Singapore: World’s Largest Small Country Part I

Singapore holds a very special place in my heart as the very first country I ever visited in Asia. It’s clean and beautiful and as a major economic hub, you find influence from nearly every country in Asia. Following the high of qualifying for PGA Tour China, Sarah and I hopped a flight to the world’s most densely populated country for what was originally supposed to be another tournament.

The last time I was in Singapore was to qualify for the Singapore Open, an event that took a few year hiatus and was scheduled to make its grand return with the addition of world #1 Jordan Speith this year. Plans were made to travel to Singapore for the qualifier but the qualifier was never held. This could be the only “Open” tournament I’ve heard of that wasn’t open at all. With the confidence soaring from my China performance, it was a bit disappointing not to have the opportunity to continue playing.

Sometimes when you’re in a restaurant and you can’t decide what to order, the menu will offer a “tour” of the staple foods there; a plate including all the very best foods made. The “Tour of Italy” at Olive Garden for instance. For me, that is what Singapore is to Asia: a beautiful plate with the best parts of every country. So to be stuck here with no tournament to play was a fate I welcomed.

From the moment you land in Singapore, you are totally entrenched in the unique Singapore experience. Changi Airport is my favorite in the entire world. It’s an ultra-modern hub where you almost never have to wait in a line. In my experience, there are always so many people there to help at all times, check-ins happen quickly and I’ve been expedited through immigration and customs. The airport itself features a lot of restaurant and store options, as well as entertainment and media “caves”, workout facilities and a pool for long layovers. On this particular trip, a team of storm troopers guarded a life size X-Wing fighter from the film Star Wars, catching me off guard (pictured below). IMG_4842

The last time I was here, I stayed in the red light district as it was the only places I could afford in this pricey city. Since then, my cousin Jennie (who was awarded the brains in the family) landed an important tech job in Singapore and lives in a beautiful high-rise apartment building. Jennie was kind enough to have us stay with her for the week and serve as our local guide.

Any discussion of Singapore and Singaporeans likely begins and ends with food. This place has it all and it should all be tried. Roti prata: a crispy and flaky nann bread covered in beautifully redish/orange colored, spicy, rich curry. You can eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner and be completely happy eating 3 or 4 prata at each sitting.  Dim sum: traditional Hong Kong and Chinese-style delights. Dumplings filled with sweet and salty oils surrounding delicious pork and beef. Keep the steaming baskets coming. And of course, chicken rice. You can’t discuss Singapore food without it’s most famous dish.

Chicken rice is so amazingly simple. Nothing fancy about it. It’s steamed or cooked chicken atop a mound of rice, which is cooked in the chicken juices. Chicken rice is served literally everywhere and while its altered very slightly from place to place (sometimes a few sliced veggies crown the chicken), it is always delicious and reliable. There are so many “must try” dishes in Singapore and most of them can be eaten in one convenient place.

Massive open air “Hawker Centers” await for true travelers and locals alike. Hundreds of vendors sell their specialties in these centers (which resemble massive school cafeterias). When I say specialties, I truly mean it. Vendors don’t offer a full menu of options. They typically offer 1-4 foods made quickly, well and inexpensively. Most meals cost a few bucks and in this city where nearly everything comes at great expense, eating costs little and provides the most enjoyment. With a drink and dessert, you can walk away completely full and extremely satisfied for five bucks.

Hawker centers were devised by the Singapore government as a way to bring street food vendors into convenient locations. Previously in Singapore, and as in most places in Asia I’ve visited, you can eat from food carts on the side of the street. Most of the food off street carts is made and served before your eyes so you’re able to determine whether it’s something you even want to eat. What I mean by this is while most street food is quite tasty and safe, I’ve had some sketchy experiences that I wouldn’t want to relive. Hawker Centers were a way for the government to regulate street food, providing customers more sanitary meals and giving cooks the centrality, the water, gas and electricity they needed to make more, higher quality food. All of this is to say hawker centers are where you should eat the majority of your meals in Singapore.

Singaporeans highly value their food and Hawker Centers. Every Singaporean has their own opinion on the best Hawker Centers and the best dishes there. Who serves the best chicken rice can turn into a full blown, never-ending debate. The people of Singapore are passionate about their unique food offerings and want travelers to leave with a similar feeling. I honestly would say that you could make an entire trip designed around food tours here.

In coming posts devoted to Singapore, I’ll expand the discussion of traveling around Singapore focusing on culture, architecture and Asia’s most difficult golf course: the World Classic course at Laguna National.

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