Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Had a Michael Jackson in a Hawker Centre in Holland V.

Chinese Chow Not so Cheap. Haunts for Ang Mo.

overcast 31 °C

I guess this title needs translations.

Michael Jack is a drink made up two of my fave ingredients: grass jelly and soy milk. Taste-wise, can't say it's a resounding success like spider (coke + ice cream), sandy (lemonade + beer) or coke with lemon (nobody has come up with a name for that drink yet). It's still worth a try if not just for the experience of ordering a Michael Jackson. Maybe it tastes better if you drink it while wearing a singular white glove with glitters. Dunno, try it though. I'm just sucker for grass jelly.

You don't need me to explain why the drink is called Michael Jackson, right?

Sign of a hawker store that sells drink, Holland Village, Singapore
Sign of a hawker store that sells drink
Many hawker stores in Singapore only sell a few things. For example, some hawker stores only sell fried carrot cake, aka "chai tow kway", which is Chinese Teochew dialect for radish cake. Since my mum is a Teochew, it automatically means that I grew up with that taste buds (among others).

This drink store only sell several drinks that are made up of only 2 ingredient grass jelly and soya milk.

Holland V. is short for Holland Village and is a popular place for Western expats to both live and play here (ok, not much play, just dine). A Singapore friend of ours described it as a Singaporean Lan Kwai Fong. can't say I agree completely. LKF consists mostly of pubs and a smaller percentage of restaurants with a split of 70% bars and bistros, 30% ethnic restaurants), while Holland V more or less has a reversed ratio of these two businesses. I guess there are enough similarities for people to call Holland V the Singaporean LKF:

1. Reasonably upscale restaurants with multi-cultural cuisine and popular waterholes.
2. They are both haunts for many Western expats and young hip Westernised locals.
3. They are a tourist spot of a sort. LKF being more so because it's in the heart of the CBD.

LKF is also a bit of place for people watching, while Holland V isn't so much. The feeling in Holland V is one of relaxed atmosphere rather a buzzing, crowded place like LKF because of its central location. Holland V reminds me of Boat Quay minus the river and office high rises in the background.

Singapore made a liar out of me. When I told the gang that Singapore living is cheap (relative to Sydney), the reality slapped me across the face with my thinning wallet. Virtually everything is more expensive than Sydney's except for two things: food and transportation. My mistakes were stemmed from memories made up from the 6 or 7 stops I made here over the decades. Even food isn't cheap these days in general. Restaurants' prices are more expensive or comparable to Sydney, but hawker stalls are much more affordable because of its low and shared costs among stalls. You can get dishes for $3, and even seafood dishes, you can get it for $3.5 or $4.5. The size is about 3/4 that of Sydney - good size for Asian in this weather. This reduces my incentive for cooking at home. If Sydney has hawker stalls, it too would be priced similar or lower, which leaves only one things that Singapore is cheaper than Sydney: public transportation.

Bear in mind the AUD exchange rate isn't favourable when compare to SGD. If AUD rises considrably (and it will. I'm a psychic), Singapore won't look such an expensive place to live. For European, Singapore's (ok, the  world's) living index is cheap.

All things Western tend to be more expensive. A cappuccino costs circa $6, while Sydney sells an identical cuppa for half the price, and tastier, whipped up by European immigrants. I think the likes of 'upmarket' Starbucks and the Coffee Bean franchises ensure the lofty prices. As there are very few independent café outside these giant franchises, they set the prices. It was nothing short of struck gold when we discovered Gloria Jean - the Aussie competitor to the likes of US Starbucks and Coffee Beans, but the cuppa comes with a much stronger kick - the way Aussies like us like their coffees. Not the weak and bland version peddled in the US giant franchises.

Alternatively, you can get a kopi - coffee in Malay - from hawker centre for 1.20 SGD where you get a brew coffee with evaporated milk. I don't mind that once in awhile, but cappuccino is still my cup of tea. You can also get this kopi or tea from Kopi Tiam. They're traditional breakfast and coffee shop that is quite popular in Malaysia and Singapore. I quite like their kaya toast - a local fave snack, and wash it down with their teh C. Their kaya toast should be on the must-do list for all tourists travelling in the Malaysian Peninsula.

Hawkers' standards - in terms of taste - are not necessarily lower than either food courts or even restaurants, they just don't have air-cons, only fans in open-air (they don't even provide tissues, remember to BYO. Actually even food courts don't provide tissues). Some hawker stall centres actually taste much better the food courts, but this varies from case to case. To get a truly Singaporean experience, hawker centres is a must-do. Also, shopping centres' food courts are not necessary cleaner, although they usually look cleaner. Big letters like 'A', 'B', 'C', etc on either white or green background are displayed clearly in the hawker stores showing their hygiene level given by government department. The hawker centres in Holland V has quite a few hawkers earn 'A' - the highest rating. I saw on TV that when the government officers do the inspection for the purposes of rating the stores, it can be quite thorough. They check everything from the store's cleanliness to the cook's finger nails.

Another thing I like about hawker centres is that they tend to have dishes with different size for eaters who try to avoid wasting food or putting on weight. Apart from the same dish of different size, which makes smorgasbord type hawker stores quite popular, where customers can just pick and choose, mix and match the variety of meats, vegetables and soup to tailor the customer to a 'T'. One such nice food store can be found in the food court, Koufu, opposite Commonwealth MRT. If the weather isn't too merciless, I would walk home to walk my meal off.

One last thing about hawker store. In a Macdonald's, after you order a meal, a standard question you would be faced with is, "Would you like some fries to go with it?". In hawker store, the standard question is, "Do you want chili with it?". Of course, the chili is free...and my standard reply is almost always, "just a little." You want to feel like a local, but try not to kill yourself in the process. And a little plastic bag contains some pickled chili in a take-away (take-out for North Americano) are quite standard.


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