The Hearty Durian (Or, the Food We Loved to Regret in Singapore, Part 8)

Though we had an amazing time in Kuala Lumpur and wanted to stay, we had to move on. The next morning, we hopped on an hour-long flight to Singapore, the land of the mythic king of fruits, the hearty durian. Now Singapore was an interesting beast. It was our least favorite of the three countries we visited that Christmas. The food was more expensive, for one. Second, we had only two and a half days there; we were on a mad rush to do a lot. And boy did we do a lot! But there was also so much to Singapore that I appreciated.

Because of the hectic nature of that trip, I want to break Singapore up into the two themes, food and architecture. So let’s get rolling, shall we? I’ll tell you a bit about what we found before I get to the king of fruits, the hearty durian.

If You Visit, You Must Eat at a Hawker Centre

During our time in Singapore, the hawker centres stood out as different from the other countries we visited. In Taiwan you had night markets. Malaysia had lots of curry houses unless you went to Petaling Street. In Singapore, you would walk into what looked like a small mall, and then you would find a food court with stall after stall offering different options.

Mustafa Food Centre in Little India Singapore
The first hawker centre I ate at was Mustafa. It was one of our first activities upon arrival, and boy was it needed. The food was great, suffice it to say.

Their history is pretty interesting too. Back in the 50s and 60s, they were considered unhygienic. I imagine many Americans might still find them a little unprepossessing. However, since those years, they’ve actually served a few purposes. They almost eliminated all street vendors by moving them into these food court areas under license, and they standardized the sanitation of the food, as customers can report any negligence. I was so curious about them that I even discovered that only in 2016, two food stalls obtained Michelin stars, the first for Singapore as well as street vendors, generally.

There are quite a few of these across Singapore, but after a little research, I found that some are a bit more popular than others. Tekka, Chomp Chomp, and Old Airport Road centres were on our list to visit, but we never got to them. We enjoyed eating at Mustafa Centre in Little India, Chinatown Food Centre in Chinatown, and, of course, La Pau Sat.

If you’re traveling through Southeast Asia and you arrive in Singapore, you have to be ready for one thing: Everything is more expensive here. That’s another reason why you should go to the hawker centres though. Therein, the prices are still low.

Lau Pa Sat Food Centre for the Best Views and Satay

My favorite food centre by far was Lau Pa Sat. I’ll touch on one of the main reasons in the next post: Singapore’s beautiful architecture. But otherwise, let me get to what I really want to talk about: the food of Singapore. Lau Pa Sat had great food, and its satays are some of the best in the city. You also have to dive into the chicken rice, any chicken biryani, and all the curry you can while here. Then of course there is the legendary chilli crab. But before I get too ahead of myself, another interesting fact about eating in Singapore is that most people eat with their hands and not utensils. Washing stalls line food centre walls and perimeters. And why not, right? When in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do. Indian food is supposed to be tastier with your hands, after all.

Singapore Food Review

But let’s talk food. What are satays? Are you familiar with shish kabobs? If you are, you can compare them. They are seasoned, grilled meat on skewers. But don’t let that simple description lead you away from them. Their flavor will blow you out of the park. They are famous all throughout Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Really, you have to try them multiple times to have a true appreciation of them.

And don’t let chicken rice fool you either. CNN Go’s 2017 best foods from around the world lists chicken rice at number 13. The same is true of satays at number 14 and the chilli crab at 29! But let me digress. Chicken rice is a fragrant and oily rice layered over boiled chicken, possibly thrown together with chopped onion, minced garlic, with chili and soy sauce for flavor. Just thinking about it makes me mouth water. Danny wouldn’t eat anything else while we stayed in Singapore, he loved it so much.

We loved chicken biryani from Malaysia, and it pleased us in Singapore too. It’s an Indian rice dish similar to pilaf, but where pilaf is a side, biryani is the main plate. It’s spices are strong, utilizing pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and more. A sopping amount of curry is often dished on top or to the side, the aroma watering your palette in preparation. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

We were so sad that we never got to eat chilli crab while in Singapore. Touted as one of the best (and most expensive) dishes in house at over $30 a plate, the chilli crab swims in a savory sauce of tomato and chilli, not too spicy or too thick. If you’ve eaten it, please let me know your thoughts! I want to go back sometime to try it for myself.

The Mythic Hearty Durian, King of Fruits

But let me now give you a dire warning, before you think that Singapore is all rainbows and sunshine. Because it is not. A foul fruit lurks in the shadows. The hearty durian, a foe of many, sells throughout the streets of Singapore. And this fruit isn’t cheap. Everywhere in Southeast Asia, you hear of the king of fruits, so-named for its imposing size. It truly is a husky fruit. A spiny outer coat makes it a little intimidating, but all you need is a good whack of a hatchet to reveal the plump, yellow meat inside. Some people swear by it. Others abhor it. Funnily enough, posters can be found all throughout Malaysia and Singapore warning people not to bring durians inside. See, the problem with durians is that they have a terribly strong odor.

We decided to brave it. After all, in all our travels now, we’ve eaten some pretty strange things. How could a fruit, even one such as the durian, stop us in our tracks? We tracked down a durian stall, plopped ourselves down, and prepared ourselves to eat this king of fruits.

God, why did you forsake us? The hearty durian was not a king but a dictator on our tongues.

My phone actually stopped recording us on the first try, so I had to force myself and my companions to take another bite. It really was just god-awful. As we walked away, we all had to try to shake it off. It was traumatic. But to each their own, I guess. I don’t think the hearty durian could possibly top the stench that was stinky tofu in Taiwan.

What About You?

We ate so much great food in Singapore. We even had dinner at a local’s house, his family serving us an amazing Indian-style dinner on our first night in town. I left stuffed beyond measure, with such warm feelings towards this cuisine and its people. But have any of you ever been to Singapore? What food did you love or dislike? And did you ever try the evil king of fruits, the hearty durian? (I’ll apologize for the country, if you have.) Is it possible that you liked it, even? Let me know! I’d love to hear any and all thoughts about Singapore!

The next post will be about the city’s amazing architecture, as we made our way through the beautiful streets. Stay tuned.

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