Category Archives: Signs from Singapore
I’ve found a Westerner who loves hawker centres as much as I do. Every week during Malay class, I stared at him, bewitched by his goofy amusement, wishing I could take him home with me. Unfortunately, that might get me caned…for stealing a poster. So, I had to be content with this picture of what is clearly the best ad the Singapore Tourism Board has ever created.
There’s also writing at the bottom that reads, “It’s easy to see why diet books never make it to the top of the Singapore best-seller list.” The poster is set in Lau Pa Sat, a historic building in Singapore that was constructed around 1894. It’s different from the hawker centres I study in that it’s privately-run and not government-regulated, but that’s a topic for another post.
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.
QQ Rice is a Taiwanese company whose main product is a rice roll – you pick a type of rice, choose some fillings, and they wrap it into a little ball for you. Kind of like inside-out sushi in a spherical form, without the seaweed. I haven’t tried it yet, but you can bet it’s on my list of things to eat.