Literally Lost in Haute Couture

Our apartment in Singapore lies just off of Orchard Road which a major hub of entertainment and shopping.  Before we arrived, Andy described the street as being similar to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue with not one, but twenty Water Tower Place Malls.

View of Ngee Ann City and Paragon malls from my bedroom

While that somewhat gave me an image of what to expect, I was not ready for how over the top the opulence is here.  If you walk a 100 yards between Ion and Ngee Ann City, two malls which lie directly across the street from me as I write,  you will pass two Louis Vuitton stores. If that is not enough a third lies around the corner.  Amazingly, the malls are packed and people have bags. In fact, they have lots of them.  If there is a recession somewhere, someone forgot to tell Singapore.

Ion

Several of the malls connect underground with tunnels lined with dozens of stores.  There are enormous food courts called hawker centers in the lower or uppermost levels of the malls.   Initially it all is overwhelming and blends into a fluorescent haze of store displays, “Sale” signs and food smells.

Inside Ion – This is on my way to the Grocery Store.

Our first week Andy told me meet him after work in front of L’Occitaine, a French store that sells very expensive soaps and toiletries.  We had past it a day earlier, how hard could it be to find again?   I found a L’Occitaine store across the street.  It looked like the wrong one.  I asked the sales woman if there was another store nearby she said there were three more!  After dragging the children and stroller to the next place only to find he was not there.  We gave up and came back home.  Ugh!!!

Wheelock Place

Orchard Road, like the rest of Singapore, is full of surprises and contrasts.  Across the street from the Forum,  generally children’s stores and education centers like Aidan’s Lego school, lies Orchard Towers.  This mall has many clubs and bars, but is most notorious for a brothel the locals have dubbed ‘Four Floors of Whores’.  So much for the country’s  squeaky clean image.

Orchard Towers

Orchard does seem the most lively at night.  I am still trying to overcome the shock of seeing so many children out past ten.  I love this photo Andy took of row after row of taxis perfectly lined up near Orchard Road on a Saturday night around midnight.  Red on the roof means the taxi is occupied.

The second day after we arrived, I smelled the distinctive and pleasing aroma of buttery caramel corn.  Many visitors to Chicago are familiar with Garrett’s where the lines to get the popcorn treats are always long and the smells inviting.  I looked up and sure enough there was the sign.  Perhaps Singapore’s “Miracle Mile” is an apt description after all – just like Michigan Avenue only on whooping doses of steroids!

Singapore’s Asian Civilization Museum: Handicrafts, Heirlooms and Hookahs

Happy Labor Day!

May 1 is a national Singapore holiday.  This meant for Andy he did not have to physically go to the office but because few other counties acknowledge this day his email account was still flooded by work from the States and London.   Oh well!  Such is the life of an expat.   We did, however, take advantage of some free time to visit the Asian Civilizations Museum.

Singapore today is a melting pot of nations and has been an important worldwide trading port for generations.  This museum represents various cultures of Asia and contains a remarkable diversity of wonderful treasures.  The galleries are generally separated by geographical areas and the displays are lovely.

This is from the southeast Asia area.

Beautiful Stone Carving from India

Currently they have a special exhibit of artifacts recovered from a 9th century AD Chinese shipwreck discovered as recently as 1998 in the Java Sea.

Detail of a Flask from the Tang Shipwreck

There is also a special display of fabrics from India from the 1400s to 1900s.  The intricacy of the details is stunning.

There were many interactive screens.  This one had the jewelry displayed in a case with a black background but would illuminate where the pieces belonged on a statue when you pushed a button.

In the Indonesian cultural display a video of a traditional dancer played behind the instruments.

Several areas, specifically designated for children,  provided educational opportunities about different cultural centers around Asia.  The displays included costumes, books and play objects.  The kids really enjoyed these and the photo opportunities were priceless.  Here Aidan and Sydney dress the part of patrons in a traditional Chinese Tea House.

In “India”, Aidan took the role of a maharaja very seriously. Sydney acted as his guard.

Drums boomed in the Nomadic Middle Eastern tent.

Sydney looked like trouble was brewing behind the drapes.

Aha! They found the hookah pipe!  The children came up with the pose spontaneously which simultaneously amused and frightened Andy and me.    We can only hope that they never look this way in college 🙂

We were all impressed with the museum.   The collections fantastic and the kids loved being part of the journey.   It was a wonderful reminder of some places we have been, will travel to or hope to explore some day all under one roof.   Now if we can only keep them off the hookah….

Singapore’s World Famous Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice holds the title as Singapore’s “national dish.”  If not officially declared it is certainly the most popular food with tourists and my two-year old daughter.   Last year, CNN even ranked it as number 45 on its list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.

I have ordered Chicken Rice several times at the food markets.  The chicken either roasted or braised is served with rice, chili sauce, ginger paste, soy sauce and a bowl of broth.  I have never been completely certain how to mix the ingredients together.   My mom is visiting from Chicago so with the guidance of Ruqxana from Cookery Magic we attempted to unravel the secrets of Chicken Rice.

For a tender chicken Ruqxana stressed the importance of using a fresh bird that simmers but never boils in a homemade broth.  The chicken is stuffed with aromatics, rubbed with salt and chinese wine then stirred in the broth by its feet for ten minutes. We brought the liquid to a quick boil and removed from the heat to simmer for a few ten minute cycles until done.

My mom demonstrates the proper technique for stirring a chicken by its feet 🙂

While the chicken cooked, we prepared several sauces.  The ginger dipping sauce is a lovely mixture of ginger, garlic, chicken stock, lime juice, sugar and salt.  The chili mixture had similar ingredients but with the addition of two types of red chilies.  We added extra small spicy ones to take it up a notch.

The rice was stir-fried before steaming in a garlic infused oil.  Some chicken fat was also rendered and added to the mix.  After the chicken was completely cooked we submerged it in an ice-cold bath.

The bird did not look very happy about its predicament.  However, there was a much happier creature nearby, a cat kept batting at my feet for attention as I chopped.  She had recently decided to have her kittens near the cooking school.  Smart kitty indeed!

After the soup was prepared from the broth and garnished with cilantro, chinese cabbage and spring onions, we enjoyed the product of our labor.  It was a wonderful afternoon I am hoping to recreate this dish when I return home in a few months.

If you want to try it yourself there is a recipe on Saveur magazine’s website which approximates what we made today or you can hop on a plane and book a lovely afternoon at Cookery Magic.