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Of Food and Durians

posted Jun 18, 2012, 10:31 PM by jj pionke
It's been interesting gastronomically for the last day or so.  I met with a friend for dinner and we went to a hawker center near her home.  Her place is on the other side of the country (about 45 minutes or so by train).  I wish I had had my camera with me as she pointed out that the architecture was Pernankan (local people before the British came) and that the area we were in was old Singapore and it's easy to tell.  The area reminded me strongly of the French Quarter in New Orleans both in architecture and in the way the buildings were painted with many different colors - tastefully!

Anyway, we went to a hawker center and we tried all sorts of different foods.  I had my first mug of cane juice.  Take about 3-4 feet of sugar cane, put it in the equivalent of a juicer, add ice, and drink.  You get about a pint or more of liquid and it's a lime green color.  It's not unpleasant and I can understand why people drink it.  It's refreshing and in a country where you are constantly sweating everything out, you gotta replace nutrients and sugars.  Sincerely, I felt better physically after drinking it in part because I hungry but also in part because I really needed the nutrient boost.  Anyway, I couldn't tell you exactly what we ate but one was a plate of noodles with wontons that was quite good.  There was a red sauce on the side which turned out to be super fiery hot.  I tried a bit on my tongue to ascertain what it was and my tongue burned for the next half hour.  Needless to say, I had my noodles plain and my friend coated her noodles in the fire.  yikes!  Then we had noodles from another shop and they were fantastic.  Alas, they came with seafood and I had to pick bits and pieces of squid off my noodle pile, but regardless it was really really good.  My friend told me that she had researched a bit and had taken me to the hawker stalls that had recently received accolades for their good food.  Hilariously, when we first started eating the wonton noodle combo, I picked up the chopsticks and she exclaimed, oh! I should get you a fork!  but by then I had already adeptly started picking things up, I reassured her that I was fine and she was all, that's right you lived in Japan.  LOL  The last dish of the evening was a vegetable thing that had brown sauce dumped all over it.  Part of the vegetable medley was pineapple and I figured that would be a safe place to start so I grabbed a pineapple piece covered in brown goo and popped it into my mouth....and then my mouth was on fire.  If I had been alone, I would have spit it out but since I wasn't I swallowed it and OMG it was like a nuke going off in my guts.  I declined dessert and was able to keep my guts together until we got back to the car where I had my bag and a bottle of Tums.  I took a swig of water and wolfed down a Tums and that immediately started to help.  My stomach was a little touchy this morning and I resolved to eat bland food today....

Which leads us to durians.  So, durians are these fruits that are green, round, and spiked.  They range in size from about mango sized to soccer ball.  They smell pretty intensely.  The crew here at the Central Library decided that I should have a chance to try a durian because I had expressed an interest in trying it and because well, why not?  Because it smells so strongly, most people and businesses don't have durians in places of work or other communal areas.  So, the crew here brought in durian puffs.  Bits of durian in a pastry outer shell.  After last night's misadventures at the end, the last thing I wanted to do was have something in my guts that could upset my stomach.  Still, I picked up a durian puff and with the entire crew standing around me took a bite out of it.  The smell is like rotten onions and the taste is kind of the same.  I know the face I made was like that of a two year old being forced to eat cauliflower.  Needless to say, there was more water and tums and soda (for the bubbles) in my immediate future.  For the record, durians, not so much.

Singaporeans have an intense interest in food and I can understand why.  There are so many ethnic groups and languages that the food can be nothing but interesting.  My friend last night explained that most Americans are probably used to Cantonese types of Chinese food but that the Chinese people here are from the Hokkein region so the food is quite different and she is right.  A lot of signs are in English but many are not and I do a lot of pointing at pictures and asking if things are spicy and what's the meat? Cow? Pig? Duck?  I typically figure that if it is cow, pig, or chicken, and not spicy, then it is probably safe to eat.  For the record, today's nice, and boringly blandly American, lunch was the Singaporean equivalent of chicken nuggets and a bowl of rice.
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