Umbrella Trees

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.


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!

Model’s Own Pop-Up

Sometimes it is all about the presentation or the packaging rather than the product.

Model’s Own is fun and colourful, although not the priciest or most prestigious cosmetic brand on the high street. But you really have to give them credit for this sort of self-publicity – a giant nail polish bottle shaped pop-up stall bang in the centre of the pavement on Orchard Road in Singapore.

There are displays of makeup and nail polishes inside, pink ‘polish’ spilling out of the end of the bottle, and the whole thing is a total eye catcher. Good luck to them!

Dragon’s Breath

Now this really is a ‘cool’ snack.

New in Singapore and still wildly popular, this takes the culinary use of liquid nitrogen to new levels. Rather than using the nitrogen to freeze, say, fruit puree into ice cream, here it is poured over a selection of extremely porous bite-sized snacks like meringues or corn puffs.

Each snack absorbs the nitrogen mist and holds it until you crack it open in your mouth, at which point it pours out in disconcerting fashion. Once you get the hang of it, you can then breathe out plumes of mist, which of course makes for great photos.

Of course this is not without some degree of hazard, as the liquid nitrogen is so cold that it would be easy to ‘burn’ your mouth. Warning notices explain that you should crack the snack items without holding them on your tongue or against your gums. Even so, after sharing a single container between 3 of us, we all felt the burn for ages afterwards.

So totally worth it, though!

What’s Your Sausage?

This is one of those food stalls which stops you in your tracks and makes you think: “seriously?”

Worse, it is in the otherwise very smart basement food court at probably the nicest department store in Singapore.

Even worse, these are not even proper sausages but the sort of hot dog style items which are made with mulch rather than recognisable meat.

I am sorry, but I could not bring myself to try one…

Food Anatomy

A whole bunch of new shops and food stalls have just opened in our local MRT station, and this one really jumped out at me.

Food Anatomy’s premise is to make design and presentation as much a part of your lunch as the taste. Their motto is: ‘delicious is not enough and every dish must also look beautiful’.

I would add – your (savoury) lunch should also look like dessert – because I honestly thought the items on display were colourful cubes of cake until I looked more closely.

Each tasting portion has been developed as a graphic design project as much as a culinary creation, with certain dishes ‘deconstructed’ to add to the aesthetic. Hence you have a nasi lemak which actually comes as a stack of slices of each individual ingredient, although the lasagne already fit nicely into the general design.

At S$6.90 for 3 (although this was an end of the day special – lunches come with salad for slightly more) these were not just fun and delicious but an absolute steal.


Hospital Coffee

For such a tiny island, there is a great deal that is unique about Singapore. The city state, barely 50 years old, has managed to blend a diverse collection of races, religions and cultural heritages into something spectacular and instantly recognisable.

Often, I take this for granted, then something unexpected will catch my eye and bring it all home again.

So I present the free coffee machine in one of the waiting areas at Singapore General Hospital, where I spent a fair amount of time over the recent holidays (husband with dengue fever, daughter needing minor surgery…).

Some of the drinks on offer are standard – coffee, cappuccino, latte, mocha – but look more closely and you’ll see some decidedly local options there as well.

Teh Tarik means ‘pulled’ tea, and in street-side stalls you can see the tea being poured from a great height between 2 containers to improve the flavour by mixing the tea and milk really thoroughly. The smoother texture and frothier top are an added bonus. Heaven knows how they achieve this through a machine, but many Singaporeans are addicted to 3-in-1 packet mixes of both tea and coffee, so this is presumably very similar.

Milo is a chocolate malt drink which is ridiculously popular here, especially when served topped with a great heap of the undissolved powder, making it a milo ‘dinosaur’. Obviously this isn’t going to be possible here, but full marks to Nescafe and SGH for providing a spot of extra comfort to bored and worried locals.

(The mocha, incidentally, was really very good.)

Catching Crabs

Category : Other

This sign, outside a seafood restaurant in Singapore’s Chinatown, always makes me laugh.

The crabs are out there in the fresh air in a sort of cage, and you can – if you are silly enough – reach through the bars to give them a prod.

But they have their claws trussed up with string so that once the customer has chosen which one should be served with up with black pepper or the signature chilli sauce, it can be removed to the kitchen fairly safely.

You’d be very unlucky to have your fingers nipped. But as crabs are pretty expensive maybe some passing chancer decided to try for a free supper, and this sign is to warn off anyone else.

Sensorium Menu

Cocktail bars are such fun, especially here in Singapore where everyone is trying to outdo each other with new and unusual ideas.

This is from the Tippling Club, and gives you the chance to order by smell rather than from a more conventional menu. A collection of tiny, scented, strips is served up to the table stuck into a cocktail strainer, which is amusing enough in itself.

Each strip is printed with a generic description, and is embedded with the scent of the cocktail it represents. If you need more clues, some outline of the ingredients is on the back, but in fairly vague terms. You will, however, be able to tell what the base spirit is going to be (handy if you don’t for example, want to end up with gin).

The premise is that scents can trigger strong flashbacks, as they travel down the olfactory nerve near those parts of the brain which store memories and emotions, and which are linked to associative learning. And as about 80% of the flavour we experience comes from what we sense with the nose rather than the tongue, all this makes perfect sense as a concept to play with.

This series of cocktails, which are served with humour and style, have apparently been created in collaboration with International Flavours and Fragrances, a company which specialises in innovative sensory experiences.

Here we had a ‘grass’, which was based on tequila with citrus and herbs, plus a ‘caramel’ in which the rum and salted caramel were marvellous in themselves, but thoroughly enhanced by the addition of an old fashioned lollipop. I will be back for more of these!

Long Life Noodle(s)

It’s a typical Asian quirk that eating noodles is supposed to be lucky, especially at the Lunar New Year or on your birthday – the longer the noodles, the longer you will live. So try not to cut them up, whatever the time of year!

One place in Singapore has elevated this tradition into something of an art form, with lunch dishes that are comprised of a single noodle.

But what a noodle. This Yi Gen Mian (1 strand noodle) is hand made fresh daily, in limited numbers, and is fully 10 metres long. As it takes the chef 30 minutes to knead the dough before rolling it, then it needs to rest for several hours before being teased out to its full length, you can see why this is the house speciality. The finished noodle, should you arrive in time to order one before they are all sold out, comes coiled neatly in the bowl with spicy meat sauce on top. I suppose at that point it is alright to bite lengths off because I don’t know anyone who can slurp down 10 metres of noodle in one go…

From Dingi at Plaza Singapura. Go early and be prepared to queue.