After an early morning trip to the Singapore Tourist Information Centre, I am delighted to find out that due to today’s national holiday (for Deepavali), the Istana – which is the home of Singapore’s Prime Minister – is open to the public. For a small fee of SGD$2.00, you can wander around the beautiful, lush gardens and up to the Istana’s porch, with all donations going to support a children’s charity.
The expansive lawns are bright green and perfectly manicured and though the long pathway to the Istana is lined by shady trees, they do little to allay today’s humidity. Beautiful scents waft across the air every now and again welcoming you to the grounds.
The Istana is a grand white building perched a top a sweeping white staircase, which leads onto a large grassed balcony with views back to the city. The Singaporean flag proudly flying atop its roof. Today there are lots of activities on for the people and there are masses of families coming through the gates to spend a few hours in this regal setting.
Back outside the Istana, I am melting, when I come across something else that typically melts – ice cream. I have seen these ice cream vendors many times before, but have shrugged off the thought of trying ice cream wrapped in bread – I mean, why? Well today, it’s a case of why not. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try the bread yet, but you can also get ice cream sandwiched between a wafer, so I make a compromise. You can have the wafer, as long as you try an unusual ice cream flavour. Deal? Deal. I scan the list and decide on sweet corn. Yes, sweet corn.
I take a seat and prepare myself to bite into my sweet corn (eek) ice cream. Mmmm. It tastes kind of, well, like sweet corn. But in an ice cream format and it’s actually not bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I like it because it’s not anything you’d normally eat in an ice cream flavour. My verdict? Try it.
Next I grab a taxi to the Katong/Joo Chiat area of Singapore. Less than $10, will get you to this suburb filled with brightly painted Peranakan shophouses, so charming you can’t believe it. Also known as Baba-Nyona’s, the Peranakan Chinese were descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the Malay archipelago and British Malaya (which is now Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore) between the 15th and 17th centuries) – Peranakan meaning ‘local born’.
They have a very rich culture which can be seen in the architecture of the shophouses as well as the food and richly beaded traditional costumes. Unfortunately as I have arrived fairly early in the day (before 2pm) and on a public holiday, hardly anything is open and I am unable to try any of the awesome Peranakan food. I guess this area will be marked for a return at some point so I can do just that.
Another short taxi ride away is East Coast Lagoon Food Village. It’s a hawkers restaurant, where you can pretty much get anything. From seafood to chicken rice. And from Indian to Chinese. All at a great price and with a free view of the sea. Normally at this time of the afternoon, the place would be fairly quiet, as things don’t get busy til the late afternoon/early evening, but being a public holiday there’s loads of people here. The trick is to look for the stalls with the longer queues as these are generally good, but each stall also has a rating (A, B, C) which grades their cleanliness and food quality.
Unable to make a decision and after doing about four loops of the village, I end up going for some chicken wings which are supposed to be absolutely amazing (they are) and a cup of sugar cane juice. The juice is not something I would usually drink, but with the heat today, it’s going down better than beer and bounces nicely off the sauce that accompanies the chicken. East Coast is not just for eating though there are several places along this stretch where you can do just that. You can also camp in one of the designated areas, or hire a bike to ride along the coast and enjoy the wind in your hair. Although it’s on the coast, you don’t swim here because as you can see when you look out towards the horizon, there are loads of tankers and well, the water quality would definitely be debateable. It’s definitely a nice place to hang out and chill though.
I can’t believe it took me so long to get to either of these places when they are only a short, cheap (compared to Australia anyway) taxi ride away. I would definitely come back to both of these places in a heart beat. I guess everything is so close and easy to get to in Singapore, that perhaps you get a little lazy sometimes and forget to venture out into some of the more local treasures.
On my way back to the hotel for a rest, I pass by Teck Kee Tanglin Pau in Killiney Road, which was closed yesterday. I have read about this place and know that if you pass it by you will be sorry, so knowing I only had a small lunch at East Coast Park, I have plenty of room to try their Char Siew and Big Chicken Pau. I bite into them and OMG they are good. So good. I’d go as far to say the Char Siew is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve never tried the Big Chicken before but it too is awesome. This could be a very dangerous place to have around the corner from my hotel. Oh yum. Yum, yum, yum.
The public holiday today is to celebrate the Indian Deepavali festival – or the festival of lights. It’s one of the biggest and brightest of the Indian festivals and lasts a month from mid October to mid November, although the main celebrations tend to last around five days. Before Deepavali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and then on the night they dress up in their finest clothes, light lamps and candles inside and outside their homes and participate in family prayers. Traditional sweets (or mithai) are then exchanged between friends and family.
Tonight, all of Little India is lit up and there are masses of people lining the sidewalks. It’s even madder than usual and trying to find a spot to dine at a restaurant is crazy, but it’s worth it to see the lights and soak up the atmosphere and see yet another side to Singapore’s multicultural little island.