It's a Singaporean thing

Smorgasbord ... many types of food are on offer in Singapore.
Smorgasbord ... many types of food are on offer in Singapore. Photo: Alamy

Wilson is a feeder, you can tell. He's got that happy glint in his eyes as he sits me down at a plastic table and walks off to get our breakfast. Or brunch, or whatever you'd call this meal.

I've made a crucial mistake, one I don't have the heart to tell Wilson about. See, I've already had breakfast, or brunch, or whatever you'd call this meal. The two of us had set our meeting at 10am in Little India, so I'd decided to take advantage and enjoy one of the world's great breakfast foods, a masala dosa: the Indian rice pancake filled with spiced potatoes, at a local restaurant.

I ate that about half an hour ago, not for a second thinking Wilson would also be keen to ply me with food. But Wilson is a feeder.

It's a Chinese thing. It's a Singaporean thing. It's especially a Chinese-Singaporean thing. They like their guests to have a full stomach. They don't show hospitality by hugging or buying flowers or gifts - they show hospitality by filling people with sweet, spicy, sour, delicious food.

Wilson's smiling when he returns with a bowl of noodles and prawns in one hand, a cup of clear soup in the other. "You don't mix, Mr Ben," he says, placing the items in front of me. "Eat the noodles, drink the soup. But don't mix together."

Noodles and soup - I can handle that. In fact, it's a fantastic breakfast, even if it is my second of the day.

But where the hell has Wilson gone? I look up from slurping soup and he's disappeared back into the bowels of the Tekka hawker centre - in search of his own sustenance, I secretly hope. Of course, that's not the case.

More smiles, more food. He's got another bowl, this one filled with boiled egg, cabbage, tofu and rice cakes drowning in a laksa-like sauce.

"Lontong soup," Wilson says, placing the bowl next to the other bowl in front of me. "This is an Indonesian dish. In Singapore we have many different foods."

Yeah, and it appears I'm eating all of them, especially as Wilson has once again sauntered off in search of more.

This is getting out of hand. You know when you watch those foodie travel shows, such as Anthony Bourdain's program, and you can't help but wonder whether, spoiled as they are, the presenters don't sometimes get sick of all that amazing food? Well, I'm beginning to find out the answer.

Here comes Wilson, clutching, if it is possible, not one more plate of food, but two.

"This one just a small one," he says, placing in front of me a stack of roti pratas: the fried Indian bread that's a day-starting staple for many Singaporeans. "This one," Wilson says, easing another plate down, "not so small. Chicken nasi biryani."

My god. That's the kind of dish a few people could safely share, let alone use as a way to wash down their masala dosa, their prawn noodles, their lontong and their roti pratas. There's a whole marinated chicken leg on there, perched aboard a plate piled high with saffron rice.

Suddenly my mind is going back to a story I read in the paper a few days ago, about a Chinese man who died after watching too much football. He'd stayed up for two weeks straight watching the European Championship on television at night and going to work during the day. Eventually his body could take no more and he just carked it.

What's this got to do with my mammoth breakfast? Well, it shows that the Chinese are a passionate bunch. It also shows they don't know when to stop.

But Wilson's round face is split with a huge smile and you can't deny him. He's showing off his Singapore, his favourite Singapore. And the food is good. Really good. Off he wanders again, leaving me to forlornly wedge bits of amazingly tasty food into my mouth. It's like a marathon, but instead of one foot in front of the other, this is one mouthful after another. Scoop and chew. Scoop and chew.

Maybe I'm hallucinating at this point but it looks as though Wilson is returning without any more plates of food. This time he's just got a large plastic cup in his hands, which he places in the orbit of my groaning menagerie of culinary wonders.

"Last one Mr Ben," he says, smiling, reading my mind. "This one is called cendol - it's with coconut milk, palm sugar, sago."

"Sago?" I ask. "Yes, it's like tapioca."

Of course. So not filling at all then. It tastes fantastic as well.

"OK, we can go now," Wilson says, as I attempt to stand up. But then he pauses, looking at me thoughtfully.

"Where do you want to go for lunch?"

bengroundwater@gmail.com

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