Only in Singapore

Asia for beginners? A city of sterile buildings with no character, without any soul? Few other places in South-East Asia are laden down with as many clichés as the five-million metropolis of Singapore. Everybody thinks they know the small tropical island – 42km (26 miles) long and a maximum of 23km (14 miles ) wide – at the south-eastern tip of the Asian continent. Most visitors immediately think of marathon shopping sprees on Orchard Road, or maybe about the famous Singapore Sling cocktail, a relic from times long past when the city was a British crown colony. Of course, there is a certain element of truth to these clichés. The city actually is ‘Asia light’ because it does all it can to make Europeans feel at home in no time.

Singapore Marco Polo Guide

Singapore has metamorphosed again over the past few years. The scruffy harbour town that transformed itself with iron discipline into a colonial metropolis and then rose to become the centre of South-East Asia, has now blossomed into a global, cosmopolitan city. It is easy to explore Singapore on your own, you will be able to eat and drink wherever the urge hits you and feel safe everywhere in the city. What’s more, you will always meet friendly passers-by who will be happy to help and to proudly tell you about how life really is in their homeland.

Unique experiences, only in Singapore, with Marco Polo’s insider tips:

Eat like the locals

Forget all about the gourmet restaurants and eat seated on a plastic stool in one of the countless food courts or ‘hawker centres’. Do not worry about the quality: taxes and rent are very low so that makes it possible for the stall owners to serve high-class traditional food for a couple of dollars. One of the best hawker centres in the city is Makansutra Gluttons Bay directly next to the Esplanade.

Chinese casinos

If you love to gamble, Singapore is the place to be. Spend an evening with the locals and join in the fun. The best place is in the Marina Bay Sands complex which has the charm of Las Vegas without visiting the US.

Black delights

It is true; they do look like they were dipped into axle grease. Put on an old, dark shirt (to hide the spots) mingle with the Singaporeans and sink your teeth into the black pepper crabs at the East Coast Seafood Centre.

Speed along the coast

If you want to find out what Singapore is really like, pedal along the surfaced promenade of the East Coast. Just take a taxi as far as Marine Cove where you can rent bikes and inline skates every few hundred yards; all the rental facilities are equally good.

Shop until you drop

The Singaporeans love shopping – the real spending variety, as well as just window shopping. Do not only stroll through the main malls, visit the small merchants on Pagoda Street in Chinatown or in the side streets of Serangoon Road in Little India.

Floral glory

Singapore’s national flower is the orchid. Prominent visitors to the city state are often honoured with a new variety named after them; for example Dendrobium Jackie Chan and Papilionanda Andrea Bocelli.

 

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Singapore Marco Polo Guide

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Eat Like a Local – Singapore

High-quality food is something Singaporeans take very seriously: they talk a lot about eating, and good chefs are held in high esteem. The city state offers enormous variety in a very small area. You will not only be able to savour all of Asia’s cuisines here but the very best of Australia and Europe as well. The servings are often smaller than at home – this applies especially to street booths. Eat the way the locals do and do not gorge yourself; the rule is: it is better to eat less but do it more often. That will also make it easier for you to try out all the different national styles of cooking.

Singapore Marco Polo Guide

Local specialities to try on your visit to Singapore:

Bah Kut Teh – spicy herb soup with pork and offal, pepper, chilli and garlic

Bak Kwa – the slices of grated pork, brushed with honey and then grilled do not look especially
appetising – but they are! A Chinese delicacy, not only during the New Year celebrations

Chai Tow Kway/Carrot Cake – a kind of pancake with spring onions and sweet black sauce; not at all like the usual carrot cake

Char Kway Teow – fried, flat noodles with sweet, black sauce from the wok, with small Chinese
sausages, soy sprouts, eggs and garlic

Chicken Rice – gently cooked chicken with various sauces: it might look boring but the taste is pure poetry! Originally from the Chinese province of Hainan, it is now Singapore’s national dish

Hokkien Mee – yellow noodles fried in a wok: with pork or squid and a lot of vegetables

Kaya Toast – extremely sweet breakfast pudding made with milk, eggs and coconut milk on toast

Laksa – the noodles in the famous spicy soup are thick and yellow; served with pieces of chicken or fish, tofu cubes and coconut milk or tamarind juice

Nasi Lemak – classic Malay breakfast of coconut milk and sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf; it is eaten with small sardines and plenty of chilli

Rojak – tropical salad of cucumber, pineapple, mango, grilled tofu, tamarind juice, pieces of fried noodles with shrimp paste and chopped peanuts

Roti Prata – a kind of Indian pancake made with thin batter and served with a variety of fillings – most of them, vegetarian. Stuffed with lamb or chicken, the pancakes are known as Murtabak; usually accompanied by curry sauce

Satay – chunks of chicken, lamb, beef or squid are marinated in hot spices and then grilled over charcoal, traditionally served with peanut sauce, cucumber and raw red onion

Wanton Noodles – a classic from the Chinese province of Canton: egg-noodle soup with boiled dumplings filled with minced meat

 

Hawker Centres & Food Courts

Most of the snack centres with their many small booths open early in the morning for breakfast and work until late at night. The most stylish hawker centre is the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market on Robinson Road between Waterfront and Chinatown (MRT NS 26, EW 14 Raffles Place). There was already a market here in 1822. As part of the redevelopment of China town, the Singapore Tourism Board revamped Smith Street and turned it into a strip of restaurants (MRT NE 4 Chinatown). The most beautiful food court is on the roof of the Vivo City shopping centre. It has been designed to resemble an old Chinese village (Food Republic@Vivo City, #03-01 Telok Blangah Road, corner of Sentosa Gate way (MRT NE 1 HarbourFront). The Maxwell Road Food Centre in Chinatown (MRT, NE 4 Chinatown) has the appearance of an open market hall. The prices in the Asian Food Mall in the Lucky Plaza shopping centre on Orchard Road (MRT NS 22 Orchard) are unbeatable. One of the best hawker centres is next to the Esplanade Culture Centre, Makansutra Gluttons Bay.

 

Restaurants serving traditional Singaporean cuisine: 

EQUINOX THE RESTAURANT
The restaurant has one of the most spectacular views Singapore has to offer. Looking out of the windows on the 70th floor on a fine day, you can see as far as Indonesia – and delight in modern Asian- European fusion cuisine at the same time. 2 Stamford Road, Swissôtel The Stamford | tel. 64 31 61 56 | MRT NS 25, EW 13 City Hall | Expensive

EAST COAST SEAFOOD CENTRE
This is the perfect place to try Singapore’s national dish Black Pepper Crab. The entire row of restaurants along the coast specialises in seafood. The view of the ocean is romantic but the restaurants themselves provide a rather sober Chinese atmosphere with plastic stools and neon lighting. Upper East Coast Road | preferably by Taxi | Moderate

TRUE BLUE
Chef Baba Ben, as the Singaporeans call Benjamin Seck, cooks in the traditional Peranakan style – a mixture of Chinese, Malay and European cuisines. The recipes still come from his mother Nyonya Daisy Seah. The restaurant is located next to the Peranakan Museum. Daily 11am–2.30pm, 6–9.30pm | 47/49 Armenian Street | tel. 64 40 04 49 | www.truebluecuisine.com | MRT CC 2 Bras Basah, EW 13, NS 25 Cityhall, then Bus 197 | Moderate

CHILLI PADI
This friendly family-run restaurant with excellent, reasonably-priced Peranakan home-style cooking is located a bit off the beaten track. Beef Rendang and fish-head curry are two of the classic dishes. Daily 11.30am–2.30pm, 5.30–10pm | #01-03 11 Joo Chiat Place | tel. 62 75 10 02 | www.chillipadi.com.sg | bus 16 from Orchard Road | Budget

328 KATONG LAKSA
You will not come across any tourists in this eatery. The street restaurant is in the heart of Katong, the old Peranakan district. 328 Katong Laksa won the ‘Laksa War’ against the neighbouring restaurants and Singaporeans come from the other side of town to enjoy the tasty soup that only costs S$4 here. Daily 8am–10pm | 53 East Coast Road | near the corner of Ceylon Road | bus 14 from Orchard Road | Budget

 

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Singapore Marco Polo Guide

What’s the best thing you have ever tasted in Singapore? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.