Sunday, July 12, 2015

Here we go again: Another trip to Asia

In the Asian Civilization Museum of Singapore there is a statue of a Thai arhat (one who has attained enlightenment) named Prah Sangkahchai. As the story goes he was so physically beautiful that women and angels would never leave him alone. In order to avoid this unwelcome attention and focus on his meditation he purposefully gorged himself until he became fat and unattractive. We too are foreigners in Singapore and feel ourselves overstuffed. Although we have not reached a higher state of being we have been eating a lot.

We are embarking on a food-centric trip through the Malay peninsula and began our trip in Singapore.

Breakfast was a local favorite easily found throughout the city "Kaya Toast." White bread is spread thickly with butter and a coconut jelly and served with milky coffee. I loved it but Lilly opted for a more savory breakfast and got fish and rice steamed in a banana leaf. Both were available at the Killiney Kopitiam cafe.

We walked the city all day taking in several museums and the futuristic sky line stopping only for sweet corn ice cream.

We could walk no longer by the time we got to China Town. Singapore has for centuries been a place to find work for Chinese immigrants. Many waves of Chinese workers from different regions have settled here and we settled for a Sechuan style lunch. The main attraction was hot and numbing frog in ginger broth (sadly no picture was taken).

In the evening we met up with one of Lilly's ol' UChicago buddy Louis who is now a curator at the Singapore Art Museum. He took us around his exhibition and filled us in on the current scene in Singapore. In the last ten years the government has made deliberate investments in the arts. The SAM has enjoyed more money for exhibitions and acquisitions making it the definitive collection for contemporary South East Asian Art in the world.  If you want to know what artists from Burma to Vietnam and Brunei have been up in the last 25 years this is the place to be.

But our tour was not over. We headed over to Singapore's red light district Geylang. In addition to having very orderly looking brothels it also has an abundance of street food. We opted for chili crab and Malaysian beef noodles.

We were joined by a gallerist from Sundaram Tagore and a Filipino artist in town for a residency Gary Pastrana. The whole group feasted and feasted, and just when we were ready to throw in the towel and say we were too full to continue Louis reminded us that it is durian season.

Singaporeans love durian like no other nation. They import dozens of varieties and in July set up roadside stalls. What makes durians so distinctive from one another is the rot they develop. They are let drop from orchard trees and left to ferment in the sun. It is only by mid-summer that they have developed their desired funky flavors. Some varieties are quite rare and a single durian can run upwards of 50 USD.  Our hosts treated us to the top shelf shit. My preferred one was called "Cat Mountain" and had a deep smoky flavor. While it is a fruit the flavors are so alien to any other fruit on the planet. Deep, savory, gooey and complex. It was a real treat to eat this with a big group of enthusiastic diners. The stall had a real party atmosphere as everyone was ending their night with bellies full of this bizarre fruit.

Next stop is Malaysia where we hear the food is even more flavorful. We say bring it on.

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