Saturday, April 4, 2009

Singapore Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens in Singapore is a lovely way to spend an evening (it's open late). The lights, which are hard to photograph and thus not represented here, make the place even look attractive at twilight and after dark. But beware the mosquitoes. We've been in winter so long we forgot about those guys!

I once read a romance novel that described the evening air in Hawaii as smelling of "frangipani." I became obsessed with this word. It doesn't even sound real. I mean, "frangipani?" Say it a few times fast - frangipani, frangipani, frangipani. It's sort of got a My Fair Lady vibe to it: "Fran from Japan stands grandly by her man."


Right. So. The Botanical Gardens has an entire section devoted to frangipani, which meant I had to smell all of them. Verdict: Varies by flower. Some are a bit peachy, some smell just like gardenia. Most are very pleasant.

Bonus Wikipedia research note: "The scent of the Plumeria [scientific name for frangipani] has been associated with a vampire in Malay folklore." This is really just an excuse for me to get the word "vampire" in the same post as the word "twilight" (did you catch it up top there?) and thereby attact scads of Googling Edward Cullen fans to boost our web traffic.

(P.S. As far as I know, Edward Cullen does not smell like frangipani. Based on pictures of Robert Pattinson, I'd say he probably smells a bit more like stank. And if anybody ended up here trying to figure out what Edward Cullen smells like, I'd actually prefer it if you didn't stick around.)

A handful of blooms:

The Singapore $5 bill has this tree on it. Why? I don't know. I didn't ask. It's over 100 years old, and it's called a Tembusu tree. This would ordinarily be the best word I've heard in a while, but in a post with "frangipani" in it, it will get sadly shuffled to the side.

Hey, Mister! Your tree has a hole in it!

And that's all from the Botanical Gardens. Tune in next time for some museum nerdiness!

PS. Frangipani!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nana and Justin Drink Weird Stuff for Your Entertainment: Singapore Edition

(This is one of a series of posts about our recent trip to Singapore. You can find other posts by clicking the "Singapore" tag below.)

Nana and I are always on the lookout for chances to risk our health and our sanity of our readers' entertainment, and Singapore's abundance of fresh juice stalls provided plenty of opportunities. Here's Singapore through a straw, in order of increasing strangeness:

1. Sugarcane Lime Juice

It was our first day, so we weren't feeling all that adventurous yet.
As you can tell from Nana's expression of mild satisfaction, this one was pleasant, though not terribly unusual, and perhaps a bit too sweet.

2. Bandung Rose Syrup Milk Drink

One place we stopped for teh tarik (black tea and condensed milk--nectar of the gods!) was serving this stuff out of one of those giant plastic mixing containers you keep slushies in. The consistency was very slushy, too.

Oh, yeah, and the stuff was pinker than your average sociology major (are you reading, Carlos?).
To be fair, though, the stuff was really pretty tasty: what I imagine you'd get if you made a milkshake out of Persian-style rosewater ice cream.

3. Celery Juice

That's right, baby. Pure, unadulterated celery juice. As in, they put a bunch of celery in a blender, add a little water, and pour the stuff over ice.

It was shortly after this photograph that I realized just how salty celery tastes. Which is odd, since I don't think celery actually has that much salt in it. All in all, I'm not sure this is an experience I'd wish to repeat.

4. Avocado and Honey Juice

I'm told that some people actually drink celery juice in the US (really? like, not in V8?), but I've never heard of this stuff, and I never would have thought of mixing avocado and honey on my own, let alone serving them in juice form.
The result, though, was actually pretty pleasant--sweet, but not too sweet, and rich, with a mild avocado aftertaste.

[Edit by Nana: BUT THEY MADE IT WITH COCONUT MILK! Coconut milk is EVIL, and stealth coconut milk is evil in its most concentrated form. You say it was sweet, but not too sweet. I say it was COCONUT. You say it had a mild avocado aftertaste. I say COCONUT. UGH UGH UGH UGH UGH.]

5. Durian Juice

Durian is a fruit, so this one wouldn't be quite as weird as the last few if it weren't for the fact that Durian is one of the strangest things on this planet. It's notoriously pungent (some would say "putrid" smell) has earned it a lifetime ban from Singapore's public transit system.

In my opinion, it smelled (and tasted) like some mixture of buttered popcorn, almonds, and papaya. Nana thought it was a little more like barf (she's apparently not alone--there's a whole subculture of Durian-haters out there).

The bad news is that, while I thought it tasted tolerable on the way down, the aftertaste stuck around much, much longer than it was welcome.

The Verdict:
Sugarcane Lime Juice = Yay!
Bandan Rose Syrup Milk Drink = Yay!
Celery Juice = Ick!
Avacado & Honey [edit by Nana: AND COCONUT] Juice = Yay! [edit by Nana = EVIL!!!!]
Durian Juice = Ick!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oh! The Japan!

Oh! The Japan!

Land of giant ice-cream filled pancake crepes!

Land of beer corporate headquarters designed to look like beer glasses!
And of less successful next-door beer corporate headquarters designed to represent the "spirit of the workers" in a "Flame d'Or" ("Flame of Gold,"), which has unfortunately instead earned the nickname "The Golden Poo")

Land of juice-box alcohol...

and Rainbow Brite packing tape!

I loved you so much, Japan, that I could not face writing this post three weeks ago and admitting that my too-short time as 8th Grade Japan Trip chaperone was over. Even now, it is more than I can handle to write about our glorious, glorious day at Tokyo Disney Sea, which will have to wait for another day. Instead I leave you with...

... government-sponsored Safety Center earthquake and hurricane simulations, respectively.

Oh! The Japan!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Singapore: The Food

(This is one of a series of posts about our recent trip to Singapore. You can find other posts by clicking the "Singapore" tag below.)

Nana and I didn't just go to Singapore for the history--we also went for the food!

Now, you can find just about every Asian cuisine, from Turkish to Taiwanese, in just about any hawker center in the land, but Singapore is best known for the cuisines brought by Singapore's three major ethnic groups: Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian.

What's more, the food is super cheap--with the exception of a late dinner at a pricey sushi place, Nana and I never spend more than about $10 US on a meal--and eating is widely recognized as the national pastime! Which is good, because it would take a lifetime to sample all the different flavors Singapore has to offer.


Indian food is a staple in Singapore. Most breakfasts, including the buffet served at our hotel, include plain roti (a flat fried bread) and mild curry. Pancakes dipped in curry sauce is a snacktime favorite, available almost anywhere in town.

The best places to go for Indian food, however, are Little India (not surprising there) and Kampung Glam, which is the Muslim district, where delicious halal specialties abound. Below you can see our spread at Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant, right across the street from the mosque.
The place is famous for its murtabak, which is a stuffed bread of Arabic origin. You can see the lamb and onion murtabak in the foreground--with, of course, two bowls of Indian-style curry for dipping!

Indian sweets are also a treat. In Little India, Nana and I drifted into a shop and asked the clerk to fill a bag with her favorites. Below you can see (note--I'm so sorry we've forgotten the names!) a fried saffron doughnut, several variations on the theme of extremely buttery shortbread, and a little chocolate-and-pistacio cake.
You can also see an increasingly punchy Nana.


An amalgam of Cantonese-influenced southern Chinese cuisines is probably the baseline of Singapore's various cuisines, which makes sense, considering that the Chinese form a sizeable majority. Most of the Chinese dishes in Singapore will be familiar to Americans, since many of the same ethnic groups who moved to Singapore to open restaurants did the exact same thing in the States. The fresher ingredients make a huge difference, though--most Chinese food in Singapore comes off tasting rather light.

And yes, you're still hungry 30 minutes later.

Singapore does boast a few Chinese regional specialities that are tough to find in the US, however, most of which were brought by immigrants from Hainan. Below you can see two Hainanese rice dumplings. They're made with a mixture of rice, meat, sesame, and savory spices, pressed into a banana leaf and steamed--which is a preparation technique borrowed from Thai cooking.
They may not look too appetising--but they're delicious, and super-filling, too!


Malaysian food is the closest thing Singapore has to a native cuisine, though since the island was largely uninhabited before the wave of migration during the British Imperial era, that's anyone's title to claim.

The various Malaysian and Indonesian flavors are, however, the native cuisine of the region at large, and there are few better places to taste them than Singapore, though as would be expected, some of the dishes are heavily Indian- and Chinese-infused.

You can see both influences below: the bottom left is a traditional Balinese dish of beef stewed in red chili sauce, but the upper-left is effective Cantonese shrimp, while that white lump in the middle is Basmati-style long-grain rice with soy sauce.

Below is a slightly more traditional meal--purchased at a swanky new hawker center on Orchard Road, Singapore's main drag for retail therapy. On the left is Malaysian-style rendang, which is beef stewed in heavily spiced coconut milk, and on the right is mee siam soup, which is Malaysia's interpretation of a Thai noodle dish. This one is in a light, hot broth, sweeted by half a kaffir lime. And yes, that's a whole egg, just for good measure.
And the rest

Of course, if for some utterly inexplicable reason you run out of local food to eat (though how that would be possible is beyond me), you could always stop at this Austrian-owned snack stand in Chinatown. Schnitzel, anyone? Though I imagine, with so many cheap and delicious local options on hand, you'd most likely take a pass.

The truth is, five days isn't even enough time to scrape the surface of all the great things there are to eat in Singapore, and I'm already wondering if I can find an excuse to go back.

If you're interested in learning more about food in Singapore, you can find more information here.