As the plane starts its descent just north of Short Point beach, I can make out the walking trails along the shore before we glide over the Back Lake and the oyster beds neatly aligned inside Boggy Creek. I am concentrating on filming the landing, while Terry is focusing on the actual landing, determined to make it perfect. Touchdown is a little too rough in his opinion ( it is all relative, perfection for him is when you can’t feel the ground…featherlike landing, he calls it!) but I am too distracted to notice. I can’t wait to gather our stuff and get out of the plane. Not because the flight was bad ( it wasn’t ) but because I am excited about the next 3days.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Merimbula on the NSW Far South coast, otherwise known as the Sapphire Coast. Last year we visited the northern section, basing ourselves in Mollymook. We meant to explore further, but never found the time for the 5 1/2 hour drive from Sydney. This road trip is a little different. We decided to fly there on a light plane, then hire a car for a couple of days to tour around before flying back up again. The flying came about as part of a new project Terry and I embarked on. It is still in its infancy so I can’t say too much about it for now, but what it means is hours of studies and practise both on the ground and in the air.

Offloading and securing the plane only took a few minutes, as did collecting the car. Merimbula’s is one of these small airports, ideally located along the main road and 5 minutes drive either side from the towns of Merimbula and Pambula. These names never meant anything to me until a couple of years ago, on our return from overseas, I noticed oyster bars popping up everywhere around Sydney and menus made a point of stating the origin of the oysters, some even featured an oyster library! Far from being an oyster expert, I have nevertheless tasted my fair share of these bivalves during our travels. From the Belon in France, to the Pacific in the USA and the Bluff in New Zealand, we have loved them all and associate each variety to a particular region. Now back in Australia, I have fun doing the same thing and when Terry mentioned that Merimbula sits at the bottom of the the Oyster Coast Trail, I was sold!

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Our first stop is in Pambula’s main street at Wild Rye’s Bakery. They are well known locally for their pastries and coffees, which they roast themselves. As we have a lot of eating planned for the day, Terry makes me promise to buy a light lunch, as he doesn’t want to fill up already. The choices are so tempting, it takes me 15 minutes to decide on the exotic cauliflower spinach and blue cheese pie, while he makes a beehive for the sausage roll. Order 2 cappuccinos to go and we’re off to the beach, enjoying our picnic. Terry offers to share his sausage roll which he finds filling ( what’s wrong with him? ) but I much prefer my pie, which oozes a rich blue cheesy sauce and there is no mistaking the cauliflower flavour. It is very satisfying, particularly on a cold and windy day like today.

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We drive back to Merimbula and wander around the small town, there is a lot of road work happening, we are guessing the council is doing all the maintenance in the winter in anticipation of the spring holiday crowds. Being in August, we’re finding out that a few of the restaurants have either scaled down their opening hours or closed altogether for the season. So much for my planned tasting trail, but the ladies at the Visitors Information Centre are full of alternatives suggestions and we come up with a plan B in no time.

It is late afternoon when we check in at Beach Cabins Merimbula, our accomodation for 2 nights. Pete shows us to our beachfront studio which while not exactly facing the beach as we assumed, is fronting the Short Point Recreation Reserve and overlooking Backlake. The beach is not far however, we only need to step around the side of the cabin, cross the small road and be rewarded with a glorious view of Short Point Beach to the North. Position: check.
Inside the cabin is comfortable, with a queen size bed, small table and chairs, ensuite and a small kitchenette equipped with a full size fridge. I breath a sigh of relief, not because I plan to cook but because I intend to stock up on produce and though we came equipped with our esky, a fridge really is best to keep seafood fresh. Comfort: check.

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Dinner is at Wheelers Seafood restaurant down the road in Pambula. It is conveniently located close to the airport, so we can check on the plane on the drive down. The restaurant is an extension of the Wheelers family business, which besides oyster farming, also includes oyster tours, a seafood and gift shop, and the restaurant serving local produce.
We arrive early, around 6pm, as I have dragged Terry out on the beach for sunset photos earlier and we’re both cold and famished. Looking at the menu, we agree NOT to order the seafood platter for 2 as we usually do when dining in a seafood restaurant. Not that we don’t like it, but we always end up eating too much and wishing we could taste what else in the menu. I see a few tables around us have ordered the 3 tier feast and it does look good…Tempting, but not tonight!
For entrees, I just can’t go past a plate of the local oysters, half served natural and the other half done in a Mornay sauce. Terry selects the tempura scallops nestled on a sesame wakame rice noodle salad and avocado. He is over the moon with this dish, and I must admit I am too: the seafood is cooked perfectly while the salad is tangy and crunchy. I try to convince him to share and swap plates, which he reluctantly agrees to!

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For the mains, I am talked into ordering tonight’s special: half a local crayfish boiled and served cold with avocado salsa, salad and sweet potato fries. I love crayfish and lobster, and my best memories are of the ones freshly caught off our boat and served simply warm with melted butter or cold in salad. Maybe my brain is tricking me, but tonight’s crayfish doesn’t live to my expectation and tastes a little bland. On the other hand, the salad and fries are really tasty. Terry is very happy with his choice of seafood laksa: a house made marinara mix of prawns, scallops, mussels, fish, Moreton bay bugs and squids served over egg noodles with a rich spicy coconut broth. In Singapore, a laksa is quite wet, like a soup. Tonight’s version is drier, with much less sauce and the addition of salad on top. The curry flavours are there though and the seafood is as fresh as you get.

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We lingered a while, watching more people come in and seafood platters come out of the kitchen. For a Thursday night, the restaurant is quite full and while eavesdropping on conversations I gather the clientele is mostly local. Sadly, we ended up too full for dessert so left earlier than planned. One little girl sitting behind us made my night as I walked past, saying “ I like your earrings, they’re so pretty and so are you!” Awwww, I wanted to hug her!

 

Back at the cabin, it was still early and while Mr T settles in front of the football on TV ( he knew about it all along ) I decide to grab my camera and tripod and try my luck at star shooting, standing outside in the reserve. This is not as easy as I think, experimenting with camera settings in complete darkness, while shivering ( it must be 5C!) and hearing strange ruffling noises in the bush ( Pete tells me there are kangaroos roaming at night). At that moment, I really wonder why I am not at Wheeler’s enjoying their Bailey’s creme brulee!

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Next day, is early morning rise stirred by Terry who I apparently asked to wake me up on time so I could photograph the sunrise. So, here I am in my PJs and winter coat, walking the 100 meters to the ocean shore, setting up in darkness and waiting for the dawn. It is freezing cold, but the seas are smooth, the air is still as the wind has not yet kicked in and I am all alone to enjoy the glorious sunrise ( Terry prefers to stay inside and go over flying manuals ! ) Daybreak sees a few dog walkers come out and that’s my cue to retreat inside for a warm cup of tea. That’s all I have time for before hitting the road on today’s food trail.

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First stop is in Bega, where the SCPA markets are held every friday. It is not very big, I only count half a dozen stalls. But we’ve arrived early ( before 9am ) so maybe it gets busier later in the morning. There are 2 organic vegetables producers, both displays look fresh and vibrant and not knowing which one is best, I split my business and buy brussel sprouts and green leaves from one, potatoes and broccoli from the other. We’ll have a cook off once back home! A lady sells homemade apple pies and hand knitted teapot warmers, but it is the stall across from her that catches my attention: the table is covered with homebaked goodies like almond croissants, orange and pistachio friands, apple tarts, chocolate cherry cake…an older couple is running the stall, and the lady tells me how she bakes eveyrthing the day before, while her husband gets up early to fill in the croissants. Originally from Argentina, they retired from Canberra to the south coast in search of warmer weather and attend the markets to keep busy. I am glad they do, as by now, our tummies are rumbling and we can’t think of a better breakfast than a friand and a slice of apple tart, washed down by cappuccinos from the nearby Littleton Cafe.

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Bega is synonymous with cheese of course, and we could not help but stop at the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre where a small museum features the history of dairy farming in the Bega Valley. There is also a gift shop, cafe and cheese tasting room. Unfortunately, so soon after breakfast we didn’t feel like cheese so we only looked at the displays and moved on.

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An hour’s drive up the road, we arrived in Tilba. All I knew Tilba for was the cheese factory and the fact that the milk comes from pure bred jersey cows. I was not prepared for the 2 villages of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba to be the quaint preserved heritage villages we came across. Should I watch River Cottage Australia I would know! While Tilba Tilba is the smaller village, neighboring Central Tilba is where most of the shops, galleries and cafes are located.

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We start our tour at the ABC Cheese factory shop where you can watch milk bottling thru large glass windows, sample a range of cheese and olives and of course buy said cheeses as well as jams, honeys, gourmet chocolates and various kitchen utensils! Feeling like a late morning snack, we taste all the cheese on offer and decide they’re so nice we should buy them all. We settle on Vintage Blue, Black Garlic Cheddar, 3 Udder Brie, Creamy blue, goat’s yoghurt and some olives. I also buy a loaf of Honor sourdough bread, thinking it would be a great addition to a cheese platter.

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While Terry puts it all away in our esky, I take a stroll up the street peeking into small stores with trendy homeware, candles, wooden craft. Tilba Chocolates is where he finds me, as I am trying to pick which of these gorgeous hand crafted chocolates to bring home: tahitian vanilla bean, dark spoons, salted caramel, hazelnut praline, cointreau or turkish delight? Oh, who cares…take the lot! Once out of the store, I ask Terry if he’d like to retire here. “ Not sure we can if you’re going to buy chocolates and cheese!” That’s his way of hinting it is time to move on somewhere not as touristy.

So we head towards the coast to Bermagui for lunch. This is a really gorgeous coastline, that looks just as nice from the ground as it did from the air while flying over. Bermagui is famous for its Blue Pool, a natural rock pool located at the base of a cliff face and washed with clean clear ocean water at high tide. I didn’t get to swim in it ( nor did anyone else ) as the weather was far too cold, but it was easy to imagine how nice it would be to lay there on a warm summer day.

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Lunch is at Bermie’s Cafe, randomly selected because of its location across the park and facing north towards Horseshoe Bay. The place is popular with locals, a couple of tables are enjoying birthday celebrations, others seem to know each other and we feel like we’re the only tourists here. Terry orders a BLT sandwich and I try today’s special, a John Dory fillet with creamy sauce, salad and chips. The fish is lovely and moist served with a generous amount of chips, Terry’s BLT is quite filling and he claims his favourite part is the turkish bread. My favourite is actually the view, I could stay here for hours soaking the sun and facing the beach!

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But we need to head back, and I want to check out the next town Tathra renown for its oyster farms and the Wharf Locavore cafe on the water. Well, the oyster producer has closed shop until December and the Wharf Locavore taken a winter break, reopening in September. Note to self: August is the time when southerners shut down and wait for spring to reopen. It means that the places that do remain open, end up quite busy.

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Take the case of Dulcie’s Cottage, where we finish the day. With its unassuming look, this 1920’s weatherboard cottage has been turned into a bar/burger joint popular with locals and tourists alike. I am not a big burger fan but after a whole day of driving and eating I am happy to hang out at the bar and listen to live music. It is friday evening, the place is packed with young men in suits ( ! ) drinking organic steam ale, ladies in high heels ordering classic cocktails or couples like us sticking to pale ale and sauv blanc! There is a cosy feeling, with the walls covered by old photos of the previous owners and a roaring fireplace keeping us warm. There are no tables available inside though, so we sit and eat at the bar. Menu is delightfully uncomplicated: 5 types of burgers, a cheese board and a plate of local oysters. Feeling hungrier? Order fries for $3, they will feed at least 3 people.

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We’ve saved Eden for our third and last day. It is only 20 klm south of Merimbula and  used to be on our cruising bucket list, mostly because the port is known as the best shelter on that stretch of the coast. On the edge of Twofold Bay it is also one of the best locations for whale watching. Late August marks the start of the mammals southerly migration, and having failed to see any from Short Point at sunrise the day before, we thought we might get lucky today. We’re not. Still, the scenery is stunning with sparkling blue waters, deserted beaches and fantastic wilderness. I really don’t want to go home.

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Foodwise, we looked forward to having breakfast in the harbour, but being August we are greeted by the now familiar sight of closed cafes. The only one open didn’t look inviting as its terrace was on the shaded side and who wants to eat in a cold, shady spot. Even the boats were sitting idle at the wharf. So we drove back to the main street and walked into Sprouts Eden cafe, which had been recommended by Pete. What a neat little gem of a cafe! Terry asks for the 3 egg omelette and I chose the pea and ricotta frittata. As usual we order cappuccinos, but I also feel like a cold drink so let myself be tempted by a fresh orange and beetroot juice. Terry must have felt the same and he grabs the glass proceeding to sip half of it before handing it back to me. At the bottom, sits a deep red blob which turns out to be a beetroot ice cube. What a nifty trick!

IMG_0818fullsizeoutput_206bIMG_0814All the food is cooked onsite, using a lot of the produce brought in daily by the local farmers. There is a small section set up as a market where fruits and vegetables are for sale, as well as a range of organic meat, jams, pickles and smoked seafood from Eden Smokehouse. Needless to say that we stock up as I am quite partial to their smoked mussels and ocean trout. By then it is nearly noon, time to take off but not before one ultimate stop at Wheelers take away shop to load on a few oysters for home.

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Of course, I get in trouble with Terry who is mindful of weight on the plane and shakes his head at the amount of luggage we’re carting along “ And there are only two of us! ” I can see how perfecting this provisioning run will take some practise. Just like the landing!

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Spring is for greens! And the current mood for green vegetable is brussel sprouts. Yep, the stuff I hated as a kid after being served a plate of boiled sulphur-smelling mushy sprouts in the school canteen ( not sure if that’s on the menu any more. Hope not!)
It would take 25 years and a surprisingly tasty bowl of curried brussel sprouts tasted in a Townsville pub to make me reconsider. Then 5 years ago, while cruising the US east coast, I fell in love with raw brussel sprouts: the vegetable was in season and selling everywhere for a song, so locals cooked it in coleslaw, pickles or in salads peeling the leaves like petals!
A couple of weeks ago, Terry and I went on a short trip down the Sapphire Coast of NSW and stopped in Bega’s Produce markets. One of the stalls was selling the most beautiful looking organic vegetables, so I picked up bagfuls of potatoes, green leaf veggies and of course brussel sprouts!

Back home, I decided to make a warm salad ( while we’re technically in spring, the weather is still too cold for cold refreshing dishes ), pairing the sprouts with some zucchinis that had been lingering in the fridge for a while. Terry suggested I steamed the lot, but I went off on a tangent and opted to roast instead. I think I was looking for a reason to turn the oven on and warm the house a little! The raw component of the salad was made of mesclun, chopped dill and french vinaigrette which married wonderfully with the crispy slightly charred vegetables. So, voila! The perfect accompaniment to grilled meat or add some shaved parmesan and nuts for a light lunch…

Roasted Greens Salad

Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients:

250g brussel sprouts, washed, and cut in halves
2 zucchinis, washed, trimmed and sliced in 1cm coins
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of mesclun ( rocket or mizuna leaves ok too!)
A handful of chopped dill ( leaves and stems )

French Vinaigrette:
1 part white wine vinegar, 3 parts olive oil, 1 tsp dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. In a large bowl, combine brussel sprouts, zucchinis, sliced onion and olive oil. Toss well to ensure all is covered in oil. Transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are blackened around the edges.
  3. When ready, let cool for a few minutes. Place mesclun on a serving platter. Transfer the lukewarm vegetables on the bed of mesclun, drizzle the french vinaigrette and sprinkle the chopped dill on top.
  4. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

 

 

“Please don’t book or organise anything, while we’re in Singapore. Let’s wing it, shall we?” said Terry and the kids, when I mentioned making a table reservation at Restaurant Andre, voted #3 of Asia’s 50 best restaurants.
Weeks before we left for Singapore, I quizzed friends and researched the dining scene, trying to figure out some sort of food trail. My 12-day plan was to mix visits to hawkers centres with more upmarkets venues ( like Andre! ). I think I scared my lot with the idea of spending a fortune in a high-end establishment when there is so much good food to be enjoyed in cafes and hawkers centres, so I did as I was told and totally winged it!

To be honest, there is an incredible amount of delicious food to eat in the island city, and the diversity of ethnicities present means a formidable choice of cuisines: Chinese, Malay and Indian food make up the bulk of the offering but many restaurants also offer Western and other foods from around the world. Our holidays turned into a massively tasty food trail thru Singapore, from the casual to the fancy, the wonderful to simply meh ( is that a word? ), and the cheap to ridiculously pricey!

Every morning, we started with breakfast in our apartment complex the Village Residence. Even though the apartment came with a full kitchen, breakfast was included during the week, served in a separate apartment purposely set up. Displayed buffet style, the selection would include sweet pastries, fruits, cereals, yoghurt, and a salad as well as hot choices like egg dishes, cocktail sausages, baked beans and mini quiches. The hot menu, cooked by the lovely staff ladies, changed everyday to provide variety to the residents who I suspect were on long term stay ( this residence is widely used by relocating expats, we’re told ). So it became a game with the kids, guessing what treat would await in the breakfast room: waffles, pancakes, sausage rolls, even samosas…? I became quite partial to Kaya Toast ( a jam made from coconut, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves served on buttered toasted bread, a local specialty ) and strong coffee. Sometimes, when still full from the day before, I’d have a small bowl of salad to keep light.

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Lunch would invariably be at a hawker centre or a food court. The difference is mostly in the setting, while the food is just as tasty no matter where: hawker centres are traditional eating places for Singaporeans, they are generally open-sided structures, as in under a roof, but no walls, definitely not air-conditionned, with a row of food stalls offering different local cuisines. Food courts are basically air-conditonned hawker centres found in shopping malls, with more spacious food stalls. As these get very busy at peak hour, we learnt quickly about the local etiquette of bagging a table first, leaving one of the kids to mind the seats while the rest of us would wander around to order. Another smart move would be to wait for the crowds to die down, but then a lot of stalls have ran out of food!
Beside enjoying some of the tastiest food, the best part about hawker food is the wallet friendly prices. Some dishes start as low as S$3.50 ( for the noodles ) up to S$12 ( for a plate of satays ) and drinks can be had for S$1. I am telling you, this is foodie heaven!

Some of the hawker centres we enjoyed:

  • Chinatown Complex Food Centre – Located on the second floor, this is probably the biggest hawker centre in Singapore with over 250 stalls. Our guide Leong from Betelbox Tours took us there, and explained the rating system for every stall, as granted by the health authorities: A for best, thru to D for worst. This is relatively recent, part of an endeavour by the government to “clean up” the hawkers industry by moving food sellers from the streets to an integrated centre where they not only can share common utilities but also make it easier for customers to “shop around”. We were offered our first samples of Peranakan cuisine: popiah ( a thin pancake filled with vegetables, like a fresh spring roll)

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and chwee kueh ( steamed rice cakes topped with chopped preserved radish and chili sauce)

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Leong fetched us some freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, a very refreshing drink in the humid heat which will become the beverage of choice while out and about. There is a wet market located on the basement where you can buy fresh produce ( I didn’t, I just couldn’t see the point in me cooking in the apartment! ) and inexpensive souvenirs on the ground floor which makes for an all in one destination if you’re pressed for time!

  • Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre – We met our friends Bob and Doreen there. It is about 45mn by MRT from downtown, located right above the MRT station and next to the bus interchange so we didn’t have to walk too far. After the usual hunt for a table ( made harder than usual as there were 6 of us!) I happily let Doreen, who lives locally, pick most of the dishes: nasi padang ( steamed rice with a variety of meat and vegetables on the side ) for Marc

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For us it was oyster omelette and singapore noodles. I selected char lor mee ( yellow noodles with pork and gravy ) and mutton ribs soup ( not such a popular choice! ), and we added a dozen satays to nibble on to soak up the beers!

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  • Tiong Bahru Market – a short bus ride from the apartment, I took Marc with me on a mission to sample as much as we could manage! We arrived around 11am, and enjoyed the place nearly to ourselves. Started with a fresh avocado milkshake ( the secret is in the condensed milk! ), felt brave and tried a grass jelly drink. Quite popular in Singapore, it is supposed to have cooling properties, made from a herbal plant called mesona chinensis. It tasted super sweet, a bit like bubblegum, and honestly felt like I was slurping jelly worms. It was not bad, just weird and neither Marc or I could finish it.

We stuck to savoury dishes after that: wonton noodles for him

 

bak chor mee for me ( minced pork noodles, my absolute favourite dish of the whole holidays!)

and by the time we finished our meals, the lunch time crowd had gathered, queues forming around the most popular stalls. As busy as it was, I liked the fact that there were not that many tourists, and the locals were so friendly, when I asked them where they got their yummy looking plate of noodles from they enthusiastically pointed to the stall !

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We picked up some chwee kueh, carrot cake ( nothing to do with carrots, it is a fried white radish and rice flour cake, mixed with eggs, garlic and spices), and nonya kuehs ( steamed rice flour and coconut cakes ) to go so that Terry and Anne could have their own hawker picnic at the apartment.

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Some of the food courts we enjoyed:

  • Rasapura Markets – we discovered this slick food court on our first day, while visiting Marina Bay Sands Mall. Flanked by an ice skating rink, the stalls cover most bases, from beef noodle soup to Hong Kong roasted meats and Mee Rebus. They also include western choices like pizzas and sizzling steaks, which came in handy for Anne when tired of Asian food. This is not the biggest, but probably the busiest food court we’ve been to: on the 3 occasions we came down ( for lunch and dinner ) twice we circled around for approx 15 minutes before finding a table, once we gave up and ate standing up at one of the high benches surrounding the rink. Prices are higher than local hawker centres ( S$15 for a roasted meat meal) ) but it is still a bargain compared to other eating options in the mall.

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  • Food Republic – with 13 atriums spread out on the island, this is no ordinary food court. The kids and I ate at the Somerset venue, located in the middle of the 313@Somerset mall. It takes up the entire length of the building, can seat 1000 people, features 22 food stalls and 4 mini-restaurants! Each stalls has a clearly identified character of its own: Padang Kitchen, Beef noodles, Indian delights, Fried Chicken…Each of us made a point of grabbing a meal for under S$10, and came back with plenty of change! While you can buy drinks from a dedicated stall, there are also attendants “aunties” pushing carts around tables, offering fresh lime juice or bottled water for S$1.
  • Takashimaya Food Village – Ok, this one is in the basement of the super exclusive Takashimaya Department Store on Orchard Road. It offers your usual hawker food with an emphasis on Japanese cuisine. The setting is a bit different, as you are also surrounded by upmarket stalls selling French chocolates, Tea sets, beautifully wrapped imported fruits…

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We happened to be there during the Takashimaya’s Food Lovers Fiesta, which gathered over 50 stalls in the store’s square. None of us bothered with a traditional meal, instead we queued to taste the irresistible morsels on offer: anchovy sushi roll (ok)IMG_9356pork sausages ( yum !)IMG_9357

deep fried squids ( too much!! ), cold matcha tea ( intriguing)

, durian sago pomelo ( I was curious, never again!)…

it was all interesting, but nothing that I would rush to order again.

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Well, that just about wraps up the street food, which we enjoyed mostly at lunch. Did you notice I hardly mentioned drinks? The only daytime beverage I had was water or juice. The reason was primarily because of the heat, and alcoholic drinks are not the best to quench a thirst ( though Terry will disagree! ). Another reason was that we were on the go all the time, and a glass of wine would have slowed me down to the point of writing off the rest of the day. Beside, alcoholic drinks are expensive in Singapore, particularly wine and spirits which are not for sale in hawker centres. Surprisingly beer is available there at a reasonable price, which was lucky for Terry who is very partial to a cold lager when eating spicy food !!

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12 days in Singapore with 2 teenagers. What to do?

Some have argued that it is a very long time to spend in a city with not many touristic activities. After all, Singapore does not have many beaches, high peak mountains, or monuments. Most people come here either for work or as a stopover on the way to or from somewhere else.
We didn’t feel like hurrying from one place to the next though, and very much as we did while cruising, preferred to settle in and experience the city like locals.
This post is a recount of what we did in Singapore ( besides revisiting our old haunts ) rather than a guide of What To Do. As the four of us have different interests, it was very much a matter of pleasing the most while accomodating the few!

We took a guided tour of the city. Although Singapore is a very easy city to self-navigate we wanted someone to give us the heads up about all the changes that occurred in the past 30 years and help us get our bearings. It also was Marc and Anne’s first visit and I felt it best to have a local showing them around. We organised a tour themed ” Singapore Miracle Tour ” with Betel Box Tours, which took us thru the 4 main historical and cultural precincts of the city: Chinatown, Kampung Glam, Singapore River and Marina Bay. Our guide Leong Woon, was well versed on the issue of land reclamation and urban planning, and gave us fascinating insight into the rationale behind the continuous expansion of the island. My favourite part of the tour was the visit of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) display, a reduced scale of the island showing existing dwellings as well as planned developments. Always love people with a vision! The tour also includes visits to a wet market and food centres, with tips and recommendations on which is the best stall ( though, in Singapore, everyone has their own favourite, so if you ask 10 people you may end up with 10 different answers!) For a history and food enthusiast like me that ticked a lot of boxes!! Ours was a 4- hour private tour, which involved pick up and drop off from our accomodation. The walking was minimal, much to Anne’s satisfaction as she was struggling with the heat in the first few days.

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We walked till our feet hurt. The app on my phone shows that I averaged 16500 steps every day, that is about 12 kilometers. Whether we were exploring, shopping, or simply commuting, I am glad we packed comfortable shoes.

Starting with a stroll along the Riverwalk, from Robertson Quay to Marina Bay and back. It is not a particular hard walk, but it is a long and hot one, especially on a sunny day. As you make your way down river, along Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to check out, amongst colonial buildings.

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The reward at the end is Marina Bay, a stunning development on reclaimed land which houses not only a 5 star hotel complex but also a super luxurious mall, food centre, entertainment precinct, city park and museum. We first discovered it after a hot and sweaty 90 minute walk, and the kids and I were totally gobsmacked wondering who could come up with the idea of sitting a giant ship on top of 3 high-rise buildings, and digging a fully air-conditionned shooping centre underneath. No so Terry whose aversion to shops and crowds is well known, and was much happier walking around the waterfront.

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As Anne gave up on walking after day 2 and decided to stay in for a while ( too hot, sore feet, etc…),Terry offered to keep her company and spent most mornings studying in our apartment ( I find that WIFI and aircon have such a strong hold sometimes! ). Lucky Marc likes exploring as much as I do so he turned into my walking buddy/model/food taster/assistant, tagging along wherever I was heading.
We came back to Marina Bay twice, to take another look at the shops ( sans Terry! ) but also for cool photo shoots. In fact, I declared every walk a Street Photography workshop and we had fun strolling thru Fort Canning park,

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wandering around the CBD looking up skyscrapers,

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sticking our noses inside Raffles Hotel for a bit of nostalgia,

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hopping on the MRT for excursions in random neighborhoods to experience some of the local life. Tiong Bahru and Little India were my favourites: one for its cool vibes with bookshops, cafes and old school market and food centre in the middle of art-deco housings,

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the other for the colours, scents, sari shops and temple hopping fun.

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The kids loved Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam area , which Marc nicknamed “ the Newton of Singapore ” because of its hipster bars and local fashion boutiques.

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Outside of the city, Punggol Point offered a nice respite with its wide boardwalk and restaurants and Sentosa was a world of its own, which deserves at least 1 full day of exploration if you’re into amusement parks and beach bars.

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We split teams to visit museums, as we all have different interests. Terry liked the URA with its display of “before and after” pictures of Singapore, while Marc could not get enough of the urban landscape and the hundreds of ships crowding the harbour. Anne’s preference was for the ArtScienceMuseum in Marina Bay and I was left on my own to visit the remarkable Asian Civilisations Museum where I lost myself in centuries of ancient ceramics and china, carvings and textiles.

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We shopped a lot. From iconic malls to independent bookshops and curated local boutiques, there is something for everyone. Our visit coincided with the Great Singapore Sale, so Anne and I were really excited at the prospect of a shopping spree. Sadly Singapore isn’t the wallet friendly paradise it used to be ( partly due to our dollar but also the high cost of living ) so we merely looked at the high street chains and luxury brands on Orchard Road and the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, amazed at the numbers of customers actually buying! Marc was not shy and walked into stores like Valentino or Gucci and chatted with some of the sales staff, who were super friendly and approachable ( we could have been billionaires for all they knew! ). Places like Zara and Uniqlo were where Anne gravitated, much to Terry’s dismay “ you can buy the same stuff in Australia! “. Well, he was partly right, it turns out they have different styles for a different clientele.

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Marc and I went shopping for camera and audio equipment at the Funan Digital Mall and the Adelphi building, only to find that the prices were not as advantageous as we thought. Also neither of us really knew what we were doing so were not prepared to spend hours bargaining ( we’re amateurs, really! ).

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More luck and more fun was had at independent gifts and bookstores in the Bras Basah Complex, as well as the beauty stores for cosmetics unavailable in Australia ( says Anne ).
I had a field day at the Mustafa Centre, Little India’s massive shopping complex open 24/7: dragging Marc along while on the lookout for cheap cookware, we wandered thru 6 levels peddling everything from electronics to shoes, luggage, dress material, even groceries! The indian copperware selection was disappointingly small, however there was an unusually large choice of melamine sets, ideal for props or casual dining so I filled a bag with a few items. But the most fun was in the gold jewellery section we stumbled on: Indian people like their gold, and we were surrounded by the stuff. Lavish sets, some plain others incrusted with precious stones…I asked for the price of a set of pretty earrings. They are sold by the weight and the price changes daily. Today’s rate was $$54 per gram, so the 46g pair would cost $$2500. Oh, they can only be sold as a set with the gorgeous necklace sitting next to it. Marc dared me to buy the lot and surprise Terry with it “ Go on Mum…” Love that boy. To his question “ Who on earth spends so much money on jewellery?” I replied “ Maybe your next girlfriend! ”

We went to the Zoo. This was Anne’s choice, once she recovered from her earlier walks with us. I’ve seen my fair share of zoos during our travels, so I tend to be a bit blase but I must admit that Singapore Zoo is impressive with its mix of interactive attractions and semi-freely roaming animals. Some of them were a bit lethargic, understandably so as we visited in the middle of the day but others bounced around full of energy. This was the case of the monkeys, probably my favourites along with the white tigers! There is a section for young kids, Rainforest Kidzworld, which Anne and I didn’t go in ( she is 14 and over it, she tells me) so it took us only half a day to tour the rest of the zoo. I must point out that getting there took nearly the same amount of time, as the MRT line from downtown stops in Ang Mo Kio, a major hub where you can take a bus for the zoo. What the guide books don’t tell you is that while the MRT section takes 20 minutes, the bus ride takes another 45 minutes. As the bus was packed it was standing room only and by the time we arrived at the zoo, my feet would not cooperate any longer in the heat. Lucky there is the option to hop on a small train for an extra S$5 which allowed us to move around the enclosures and attractions quite easily.Needless to say that I was happy hop on a cab for the return journey to the city ( S$19 for a 25 minute ride and saving my feet, bargain!)

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We climbed buildings searching for the best panoramic view. Well, maybe not climbing, but took every opportunity to hop on a lift to a top floor for a view of the city. Hotels are good for this, from the Hilton to the Fullerton, but the best vantage point has to be at CE LA VIE bar atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its jaw-dropping panorama of Singapore. For S$20 you can take the lift to the 56th floor’s Skypark Observtion deck and enjoy the most stupendous view of the city and the Singapore Strait. For S$23, you can take the lift to the 57th floor where the bar and restaurant await with the same view, and the added advantage that your entry fee is redeemable for food or drinks. What a wonderful idea, we thought we’d time our visit with sunset to watch the city by night. Except that a beer costs S$25, tables are nearly impossible to score, and another 500 people had the same idea as us making it difficult to even find a spot for taking photographs. I gave my drink voucher to Terry and let him queue at the bar, spending time snapping pictures instead. Yes, the crowds were frustrating and it was not the relaxing sunset drinks session we anticipated, but it certainly was worth the one-off visit.

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We would not miss Gardens by the Bay, a massive green patch sprawling across over 100 hectares of reclaimed land. Not your usual park though, it features 18 high-tech Supertrees, steel clad concrete structures covered with over 162,000 plants, quirky sculptures, lakes, heritage gardens, and most wonderful conservatories shaped like giant nautilus shells. Access to the gardens is free, while entry to the conservatories cost S$28 per person. I could have spent an entire afternoon there, smelling the flowers and taking photos however we only allowed a couple of hours to coincide with sunset and the Garden Rhapsody, the light and sound spectacular that occurs every night. What an awesome sight, by day or night!

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We ate. Until our sides split! I thought I was obsessed with food, but I have nothing on Singaporeans, for whom eating seems to be a national sport. Our routine was simple: breakfast at the apartment, cooked by the lovely ladies of Village residence. The we’d hit the hawkers centres for lunch, where I’d make a point of trying a new dish every day. Dinner would depend on our mood: neighbouring establishments when feeling lazy, local takeaway on tired days or high-end restaurants for celebrations. I would need an entire post to talk about the food alone so stay tuned. But let’s just say that while a lot of things are expensive in Singapore, eating is not one of them. Sure you can fork out S$400 for a fancy meal if you want to, and imported western food is pricey but with knockout street food at wallet friendly prices, we enjoyed the local fare so much I told Terry I would not mind stopping over for a few day just to eat!!

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Phew, that is a massively long post, my apologies for it. But I just had so much to say  about Singapore! Can you tell how  much we loved it here? And we have not touched on the food scene yet…so stay tuned for more posts.

 

 

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Recently I surprised myself ( and everyone that knows me ) by subscribing to a fresh food delivery service. I know what you are going to say. “ Voahangy, you love menu planning, shopping for food, prep and set up, etc…How can you ask someone else to do it for you, let alone PAY them??”
Well, I will say that they are clever marketing people, who appeal to my love of cooking but also happened to call in when life was super hectic at home. With new projects on the go and travelling, I liked the idea of having some meals already worked out for me: ingredients are already weighted, apportioned and conveniently packaged in a bag ( one bag per meal) with step-by-step recipes included. Just keep the bag in the fridge until ready to use.
This is no TV dinners though, all food is fresh ( meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, spices and nuts ) and all meals still require some amount of prep like peeling, chopping, stirring, etc…but the recipes are easy enough to have dinner ready within 45 minutes and even have my teenage daughter interested in taking over the stove occasionally!
We are still testing the service and the recipes and I plan to write a more complete review later, but as we are wrapping up the week I wanted to at least give you an idea of a meal we had.

It was a Japanese flavoured Broccoli and Pea Miso Soup, which was perfect for a cool winter’s night. All fresh ingredients for the soup were provided, except for the staples like oil, water and soy sauce. The only thing was that I was not sure it would be filling enough for the teenagers in the house. I had some steak that I purchased earlier, so wanted to serve that as well but without having to cook another side dish ( that would defeat the entire purpose of making a quick and simple meal!!)
So, I ended up “deconstructing” the recipe: using the ingredients provided, I cooked the vegetables in the stock but instead of serving a vegetable soup, I strained them and turned them into a mash served the stock separately as a soup, along with the cooked steak.
While the flavour and taste of the original recipe remained, the dish had a completely different texture and became Fillet steak with Broccoli and Pea Mash and Miso Soup.
As for the quantities, adding the meat meant having vegetable mash left over, so enjoyed the vegetarian lunch the next day. Happy days!

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Broccoli and Pea Mash with Miso soup

Adapted from a recipe by Marley Spoon

As I mentionned most ingredients were already supplied, but they are easy to source from the supermarket or any Asian grocery store.

Serves 4 as a main, plus leftovers vegetables for 2or 3 for lunch

Ingredients:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 leeks
3 garlic cloves
1 knob of ginger
4 heads of broccoli
8g dashi powder ( about 1 tbsp )
4 cups water
800g frozen green peas
60g pepitas ( about 1/3 cup )
5 g sesame seed mix ( about 1 tbsp )
2 tsp soy sauce
5 g shichimi togarashi ( about 1 tsp )
75g white miso paste ( approx 1/2 cup )
Roasted seaweed

  1. Trim, clean and slice the leeks thinly. Peel and crush the garlic, grate the ginger. Cut the broccoli into small florets and roughly chop the stems.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic and ginger, and cook stirring for about 3 minutes until softened a little.
    Add the broccoli, dashi powder and the water. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 8 minutes or until broccoli is soft. Add the peas and cook for another 2-3 minutes until heated thru.
  3. In the meantime, put the pepitas and almonds in a cold skillet and toast over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until golden. Stir in the sesame seed mix, then add the soy sauce and stir constantly until liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi to taste ( it is spicy! )
  4. Stir the miso paste thru the broccoli mixture and cook for another minute until well combined. Remove from the heat. Using a potato masher or a fork, roughly mash the vegetables.
    Place a large sieve over an even larger bowl and strain the broccoli mixture, keeping the miso stock aside.
  5. Divide the mash over 4 plates and scatter over the seed topping, more shichimi togarashi if desired, and roasted seawee. Serve with grilled fillet steak ( cooked to your liking ) and a small bowl of miso soup.

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