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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

This week, Beverly and I are traveling to Singapore on a house-hunting and exploratory trip.  During the week, I’m going to be documenting our trip in small bursts and stream-of-thought posts.   I’ll place these posts under the tag “house hunting” if you want the full digest.

If nothing else, I learned a little something about Singaporean micro-climates.  However, I am an observant person, so if I learned nothing else of fact, I certainly learned what questions to ask.  I was traveling by foot and by train to the Maxwell Food Centre, one of the renowned locations of Singapore’s “hawker fare”, street-food vendors much like Portland’s food carts.  Trusting my knowledge of food carts and blithely ignoring any lack thereof regarding Asian cuisine, I set out to get lost near Chinatown and enjoy some good food.

Getting off the MRT (subway – more on this in a later post) is a step from the cool interior AC to the harsh hot humidity of the outside.  I found this to be a shock especially at the Telok Ayer stop which is close in to Downtown and doesn’t have the access to the coastal breeze due to the steel canyons.  Still, it was a pleasant day and I set off down Telok Ayer Street, trusting my internal compass to guide me to where I wanted to go.

Telok Ayer is a crowded little one-way street with covered sidewalks that abut the shops, mosques, temples and cultural heritage sites that line the street.  Within one block, I passed by a Chinese temple with people burning Joss paper1apparently a spiritual donation to their ancestors, the paper is printed with outrageous denominations and burnt to send money to ancestors to spend in the afterlife, an Indian Muslim Heritage center, the al Abrar mosque with its sidewalk littered with shoes as it was time for prayer, and a Chinese Methodist church.  Stomach growling, I pressed on, noting the rise in temperature.

By the time I had reached the Food Centre, I was covered in sweat.  I noted two things – one, that the men working downtown in their slacks and dress shirts had no such issues, something I resolved to learn the trick of; and two, that those wearing t-shirts often favored a V-neck instead of the close collar style I was wearing.  Looking at my upper chest covered in sweat, I could easily see why.  I can see a quick clothes shopping trip in my future to the outlets in Woodburn before we move.

Maxwell Food Centre was everything I had imagined it, and yet, I was still overwhelmed by the variety of food, the sheer number of hawker stalls, and my absolute ignorance and what the hell anyone was selling!  I took the time to walk around and note the varieties, and noted that some stalls had huge lines, a ringing endorsement for their quality, I figured.  Everything was cheap – $5 at most for lunch.  I settled for a bit of adventurism by not standing in the long lines but found a moderately trafficked stall serving “lor mee”, something I had never heard of, but it had noodles and sauce and fried stuff, so I figured it was worth a shot.

And it was – it was not amazing but it opened my eyes to SE asian cuisine.  Lor mee is noodles in a flavored starch sauce served with fried pork or fish, and a hard-boiled egg.  The sauce at this particular place was underwhelming, but good none the less.  Anthony Bourdain, I am not, however, so I slurped in mystery, thinking that I would have liked nothing else but to have my phone handy to look up what the hell I was eating.

The food centers here have a similar basic structure, rows of hawker stalls with one or two alleys between the rows, under a tin canopy and dozens of fans.  The fans don’t really seem to help too much, at least in the two food centers I’ve been in thus far.  The heat from the cooking, from all the people, I was sweating profusely when I left Maxwell.  I even earned a small chuckle from a passer by while hunched over my lor mee – I’m not sure if he was laughing at the white boy who might have put too much chili in his food2Spoiler alert, I did not.  It could have used much more. or just at the overweight American.

I took it in good stride, though, not here 24 hours and I already made someone laugh.

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