The first stop in Asia was Singapore, well technically it was South Korea because we had a ten hour layover in Seoul. Our intention was to quickly get out of the airport and head downtown to a market because we are big fans of Korean food (we are big fans of basically all food but that is besides the point). Anyways, we landed in South Korea extremly early in the morning and by the time we got downtown we would only have 30 minutes before having to turn around and that’s if everything went perfectly. Ultimately we decided that it would be best if we stayed in the airport, enjoyed some free lounge food, and three bowls of bibimbap later we were pretty happy with our decision to just lay low.
Our first flight was around 12 hours, and the next to Singapore was right around 7. When it’s all said and done, including layovers and passport control we were traveling for almost 48 hours and absolutely exhausted at that. The one good thing is that generally Asian long-haul flights are amazing, the food is great, the service is amazing, and the leg room (a big one for Scott since he’s all legs) is generous. We flew Korean Air which has a US partner as American, it was definitely one of the best flying experiences we’ve both had, did I mention they provided pizza as a late night snack? Yup, that’s a plus in my book!
Once we landed in Singapore Changi Airport we quickly headed to the ride share pick-up, we had a long process to go through customs to get over the border to Malaysia but let me back up a little bit. Our intention was to spend the week in Singapore, but as most people know, Singapore is one of the few VERY expensive Asian countries. After doing some research we concluded that it would be cheaper if we stayed in an Air BnB just across the Singapore-Malaysia border in Malaysia. It wasn’t as convenient as staying in Singapore but it was well worth the cost. A Grab, which is the Asian equivalent to Uber or Lyft, was about an hour to the border crossing and didn’t cost us much. Once we got to the crossing we had to go through Singapore’s customs which is painstakingly slow, and then take a random bus over the border (you are NOT allowed to walk) and then pass through Malaysian customs which was a little bit speedier, in total it took us about 3 hours to get from one country to the next. Was saving money worth it? Kind of… If you really want to Singapore on a budget, I highly recommend this route. We were super stoked just to be there and found ways to pass time so it wasn’t all that bad. There were a few other options if you were more prepared you could purchase a train ticket that took you the 5 minute distance that the bus took from one border to the next and that can cut more than an hour out of travel time. The only issue with this is that you have purchase the ticket when their system isn’t down or working slow (ultra rare) and when they still have tickets (also rare) and known in advance the exact time you want to cross the border. We were able to do this a few times and get from point A to B in about 1.5 hours.
Anyways, once we were at our Air BnB we crashed hard. A nice long nap-wake-up-nap. Then it was all about food. Singapore is known for being beautifully clean (you can’t even chew gum there) and for their Hawker Stands (outdoor street food). Our time here was really about the food so I’m just going to talk about it all here and put lots of pictures, then a little bit about the two things we did in Singapore that weren’t food involved.
We got a tourist pass in Singapore that allowed us to use their buses and metro for 48 hours with no limits. From the border crossing to downtown it took about an hour via metro and bus (hence the three hour journey both ways). Our first meals of the day usually consisted of brown sugar tapiocal pearl milk tea from LiHo, a RotiBoy (a light fluffy roll with a buttery center and crispy sugar coating), and some roti and dipping curries from Sauce & Sambal. Note this is all before we even leave the train station… Gotta get our bellies prepped for a day of eating.
Our first stop was one of the few and probably the first Michelin Star hawker stands in the world. You heard that right, Michelin Star street food for only a few bucks. Singapore is home to a few of the only street food stalls that can make the claim of Michelin Star status. This first one was called Hill Street Tai Hwa, also known as pork noodle. Pork Noodle is true Singaporean invention, we didn’t know what was in it, but several splashes of this and that sauce, some noodles, random assortment of toppings, wantons, and meatballs that I think were pork. A flavor so unique, you’ll just have to try it for yourself. The funniest thing I found when going to these Michelin Star places is the food is all slopped on the plate for the most part and it doesn’t look nearly as amazing as it tastes.
On our way to the next food spot we stopped by China Town, it was kind of a disappointment as it had really let tourism get the best of it. The architecture was beautiful but it was masked by people selling cheap goods to tourists and lost it’s authenticity by trying to appeal to Europeans and Americans. Anyways, onward to Maxwell Food Center (most hawker stands are found in a big area known as a food center where there are 20-100 stalls) at the food center we heard that they were supposed to have amazing Chicken Rice. Chicken Rice, not chicken and rice, is a staple to all Asian diets and comes in many different forms. It is one of my most favorite things to eat in Asia. The place we got it from was called Tian Tian, and it was amazing. Rice flavored from chicken broth, with an extra spoonful drizzled on top, poached to perfection chicken sliced on top, with a spicy lemongrass-red pepper sauce to dip each piece in. It was moist and heavenly, I could’ve eaten plates of it, but we were on a food journey so small portions and conserving tummy room was a must. As we were walking out of the food center Scott saw something that caught his eye, a Chinese stall with the patrons on one side stirring pieces of dough with large chopsticks in oil, while the owner plopped dough with red-bean paste into the oil. Of course he had to try his hand at this interactive food experience. He quickly made a friend who taught alongside him how to spin the dough in the oil and when to take them out when they were perfectly golden brown and ready to be rolled in sugar and sesame seeds. One of my favorite Asia treats from back home, made by Scott with a little help from his new friends. Called Hum Jin Pang, and owned by a woman who had been making these dough dumplings since she was a little girl.
The next place we headed for food was Amoy Street Food Center, this center had to have housed some of the most popular stalls and had a massive selection of great food. We waited for a famous one to open called a Noodle Story, owned by chefs who had worked in fine dining and wanted to bring their knowledge to affordable street food. Now this bowl of noodles and wantans looked like a Michelin Star plate. It definetly tasted like it too. A uniquely breaded prawn, hand-formed wantans, and juicy pork belly, all laid on top of springy noodles. But, we were hungry waiting for a Noodle Story to open so we got beef noodles from another well known stall, Hong Kee, they were simple in presentation but an absolute delight to eat.
Another day, another 12 hours to see how much food we could cram into our faces… well let’s make that 96 hours. We started the rest of our days with roti, and bubble tea, but then we tried to be strategic on how we were going to get to all the best food stalls before they ran out of their specialty. We went to Toa Payoh Food Center for carrot cake pancakes at Chey Sua and steamed pork buns from another stall that we didn’t catch the name of. Then it was off to Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring, for their famous Filipino dish putu piring. We heard about this place from a Netflix documentary called “Street Food.” Putu Piring is a steamed rice flour cake filled with hot carmelized sugar cane wrapped in banana leaf and served with coconut shavings, it is delicious and delicate. We finished up our mini food tour for that day at Old Airport Road Food Center with J&J famous beef noodle. This noodle dish was melt in your mouth tender beef with hand pulled chewy noodles, definitely one of my most favorite meals.
We took a brief break from food that day and went to the Peranakan houses and took a few pictures of the colorful, intricately decorated and then headed to downtown Singapore to visit one of the jewels of Singaporean architecture, Marina Bay Sands. A three tower hotel with the world’s largest infinity pool stretching across the top of each tower. We briefly walked through the hotel and then headed to the garden to check out their heritage forests. We got tickets to go to the Thunder Dome, an indoor waterfall with a tropical rainforest walk around, and the flower dome, a massive indoor botanical garden. Both were exhibits of Singapore perfectionism at it’s finest. We ended our tours with a light show outside in the garden by the bay. Large “tree” like structures lit up to music to tell a story of Asian cultures around the world, it looked like something out of Avatar.
Another food day abound, we went back to Anoy Street and got savory curry puffs (they had run out the times we were there before) and then headed to the Timbre+ food center, a completely gentrified area for millennial street food goers. There we sampled wanton mee (my absolute favorite asian dish) which is springy noodles, bok choy, a dark oyster sauce, crispy or steamed pork wantons and slices of bbq pork on top, if your mouth isn’t watering by now I don’t know if we can be friends. Anyways, our main attraction (well Scott’s main attraction) to this place was for fishball soup at Fishball Story. I had to pass on this one as I am not too big on fishy broths but he seemed to really enjoy it, claiming it was one of his favorite dishes of Singapore.
Later that night Scott ventured into a random part of Johor Bahru (the part of Malaysia we were staying in) to get a cheap massage while I enjoyed some alone time to relax and wander around the complex we were staying in. The bottom four floors of the apartment building was a mall with a ton of restaurants and salons, all brand new. We decided to try Korean fried chicken from Kyochon, probably a second favorite to wanton mee for me! We had one more full day in Singapore so we decided to enjoy a little bit of food and one last non-food event.
I’m a big fan of roti, and so is Scott. Roti is a hot, flat, flakey, buttery bread made by indians and it is delicious. If it is made right it doesn’t really need anything else with it. Usually it is used to dip curries, but my mom put butter and cinnamon sugar on it for me when I was a kid and I’ve always had a soft spot for it to be prepared that way. In Singapore we found was was announced as the best roti at Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata. We ordered six pieces and it was accompained by two mild curries AND it was spectacular. Next to their stall was a wanton mee place called Fatty’s, and that my friends was the best wanton mee I have ever had. After we were beyond full from four days of eating we spent the afternoon at the zoo. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but I love myself a good zoo. The best part, small monkeys wandering around stealing tourist’s food. We headed back to our Air BnB pretty early that day and enjoyed a korean street hot dog, fried like a corn dog with ketchup, mustard, and a sprinkle of sugar? Who knows, Korean’s really like pushing food boundaries apparently, and they are quite good at it!
The next day we headed across customs and got not one or two RotiBoys, but 6… Not our proudest moment, but they were fresh and delicious and we didn’t know if we would ever have them again. To make myself feel a little better the woman in front of us bought 15. We made it through customs, took a Grab to the airport and dropped our checked bags. Singapore is known for having the number one airport in the world and since we didn’t check it out on the way in, we thought we’d spend some time there on our way out. The Jewel is supposed to be an epic experience of airport luxury, with the world’s largest indoor waterfall surrounded by a tropical rain-forest, hundreds of shops and dining, people come to Singapore just to see this airport. We did our touristy thing and took pictures, “oooh” and “aaahed” and we were on our way.
Next destination, Bali! Especially excited because we are meeting up with Melody and Michael (the wedding we just went to in California) for a few days as part of their honeymoon!