Where’s the beef?

First published

I am no particular fan of cereal, but I’ve taken to eating it almost every morning for breakfast. Or, considering how late I’ve been waking up recently, lunch. I can buy a box of Multi-Grain Cheerios (or the good stuff) at a nearby supermarket for $5.10 a pop. Now, this might seem strangely expensive for cereal, but considering that I get a week’s worth of post-awakening crunchy goodness for the same price as one and a half cheap dinners outside, I think I could stand to do much worse.

This slight premium also affords me the ability to avoid hunting for sustenance in the outdoor food markets just after waking up, when both my ability to understand hawkers and my judgment in what constitutes an appropriate breakfast are both severely compromised. I am still somewhat intimidated by the thought of having to contend with picking one thing to eat from twenty merchants each offering twenty different dishes, then attempting to convey my selection to a hurried attendant over the sound of eating and cooking and children’s screams from a nearby playground. You might think that being able to speak both Mandarin and English would be a boon in this situation, but it doesn’t really help — half of the time, our differing accents cause mutual unintelligibility, no matter what language we choose, and I still usually don’t really know what I’m ordering anyway.

Singapore’s food centers are an eclectic bunch. Vaguely Chinese food of all stripes is prominent, with styles from Hainan to Hokkien to Beijing. The well-known staple of chicken rice is invariably available somewhere, usually for somewhere around $2 to $3. Then there are the Indian dishes (generally vegetarian), halal food stands (for the rather sizable Muslim population — some markets have separate washing areas catering to them), and the odd thumb of Western food, which is usually advertised literally as such. What’s offered at these stands differs from place to place: some of them have breakfast dishes like sausages and eggs; most of them have entrées like chicken wings and steak. Of course, they’re not one-hundred percent what you might expect, but for recipes that have probably been beaten soundly with the mixture of influences you’d expect in Singapore (which shows up in stall names like Hainanese Western Food, which confused me for a little while), the end result is fairly good. A meal at any of these places will generally run you no more than $5.

Fortunately, I have managed to so far avoid these complications today, by eating cereal for breakfast and visiting a family friend for lunch.

While I’m on the subject, I would advise you to be more careful than the last roommate of mine to move in, a certain math major from Gloucestershire I’ll call E., when ordering beverages at a food market. Bandung, despite its appealingly pink color that is totally not reminiscent of Pepto-Bismol at all, is a bit of an acquired taste. Even at just over a dollar a pop, it’s probably not worth buying if you don’t already know what it is, unless you intend on pulling pranks on foreign friends.

Another note: There is a Long John Silver’s not too far from my hostel, making yet another non-Singaporean franchise that I had never been to before arriving here that is now indelibly tied to Singapore in my head. It’s a bit expensive, but quite crunchy.