Sweetcorn Soda

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Sweetcorn Soda

Category : Food

Only in Asia, where it is perfectly normal for something Westerners see just as a vegetable to turn up as dessert.

I have tried sweetcorn flavoured ice cream, toyed with sweetcorn (and red beans) sprinkled over sundaes, but absolutely could not face drinking this sweetcorn soda, which is a new taste sensation on offer in Singapore.

Sorry…but there are limits!


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Nasi Lemak Sushi

I’ve featured nasi lemak before – it’s a favourite local dish, of Malay origin, made with coconut rice, fish, egg, cucumber and a spicy sauce.

Often it comes packaged in a banana leaf for lunch, although I have also seen it deconstructed and layered so it looks very much like a slice of lasagne. Either way, it is very tasty.

This, however, was a completely new take on the classic, nasi lemak served as sushi. The egg – slices of omelette rather than fried – and the cucumber were rolled up with the rice into a maki, with the crispy fish and the sambal sauce dabbed on top of each slice. It was delicious and here, unlike the banana leaf version, you could actually eat the (nori) wrapping.

At S$8 for a serving of 8 pieces, it is slightly more expensive than ‘real’ sushi, but for novelty value it was worth even cent.


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Candyfloss Burritos

Pastel is clearly the new black, at least when it comes to food trends aimed at the youth of Singapore.

The latest, offering itself as a ‘rainbow unicorn snack’ is dubbed the ‘candyfloss burrito’, although as far as I could tell it comprised neither of these items (and I shall gloss over the missing unicorn…)

Somehow, at least in Singapore, ‘burrito’ has become shorthand for anything wrapped into a roll of some kind. Hence the popularity of the ‘sushi burrito’, which, disappointingly, means no more than either your standard maki or a Californian hand roll.

Here, the ‘candyfloss’, whilst crunchy with sugar, seemed to be made of shredded vegetable of some sort. The ‘burritos’ were simply crepes. Both had been coloured with varying degrees of success and without the apparent addition of any flavour.

You can buy the component parts in package form, ready to put together yourself, but in such quantities that you would have to be planning a party. If you buy a tray of 3, you are advised to eat them within 8 minutes. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t, because I managed only a few bites before consigning them to the nearest bin.


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Shiok Ah Ccino

August 9th is National Day in Singapore, and it’s always accompanied by massive displays of pride in the achievements of this tiny city state. And that covers not just the National Day Parade or the Singapore flag flying proudly from most residential windows, but special edition Singapore-themed items ranging from red and white T shirts to decorated cakes.

Somewhere in between comes the Shiok Ah Ccino, a remarkable, and Singapore exclusive, offering from Starbucks. Drawing on several of those local delicacies familiar in kopi tiams around the island, they have managed to create a drink that perfectly blends the Starbucks signature frappuccino with tastes that are completely Singaporean.

So the regular frappucino is blended with and the whipped cream topped by the thick sweetness of gula melaka, which is a palm sugar syrup.  The main ingredient, however, is a large scoop of coffee jelly shreds, which are an interesting take on that slightly bitter tasting local favourite which goes by the English name of ‘grass jelly’ even though it is black rather than green in colour. There’s crunchy coconut on top as the finishing touch.

Shiok, incidentally, is the local way of saying that something is really good.

It took me a couple of days to work up to tasting this one, and I did not manage to drink it all, but it was actually quite nice, despite the ‘exclusive’ price of S$7.90 for the smallest cup. Of course it helps that I really like gula melaka… What defeated me in the end was the coffee jelly, since there was so much of it that I could not get a mouthful of the drink itself without several strands sliding up the straw, and I found that horribly disconcerting.

Still, it is clearly super popular with the locals and it’s a great and rather flattering idea from Starbucks. I look forward to seeing if it reappears next year.


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Eyescream

This is so silly it was irresistible.

New in Singapore, apparently from Barcelona, this is shaved ice cream presented like a cute and swirly monster.

Big cylinders of the ice cream are stored in freezers at the back of the stall – choose your flavour and it is popped into a machine which spins to carve the top off in big folded ‘shavings’. Next you choose 2 toppings from the vast range under the counter, then let the server bring it all to life with 2 big sugar eyes. There you have it, a sweet treat to chuckle over for less than $7.

I went for chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and salted caramel sauce. But there’s a huge choice, and I could have had wildberry yoghurt, mango or cheesecake, with the likes of gummy bears, sugared peanuts, cookie crumbs or marshmallows on top.

The ice cream was a bit watery and tasteless for me, but this is a cool idea and clearly very popular. First in Asia – you heard it here!

 


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Secret Bar/Secret Menu

There is always something different and quirky on the cocktail scene in Singapore. It might be stumbling onto a secret bar, discovering an amazing new combination of ingredients at an old favourite, or perhaps there’s some fascinating twist in the presentation that gives you pause.

The Library was one of the original secret bars here, and it tries to keep things fresh by regularly changing the look of the ‘shop’ through which you go (if you can find the password) on your way inside.

It isn’t so secret anymore, although the atmosphere and the cocktails are just as great. What makes it special right now is the trouble you have deciphering the menu.

At first it just looks like pages of random and meaningless squiggles. You have to pay attention to the cover, and pull apart what looks to be a decorative plastic edging but is actually the key to the code.

A bit like half the special glasses you need to watch a 3D movie, the red plastic strip makes the letters hidden on the page stand out, and suddenly all becomes clear and everyone is laughing.

I love this place, and cannot wait to see what they come up with next.


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Flavour Changing Ice

Here’s another wrinkle that improves the fast-moving, boundary-pushing cocktail scene in Singapore – ice cubes which change the flavour of your drink as they melt.

My ‘Frozen in Time’ cocktail came with a block of ice embedded with fruit and herbs. As it melted, a succession of different tastes made the already fruity, wine-based cocktail subtly change through a series of sweet, sour and slightly bitter variations.

My only complaint was that the ice was frozen so hard I had to struggle to keep from draining my glass before I had tasted the full range of the melt-in flavours, but I suppose this is the only way they can keep the different layers in the right place as they construct the cube.

This was just one item on an amazing menu of locally inspired cocktails from Hopscotch at the Red Dot Museum. I will absolutely be back to try more…


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Gracious Living

I’ve heard it told that, decades ago, antisocial behaviour was a real problem in Singapore and the government of the time acted decisively to stamp it out.

Offenders can still receive a caning for such offences as vandalism and overstaying their visa (although most of these punishments are handed out for very serious crimes), and I remember in the 90s that it was not unusual to see minor offenders shamed by having their photographs in the paper as they carried out community service orders like picking up litter, clad in distinctive fluorescent vests.

The most memorable tale, however, and it may be just a tall story, was that elevators in certain places were fitted with urine detectors. If these were triggered, they locked the culprit inside the elevator and alerted the police to come and arrest them ‘red-handed’.

Whether this is true or not, it seems there may be a re-emergence of the problem, judging by the banners that have been cropping up in my neighbourhood.

Of course, when large numbers of people live in close proximity, as happens in the HDB high rise complexes which house more than 80% of Singaporeans, people do annoy each other hugely with thoughtless behaviour.

These ‘Gracious Living’ cartoons are targeted at anyone who thinks they can get away with dropping cigarette ends out of their windows, or actually using the lift as a toilet. They are funny, but also to the point, and to be honest, there are so many cctv cameras in operation, you’d think people would know better. Let’s hope these serve as a valuable reminder…


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Umbrella Trees

Category : Other

Here in tropical Singapore, it doesn’t pay to venture far without your umbrella. Not just for the inevitable downpours that strike without warning, but also as protection from the sun on cloudless days. A popular choice is the dual purpose brolly that has a special silvery coating to ward off the dangerous UV rays.

The local trees are also terribly important for the shade they provide (the ang sana tree in particular is nicknamed the ‘umbrella tree’) and it’s a rare tree that doesn’t have a snoozing workman underneath it at lunchtime or the weekend.

Project Oasis, an arts and culture group formed by Little India Shopkeepers and the Heritage Association, has taken this idea and produced a wonderful art installation beside the Serangoon Road – fake trees topped with colourful big umbrellas to shade the seating areas underneath. There’s a whole collection of them in different colours, filling out a vacant lot and looking remarkably realistic and amusing.

The artist who dreamed this up is Marthalia Budiman, and it is such a great idea I hope it is not just a temporary installation.

 


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Drinking Ants

Singapore is currently in the throes of a cocktail revolution, with bars doing their best to outshine each other with ever more unusual offerings.

One of the latest openings is Native, which aims to source as much as possible from local or at least Asian manufacturers. This means fresh ingredients foraged from nearby, including coasters cut from leaves, ceramic drinks containers and batik edged aprons made by local artisans, and spirits originating in Asia rather than international brands. Think Thai whisky, Indian rum, and Sri Lankan arrack…

There are also the ‘shock’ additions to capture your attention. Like the TCM performance enhancing tongkat ali root whose extract is a key part of the Red Light District cocktail. Or the crunchy ants on a leaf which tops the Antz – this one served in a ceramic ‘anthill’ and including a nitro component which gives you ‘dragon’s breath’ to contend with as well as the actual ants.

Native is also a ‘secret’ bar, more or less invisible from the street unless you know which door to try and that there really is something exciting at the top of the stairs. I suspect I will be going back until I have tried everything on the menu!


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