makan session with Jasmine. I'm sure both of you can do with a couple of pounds.

@normadic matt,
Darn, you have to rub this in, don't you? lol

Ah... Boat Quay. The funny thing is that most Singaproeans (whom I know of) do not usually frequent Boat Quay for one reason or another. The place is swamped with expats and tourists. To get the real Singaporean food, you've got to be a bit more adventurous and venture into the housing estates.

Bak kut teh! I actually asked a pal to bring back some of those bak kut teh spices, which will sustain me through the winter. Ahhh...

I'm not too sure about that. Ever since the place was torn down, there's no news whatsoever. Sigh...

jakill said...

You said, 'Wow, that was just after Singapore gained independence isn't it?'

Actually we were there on the day it happened. The first we knew about it was when we heard the announcement on the radio that Singapore was no longer a part of Malaysia. If I remember correctly, that was on a Sunday morning.

Indian in Singapore said...

Yes, I agree with you. "F.O.O.D" is certainly great. You have much variety here, from Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian to Western food.

One thing that might stop you from coming back is "C.O.S.T". The cost of living consistently going up.

C K said...

Really? Wow... I heard from my Dad that it was an emotional moment.... and I grew up watching LKY wept when he announced that on tv.

@indian in Singapore,
LOL. But then again, when I start comparing the prices in London and Singapore, the latter is still much cheaper.

In fact, I'm counting down to my next visit back home. It certainly doesn't help that the sterling pound is dropping by the day.

Derence said...

ya agree... we Singaporean don't miss our country and family.. but the food... the lor mee pic make me feel like flying back now... i really get tired of western food... any1 with good lobang to get good singapore food in LA?

C K said...

Are you kidding me? I should be the one asking you for recommendation for S'porean food in LA, shouldn't I? lol

The irony is that you're probably closer to S'pore than I. Over here in London, I can't find anything that comes even close to mee pok. Oh well...

Anonymous said...

people who do return to sg just because of food must be either insane or stupid. based on what u've said, there must be many.

Ed W

Anonymous said...

::karinuslai:: said...

actually Singapore's going to lose this single reason for people to come back soon. all the old hawkers are retiring and the only thing to replace them are sub-standard bland rubbish you get at "same thing everywhere" aircon food courts and low-standard "restaurants." fine dining hasn't taken off in Singapore but our cheap eats are gradually losing their appeal as the younger generation aim to become something "more" than a mere hawker and we're left with PRCs and other foreigners attempting versions of our local dishes in their place. Just today a friend of mine noted that Singapore's food standards are slowly dropping...

C K said...

@Ed W
I guess among the many reasons why people return to Singapore, food is the perhaps the most tangible. Hmm, perhaps I should do another piece on this. Thanks for the inspiration!

How true. Gone were the days where you have a hawker stall mann by the same person for decades serving mee pok prepared with his 'special sauce'.

That's why I will try to avoid food courts whenever I am back and opt instead for open air hawker centres with stalls managed by sole proprietors.

Hmm, I am under the impression that most foreigners will bring along their traditional cuisine, that's how Singaporean cuisine is so varied in the first place, no?

Anyway, any recommendation for my next trip back home? :)

Anonymous said...

The chicken rice store has moved to Block 38, #01-02 Commonwealth Avenue
Singapore 149738. The building is still there though, but i think the building will be torn down soon.