The food cycle

Boats and the skyline, Singapore.
Boats and the skyline, Singapore. Photo: Getty Images

Ian Wilson pedals his way to guilt-free gluttony in the city-state.

As the tropical storm clouds gather, there are two compelling reasons to finish my bike ride in a hurry: avoid death by lightning strike in one of the lightning capitals of the world and, more importantly, be on time for the evening's foodie tour.

Singapore has been on a mission to shed its image as a mere stopover destination, with new hotels, casinos, shopping centres and theme parks to visit. But I'm seeking experiences beyond the airconditioned artificiality, so have opted to explore the city-state and its vibrant food scene by bike.

I wasn't aware of Singapore's new tourism mission until alerted by the front page of the local newspaper. Nor is Singapore renowned for cycling, but there is fun to be had on two wheels. A number of parks feature cycle-friendly trails connected by a network of off-road bike paths, called park connectors.

The Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network links several parks in eastern Singapore in a 42-kilometre loop. You can ride along the 15-kilometre coastline of the popular East Coast Park with its cooling sea breeze or use the park connector network to explore beyond the tourist trail. There are several bike rental kiosks along the route, making it ideal for tourists.

The bike paths take me along the palm tree-lined coastline of Pasir Ris, Changi Beach and East Coast Parks, past Changi Airport and through housing estates.

The East Coast Lagoon Food Village provides the perfect tonic for my exertions in the form of fresh coconut juice, served with a cup of ice to pour into the coconut.

Singapore has a reputation for some draconian laws and the same can be said of cycling. I'll do more walking than riding if I obey every sign to dismount when crossing a road intersection but the locals seem to ignore this rule. The signs threatening $S1000 ($785) fines for riding across an overpass bridge are more persuasive. After taking shelter during the heaviest downpour of rain, I eventually complete the ride and arrive at the Betel Box Hostel tired, late and famished for a six-hour food tour.

If you wish to expand your knowledge of the Singaporean way of life as well as your waistline, then the Betel Box Real Singapore Food Walk is a must. Run by Tony Tan, who also owns the Betel Box Hostel, the tour is a fascinating insight into how Singaporeans live, work, play, pray and eat, far beyond the guidebooks and tourism websites.

Beginning at the hostel, the walk takes our group of seven through the Joo Chiat/Katong district in eastern Singapore.

Our group returns to the hostel for a selection of more than 17 local dishes including the famous Singaporean chilli crab. The food reflects Singapore's ethnic mix with strong Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. I, along with the rest of the group, cannot finish half of the delicious dinner despite Tan's exhortations. Then the dessert dishes are brought out! I miraculously squeeze in a few sweet treats.

I can barely move by this stage but we still have a couple of hours of the tour to go as we venture back onto the streets. By the time we walk by the former president's residence, it's 12.30am and I am stuffed, knackered but euphoric.

Next day, for a different cycling experience, I head to the island of Pulau Ubin, which has avoided modernisation, save for the bike rental shops in the main village. The island is a short ride from Changi Village aboard a small old wooden ferry, known as a bumboat. Bumboats were once used to transport cargo but many now operate as passenger ferries.

The island comprises a series of undulating hills, covered by forest and grassland, picturesque water-filled quarries and the Chek Jawa Wetlands, which can be explored on almost traffic-free roads. I tackle the easy section of the Ketam Mountain Bike Trail but am not confident that my bike or collarbones are prepared for the more challenging sections.

I also catch a cable car to the thoroughly modernised Sentosa Island and cycle along its beachfront, which gives me an excuse to visit Universal Studios afterwards.

The neighbourhood cats must agree that Cookery Magic offers the best cooking classes in Singapore, judging by the continual meowing from a couple of felines seeking food and attention. Ruqxana Vasanwala conducts classes from her eastern-Singapore home, which features an open-air kitchen, lending a sense of authenticity to this local experience - a Malay class cooking nasi goreng (fried rice), percik ikan (grilled fish in a spicy coconut sauce) and tempeh goreng rempah (spicy fried soy bean cake). It is a hands-on, no-nonsense but friendly class as we have plenty of information to absorb and ingredients to cut, peel, pound, combine and cook. We then dine on our home-cooked creations.

Eventually you have to take a break from eating and cycling but you can still indulge those passions, whether by strolling through the Spice Garden at Fort Canning Park, admiring the Girl on a Bicycle sculpture in the Singapore Botanic Gardens or exploring the Food Gallery of the National Museum.

Trishaw food carts have disappeared but some of the ice-cream stands scattered around the city are hooked up to bicycles. Once you choose from the myriad flavours (including durian), the vendor pulls out a block of ice-cream and sticks it between two biscuit wafers or in a slice of bread like a sandwich. With the sun setting, eating a chocolate ice-cream sandwich by Singapore River is one of life's simple pleasures.

 

Trip notes

Getting there Singapore Airlines operates direct flights from Australia to Singapore. 13 10 11, singaporeair.com.

Cycling there In East Coast Park or other stops along the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network, you can hire a bike from one of six PCN Pitstops operated by Lifestyle Recreation. Make sure you check the bike first and bring ID. lifestylerecreation.com.sg.

Catch a bumboat to Pulau Ubin from Changi Ferry Terminal, $S2.50 ($1.95). On Pulau Ubin there are several bike shops in the main village near the ferry terminal. Bike hire costs about $S5. wildsingapore.com/ubin.

On Sentosa Island, you can hire a bike from Gogreen Cycle on Siloso Beach from $S12 for the first hour. The Heritage & Island Explorer is a one-hour guided tour on hybrid electric bikes ($S28) gogreencycle.sg, sentosa.com.sg.

Eating there Betel Box: The Real Singapore Tours' Singapore Food Tour costs $S80, half that if you stay at the Betel Box Hostel. Betel Box offer various tours, including a cycling tour. 200 Joo Chiat Road, +65 6247 7340, betelbox.com.

Cookery Magic: Costs $S100 a person. 117 Fidelio Street (off Siglap Road), +65 6348 9667, cookerymagic.com.

Singapore Zoo: Jungle Breakfast daily, 9am-10.30am. Adult $S29, child $S19. Bookings recommended. zoo.com.sg.

More information yoursingapore.com.

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