Singapore’s sights and sounds


Ask a Singaporean for their top ten places to visit in town and they’ll likely reply with a list of their favourite restaurants.

It’s early evening on the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations at Roland seafood restaurant in the Marine Parade suburb of Singapore. Located at the top of an nondescript car park, Roland is the self-proclaimed inventor of Chilli Crab, one of the Lion City’s signature dishes. The round tables are occupied with cheerful diners. The raw fish and shredded carrots, ginger, radish and parsley piled on the dish are stirred in a frenzied blur as the customers laugh and shout.

Almost exclusively encountered in Singapore during the Chinese New Year fortnight, the stirring of the Yusheng salad – Yu means fish but the same sound in Chinese means “abundance” or “plenty” – combines the symbolic ingredients of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Singapore’s food, ranging from the fare on offer at the very affordable hawker’s stands and food courts to the much pricier gourmet menus at swish hotels, is a celebration of the city’s cultural complexity. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European cuisines coexist and often intertwine.

Life after lunch

But there really is life after a lingering lunch or dinner beneath Singapore’s ever-changing skyline. The latest major additions to that profile are the three towers, spanned by a 340-metre-long Sky Park, of Marina Bay Sands, a symbol of the city’s aspirations for a distinctly Asian, affluent modernism.

An eventual triumph over rising costs and recession, and seemingly destined to become a regional 21st century commercial icon, Marina Bay Sands houses a hotel, a casino, a convention and exhibition centre, seven restaurants, two theatres, a skating rink, the Art & Science Museum and the inevitable mall. Besides eating, Singapore’s other major pastime is shopping.

Singapore is situated almost directly on the Equator, and if nothing else those endlessly multiplying malls along Orchard Road are a heavenly air-conditioned refuge from the pounding heat and frequently stifling humidity.

With its strict anti-litter laws and bans on chewing gum, Singapore is one of the cleanest countries on Earth, but it has its rougher edges. Though perfectly safe and welcoming, the temple incense, spice aroma and sari markets close to Serangoon Road are an earthy antidote to the relentless brand-awareness of the malls. So too are the ornate shop houses, antique stores and rowdy karaoke bars of Joo Chiat Road, east of the Geylang red light district.

Manmade reality

When Sir Stamford Raffles, the colonial founding father of the city, proposed an urban plan to segregate the various ethnic communities in the 1820s, the main motive may have been to retain the best land for the British rulers. But in spite of the constant upheaval of Housing & Development Board (HDB) and condominium construction and MRT expansion visible all over the city centre, ethnic communities, including Chinatown and Little India, cling on to their established districts.

Smaller ethnic clusters huddle tolerantly together, from the hookah pipe cafés of Arab Street to the Thai restaurants of the Golden Mile Complex. There is also a resurgent pride among the Peranakan community, the ethnic blend of Chinese settlers and the island’s original Malay population.

“The whole place is manmade and sometimes it would be nice to be closer to real nature,” muses the taxi driver taking me back from Roland’s to the Raffles Hotel where the obligatory Singapore Sling awaits in the Long Bar. He has a point: only tiny segments of original rain forest have survived the urban onslaught.

Nights out TOP 3

BluJaz Café
Close to the over-the-top art deco tower of Parkview Square, just off Ophir Road in Kampong Glam, the BluJaz occupies three floors, with a band playing on at least one, and a monthly Haflas (Arabic for “party”). Great food too, and outdoor tables in Bali Lane.
Address: Bali Lane 11
In the web

Just across from Raffles City, this breezy rooftop bar and club is popular with after-work drinkers and designed as “the launch pad for a brilliant night.”
Address: 331 N Bridge Road, entrance from Cashin Street
In the web

Brewerkz Riverside Point
Had enough of the ubiquitous Tiger beer? Other brews are available at this microbrewery just over the water from party-central, otherwise known as Clarke Quay. There’s a beer tasting menu too, and live football on the TV.
Address: 30 Merchant Road
In the web:

Text by Tim Bird
Photo courtesy of the Singapore Tourism Board

 A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (May 2011).

Published October 28, 2011

Category: Local features