After two very full days of travel and sightseeing, Papa and I were tired and footsore on our last complete day in Singapore so we kept the schedule light. A quick trip on the MRT took us to Singapore’s Little India neighborhood. I’ve been to my fair share of Chinatowns, Japantowns, Filipinotowns, Koreatowns, and Little Saigons, but never a Little India. After visiting (and enjoying) so many of the Singaporean sights that are so targeted for tourist enjoyment that they’re almost antiseptically clean and perfect, it was refreshing to wander another neighborhood that is where “real life” takes place for some locals and that didn’t evolve with tourists in mind.
I love the sights and scents of ethnic neighborhoods. Chinatowns smell a certain way. There are certain spices, herbs, and foods that your nose is sure to encounter, and that scent memory in particular is such a strong childhood memory for me that I’d know it in my sleep. Little India had its own distinctive scents and sights. There were the smells of spices and cooking, but they were uniquely Indian — curry, anise, cardamom, cumin, garam masala, ginger, and a dozen others I couldn’t single out.
Browsing through produce stalls when I’m overseas is always enjoyable — I love seeing what’s locally available and discovering new fruits, veggies, or herbs because I’m a dork like that. During this slightly rainy trip, I learned that there’s an Indian variety of bitter melon that tastes like Filipino ampalaya but has a spikey outer surface instead of a smooth one. That alone made our visit to Little India totally worth it for me. And yes, I am fully aware of how much of a dork that makes me.
Dad and I enjoyed checking out the colorful architecture, though we somehow missed the historic Hindu temple we were looking for while we were walking around. The huge variety of places to eat made me wish we hadn’t filled up during breakfast at our hotel. Everything looked so tasty, the prices were good to great, and I don’t tend to see Indian restaurants in the Philippines. If we hadn’t been stuffed from a buffet breakfast it would have been impossible to resist having lunch and enjoying all of our favorite dishes. Dad loves curries and I was dying to try a local favorite dish, pepper crab. But I’m so sensitive to spicy foods that just one bite would probably make my head explode, so I regretfully had to pass that us.
Papa and I were also amused at other tourists’ reactions to the big signs in Little India advertising another Singaporean dish, fish head stew. I’m not gonna lie: it took a moment for us to remember that not everyone’s used to seeing their food looking back at them, so to speak. In Filipino food, whole fish, whole roasted pigs, and fish heads, spines, and fins in your fish broth are normal and expected, so it’s not even a thing.
After walking through parts of Little India, we hopped back onto the MRT for another short ride to Clarke Quay (which I will forever want to pronoun as “kway” instead of “key” . . . the dangers of reading a word for years before hearing it spoken aloud).
Walking alongside the Singapore River was pleasant — there were plenty of places to sit and grab a (pricey) drink or a snack if you wanted to relax and do some people watching. Papa and I weren’t really interested in taking a boat ride on the river though and just wanted to find a quiet coffee shop for some caffeine and a short respite from walking. Clarke Quay was not the place to do that.
I had read that the quay was a nightlife hotspot, but it wasn’t expecting it to be so completely focused on nightlife business that there wasn’t much to do or see during the daytime. The restaurants on the waterfront were open, but sorry folks, I was not paying US $10 for chips and guac from the Mexican restaurant, nor was I paying US $40 for Spanish tapas. The Spanish place was a bit tempting though, both because their menu had a lot of yummy-sounding items and because it was cleverly called Octapas. Witty! Inside the big shopping area (think Universal CityWalk or Downtown Disney), only a handful of restaurants were even open for lunch. There just wasn’t much to see or do, so I grabbed some shrimp chips and juice from the nearby 7-11 and Dad and I snacked a bit before heading back to the hotel for a bit. Maybe next time we’ll check out Clarke Quay at night when it’s all lit up and everything’s open.
Currently listening to: “Bamboleo” by Gipsy Kings
Currently reading: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini