Monthly Archives: March 2010

Sup Tulang – Bone Soup

Awhile ago I went to the Golden Mile Hawker Centre to try the infamous sup tulang – mutton bone marrow soup.  Mutton bones are cooked in a bright reddish-pink chili sauce, which does not taste at all spicy and does not look at all natural.

Needless to say, this is quite the messy dish.  Thankfully, unlike the time I attempted to politely eat chilli crab, I had a fork (and spoon) instead of chopsticks.  (While I can use chopsticks, my fingers aren’t strong enough to hold onto a heavy bone.)  So I daintily attempted to get the meat off the bone with my fork and spoon.

Even though I was sitting a bit away from the sup tulang stall, I was apparently being watched, because one of the guys came over and told me it wasn’t going to work – I needed to use my hands.  I was simultaneously curious about how closely I had been watched (and how many Westerners come to their stall) and amused by the permission to eat with my hands.

I really enjoyed the meat on the bones, but there wasn’t a whole lot, as I think the crowning aspect of the dish is supposed to be the marrow inside.  You can watch Anthony Bourdain using a straw to suck out the marrow when he ate sup tulang, but I was not given a straw and I did not feel like asking for one.  So I developed my own method – I discovered that inverting your spoon/fork and using the narrow end to dig out the marrow works quite well.

While I don’t think sup tulang makes my favorite Singaporean foods lists, it is on my list of places to take visitors if they’re up for it/there’s time because of the novelty of the dish and the “Anthony Bourdain ate here” factor.  Conveniently, the stall is also next to a famous Roti John stall, which I’ll explain in my next food post.

There are several sup tulang stalls at Golden Mile (505 Beach Rd).  I had it at Haji Kadir & M. Baharudeen Soup Tulang, Stall #B1-14.



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Singapore Bucket List

I’m past the half-way point of my time in Singapore and I so I drew up a list of things to accomplish in the four months that remain.  I figure it’s important to have goals, although most of these are just things I think will result in interesting experiences, which really means embarrassing myself in public.  Some simply require a little effort/organization on my part (#5, 8, 15…), while others require being able to find a class or training, at which I have thus far been unsuccessful (#3,9).  Others will require the Singaporean god of fortuitous and awesome experiences to smile down on me (#6, 11…).  Without further ado, in no particular order:

1. Line dance  with the Chinese aunties and uncles who gather for a hoedown on Friday nights

2. Go to a songbird competition

3. Learn how to play mah jong.  Bonus points if I can find some Chinese grandmothers to play with

4. Take a Peranakan or Malay cooking class

5. Take a People’s Association class  (Pretty much the equivalent of community ed classes, with more Chinese cultural-themed classes offered.)

6. Get on a Singaporean TV show/commercial

7. Hang out with the ladyboys at Orchard Towers (I’m not sure what I mean by “hang out with”…probably “find some”)

8. Attempt to make the following dishes: rojak, bak kut teh, satay, carrot cake (not what you think), laksa, popiah, mee rebus, beef rendang.

9. Learn how to Lion Dance

10. Meet KF Seetoh (local food celebrity)

11. See Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore’s PM from 1959-1990)

12. Watch a Singapore-league football game

13.  Dragonboat

14. Explore Pulau Ubin (small island near Singapore)

15. Go Prawning (i.e. shrimping)

16. Day-trip to the Exotic Fruit Farm in Malaysia

17. Catch a concert or play at the Esplanade – the building that looks like a durian

18. Take the Tiger Beer Factory Tour

19. Watch a Chinese Tea Ceremony

20. Figure out what game the old Chinese men play near Chinatown complex and get them to play with me (I’ve been told this won’t happen because I am not Chinese, and worse, I am female.)

21.  Go to a Singaporean Farm

I’ve left off the museums/attractions I want to visit, because I think that’s the more boring part of the list.  Is there anything else you think I’m missing?

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The Best Roast Pork in Cow Car Water

I was wandering through the maze that is Chinatown Complex’s hawker centre when I saw the following sign:

I was amused and confused.  What is cow car water?  Cow water could mean beef broth, but where does the car come from?  More importantly, why would you cook pork in this? It really doesn’t sound very appetizing.

Asking if I could take a picture of the sign led to asking if I could interview the stall holder, who thankfully agreed.  However, when I came back a few days later for the interview, I completely forgot to ask about the meaning behind “cow car water.”  I did learn other interesting things, though; for example, the stall owner used to work as a hotel restaurant manager and served President Nixon when he visited Singapore.

The interview also included a peek into the “kitchen” – i.e. the stall next door.  Here’s the chef who makes the best roast pork in cow car water:

So what’s the deal with the cow car water?  My friend Lauryn solved the mystery.  Chinatown’s water was pretty bad back in the day, so water had to get transported in from other areas via cows.  Consequently, the Chinese name for Singapore’s Chinatown became “niu che shui”, which translates to cow car water.  So “the best roast pork in cow car water” really just means “the best roast pork in Chinatown” and has nothing to do with cooking liquids or methods.

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The Craziest Pringles Flavor

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to explore the local grocery store.  While this is usually more interesting when traveling abroad, I’ve sometimes been equally amused by wandering around domestic stores, especially independent ones.  Possibly the best part of this activity is finding interesting flavors of familiar brands.  For example, I spent $25 at the Tokyo airport on KitKats because of the crazy flavors – green tea, apple, cheesecake, soy flour, wasabi, and soy sauce.  (The latter two were not actually as disgusting as they sound – there was no chocolate involved – it was a wasabi-flavor coating or a soy sauce-flavor coating over some wafers.  And the soy sauce one didn’t taste anything like soy sauce. It was a unique experience, but one I don’t need to repeat.)

Anyway, it took me a day or two to locate an actual grocery store when I first moved to Singapore, as I was living downtown and my roommate only knew about the nearby expat grocery store.  So when I trekked out to the Clementi Fairprice (a good 20-minute train ride from where I was staying at the time, but I had other business in Clementi…namely trying barbequed stingray), I took my time walking slowly up and down every aisle looking at every item.  But I didn’t really find anything worth writing home about.  (Except perhaps canned pumpkin, although a more recent trip revealed they no longer have any.)

No, I did not find that item until today.  And ironically, I don’t think it’s Singaporean – or even Asian – I think it’s American.

Pringles, is after all, owned by Procter and Gamble, an American company.  That being said, you find flavors overseas that we don’t get in the States.  In Malawi, I discovered Pringles “Rice Infusion Sweet BBQ Sparerib Flavour” and Pringles “Gourmet Flame Grilled Steak and Caramelized Onion Flavour”  I am currently wondering why I did not buy these to try them…

On that first trip to a Singaporean grocery store, I did notice three such flavors: grilled shrimp, soft-shelled crab, and seaweed.  I was amused, but they didn’t strike me as that strange.  Shrimp-flavoured chips/crackers, while seemingly bizarre when I first encountered them at Epcot at a young age, are quite common in Asia, and a “Prawn Cocktail” Pringles flavor is even available in the UK.  Soft-shelled crab seemed to be an extension of that theme.  And dried seaweed is a popular snack, so why not make it into a chip flavor?  The most unusual thing was their color: the shrimp ones are pink and the seaweed ones are green.

I never got around to actually trying the flavors, until I took some home with me over Christmas to share with other people.  Today, however, I found a flavor that was so bizarre, I bought it immediately and opened it as soon as I had paid.  I give you:

The other new flavor is Lemon and Sesame, which I find about as bizarre (and consequently intriguing) – I may have to go back tomorrow to buy them.  But, really?  Who came up with these?

When I got home, I googled them.  The only thing that came up was someone from DC who had recently proclaimed on Twitter his surprise about these flavors, which leads me to believe they may be in your local grocery store as well.  That would make some sense, as blueberries are not exactly a Southeast Asian fruit.

I’m still not over the combination.  I can think of several tasty ways to mix fruits and nuts  – dried cherries/cranberries and almonds in a trail mix, grape jelly and peanut butter in a sandwich – but I don’t think I’ve ever seen blueberry and hazelnut paired together, least of all in a potato chip.  What’s next, watermelon and macadamia? Strawberry and brazil nut?  Lychee and cashew?

So, what are they like? I can taste the blueberry, and if I concentrate intently I get a hint of hazelnut, followed by a blueberry finish.  But as I walked home munching, I decided that I was probably only recognizing these flavors because of the container, and in a blind taste-test I’d have no idea what Pringle flavor I was eating.  I decided to test this hypothesis on my roommate – she said it tasted like confetti cake.

I have now consumed half the can in the name of research (once you pop, the fun don’t stop!), so I’m hoping they’re not subject to the Pringles recall that was just issued…thankfully it appears to be just the cheeseburger and taco flavors.


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While it may sound like a type of cleaning product, rojak (Malay for “mixture”) is another tasty dish found in Singapore.  (Other versions of the dish are also found in Malaysia and Indonesia.)  The Singaporean version consists of pieces of pineapple, cucumber, green apple, fried dough, fried tofu, and bean sprouts in an addictive, sweet yet savoury sauce – made from lime juice, chili, shrimp paste, sugar, and water – and covered in ground peanuts.

The term “rojak” is also used to describe the multi-racial culture of both Singapore and Malaysia.  To me this is similar to referring to America as a”melting pot.”  But while both imply a mixing of ingredients, the ingredients in rojak remain distinct whereas those in the melting pot theoretically melt together and become indistinguishable.  On a related note, I find it curious that the government makes a big deal out of classifying everyone as “Chinese,” “Indian,” “Malay,” or “Other.”  Why not just call everyone “Singaporean?”

Despite appearances, I promise it tastes good.

(Speaking of classifications, there is also a dish in Singapore called Indian Rojak.  It’s basically a plate of fried dough, fried shrimp, fried potatoes, fried squid, fried tofu, fried coconut dough, and fried prawn cakes.  For the sake of my cholesterol, I haven’t tried it yet.  It comes with a sweet potato-chili dip that will probably be the reason I do try it.)

The best regular rojak I’ve had was from Clementi Brothers Rojak at Block 449 Clementi Ave 3 #01-211.  There’s a related stall run by the brothers’ uncle at Zion Rd Stall 21 – I’m assuming it tastes similar, but I haven’t actually tried it there.


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Notes on Manila

I’m actually headed back to Manila in two weeks for a conference (a consequently crazy work schedule is the main reason my posting frequency has declined), but here are some of my first experiences in the city.


Transportation in Manila was characterized by a lack of information.  The bus from the airport into Manila made several stops, but never announced the names of the stops.  Guided by some tourbook maps of the city (my contribution) and a good sense of direction (not my contribution), we managed to pick the correct one.

Later, we attempted to ride the subway/light-rail system.  The first thing we noticed was a huge line to get into the station – security was checking everyone’s bags.  (This turned out to be fairly common in Manila, as it also happened in shopping malls.)  Once inside, I was again surprised by the lack of information.  You get fairly used to subway stations having maps, so that you can figure out which train you need.  (All we had was the name of the stop we wanted.)  There was only one line, but we still didn’t know which direction we were supposed to head.  There might as well have been a scarecrow pointing in both directions.  We found a security desk and the guard helpfully pointed in only one direction.

We headed for the platform, which was pretty crowded. However, it was nowhere near as crowded as the train that arrived a minute later.  Manila doesn’t hire train pushers like Tokyo to squeeze as many people in as possible, but they might want to consider it.  I did notice that there was a separate boarding area for the elderly and women; when I got in the normal car, I appeared to be the only woman in a car packed with men, all of whom appeared to be staring at me.  At the next stop (again, no announcement – we had to peer out the window to try to catch the sign on the platform), the crowd shifted a bit and I was slightly relieved to discover I was not actually the only female in the car, although I was still getting stared at.

At the second stop, we couldn’t see the station sign.  But since everyone else seemed to be getting off the train, we decided we should too.  We had reached the end of the line, but the station was not the one we wanted.  After a few minutes of feeling confused and disoriented (why aren’t there any maps?), we discovered the next station we wanted was connected via a short walk.   Thankfully the next train was less crowded and we arrived at out destination unscathed, but ultimately decided to take a taxi back to the hotel.  (Cost of the train: 50 Pesos ($1US); Cost of the taxi: 150 Pesos ($3US); Getting home directly and not having to deal with the insanity: priceless.)  I’m glad we tried the trains, but we stuck with taxis for the rest of the trip – they were more convenient, quicker, and cheap.  I think our most expensive ride was $3US, and it was at least 15-20 minutes long.

Sadly, we did not attempt the most popular form of transportation in Manila – the jeepney.  Jeepneys (jeep+jitney) appear to operate like a cross between a bus and a taxi.  They look like elongated aluminum jeeps decorated by someone who just discovered color after living in a black-and-white world. (And who has a fondness for random Americana – ie Micky Mouse and the NY Giants – or religious depictions/quotes.)  They have signs with certain destinations and I think you can flag one down and travel to a destination along its route.  But since our geography of Manila was not all that great, we weren’t sure where we’d wind up if we took one.  I’m hoping some local Fulbrighters at the conference can show me how it’s done.


Filipino cuisine is notable for some items that are pretty exotic to Westerners.  You may have heard of balut – a fertilized duck or chicken egg, with a mostly developed embryo, that is boiled and eaten.  Or if you’d prefer not to see something’s eyes, you can move to the inside of an animal and eat isaw – barbequed chicken or pig intestines on a stick.  (Everything tastes better on a stick!)  Despite being an adventurous eater, I wasn’t sure how I felt about either of these dishes.  But I never actually saw them for sale, so my willingness to try new things was not properly tested.  I’m still not sure I could handle balut, but if I see some isaw in a few weeks, I might be able to try a bite.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of balut and isaw, we had a tasty time in Manila.  The main dishes we tried were: fresh lumpia (a type of spring roll made with hearts of palm and other veggies); a few types of pancit (stir-fried noodles);kare kare (oxtail, tripe, and vegetables in a peanut stew); adobo (chicken and/or pork cooked in a mixture of garlic, soy sauce and vinegar, although there’s supposedly 100 ways to cook it in the Philippines – it was salty, but delicious); and, possibly my favorite – bibingka.

Bibingka is apparently a dessert, but I didn’t realize that at the time and ate it as dinner.  (If only I could unlearn that  ice-cream, cookies, and brownies are desserts…) I read about bibingka on the in-flight magazine on the way to Manila, which I just googled – the description I read was of  a “wood fire-cooked rice cake in banana leaves and covered with butter, cheese and grated coconut.”  I guess I remembered “rice cake” and “cheese”, which brought to mind something savory, given that Quaker rice cakes aren’t sweet (unless you get the kind coated in chocolate).  Now, if I focus on “cake”, “cheese”, and “coconut,” I can see how it would be a dessert.  Oh well, it was a delicious misunderstanding.  To me, it tasted like an arepa (only fluffier, thicker, and sweeter) that had been inverted (given the cheese on top). I’m not sure where the corn taste came from.  I suppose I’ll have to figure that out in a few weeks.


We only had about a day and a half in Manila, but we managed to fit in a lot.  Our first stop was Intramuros – the oldest district of Manila, built by the Spanish in the 16th century.  Within its walls, we visited the Manila Cathedaral, Casa Manila (a recreation of a colonial-period house); and Fort Santiago.

Despite my love for colonial history, my favorite sight in Manila was the Coconut Palace.  The palace was built in the late 1970s by former First Lady Imelda Marcos in honor of an upcoming visit by Pope John Paul II.  However, when the Pope arrived in Manila, he was appalled and suggested the US$37 million spent on the palace could have been spent instead on clean drinking water for the Filipino people.  He refused to stay and somehow the palace was officially “opened” at a later date by Brooke Shields and George Hamilton.

We had our own tour guide who enlightened us with trivia about the palace (the dining room table has 40,000 pieces of inlaid coconut shell) and encouraged us to sit and take pictures at the dining room table and in former President Marcos’ office chair.  He even removed a “please do not sit” sign from Imelda’s mother of pearl chair and invited me to sit down.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he told us we could take a nap in the Marcos’ bed.

After the Coconut Palace, we headed to the nearby SM Mall of Asia, the fourth largest mall in the world.  It has four buildings and I think we were only in two of them, so I’m not sure I properly grasped its size, although I got a sense through the interactive maps.  All of the directories were electronic; you picked a store (or in our case, a restaurant) and it would give you walking directions.  I was somewhat surprised the mall was on Manila Bay, but it was nice to end our visit by watching the sunset over dinner and drinks.

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