Flight time from NYC to Singapore ranges from 18 hours direct if you are in “baller” class (business) to 20 hours indirect for “peasant” class (coach), according to my friend Shanmei. However, I went the well-traveled hobo option “C” route by using my miles for a roundtrip from NYC to Tokyo, and paid for the 7 hour flight from Tokyo to Singapore.
I landed just after midnight and was greeted at the airport by my friend Ben, who had just left nickeldime for the night. I was not kidding when I said that I had 3 full meals within 8 hours of arriving in Singapore. Instead of heading home from the airport, we went straight to the Newton hawker centre for some late night dining (eating at 1am would become a daily occurrence for me here).
Hawker centres are typically giant open-air complexes consisting of tons of different food vendor stalls. Cuisines are a complete melting pot in hawker centres, but what they all have in common is that it is very delicious and cheap (S$2-5 per dish)! Additionally, everything is very clean as each vendor must post its health certificate grade on the stall. Singapore is one of the most hygienic countries in the world, even to the point that spitting, littering, and gum chewing all incur a heavy fine. Respect the rules and you can enjoy a fabulously clean time in Singapore.
Newton is one of the most popular hawker centres in Singapore among locals; the other top contenders are Adam Road and Maxwell. First step is to procure a table by parking a friend there to hold down the fort (usually my role) and note the table number. Next, send out the scouts to order various dishes at the best stalls and give them the table number. They will deliver the food when it is ready and you will pay then. Some places are self-service and you must get the food yourself, and other places “hawkers” may be very aggressive and approach your table to get you to order from them. After you are done, usually there are workers to clean up so you can leave your dishes when you leave. Also, if you want to order food to-go, just ask for “take away” as “to go” will probably just get your a blank stare.
We got back to my friend’s apartment in Coronation Plaza off Bukit Timah Road after 2am and slept a bit before heading back out in the morning — to another hawker centre. This time, we went to Adam Road, which was just down the street from the apartment. The most famous dish to get here is a very traditional Malaysian dish nasi lemak otak, which is a delectable dish of ikan billi (mini fishies), otak (fish paste wrapped in a baba leaf and barbecued), sambal chili, cucumber, coconut rice, and fried egg. Roti prata was also light and crispy yumminess.
After breakfast, we grabbed a taxi and headed over to the miles and miles of shopping malls that constitute Orchard Road. We met up with a friend to grab another meal at the food court, which is essentially the air-conditioned version of a hawker centre on the bottom or top floor of a shopping mall. AC is a very valuable resource in Singapore. The humidity is so thick all year round, and I was there smack in the middle of wet season. I spent most of my time dashing from one air-conditioned location to the other.
In the evening, we headed to the sake and whiskey shrine, nickeldime. The name referred to the “510” area code we all were from in California. The bar had a very cool, sleek interior that oozed sophistication. Located in a fairly posh, upscale neighborhood on Greenwood Avenue, nickeldime was a sanctuary for those with the utmost respect for the art of winemaking, distilling, and brewing. “Thoughtful drinking” was the philosophy that nickeldime embodied.
Later in the evening, we met up with some friends around Boat Quay for some drinks and a quick snack at a local eating house, which is basically an small stand alone eatery. AFTER this we headed to our late night dining destination, we headed over to McDonald’s. Don’t be skeptical, because this place is nothing like its counterpart in the US. The McDonald’s franchise in Singapore, and in all of Asia really, is practically gourmet. The burger buns are toasted to fluffy perfection and I don’t even feel the need to question what meat (if at all) I am eating! And the apple pies are deep FRIED, not baked. So bad and yet so good…