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A belated but sincere thank you

My life has been fairly busy for the last couple of months, and as a consequence, I have not managed to report on this blog the results of my “Anyone in Singapore want to meet up?” request, from December. This is a shame, because thanks have been order to a Samizdata reader and commenter whose response ensured that things turned out very well. However, better late than never.

What happened was that long time Samizdata commenter The Wobbly Guy offered to take me out for crab at Mellben seafood restaurant in Ang Mo Kio, which, as he put it, “is noted for its crab”. Australians such as myself are also fond of crab, but we tend to eat it more simply than the Singaporeans. Australians tend to eat crab boiled with relatively few embelishments. Singaporeans tend to eat it with more spices and chilis. However, when we talk about past visits to one another’s countries, people of both nationalities will tend to say things like “Mmmmmm. Great seafood”.

As it happened though, on my last day in Singapore I made something close to a terrible mistake. Wandering along Geylang road at about 2pm I discovered that I was hungry, and I therefore walked into one of many street restaurants in that area that offer an “unlimited Steamboat buffet” for about $S15. (About £5 or US$10). The restaurant was full of local people having long lunches, and in such a restaurant (in which you cook meat, seafood, vegetables, and goodness knows what else in a bowl of boiling soup in the middle of your table) it is possible to have a very long lunch.

When I walked through the door, the very kind lady running the restaurant thoughtfully enquired as to just how spicy I like my soup, got me a large bottle of Tiger beer, gave me one of those “Go for it” expressions and gestured towards the buffet. I got myself a modest selection of seafood and meats, and sat down to cook and eat it. It was good. Repeat until fade.

On about my third trip to the buffet, the kind lady saw me tentatively placing a modest portion of crab on my plate, and decided it was time to put me to rights. She gave me one of those “You poor, pathetic westerner. You truly have no idea, do you?” looks, and proceeded to pile my plate high with crab for me. Chastened by this, I took the seafood back to my table and my soup, and got myself another bottle of beer. I was slowly getting there, but the guys at the next table clearly were not having any such problems.

Thus, after intending to have a quick lunch, I stumbled back out onto the street two and a half hours later after engorging vast amounts of food.

So thus, when The Wobbly Guy very kindly picked me up from my hotel after I had rushed off to the centre of town topick up the custom suits I had ordered a couple of days earlier, I was perhaps not ideally prepared. It wasn’t quite as bad as attempting a six star day in Donostia, but it was perhaps heading that way.

Somewhat to my relief I had a further opportunity to digest my lunch before moving onto dinner, as the combination of a public holiday and a very popular restaurant meant that we had to queue. Several restaurants nearby lacked such queues – presumably they cater to the “people who are willing to eat less good food but are in a hurry” crowd. In addition, this gave us a chance both to chat and to watch another of these kind but formidable Singaporean restaurant women removing the alive and active crabs from the large styrofoam boxes marked “Singapore Airlines” in which the crabs had apparently just been flown in from Sri Lanka.

As she did this, she watched by some cute as a button children, some of who were probably determined to grow up to be kind but formidable Singaporean restaurant women themselves.

As we waited, The Wobbly Guy and I were able to compare our national culinary cultures. I am still not sure if either the “sand crabs” and “mud crabs” we get in Australia are the same species to those eaten in Singapore. Clearly more research is in order. I did explain that the two culinary things in Australia that Singapore is known for are chili crab and “Singapore Noodles”. The Wobbly Guy was slightly perplexed by the second of these dishes. Yellow Hokkien noodles known as “Singapore Noddles” are available in just every Chinese or Malaysian or Thai restaurant in Australia under this name, but nobody in Singapore has ever heard of them. In the midst of this, a butter crab was ordered and I took a peek at the kitchen. This was clearly a serious crab restaurant.

I really must try the chili crab next time.

The butter crab was a good choice, though. By the time we sat down I was just about able to eat again, and the crab was succulent, in a lovely soup, and delicately spiced. I did properly discover what “noted for its crab” meant. As we ate, The Wobbly Guy told me a few things about Singapore: about compulsory military service. (All adult males in Singapore are required to be reserve members of the armed forces. All members of the armed forces are required to be fighting fit. Hence, in Singapore it is an offence on pain of court-martial for an adult male to be unfit); about language (which dialects of Chinese are taught and spoken in Singapore, and how use of Chinese in Singapore compares with use of English); and such things as road pricing and properfy development. But good as the conversation was, it was overshadowed by the food, which was wonderful. Food in Singapore is just about invariably wonderful. But even by the standards of the country, this was good

After a while, I reached one of those states of holiday contentment that one gets too occasionally. It had been a good day. It was my last day in Singapore. The Wobbly Guy refused to let me pay for dinner, and then insisted on driving me to the airport for me to catch my flight to Sydney. The hospitality was most kind. Thanks JT. The chili crab is on me next time.

16 comments to A belated but sincere thank you

  • You are truly a one man global warming surge… a capital job, sir! :-D

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Have you ever been to WA Michael? You should try some blue manna crab from the estuaries around Perth and the South West. They are absolutely deluxe stir fried in a chilli sauce Singapore style.

    Damn, I haven’t been crabbing for ages.

  • Nick M

    Kudos to TWG for showing you a fine time. Sounds cheap too. If I ever go to the land of Oz then I suspect a lay-over in Singapore might just be in order.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    If I’d known Michael already had crab for lunch, I’d have treated him to some other kind of dinner! :P

    Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, perhaps, or even Shark’s Fin soup!

    TWG

  • RAB

    Well if this glorious weather we have been having in the last week is down to you Michael,
    profuse thanks!
    There has been a bit of this “Meeting up” of the commentariat lately. Paul Marks, my wife and I walked the dog on Porthcawl beach last Sunday. Plenty of crabs in evidence, but nobody cooking them alas.
    I’ve had shark fin soup Wobbly, but Buddha jumps over the wall sounds interesting. What is that?

  • Kevin B

    I definitly need new glasses. I misread the title of this post as:

    “A bloated but sincere thank you”

  • The_Wobbly_Guy

    Buddha Jumos Over the Wall, or in hanyu pinyin, Fo Tiao Qiang, is a traditional chinese restaurant dish prepared with many herbs, and very, very tasty.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_jumps_over_the_wall(Link)

    It’s actually quite common in chinese restaurants nowadays. I’m pretty sure England has restaurants serving this.

  • RAB

    Thanks Wobbly.
    Next time I’m in my local chinese, Taos, down the hill,
    I will ask for it.

  • Gregory

    Bah! Singaporean food is for pikers! Expensive, some more small portions, some more copy all the recipes from their neighbours. ;)

    Now, if you were to come down to Malaysia, I could show you all a really good time. Steamboat buffet dinner time at RM20. Which is ridiculously cheap. Korean BBQ dinnertime at RM42. Japanese buffet at RM55-60. Bearing in mind that 1 SGD ~ 2.4 MYR (thereabouts).

    Global Warming? Hah! try Weapons of Mass Destruction! (if you can survive the massive quantities of food without letting go of some chemical warfare, then I’ll treat you lot to durians – they should really be called devilfruit, and possession is illegal in most hotel establishments)

    But yeah, crabs. A shout out to TWG, my neighbour from the Fine City (possession with intent to distribute chewing-gum, SGD500). Next time, treat him to Kam Heong (otherwise make sure your chilli crabs come with the buns) and some Tiger. Or Singha .

  • Gregory: I actually did go to Malaysia (Penang) as well. Certainly the food is wonderful there as well, and it is indeed cheaper than Singapore. Singapore is hardly expensive by London standards though.

    And as for the other stuff, I think I do more or less get the point.

  • RAB

    Michael, I had never heard of Durians before now either.
    Given that there is no fine penalty on your picture,
    what happens?
    If caught in possession,do they take you to a piece of waste ground and explode you like unaccompanied luggage?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Nah, they just take the durians away from you. I suspect whoever removes the durians (hoteliers, train station staff etc) would take it to a corner…

    And proceed to quickly destroy the evidence by dumping it through their mouths. :P

    Seriously, durians are incredibly good, but they also leave a stench that many people cannot bear, which is why they’re banned from any air-conditioned areas. The only way they can be present is if they are tightly wrapped to prevent the aromas from leaking out.

    TWG

  • TWG: I was very happy to have crab twice in the same day, as I don’t get the opportunity very often. Britain is not known for its seafood, alas. One sometimes does get good prawns and scallops on the Dorset/Devon/Cornwall coast, but I haven’t had crab there.

  • Gregory

    Now, then, let us not obscure certain facts about the King of Fruits (Durian, Satan’s choice – if this was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, I suspect we would all still be there in Eden).

    1. The durian is so-called because it is covered with spikes (duri, in vernacular). And these are no pretend-spikes, oh no, these spikes can be used as caltrops. And they are very large fruit. Very large. The size of your head, and maybe more.

    2. The durian tree grows some 10-20 metres tall (maybe more), and the fruit grows right at the top. If you happen to be underneath when it falls, it will brain you. Literally.

    3. The pong from the durian is indescribable, and can only be compared negatively to hydrogen sulfide. We won’t need to waterboard anybody; just put them in a room filled with opened but uneaten, ripe durian.

    4. Of course, durian is an acquired taste. The flesh is very meaty (and by meaty I mean it’s like eating a chunk of steak), and once you’re hooked, you won’t stop at one. You know the torture method listed above? It won’t matter when the victim likes durian or not. However, I have not yet acquired the taste. ;)

    Now, don’t let me dissuade you from eating it. But it is a fact that some guests from Oxford (St Epps) at my church went out to buy this notorious fruit. 10 minutes later they were at my house, faces green, begging my Dad to take it off their hands. Funniest thing ever.

    Mr Jennings: which I find really interesting. Because I would have thought that being an island, you could get your seafood needs just like that.

    I really should be working. :)