Ugly fish in Singapore's Chinatown
Day two in Singapore saw us heading to Chinatown where we hoped to find the nation's famous chili crab. Possibly because of demand, hawker stalls were out. But, in People's Park food court, we saw a wondrous sight: people walking by with large pans carrying Chong Qing grilled fish.
It's a variation of a hot pot dish that originated in Chong Qing, China, part of Sichuan province, which explains its spicy character and use of the tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorn. Here though, the sauce was so balanced I didn't mind the peppercorns at all.
The fish—in this case grouper—is not really grilled, but deep-fried; layered over bean sprouts, sliced onions and other veggies; doused with the soy-sesame-black bean-ginger-spice sauce; then topped with cilantro and peanuts. It is delicious!
Another Chinatown treasure is bak kwa, which translates as "fragrant jerky." Singapore's sweet, tender and juicy pork jerky sells for about SG$25 per pound, or about $18.50 in U.S. dollars, at outlets like Bee Cheng Hiang, where customers can sample different varieties.
Fresh fruit is also sliced, wrapped and sold in healthful single-serve to-go style. While there I also tried bingtanghulu, or candied Hawthorn berries, for the first time. The inch-and-a-half berries are stacked on skewers and not something I would try if I just saw it on the street because I'm more attracted to savory bites than sweets. But, I was with Sean Morris who recognized them and liked them. We certainly don't have such a thing in Hawaii, so I tried it and liked the crunchy, crackly sweetness. If you happen to go and try them, watch out for the large seeds.
Singapore's Chinatown is so clean compared to our own. In spite of the number of seafood dishes being offered, there were no fishy odors, no sight of fish guts lying around or puddles of fish water.
In fact, everywhere we went was clean, without a scrap of paper or cigarette butt on the ground. It just goes to show you what can be done if everyone takes pride in their city and makes the effort.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.