Singapore’s Good Eats

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart” – Cesar Chavez

Local dining is just as important as exploring during any excursion abroad. In this area, Singapore really has quite a few things to offer. Many of the dishes I experienced were ones that I’ve never heard of or seen before. With the limited amount of agricultural land available because of the country’s small size, Singapore imports most of its food. Yet with the expat community being so large, there is a wide variety of dishes from many different cultures.

The most remarkable and infamous food item of Singapore is its signature fruit the Durian. This fruit is definitely one to remember, most infamous for its terrible smell, it is a part of the Singapore experience. However the aroma is so strong that it can only be enjoyed in an open air market; it is not allowed in taxis, on the MRT or in airports. And if the smell isn’t offensive enough, the taste, even when dressed up in a sweet dessert (the way I had it) is still pretty bad. But being an explorer I had to give it a try, my best description for the taste would be…hmmm…rotting onions. While I have checked Durian off of my list of things to try once, many of the locals attest to actually liking the taste and there are many local candies and desserts made from it. While some may enjoy the Durian I could not, but it is definitely worth a try.

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Google image since I didnt have a camera with me when I saw the Durian in person
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Sign showing the fines for traveling with a Durian. *google image
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Durian Cake from the world famous Shangri La hotel. The cream looking paste in the middle is made from Durian.
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Other dessert options at the Shangri-La

So while the Durian is definitely one of the more acclaimed signature foods of Singapore there are plenty of dishes and fruits with more palatable appeal. Two popular fruits here are dragon fruit and watermelon; the latter usually accompanies almost every meal breakfast, lunch and dinner. On one of my first days I stopped at the food court in the ION Orchard mall and had the shrimp and pork Shao Mai. Traditionally this is more of a Chinese dumpling dish however it was my first time having it and it was pretty good.

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Dragon Fruit (Pitaya) on display in a local supermarket
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With the sweltering temperatures and high humidity, a little coconut water helps to keep cool
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Shrimp & Pork Shao Mai

Whether you dine in the upscale restaurants in Singapore City or at the local take out places in Little India, many of the local Indian restaurants provide you with an authentic experience. This includes cutlery, optional plating, and some curry flavors and textures I’ve never experienced. I’m embarrassed to say this was my first time having Nan, which is a traditional Indian flat bread. Additionally, I came to learn that it was customary to serve a boiled egg with certain dishes. I was also able to have my first experience with Satay which is an African dish of rice, meat skewers and traditional African peanut sauce. To seal the deal, I couldn’t leave the country without having Singapore’s most famous drink the Singapore Sling at the home of the best Singapore Slings, the Long Bar.

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Curry Chicken Leg in Curry sauce w/ Boiled egg
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Curry Chicken leg, and steamed white rice. *surprisingly this place also served really good waffles
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Looks Messy right? That’s part of the fun. Family style serving dishes. We all ordered and shared out our portions from the pots you see in the middle. Basmati Rice, Curry Chicken.
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Beef Satay (Beef Skewers, Peanut sauce, steamed rice)
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The brown square beneath the Beef skewers contains steamed rice. You open it when you’re ready eat

A signature trait of the Long Bar is the coating of emptied peanut shells on the floor of the bar. It is customary to have a few peanuts when you come in and throw the shells on the floor.

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The Steakhouse portion of the Long Bar, the actual bar is home to the proclaimed best Singapore Slings in Singapore
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Gloria and I with our Singapore Slings’

There are some traditional western fast food options there as well, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, 7-Eleven and even Popeyes. Some of the menus were slightly altered to include some of the more domestic flavors. For example, the curry chicken puff sold at the 7-Eleven was pretty good.

With so many options you could spend your entire time in Singapore just eating. But with many other things to do, why would you? I can easily say Singapore with all of its varied cultures, attractions and eats, presents a pleasing experience on the whole.

Singapore’s Attractions

As far as tourist attractions goes, Gardens By The Bay is one of Singapore’s most beautiful displays. Holding true to its name and located in Singapore’s Marina Bay, the gardens found here contain plants and flowers from species found all over the world. Some coming from as far as Australia, and others modeling attractions from other countries such as the Eiffel tower in France.

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Walking through the inside of this gigantic flower mountain you can learn about all of the various species actually being grown along the outside.
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The beauty of this attraction was that these giant stalks collected rain water which supplied over 50% of the water used for the gardens.

If you want to get somewhat of a bird’s eye view of how gorgeous Singapore city is during the day take a ride on the Singapore Flyer; one of Singapore’s most famous attractions, this high flying ferris wheel takes you 541 feet in the air to witness the beauty and activity of the Marina Bay.

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A side view of the Marina Bay a Sands Resort

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From this point you can spy other attractions such as the Merlion which is Singapore’s national symbol. The statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish represents the sea from Singapore’s origins as a fishing village and a lion from its original name “Singapura” which means Lion City. Replicas of this image can be found all over the city and on many of the local knick knacks.

IMG_0925Another popular sight is the Marina Bay Sands, this breathtaking resort host some of the most prestigious elements of Singapore’s tourist high life. Sadly for me I didn’t get to go inside but it is was still a beautiful sight at sunset and the night time laser show was amazing.

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IMG_0924One of the most amazing nights of my Singapore trip was spent at the Fullerton Hotel. Some friends of the family were having a 50th birthday party and to say the event was anything short of amazing would be an understatement. The hotel was across from The Marina Bay Sands and The Merlion. After taking in these two sites we enjoyed dinner on the balcony of the a wonderful boat house restaurant right across the street.

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The night time Marina laser show is one of the beauties of this site and creates a spectacular view.

Singapore By Tash

Really flying…yesterdays a thousand miles away“- Hoodoo Gurus

Waking up in Singapore for the first time was amazing not just because of the beautiful view from my sister’s apartment but because of the time difference; I was awake while everyone else was asleep.

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The view from my sister’s balcony the morning/night I arrived

Day one in Singapore was awesome. My niece and nephew were my personal tour guides which made the transition into this new country an easy one. Being shown the hangout spots and meet up areas that I probably would have bypassed had I not been with them made me think of all the areas New Yorkers know about that tourist won’t even think to look twice at or visit.

Many of the local hangouts in Singapore are primarily malls or outdoor food courts where the locals can come and sit around either between classes or during lunch breaks. The simplicity of these hangouts might be overlooked by tourists, but it was important for me to experience the essence of everyday life among the locals while there. The Ion Orchard is the “it” mall in Singapore city. Most of the malls use a tier system where the more popular, upscale and expensive brands are on the ground level and above, while the more affordable brands are downstairs.

Tasha Fact: If you get a Starbucks itch while walking through the mall, try a cheaper local delicacy instead. My tall frappe from Stbx was almost 8 Sing-yikes.

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Striking a pose amongst the professionals outside the ION Orchard

Areas like Holland Spring are another facet of the tourist-local blend in Singapore. Really popular for its low-key atmosphere and local amenities like supermarkets and convenience stores (i.e the 7-eleven behind me), its where many expats on a budget live. Overall, Holland Springs gave me a taste of what the everyday experience of shopping and living there might be.

Tasha Fact: Massages are a big thing in Singapore so finding a spa or massage parlor is really easy to do. The one behind me is on Holland Spring Road and offers really great foot massages for cheap.

get3(3)Walking the streets of the city was definitely an experience. I had so much fun people watching; just walking around observing the locals and some of their traditions was really awesome. Traveling throughout the different areas presented another interesting aspect of life there.

Singapore is notorious for its fines. Whether in a taxi or on the bus or train, fines for eating or drinking while en route can be as high as 500 Sing. So needless to say I kept the cover on my bottle of water screwed tight.

Tasha Fact: Singapore is known for being one “fine” city. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore and fines for this petty offense can reach as high as 500 Singh.

The Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system is very similar to New York’ s MTA system except a lot cleaner. The EZ-link passes for riding the train are slightly different. If you’re from New York or have ever visited then you’re familiar with a metrocard. In NYC there’s a flat fare of $2.50 which allows you to travel the entire subway system. In Singapore however, when you enter the train station or a bus you tap your EZ-link card and when you exit you tap it again. The card is charged for the distance traveled, and don’t forget to tap when you get off or they’ll keep charging you.

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The view of a roundabout from a pedestrian overpass. Not featured in this pic many of the MRT buses are double deckers

DSCN1718Even though I stayed with family for this trip I was the only one actually on vacation. The family however was in the midst of preparing to move back to the States, so for the remaining days we stayed at the Orchard Marriott in Singapore city. This is probably one of the more expensive hotels costing about 400 Sing a night (or $300 USD). There are definitely more budget friendly hotels that you could consider. With local events and activities going on all around you, I doubt you’ll even remember what the inside of your hotel room looks like.

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The Singapore Marriott within walking distance of the ION Orchard mall.

Throughout much of the city, especially around the malls, I noticed random pop-up tents and stands with presentations of different products or events. Singapore is very fashion friendly-even the renowned luxury brand Louis Vuitton had their third presentation of their Fall/Winter 2014 collection while I was in town.

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This lady is eating an ice cream bar inside a slice of bread, which I came to find out was a local treat. Talk about local delicacies

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This tent was for Audi Fashion Festival that was happening that week.
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With some of the models from the Fall/Winter 2014 Louis Vuitton presentation. *For some perspective I’m about 5’8″ in this picture 😮

The local experience was fascinating and that was without even trying, so just imagine the wonders the city has in store for its tourist.

Grab a bag and Get Ready, Set, Go!

Can I get a window seat…don’t want no body next to me -Erykah Badu

Although I was traveling in May, the climate in Singapore is pretty consistent and usually warm. Cotton shirts, light colors, sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhats, and a cardigan or two, no real need for a bathing suit though, unless you plan to hit the pool (Singapore isn’t known for its beaches). Whilst the outside temperatures can be warm, inside is a different story. Everywhere you go is air conditioned, so pack for the warm temps but bring a coverup that you can throw on just in case.

Tasha Tip: When visiting Singapore, pack for a warm climate (it’s very similar to the Caribbean climate wise) humid and warm most days.

The weight limits for suitcases weren’t a big concern for me however most airlines limit you to 50lbs /22kg. Surprisingly I only packed one large suitcase and one carry on, to hold me over for the week that I was there.

Since I was traveling on a plane for over 20 hours, it was important to pack the ultimate essentials. My In flight survivor pack consisted of the following:

  1. Eye patch, when flying westward for 20 hours I encountered about 12+ hours of daylight
  2. Reading Material: Magazines, Ipad, books etc
  3. Phone games
  4. Charger: usually just the USB cord
  5. Snacks: make sure to rack up on as much snacks as you can before your flight. Those in flight meals and peanuts are not gonna cut it. : /
  6. Neck pillow and blanket: it can get pretty cold up in the clouds

And we’re off…….

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One flight down, two more to go! #CaliforniaTarmacSelfies
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Delta’s in-flight tracker. This thing helped me keep my sanity 😉

Ready, Set…How to Prepare!

She works hard for the money – Donna Summer

Saving was a huge component in the planning process of my trip. I took about $2000 with me and that was more than enough (I had $200 left upon my return). There is a currency conversion in Singapore; the U.S dollar is more than the Singapore dollar (roughly $1 Sing = $0.80 USD). You can workout your savings in whatever way works best for you; saving $50-$100 a week for about 5 months right up until the week of my trip worked out for me and allowed me to travel comfortably. Once you actually have your savings converting the money is relatively simple. I converted my money once I arrived in Singapore simply because my stop in Japan was very short and they accepted credit cards which automatically did the conversion calculations and charged me accordingly. My advice however is to use cash, keep your credit and debit cards for emergencies. Many banks charge a conversion fee per transaction which varies in price range but can definitely add up.

IMG_0658There are definitely a number of anxieties that come with taking a trip of this caliber. I’d never gone farther West than California so there were many things I had to consider:

Come & Talk to Me: Communicating While Abroad
Communication while abroad is key. I needed to figure out cost effective ways to connect with my loved ones while abroad. I would advise downloading an app called WhatsApp. This app is wonderful for international communication and texting. Additionally, WiFi will be your best friend. To get access to the WiFi in the Tokyo airport ( I had a layover in Japan) you need to have a code texted to you. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive these codes until I returned to the States. Ultimately, whenever WiFi was available I used Facetime on my Iphone.

Tasha Tip: Speak to your provider at least a few days before your trip. See if there are any international phone packages that you can add to your account temporarily. Sprint allows you to choose a start and end date and will charge you an almost negligible amount per text something like five cents a text and $1.20 per minute for calls.

Language Barriers
As for language barriers both the Tokyo and Singapore airports are international so there are plenty of signs in multiple languages including English which was a huge assistance to me. Also, many of the representatives speak fluent English so I didn’t have too much of a problem finding my way. I absolutely loved the service in both airports, everyone was super helpful and pleasant. I spent only a couple of hours in Japan waiting for my connection so hopefully on a bit more adventurous return trip I can delve deeper into navigating the language concerns for Japan. Singapore however is easy as pie! Why you ask? The national languages which include English,are Malay, Mandarin and Tamil (language of the people of South India and North-East Sri-Lanka). Although the demographic is made up of many different peoples including those from neighboring Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand the majority of the population speaks English fluently. The locals will almost automatically address you in English so you can always find someone to help you navigate your way around. The beauty of this trip was there was no need for those cumbersome English to (? language) dictionaries.

Singapore: A Tourist Behind The Scenes

Hello All! I’m Natasha and I invite you to venture vicariously with me throughout Singapore!

Hello Asia! For those of you who have never been to Asia I am saying hello for you too; specifically to Singapore and if you’re anything like I used to be, you have no idea where to find this country on the map. So join me in these next few post to explore this tiny country and just some of the wonders it has to offer 🙂

First things first, Singapore is pretty much half way around the world from those of us in the West and its a tiny, highly populated country on the very bottom of Malaysia (don’t worry, I’ve included a map). But please don’t be fooled by its size because what this country lacks in land mass, it most definitely makes up in culture.

map-singapore While this little gem offers many resource, giving you tons of reasons to travel over ten thousand miles to visit, my main reason was family. My nephew was graduating from high school and it was literally my last call to experience Singapore before my family’s return to the States. The pro to visiting my family abroad was that I got the inside scoop of Singapore from these well seasoned expats. Fortunately for me, they didn’t disclose all of the treasures of this country which allowed me to get the tourist eye view as well.

Staying with family meant looking for hotels would just be one less thing for me to worry about but I still had to find flights, build an itinerary and pack.

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