Singapore’s marathon food tour (bring an empty stomach)
The tour is in full swing. Tony brings the group to Guan Hoe Soon (www.guanhoesoon.com), arguably Singapore's most famous Peranakan restaurant. They close early, but Tony insists that we absolutely must try Chef Ouyeong's signature desert, Chen Dool, a coconut-cream based ice treat with overtures of molasses and coffee.
Dessert is finished. It is time for the main course. We cross the street to Kim's (www.kims.com.sg), where Tony has pre-ordered the restaurant's famous specialty, my old nemesis chili crab. This will not be eaten here, but brought down the block to Chili Padi, where a huge spread of Singaporean dishes awaits. Peranakan-style black fatty pork... meat-stuffed cabbage... beef curry... fried yellow noodles... pork and rice sausages...
All that has transpired before this moment has been mere floorshow. This is the main event. Like Muhammad Ali facing George Foreman, I defy my own strategy and attack the meal two-fisted. I wolf down a Kueh Pie Tee (it is kind of a crispy cupcake, only with vegetables and shrimp - very Singapore) and make a beeline for the fatty pork. Then the noodles. A shot at the curry. The sausage. A second Kueh Pie Tee. More sausage. The other diners seem to be tiring, but I am just hitting my stride.
Then Tony opens the box from Kim's, revealing two huge crabs, swimming - nay, drowning - in a fiery pink hot pepper sauce. An American woman reaches for the biggest claw, but with a quick spin of the Lazy Susan I make her settle for second biggest. "Sorry", I say. "This is personal" and savagely shove the claw into my mouth, shell and all.
There is more food on the table, chilli pepper sauce and yellow buns. The rest of the group is exhausted, and I am still eating. I grab an unwanted hunk of crab. Tony tries to reason with me.
"Your gout!" he whispers. "Remember your gout!"
"I'm controlling it with medication," I say, calmly sucking down the last of the decapod's tasty, tasty flesh.
The food on the table is mostly gone, but the tour is not over yet. There is a long walk through yet another housing complex as Tony brings us to a local supermarket where we shop for typical Singaporean after-party snacks. Beer. Seaweed. Cuttlefish squares. We find a quiet area to consume the last of the snacks under the moonlight as Tony waxes lyrical about the seamier aspects of Singaporean society, namely sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
It is somewhere past midnight, and while the group is still listening to Tony talking about Singapore's gritty side, the tour seems to have stopped. The spice burn has faded into a warm glow. I remember that there is an English girl waiting for me back at the hostel. She wants me to give her a foot massage. I feel tired. Giddy. I raise my hand.
"Tony... did I... did I finish the tour?"
"You finally did," he tells me. "You can take off...champ."
As I walk back towards the hostel, I think I hear the Rocky theme floating down from one of the apartment blocks. It must be my imagination.
The Real Singapore Joo Chiat Foodwalk Eat your way through the Joo Chiat/ Katong district learning about how Singaporeans work, live, play and pray. Sample a diversity of Singaporean cuisines and learn about the Singapore social norms. The tour begins each Thursday at 6:30 pm at the Betel Box Hostel (200 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore). For more information check out http://www.betelbox.com/tour-food.htm.
Kim's Place Seafood Amazing crab prepared however you please. Also serves a huge variety of seafood dishes. (37 Joo Chiat Place; 67-42-1119; open 11 am to 3 am; kims.com.sg)
Guan Hoe Soon Peranakan Restaurant Peranakan cuisine prepared by a master chef, with desserts to die for (38/40 Joo Chiat Place; 63-44-2761; guanhoesoon.com)
Chili Padi Nonya Restaurant Another restaurant serving only the best in Singaporean heritage cuisine. (11 Joo Chiat Place; 62-75-1002; chillipadi.com.sg/Eateries)