Little India

Little India is the heart of Singapore’s Indian community. The concept is similar to Chinatown, except instead of your mainstream chinese restaurants and red paper lanterns, the streets are decorated with floral garlands, filled with traditional indian spice shops, and restaurants dishing out servings of aromatic curry and thosai.
I’d decided to make the walk down from Farrer Park train station to the next stop, Little India station, which was located towards the end of Serangoon Road.

It was a short-ish walk along the main road of Little India, and i’ll say it literally- at some point, I found myself in the middle of an intersection, dodging cars while walking on the road itself.

I arrived at a large corner of the intersection, where a medium coffee shop sat, complete with flimsy ceiling fans and red plastic chairs, and of course, filled with people (mostly Indian families and workers)

As I crept closer, I saw patrons hunched over eagerly, feeding off large, flat trays lined with pieces of light brown takeaway paper.

Every corner I glanced made me salivate, and the wafting aromas lured me in. Every tray held a different combination- half charred naan with chicken tikka, rice with fish curry, mutton curry, thosai with masala, chickpea curry, dahl, lentil curry, the list was as endless as the supply of authentic Northern Indian food this shop seems to be dishing out to the looooong line of people. It was too crowded in the shop, so I opted for a takeaway.

I eventually stumbled upon an outdoor sitting area which was loosely barricaded off with a thin plastic banner. There were heaps of Indian men and women sitting in there enjoying snacks and drinks however, and no one seemed to be stopping them- I didn’t see why I had to be stopped either.

Ducking under the tape and securing myself a seat, I happily tucked into a serve of naan and hot chickpea (gotta get those proteins) curry, garnering a few surprised (but not contemptuous) looks from the group of male Indians sitting around.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t really understand the nice lady who took my order (language barrier) or read the menu properly, and it didn’t matter that I, a naive, yellow-faced Chinese ignorantly sat smack in the middle of what I now realise was most probably an all Indian-only zone (I cant be sure if it was an exclusive zone, but im pretty sure I had just broken the social norm they had going on there oops).

I enjoyed my curry and naan, thoroughly savouring and appreciating the warm flavours of this exotic culture in my mouth, letting it seep straight into my heart.

As I ventured further in, the scene began to bustle with even more life and activity.

It was noisy, it was crowded, it was humid, it was hot, but it was awesome. (Such a stark contrast from the still streets due to Chinese New Year)

Shops were open in full force left and right on each side of the road, particularly Indian grocers and spice shops.

People squeezed and shoved their way through the tiiiiny little pathway (behind the little concrete step that demarcated the asphalt road), bags of groceries hitting each other, sweaty shoulders brushing, a few grumpy looks and mouthfuls of “excuse me”s.

I stepped out of the flow of bodies along the cramped path and darted into a small shop lit only by sunlight spilling in from the entrance.

I immediately caught a whiff of a musty, earthy smell, boldy accentuated by Singapore’s good ol’ humidity and heat.

It was the smell of dried lentils, chickpeas, mhong dahl and nuts, the jumbled scent of tumeric, coriander powder, ragi, curry powders and chilli.

And as if the pathway wasnt cramped enough already, this store also managed to place rough sacks and plastic buckets of dried chilli, coriander seeds and herbs along its front entrance, which somehow managed to remain upright amidst the crowds, contents intact without a horrendous spillage.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

…so this was the beginning of every dahl, curry and tikka. The depth and body of flavour, the spicy hit all boils down to the harmonious melding of all these traditional Indian spices over a stove into a luscious, satisfying curry.

First came the spice shops, then the grocers where all sorts of tropical fruit and veg were sold

2017-02-01-12.41.10-1.jpg.jpg2017-02-01-12.41.14-1.jpg.jpg

then I stepped into flowerland- a stretch full of floral garland artists, standing at their stalls with chrysanthemum, rose, and about 10 other type of flowers that I can’t name, all segregated into separate containers like beads in a jewel box. It was refreshing to see such vibrant colour all in one place.

2017-02-01-12.42.06-1.jpg.jpg

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Of course, there were also jewellery and textile shops, newspaper stands, postcard shops, Indian painting and statue shops- it was unstoppable.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the crowd again, i’d decided to try and find a nice cold drink. And I just walked, letting the suburb take me wherever.
…and it sure did.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Perhaps not having enough cellular data for google maps navigation (I just walked and prayed for the best really), wasnt entirely bad, for it enabled me to saunter into  little back lanes, to see a whole different side of Little India.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I turned a couple of corners here and there, not bothering to look at the street signs. By now I really just needed a cold drink, but no such luck- i’d found myself in the underbelly of little India. I sauntered through a seedy little alleyway where I seemed to be in the attention of many middle aged Indian men, having a midday drink in a crusty, claustrophobic pub.

I eventually wound up near racecourse road, where a corner of colour enveloped between two buildings caught my eye.

My throat was now scratching for a cold drink, and it was starting to drizzle- but my good friend Curiosity certainly didn’t let this one slide. I walked towards yet another back alley to be pleasantly rewarded with realistic wall murals, and a little bit of history about Racecourse Road.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

 

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

(in case you were wondering, Racecourse road gets its name from being an actual racing course, about 174 ago. In 1842, Racecouse road was home to a robust Indian commuity, and also the nerve of European social life in Singapore back then. On days where there were no horse races, the land doubled as a grazing pasture for cattle.)

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO

I exited the alleyway, and very thankfully arrived at Little India Arcade, where I knew the train station would be. There were more shops, stands and moveable shelves sprawled all along the court yard. People were everywhere.

As I walked along the main court, cheerful Indian music blasted loudly from speakers in every shop, warranting little dances from several tourists. Young Indian women inked intricate hennas on their female customers, and shopowners touted noisily for business.

It was crowded, it was somewhat mess.

But it was awesome.

Advertisements

missing someone.

Have you missed someone so?

Have you missed someone so much that it physically aches?

Skin longing for a touch, a stroke, a prod, to feel their shallow breath, a soft snore of sleep on your neck, to open your eyes to their peaceful face just milimetres shy from yours.

Have you missed someone so much that it warps the mind?

Your idle thoughts wandering around them, their day, their safety. Imaginations straying to what could be, images of what should have been. 

Have you missed someone so much that you long to connect? 

Just to stay well in their company, to see straight into their eyes and talk about nothing, to hear a little satisfied chuckle, to gaze upon their smile in silence, to watch them watch you.

Have you missed someone so much that wailing sirens have fallen upon deaf ears?

Enduring the sting of their words or lack of words, brushing off your own discomfort for their self serving sake, and foolishly returning back, hoping they’ll one day wake up and realise.

Have you missed someone so much you know its not right? 

Someone who shouldnt be missed, someone who mightn’t be there at and until the very end, someone who doesnt see you for who you are inside, someone who doesnt care?

Hanging onto one word replies and overthinking ‘last active’ times, 

hiding behind the trysts that jolly don’t carry on in reality, 

staying put even when they selfishly hurt you,

Tears streaming quietly down your cheeks.

Have you missed someone so?

Marina Bay

‘Twas the few hours after a strong, hard storm that swept past Singapore, where the moist air was fine and cool.

Light was beginning to dim, the sun packing up and ready to wind down after a whole morning and afternoon of shining, finally submitting to darker clouds.

But not without gracing us with her blush- ombre pink tinged orange streaked across the dimming sky. 
I strolled along Marina Bay, exiting from Promenade train station. It was a saturday night, and couples, families, tourists were all out, enjoying the perfect weather. 

But she was beautiful, her urban skyline tracing the Singapore river beginning to light up as the evening matured.

I stood overlooking the region at the Helix bridge, a light breeze tantalising my face. 

She was serene, her buildings and cold metal structures now reflecting the warm colours of the sunset, glazing my eyes with a different sort of beauty- a man made, concrete beauty.

Her river was gracious, clean and nearly still, politely accomodating the leisurely sail of a long sampan and boat, calmly taking along with it tourists and people.

As night dawned upon us, I made my way to Gardens by the Bay, crossing a board walk. 

I gazed up at the 3 tall towers holding a boat-like infinity pool at its peaks. I couldnt help bit wonder, was it Noah’s ark standing tall against the deep indigo night sky -a mark of the belief of an insightful architect? 

Each tower face carried a different pattern, combinations of dark and lighted windows, as if conveying some sort of code.

In the distance from a vantage point on the board walk, I could see the gardens, the very top tufts of the electric trees and branches, flashing lively with lights, and wildly coloured.

Being under one of those electric trees was unreal. How surprising and how ironic it was, to take nature and de-naturify it, to harmniously meld artificial and garden into one. 

Despite the UFO coloured lighting radiating off each electric tree, it wasnt an eerie feeling, but rather an ethereal one. 

They were surrounded with real plants, assorted greenery snaking up its metal struts, tropical flowers blooming from the soil at its base. 

The ‘leaves’ of these electric trees raced and flickered with lights, in synchrony with music that pulsed in the background. I was in luck tonight, placing myself on the concrete right in the centre of electric canopy; my eyes and ears hypnotically stimulated by both light and sound.

Before long came the lion dance of course.. it was the 8th day of chinese new year. 

As the familiar and loud rhythm took shape from the drums and cymbals, a red and gold lion began to prance up and down tall, thin struts, its young lion dancers underneath skilfully and nimbly manouvreing the bulky head. 

The lion began to take character, mischieviously moving its tail, blinking its eyes and jumping high in the air in time to the drum beats and cymbals, its vigour and vibrance embodying the spirit of Chinese new Year.

It was another world altogether, almost where mother nature herself meets and falls in love with man made, producing a mystical garden that showcases harmony between two exact opposites, boasting the best of both natural and artificial. 

It was of course, also very worth the squeeze with the Saturday night crowd.

Geylang Serai

Having once been part of Malaysia for many many years, Singapore only gained her independence on August 9th, 1965.

Aside from British and European influences, historically, Singapore has also very much a Malay background-most of which is still imbued and integrated into modern society today.

From foods like Laksa, sambal, nasi lemak and goreng pisang to the national anthem, Majulah Singapura, I think it’s safe to say that a major portion of modern Singaporean culture is, and always will be, inexorably tied to Malay roots.

And there is no better place to celebrate our prominent counterpart of culture in Singapore than at the core of the Malay settlement-homely, friendly, Geylang Serai.

Geylang Serai food center and wet market is just a 10 minute walk from Paya Labar station. Despite the heat and afternoon sun, plus the noise and annoying fumes from cars along the road, that 10 minute walk was really worth.

Serai means lemongrass- an abundant crop of the 19th century that flourished along the land on which the wet market and food centre lies upon now. There are varied theories of the name Geylang- some believe it derived from “Gelang” (gur-lung) which is malay for “ankle” or “bracelet”, and others believe that this name can be traced back to “Gelanggang”, which means ‘arena’, for many cock fighting matches were rumoured to be held here in the past.

I finally arrived at the front of Geylang Serai with a softly grumbling stomach and a pair of eyes ready to see everything.

We had to pass the wet market stretch first before reaching the food centre.

The vibe of the market exuberates ‘community’, and I loved that stall owners very willingly explained to me what type of produce was on showcase, the unique ingredients of traditional malay food.

Lots of brightly coloured hunks of ginger, and a feminine, pink version of it- tumeric, sat next to its yellow counterpart.

There was a strong visual to olfactory connection here in this market.

The bright greens- okra, coriander, bayleaves, all gave off its organic fragrance.

But there was more. Fresh sticks of lemongrass, galanggal, dark purple eggplant, green and red chillis, cucumber.

The vendor watched as I handled this leathery fruit that i’d never seen before with caution- “pisang jantung”, she smiled.
Here I was, holding the unbudded flower of the banana plant, a large, ovoid, purple clad object.

And of course, never forgetting the malay curry powders and salted fish, ikan billis.

By the time I arrived at the food centre, my insides were crying out for a saucey plate of Mi Rebus (literally translates to boiled noodles), which has been an all time favourite malay cuisine of mine even as a smol scrub growing up in Singapore.

It is a dish with strands of yellow Hokkien noodles, doused in a thick and slightly sweet brown curry like gravy.

The life of this dish is the gravy. It is made from shrimp’s broth, salt, lemongrass, galanggal, salam leaf (Indonesian bayleaf), kaffir lime leaf, gula jawa (dark palm sugar), with cornstarch as a thickening agent. For a Mi Rebus to find favour in Sabrina’s good books, the gravy must be thick as velvet, enough to luciously coat every mouthful of noodle.

Yo’ girl here ain’t wastin’ any time and calorie space on Mi Rebus soup okay?

The flavours are mellow and quite subtle, but even an untrained tongue, given two samples of Mi Rebus, can easily taste the difference between a good Mi Rebus gravy from a terrible, tasteless one.

The noodles are also garnished with a whole boiled egg, some firm tofu (tau kwa), bean sprouts, green chillis and fried shallots.

…and today, I found a winner, right here in Geylang Serai.

Mi Rebus coming from Alrahman Kitchen (#02-139) sure didn’t stay on its green plate for long (aside from the fact that it was sedap-tasty, one must not allow Mi rebus to go cold, for the gravy will cool into soup, and you’ll just miss the whole point in eating Mi Rebus altogether).

Today, we ordered a basic Mi Rebus (3 dollars), and mother dear wanted to add Tempeh and Begedil (fried malay potato cake), at 1 dollar per extra piece.

2017-02-02-03.39.32-1.jpg.jpg

We also tried this stall’s Lontong- ketupat (malay rice cakes), boiled egg, tempeh, boiled cabbage and tofu submerged in a light, warm curry (this curry was a milk based one, different from Mi Rebus gravy). It was delicious too, and definitely soooo worth the 3 dollars.
Father then came around after queueing next door to Alrahman’s kitchen for a solid 10 minutes, all for Nasi Padang- rice with assorted malay curries and delicacies (like sambal fish, ayam penyet) of choice. Thanks to pa, I can now say that paru goreng (beef lung fried with sambal chilli) doesnt taste all that bad, pretty delectably chewy in fact.

2017-02-02-03.39.16-1.jpg.jpg

There was just a different vibe sitting in the well ventilated, clean and spacious Malay hawker centre. It was nearing the afternoon peak period- but the lunch crowd wasn’t madness and it didn’t leave you feeling oppressed.

The seats were clear of tissue paper packs, water bottles and umbrellas used to “chope” (reserve) them while people went to buy food (see post about Yong Tau Foo). Malay couples and families were glad to share tables and spoke at friendly volumes.

The tables were promptly cleared by a smiley malay lady cleaner, who dangled a bunch of bananas from her orderly push trolley. Her head was dressed in a clean, colourful burkha. The place was harmoniously orderly.

I was even gently addressed as ‘sister’ by the malay vendor at a drink stall, and not the usual (and slightly derogatory) ” 小妹” (xiao mei, meaning little girl) that i’ll usually get from frumpy stall vendors at a chinese hawker centre.

After lunch, we headed downstairs to the famous (and only) putu piring shop- Traditional Haig Rd Putu Piring, to satisfy our sweet tooths.

2017-02-02 03.40.23 1.jpg
Putu piring is a type of kueh (malay cake, also a term used a lot in Chinese hawker food), and it is made from fragrant rice flour.

The inside of this flat, round bite sized kueh contains gula melaka- traditional malay palm sugar, which was readily available and used as a substitute for white cane sugar in many malay foods and desserts during times of deprivation in WW2.

Putu is the name of the rice cake, and piring (pee-ring) means ‘plate’ in malay, referencing the round metallic plates used for steaming the cakes.

Each and every cake is individually crafted by hand; starting first with some rice flour on the bottom of the plate (that has been lined with a white polyester cloth), then some gula melaka (which has been previously steamed to create a malleable sugar paste), before another dash of rice flour to complete.

The plate is then covered with a lid and placed over a hot steamer for 2 to 3 minutes, before it is swiftly transferred onto brown paper with small squares of pandan leaf for extra fragrance, and a generous mound of desiccated coconut tinged with a subtle hint of salt.

Best eaten fresh straight from the steamer. The rice cake is much lighter than the chinese version of kueh tutu street snack, and the gula melaka simply melts into heavenly sweetness at the touch of your tongue.

2017-02-02-03.39.04-1.jpg.jpg

Having eaten to the point of satisfaction and satietation, I strolled slowly, making my way back to the MRT station, happy at discovering another one of Singapore’s gems.

大年初一 (the first day)

I was awoken by the sharp ringing of the home phone. The sun was shining in, and I stirred, pillow and blankets still piled atop of my face.

Still blundered in a slight food coma from the reunion dinner last night, and face heavy from staying up late, I peeled myself off from the sheets. 

..before it hit me. 

It was the first day of the lunar new year. And for all my fellow chinese out there, we all know what this means.

Red pockets.

A visit from that one grand uncle and grand aunty that we only see one time each year.

Air conditioning. (absolute necessity in singapore)

Bak kwa (singaporean glazed pork jerky).

More snacking.

Mandarins.

More snacking.

Grandma was still quietly snoozing this morning, her thin, frail engine slowly humming awake.

 The coffee table was arranged with multiple red-lidded plastic containers (the iconic chinese new year symbol) filled with all sorts of traditional new year cookies and snacks. In the middle sat a plate of golden orange mandarins, a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

If you ask me, the snacking and cookies (aside from the reunion of family and relatives), are by far my favourite part of Chinese New Year (i’d even dare say it nearly surpasses the red pockets!).

Almond crunch cookie (second favourite behind peanut candy)
Sunflower seed biscuit

These were some of my favourites this year, however my number one still being the simple peanut candy- made solely of crushed peanuts and malt, it is baked to a delectably crispy, nutty sheet, and then sliced into little bite sized crunchy squares, which makes yo’ girl here smile silly. 

As imagineable, any effort of clean eating and dieting during this festive season…Actually that doesn’t even exist in the Chinese New Year vocabulary.

 Most people speak in 4 syllable chinese idioms today, extending their happy and warm wishes for the new year, all while sipping on fizzy cherry and orange F&N soda, peeling mandarin oranges, and munching on yummy snacks. 

We are all not to sweep or mop the floors today, to make sure good luck and prosperity for the new year will not be ‘swept away’. 

We sit around the couch watching a classic Stephen Chow movie with grandma, awaiting our next visit from relatives.

 It is quiet, but homely and warm.

Reunion.

It was quarter to 6pm, on the eve of the lunar new year.

I stuck my face out of the window- the air was cooling down, sun rays sobering to a sunset. 

There were few joggers and people downstairs, one by one returning home as the minutes ticked by and dinnertime rolled around.

The dinner table was set, a round hot pot with soup, surrounded by plates filled with ingredients- prawns, meat and fish, fresh raw veg, a platter of assorted mushrooms, cuttlefish paste balls, fish tofu.

We all took our places at the table, soup in the pot starting to simmer. It was time for reunion dinner, a time to celebrate strong family ties that last, no matter where in the world we may be.

 Growing up in Singapore, reunion dinners when I was younger meant walking over to grandma’s house, or hopping into a car and stepping into some restaurant. But now, living in another continent altogether and being able to return home for reunion dinner has given it so much more meaning. 

With chopsticks in hand and soup in bowl, all of us ate heartily and happily, a dinner together.

Our reunion dinner.

除夕夜

家家户户都团圆,

火锅里面煮鱼圆。

家里大小看电视, 

耐心等待过新年。

(自己写出的除夕诗, 我已经很久没用中文写短文了, 所以请读者多多包含以下的错误和不通顺的地方嘿嘿😅)

今晚在新加坡跟嬷嬷,父母和佣人度过除夕夜。家里虽然不多人, 但是气氛还是从满温暖, 幸福的感觉。由于我们一家都移民到澳大利亚, 所以跟住在新加坡的嬷嬷重逢的机会挺难得。我们都尽量飞回来陪老人家迎接新年, 给家里的气氛加热闹,制造美好的回忆。

今天是除夕, 在外面的超市场,商店等等都人山人海, 学生都提早放学与朋友逛逛街, 大人都提早下班着着急急地在超市临时买材料, 赶着回家准备团圆饭。

今天的天气炎热, 跟前几天比起来, 太阳终于露出它的真面目, 晒得特别光。我们在下午两点多踏进家门口; 嬷嬷非常清醒地躺在沙发上, 脑海里充满着深入的感想。

我趴在地上, 大理石又凉又滑。老妈坐在周围的椅子, 手握这电视机的遥控器。

我们看了一个下午的春节节目, 都是听着艺人唱金时代的新年歌。虽然表演稍微老土, 但是多少都有一些熟悉, 舒服的感觉, 因为歌曲都是以前在新加坡上小学时被逼唱过的新年歌嘿嘿 ^_^。

嬷嬷看着电视上的字幕跟着一起唱新年歌, 声音虽然没以前那么洪亮, 但听起来都依然可爱, 美丽。

老豆在厨房与佣人一起忙着准备今晚吃团圆火锅的材料; 厨房里露出了煎炒, 切菜的声音。五颜六色的材料一盘一盘地从厨房被端出摆在餐桌上, 围绕着热汤滚滚的火锅; 有肉, 有虾,有鱼, 各种蘑菇, 弹性爽口的鱼圆, 鱿鱼圆, 大包菜, 绿色的青菜。

大家都带着快乐的心情和空空的肚子开饭, 把桌上的材料吃得津津有味。家人都有说有笑的, 一边吃饭, 一边享受温馨的时刻, 享受彼此的陪伴。

现在都十点多了, 家里都没有守岁的习惯, 但自己吃了饭候又把一大堆的新年饼和糕点往嘴里塞, 肚子添得非常涨 (不过十分满足), 所以暂时还不能躺下来。

嬷嬷现在仍然坐在沙发上看新闻, 看看目前在新加坡牛车水的情况。虽然家里都没有什么特别的节目或活动, 也没有什么鲜艳的布置, 但除夕夜过得平静, 简单也是一种享福。

非常感激上帝一直以来的保护和帮助, 好让我们一家都平平安安, 健健康康, 顺顺利利地度过了猴年, 现在还有机会团聚迎接鸡年。

祝贺大家新年快乐, 身心健康, 出入平安。

🐓🐔🐣