Thursday, August 20, 2009


Last week there was a conference held in Singapore for the Asia/Oceania geologists. I was invited to give a talk on my ice work. The conference fell during the same week as Oban, which is the Japanese week when many people return to their home towns and pay tribute to deceased relatives. As a result, it was impossible to find reasonably priced plane tickets during the exact time of the conference (Mon-Sat). Instead, I had to go Th-Th, so Ryan decided to join me to spend the time before the conference sightseeing.

Singapore has a really interesting contrast of very old and very new: small colonial-type buildings mixed in with skyscrapers...

traditional Chinese junks alongside state of the art amusement rides and fancy hotels...

and right down in the middle of the high rises of the conference center district is Raffles, the first hotel in Singapore and named after its founder, with its tropical flair, filigreed trim and gravel entrance.We stayed a couple of nights in Chinatown. Here is the view from the coffee shop in our hotel ground floor. We were right in the thick of it. Great dim sum just down the road and a street fair held every night on the next street over.

Although the architecture in Singapore was pretty interesting, our main focus was the food. Here we purchased the ubiquitous stack-o-meat that comes in a multitude of flavors. We bought this from the first place we saw, thinking it was something special, then realized it is sold every 10 feet.

You know what else is sold everywhere in Singapore: durian.

This blow-fish/porcupine-looking fruit is so stank that it is outlawed on busses and trains (image left from wikipedia).
We decided we had to give it a try, so, against our noses' better judgment, we picked up a durian pancake from a street vendor. We hoped that the pancake might just incorporate a hint of durian and that the batter and sugar would help the overall effect. We were wrong. In between the far too thin pancake/crepe the vendor placed a giant dollop of what must have been pure durian. The texture is similar to maybe vanilla pudding with bananas mashed into it. The smell is of trash and vomit. The first taste actually has a slightly pleasing mango-ish fruitiness, so that you are deceived into thinking maybe it won't be so bad. But this is soon replaced by an intense green onion flavor. We each took one small bite and will never come near the foul thing again. Unfortunately even one bite provides lingering smells and flavors so that you spend the night in the shower scrubbing your face and mouth out with soap.

On to more enjoyable eating experiences... Basically we found a guidebook with the top 10 things to eat in Singapore and worked our way down the list. Here is Char Kway Teow (#2) and a pork hamburger (Ryan strayed from the list with the burger, but it was pretty darn good).

Here is Laksa (#8) and Fried Carrot Cake (#5) --both awesome-- and Rojak (#9), a mixture of fruit, fried bits and a fishy, tamarind dressing with peanuts. It was just eh.

Then we went to Little India (above) to knock Chili Crab (#3) and Curry Fish Head (#4) off the list, both of which are I guess southern Indian delicacies (as opposed to the northern Indian food that is usually served in restaurants in the states). We were served everything on banana leaves. We used a combination of fingers, forks, spoons. It was total chaos.
Not shown (in case you are planning a trip to Singapore and want all 10) is chicken satay (#10), which we ate in Malaysia, and Bak Kut Teh (#1) a brothy soup that I had for lunch one day during the conference. The only two we didn't get to try were Hainanese Chicken Rice (#6) and Roti Prata (#7). Next time.

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