Thank you Yunti for pushing me to blog about our family trip to Singapore and Hong Kong! Now, with Yunti by my side let’s consistently share our posts! Maybe I’ll finish sharing in record time!
I really struggled planning this trip because my memory of Singapore is no longer the same as it was in 2006 and 2007 when I was studying abroad at NUS (National University of Singapore). My research led me to be more confused as to what to show my family since they have never been to Singapore. So after an easy river cruise we made our way to Chinatown, which I think can give my family a good first impression and for me my first glimpse of the new food street.
And because of my little struggle to plan this trip with a daily itinerary, I ended up drumming up a list things to do and eat with no other plan. And because of that we ended up going to the same places over and over again to see different things. This is at least something new to me!
For a country that has a large population (majority?) of Chinese people, why do you need a Chinatown when most things in the city can be considered Chinese? The Chinese diaspora is huge! Is there any country in the world where we can say there are no people of Chinese dissent? Chinatown in Singapore was once a place where most of the Chinese people who moved to Singapore congregated but today, it is a historical site and a tourist site.
You’ll find all of your souvenirs here and throughout the historical buildings you’ll learn a thing or two or more about the Chinese people in Singapore.
We walked into the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. As I learned as a kid, when you walk into someones home always say hi and and if you walk into a temple always pray. “入屋叫人 入廟拜神“ So in Singapore might as well make our way to a temple.
I never went inside of this temple during my student days. During Chinese New Year, I was here with relatives but with the crowd I was a little intimidated and decided to just stay outside. This time, we actually went inside; greeted the buddhas on the ground floor and then went upstairs.
The actually Buddha Tooth Relic is housed on the top floor in a beautiful and elaborate shrine. I greeted and acknowledged that but didn’t go into the room (because I didn’t want to take off my shoes).
Then we went to the museum, where there are displays of buddhist statues from all over Southeast Asia. It’s a reminder that Buddhism is quite a diverse religion and in each region, the images truly reflect the culture of each place.
I didn’t take any pictures inside (although you could in most places of the temple), I chose not to. And in one place where you are asked to not take pictures you will find actual buddha (tooth) relics and the many different vessels that house the relic. Do you know what a Buddha (tooth) relic is?
And as a reminder of the diversity of Singapore, just a couple blocks from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is the Sri Mariamman Temple. That is the oldest hindu temple in Singapore which dates all the way back to the 1820’s. The architecture is hard to miss with sculptures of deities, mythological beasts and other beings towering over us.
We really didn’t spend much time in Chinatown, but it is a great place to go to during any and all Chinese holidays. Now that I think about it, we should have spent more time there since we were in Singapore just days before the Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s ok, we went somewhere else for that.
And then there is all of the food in Chinatown. The Chinatown Food Street is located on Smith Street in the heart of Chinatown. And once you’re in Chinatown, it is not hard to find.
It was revamped in 2013 to it’s current look. It is still an outdoor Food Street (can I call this hawker center kind of place?) but there is now a big and beautiful class cover as well as a couple Big Ass fans to keep the area cool (which is much needed in Singapore).
As you can see in the picture above, that was me in 2006. That was when the Chinatown Food Street well before the revamp.
I remember coming to the Chinatown Food Street with my friends after a night out karaoke -ing with my friends for a late dinner.
The street getting closed to traffic at certain hours with road block things (not sure how that worked).
And as we arrived in Chinatown, I kind of bee lined to the food street to see the new revamped look. And I was impressed.
I also heard that there were quite a few new and some rather famous food stalls that are now now opened at the Chinatown Food Street. But after wandering the Food Street several times, I found myself forgetting about the many blogs I read about and ended up just picking out whatever I felt like eating.
On our very first visit to the Chinatown Food Street, we stopped at the drinks and dessert stall to cool off first. This was very much needed since we walked from Clarke Quay to Chinatown.
It’s only 1 MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, the subway/train system in Singapore) stop away, but it’s worth going underground since it’s so humid outside. I don’t think my family could have ever imagined how hot and humid it is in Singapore.
And since it was an odd hour after lunch and before dinner, most stalls did not seem opened. The restaurants on either side of the road were opened with someone outside trying to lure you in with their menu, which always steers me further away and that led me to the end of the street at the corner of Smith Street and South Bridge Rd.
Nanyang Old Coffee 南洋老咖啡
268 South Bridge Rd.
We ended up walking into a little Singapore Coffee Shop: Kopitiam. And as a little shop at one end of the Chinatown Food Street, it was designed to look like an old traditional Kopitiam.
There is a little museum thing in the back; though we didn’t bother to go see it. Instead we enjoyed relaxing at our little traditional table and reading “Singapore Coffeeshop Singlish.” Which was a nice little intro for my family (and a reminder for me). There is also another one that lists out how to order your coffee or tea.
Do you know what these are: Kopi O, Kopi C, or Teh Peng? Check out this blog post for the answers. What would you order?
I ordered a 2 Kopi C and a Kopi Peng (not pictured) as well as a Swee Kueh (水粿).
I saw the Swee Kueh when I was ordering our drinks and I guess it was a bit of an impulse for me to order it. I didn’t really know what it was but it reminded me of a dish my mom makes. Which we also call Swee Kueh (水糕) at home.
This one is actually a little different from what I am familiar with. The steamed rice cake is very similar to many layers of steamed rice cake I know. Here, the smooth almost creamy texture of the the steamed rice cake is topped with salted turnip (菜脯).
And I found a recipe for these things after a quick google search from KitchenTigress.
We returned to the Chinatown Food Street a couple days later to have a proper meal with the family. Yunti and I walked back and forth a couple times and ordered several things for dinner. It was not easy to decide on what to eat.
We started with something a little more familiar. Char Kway Teo is a stir fried flat rice noodle. We got this for Dad since he was in search of the “Wok Hei.”
“Wok Hei” is the “essense” imparted by the wok when stir-frying over very high heat. It really is a subtle burned taste to me and to be honest it’s not something I have ever been able to truely enjoy. The Char Kway Teo did not have the Wok Hei he was looking for sadly.
Keep following our next food posts from Singapore though! We found some good Wok Hei for Dad.
I finally got my hands on some satay for the family. Here, we ordered 10 sticks (that’s the minimum) of chicken satay. I tried to order 4 sticks since that’s what we would normally get when going to restaurants at home; actually we would sometimes just get 2 sticks.
This was probably not the best in Singapore for satay, but it was good enough as an intro. But something else that made me really excited for satay in Singapore is the rice dumpling thing called Ketupat. It is basically rice packed really tight together and wrapped in a woven palm leaf pouch.
I’m not a big fan of rice, but for some reason I was eating a lot of rice in Singapore.
And then I introduced my family to a few other new things that I was quite excited to eat since we don’t really have this at home. I was super excited for Prata!!!! The closest thing I have found in America so far is Roti Canai.
I ordered a plain prata and a cheese prata. This here, brings back a lot of memories of late night supper! And the mild (curry) dipping sauce hit the spot for me.
And as another somewhat unique thing to try is the Sting Ray with sambal sauce. None of us really eat spicy food so the amazing sambal sauce proved to be a little bit of a challenge for us.
Mom ended up really enjoying this though.
And there is something about street food, especially the stuff on a stick. Traditionally there is always the satay sticks but I was also quite excited to stop by Old Chang Kee. This little street stand is kind of everywhere in Singapore. I made a point to pick up a few sticks and a curry puff.
I wish I spent more time in Chinatown to eat fresh durian and got more souvenirs. I wanted to get some cheesy Singapore tourist t-shirts for friends but opted to get them in Hong Kong (and THB I regretted that). But I was good about picking up some post cards and made sure to buy stamps from the souvenir shops. That’s a big plus!