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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

 

Durians.jpg

Durians in Chinatown.

 

 

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I never thought I would spend much time in Wichita, Kansas. It just wasn’t a place that was on my radar. However, in the last two years I have found myself in circumstances that have required a few extended stays there.

My first visit to Wichita was over a weekend and included a Saturday visit to a diner, an airshow, a wine bar and a club. By Sunday I felt like I had done it all and after a wander in a more than dead downtown, I gave up and spent the rest of the day watching HBO.

However, a few more visits had me scratching beneath the surface and finding a community friendly to an admittedly hippie soul like mine. Here’s what I found so that on your next visit you can skip the HBO and hit the ground running.

Food and Cafes

While a few restaurants and cafes offer vegetarian or a “healthier” option somewhere on the menu (examples Public or Anchor) I found the real standouts to come down to Lotus Leaf Cafe and The Garden Grill. Both are located downtown and have hours that vary during the day with Lotus Leaf closing early some days and Garden Grill closing for dinner completely on some days. I suggest checking the website before heading that way. Garden Grill’s menu is strictly vegan and there’s often a buffet but I find ordering off the menu preferable. Lotus Leaf offers plentiful vegan and vegetarian options with meat options interspersed on the menu, making it easy to convince a carnivore to come with you if they are hesitant. Both have amazing smoothies and juices.

Speaking of juices and smoothies, I would be amiss to mention that Wichita now has it’s very own Whole Foods on the east side of town. I arrived in Wichita after a few days in Austin, Texas, where Whole Foods is headquartered, and I can’t say that the Whole Foods in Wichita is comparable in item selection to stores in say Austin or Denver, but it does offer a decent takeout selection and loads of other options.

If you are just looking for groceries (and perhaps you are a bit disgruntled at the Whole Foods scene), The Natural Grocer has been around a while in Wichita. Their takeout selection is not so great, but you can get all the yummy groceries and supplements your heart desires!

Yoga Studios

All that food got you geared up for a nice stretch? I hope so because holy crap, yoga classes in Wichita only cost about $10 US a session. Do you know how much they cost in Singapore? Anywhere from 25 to 55 Singapore dollars (that’s $18 to $40 US).

My previous trips to Wichita have had me spending a lot of time with Adrian and Whitney at Siva Yoga. Formerly located downtown, you can now find them in the just east of central neighborhood of College Park. While I enjoyed their flowy classes in a warmish 80 to 85 degree room in the past, this trip I was second trimester pregnant and the thought of being in a heated room, even if it wasn’t Bikram hot, made me want to gag. (Listen to your body, yo!)

This led me to the even more east of central studio, Central Yoga, which is named after it’s location on Central Avenue. First, I hit up the community acupuncture sessions which cost a mere $15. The sessions are drop in, so you don’t have to be exactly on time for Dr. Vicki Dukes, DC to align your qi with her tiny little needles. I left floating on air, came back the next day for a fantastic aligned flow class with Keriann and later that week for an awesome prenatal class with the very knowledgeable Sally Beckett. If you are more into alignment than warm flow, Central Yoga is a great option.

Shopping

If you’re looking to do some shopping, I’d skip the often bragged about Bradley Fair and check out Watermark Books, an independent book store in College Park and RELove, a shop on Woodlawn that sales repurposed furniture and also holds classes to teach you how to repurpose a great find yourself.

Outdoors

While I can’t say I spent much time in nature while in Wichita, I can say that the river area through downtown is nicely kept and good for a stroll or run.

Live music

Live music seemed to radiate from bars and restaurants downtown in the summer evenings. Try Oeno Wine Bar for a start with relaxed jams while you sip a Pinot.

That’s all I have for now on Wichita. Got a secret tip? Let me know in the comments. xx

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The other day I noticed this odd sign in the office I sometimes work from. It has detailed instructions on how to wash your hands. I mean, I get it if you want to put up a sign reminding people to do it, but are there really people out there that don’t know how?

I apologize for the blurriness, but have you ever tried to discretely take a photo in a busy office bathroom?

An expat friend of mine and I send each other photos of things we think are unusual in Singapore, so naturally this was immediately sent to her. She replied with one of her own. No tutorial but a less than gentle hand washing reminder from an angry cartoon.

Have you???

Have you???

The next day I’m in the hawker market ordering a juice. I am waiting for the juice lady to finish dealing with the trash. She has her fist happily plunging ahead into a bag full of waste for a full 3-4 minutes of my waiting time, before she comes to serve me. I order my juice and patiently wait for her to a.) wash her hands and b.) prepare my juice.

You would guess it, she never took care of part a. She did not even bother to change or remove her glove. When I asked her if she was going to wash her hands, she pretended to not understand me, alienating me with a funny look on her face. What was the strange foreigner asking of her?? Surely it was too difficult and taxing! Let’s intimidate her by furrowing our brow and pretending not to understand why she might be upset or flailing about across the counter. Another lady, a nice one who communicates well in Singlish, had to tell her what was going on. Her hands. The germs. The glove. The trash. My juice.

She leaves halfway through making the juice and another lady takes over. What to do now? Take the juice half way made by trash glove lady or walk away thirsty?

I did not get a juice that day. I also did not get diphtheria, so you win some you lose some.

The takeaway to this post seems to be two-fold.

1.) The wash your hand signs in the bathroom may not be so silly after all. Perhaps it’s not a ritual everyone is accustomed to.

2.) Do not buy juice from the juice stand at Lau Pa Sat.

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On weekends spent working at home, Husband and I will often have some noodles as a lunch-time around the house snack.

We buy two different types of noodles. I get the ones without monosodium glutamate (MSG) and he gets the ones with MSG. He swears it makes things taste better, and I swear it gives you cancer or some other sort of yet unnamed disease. He asked for proof and so I go down a rabbit hole of the internet.

The only knowledge I start out with is that an ex’s dad was so allergic to the stuff that he had to carry an EpiPen with him when he dined at restaurants just in case the chef slipped some MSG in. He ended up being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance one Thanksgiving when the family decided not to cook and go out instead. That alone is enough to freak me out.

Being a good science reporter (one of my day jobs), I couldn’t leave it alone at that. Besides, my scientist husband doesn’t accept anecdotal evidence.

MSG is isolated glutimate, the chemical that gives foods umami flavor – that taste found in asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat outside the four well-known tastes of salty, sweet, sour and bitter.  Pure MSG does not have a pleasant taste until it is combined with other savory food items.

My local grocery store in Singapore sells it alone by the bag full to cook with. The first time I ran across it, I couldn’t believe how socially acceptable it was as an ingredient and had to take a photo.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

A bag full of MSG. Available at your local Cold Storage.

Glutamate is naturally found in many foods and a research study from 2009 revealed that the tongue has a receptor that is exclusively activated by the chemical.

If it’s naturally found in foods, then why are we so scared of it? Well, there’s quite a bit of research out there linking the isolated form of the chemical to obesity, headaches or other symptoms. And yet there are other studies saying it is just fine.

So how do you know whether to avoid or embrace? I’m no doctor but I say if it gives you headaches, Chinese Restaurant Symptoms or other difficulties, avoid.

When it comes to your food choices, personal anecdotal evidence (aka your experience) is OK.

Personally, I’ll continue to embrace naturally umami laden foods but avoid the stuff in its isolated capacity. There’s just something unappealing and unnatural about heaping the synthetic shiny white crystals out of their plastic bag and onto my plate. But then again I take my coffee and teas without sugar and sweeten my desserts with agave nectar.

Still confused on what to do? Don’t sweat it too hard. Just remember the words of Micheal Pollen.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

I’m pretty sure that bag of crystals is not a plant and I’m more than hesitant to categorize it as food.

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Dear Whole Earth Singapore,

I love you.

xx Laura

Whole Earth

Whole Earth

I was taking a graphic design short course in Tanjong Pagar when I found this vegetarian place that specializes in Peranakan and Thai cuisine.

A main with brown rice after tax and service charge was $24, so it’s not particularly cheap. It is, however, healthy and delicious with nice interiors. I even experienced good service.

Penang Redang

Penang Rendang

Brown Rice

Brown Rice

If you are a vegetarian but have always wondered what some of the classic Asian dishes taste like (hello shark fin soup), you must go here. My penang rendang was made of pan-fried mushrooms and had an amazingly meaty texture with the perfect blend of spices.

I took a look at the dessert menu and passed in favor of a green tea ($1.50) at the nearby divey but vegan Loving Hut. Excellent tactic as tea to go at the nearby western coffee stands was $4-$6. People, it’s just hot water and a tea bag I’m after.

Loving Hut

Loving Hut

I figured I was on a roll so the next day I gave Loving Hut a chance.  This was a much less exciting experience. The vegan ocean burger was, shall I say.. disgusting. The lemon ice tea was full of sugar. Why do people pre-load sugar? I really wish they would stop. Singapore does indeed have a sweet tooth that I am missing.

In summary, in two days I had good vegan food and not so good vegan food near Tanjong Pagar.

OMG I just found out that you can get Whole Earth delivered.

Whole Earth is located at 76 Peck Seah St (Tg Pagar MRT Exit A) 

For Reservations:  Tel: 65 6323 3308    

Open Daily.  Operating Hours: Lunch: 11:30am to 3pm (last order at 2:30pm) Dinner: 5:30 to 10pm (last order at 9:15pm

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Watch out, it’s a bit spicy.

Thai Tofu

Thai Tofu

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So you’ve arrived in Singapore and you’ve done a bit of homework. You may know a few of the areas around town, that drugs are punishable by death (don’t do drugs, kids), what a hawker market is and that it’s summer year round. You may even have figured out how the hospitals work and how to file your taxes. In that case, you are a step ahead of me.

But of course, there are inevitably things you don’t know. You just have no idea what type of things those are. Unknown unknowns, not to get all Donald Rumsfeld-y on you.

Anyway, here are some things I wish somebody would have told me.

ATMs

Your ATM situation just got complicated. Singapore is more of a cash society than many of us expats are use to. Many times you have to have cash or this thing they call a NETS card. Personally my will hasn’t given in to the NETS thing, but from what I can tell it’s this card you get from certain banks that you have to load money on to and then use. I feel like my money is my money until I spend it, I shouldn’t have to load it onto a card that I have to keep track of. That’s what a bank is for. Let’s not complicate it all with another system. But anyway, back to the point. ATMs.

If you are from Europe, you may be conditioned to use any ATM you find. If you are from the U.S. you may be conditioned to try to look for your ATM and then if you can’t find it in an emergency or fit of laziness, give in and pay the outrageous fees another bank’s ATM and your bank’s ATM add on top.

In Singapore, if it’s not your bank’s ATM or within a group of banks that your bank has joined forces with, your stuck. You can’t withdrawl money. At all. Not if you agree to ridiculous fees, not if you kick the machine, not if you yell at the person at 7-11 when they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM machine that takes your card is located. (Don’t yell at the locals.) You just have to hope that the people you are out with that you just met through a friend of a friend, some expat meetup or some work do will loan you $15 to go home and another $50 for your bar tab.

The first time this happened to me I had to leave where I was to rush around for half an hour trying to find an ATM that took my card. 50 SGD doesn’t go that far even though it sounds like a big number, so consider that when you make your withdrawal for the evening. The exception is a night out at the hawker market. Also, some cabs take credit card, some don’t. I always try to have a little cab fare in my purse for an emergency.

Tip #1: Keep your home country’s bank card on you for emergency as any ATM will take a foreign card and happily charge you for the privilege. You may want to do this at least until you are a bit more comfortable with the area and have an understanding of how much cash you should carry on you at any time.  It could help you out in a tight spot.

Tip #2: Your bank likely has a cell phone app that will tell you where there is an ATM you can use nearby. I have found these apps not to be very useful, but others like them.

Tip #3: Places like Cold Storage usually let you do a cash back, minimum $50.

Cell Phones

Or Hand phones as they call them in Singapore. I assume that when you got off the plane and got over your jetlag the next morning, you got a pay as you go phone. Your intent was to keep that until you could get settled in, have a paycheck and get on a plan. Well, don’t go getting your business cards made with that number. The phone company won’t let you take it with you. You’ll have to get a new phone number when you get a plan.

Riding Buses and MRTs

Navigating buses is tricky anywhere new. Sometimes it’s easier to go underground and just pop up like a whack-a-mole when you get to your destination. Unless you are near that Ion/Patterson link/ Orchard Road/ Scotts Road mess. You’ll know what I mean when you experience it. Don’t worry about that for now.

Anyway, buses can sometimes be much quicker than the MRT since the MRT has lots of transport dead spots. Just remember to tap the card in when you get on AND out again when you exit. In Singapore, they charge bus fair by a GPS measured distance you’ve traveled.

While we are talking about public transportation, I should tell you that to recharge your EZ link card you need at least $10 cash. In London, I used to load up my Oyster card with whatever change was at the bottom of my purse. That doesn’t fly here. If you get stuck, you can buy a one time use pass. It takes a $1 deposit and you pay exact fare to get from point A to point B. Point is, carry some cash.

Tip: Google and gothere.sg can tell you how long it takes you to get from point A to point B, the fastest route and price. Sometimes it just makes sense to take a cab. They are fairly cheap. If you’ve come from somewhere where cabs are expensive, it just takes a while to adjust your mindset.

Cabs

While we are on the subject of cabs, some cab drivers do not have a clue where things are on this island. As someone new to the country, you probably don’t either. Smart phones are good if you can get the cab driver to look at the map function. Also, addresses and names of establishments often mean nothing. Note the name of the building they are in and the street that building is on. That will be more recognizable for the driver.

Cab drivers are also often choose-y about where they will take you. They will roll down the window, signal for you to tell them where you are going in a panicked manner and by the time you’ve figured out what is going on and open your mouth to shout out “Tanjong Pagar!”, they’ve driven off. It’s a test of patience.

Tip #1: Get an app for ordering cabs. I use one by Comfort Del Gro. You can skip the taxi cab lines this way or order one to your house. The GPS on your smartphone will tell the cab where your location is.

Tip #2: Good luck with finding a cab in the rain. Start trying early.

Scooters and Motorcycles

To ride a scooter in Singapore, you need a motorcycle license. This takes 2 days in the US to obtain or 6-9 months in Singapore. God bless the U.S.

Singapore law requires you to have the motorcycle license for a year first in order to convert it to a Singapore license. If you think you may want to move to Singapore in the future, consider getting your motorcycle license in whatever country you currently inhabit. Since I’m not a bike fanatic, I think of riding a motorcycle as a skill set I need to have in life. Like changing a flat tire or knowing how to swim.

You may have to arrange your day around the rain, but a scooter or motorcycle may be the right option. Prices of cars here will make your mind explode and there can be serious public transport black spots.

Walking

People will think you are crazy for wanting to walk somewhere. After a while, you will start to understand why as a 20 minute walk in intense sunshine is not your 20 minute walk in London or NYC.

I’ve had people argue with me about how I couldn’t walk somewhere because it was too far when I simply just asked for directions. When you arrive sweaty and exhausted having gone the wrong way first you may understand why. Of course, if they had just told you where to go in the first place, you might not have got lost and ended up sweaty and exhausted. But that’s the way it goes. It’s Singapore.

Tip: Umbrellas are for sunshine and rain. Get a compact one and carry it with you. It goes in your bag, even if you don’t think you will need it.

Mall Food

People eat mall food. It happens here and is not looked on as weird or gross. In fact, people eat everywhere. Even the movie theaters have extensive food selections and not just popcorn, soda and nachos with imitation cheese. Singaporeans eat. That’s their thing.

Yes Sometimes Means No

OK, so maybe people don’t mean to lie, but the local culture has a real thing about not wanting to tell you no. Sometimes they just don’t want to disappoint you. This can get really confusing and frustrating. Use your Spidey Sense. If the person on the phone or at customer service twitches or inflates their voice weird or perhaps doesn’t expand with logic and reason to the answer, then ask the question again in a different way. If it sounds to good to be true or suspicious, it may well be. This has happened to me with the bank, when asking people for directions, with scheduling installation of products… the list goes on.

Well that’s probably good for now. Go see how all that treats you and report back. All cultures have quirks, it’s part of the experience and excitement to learn to navigate them.

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With the likes of durian and passionfruit, my life has become a lot like that lastminute.com advert that urges you to “go somewhere with complementary fruit you’ve never even heard of.”  Oh come on, you’ve seen it. There’s a version of it here.

My friend, Eva, whom I recently met in Thailand urged me to try rambutans. Tricky to open, they are delicious, sweet and they come in small bite size portions. Because of their small portion size, I like to refer to them as “low commitment fruit.”

Cruising through the market in Singapore, the aunties are pushing their produce. Lo and behold! Rambutans.

I picked up a bunch for snacking. I had to, they wouldn’t sell them in any smaller quantities.

RAMBUTANS!

RAMBUTANS!

To eat, cut the skin open or squeeze in your hand until a lychee-like ball appears. Be careful of the seed!

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For myself and a lot of Americans, Thanksgiving is a much bigger family holiday than Christmas.

This sentiment was not noticed until I started living in England where there is obviously no real celebration of Thanksgiving. Christmas in the UK is the major holiday and the month of December is full of many parties leading up to the event.

My view is different.

When working in the American corporate world, a week off of work is rare. Since I saw travel as an important life experience, I always used that week accordingly.

Thanksgiving, however, is a long weekend meant for families. You spend the day cooking real food, relaxing with your biological or adoptive family and trying to remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving is the underdog. So much more wholesome than it’s greedy expensive sibling, Christmas.

When you are living abroad, things shift. Sure the grocery stores stock American food items including cans of french fried onions for your green bean casserole and free range turkeys, but you don’t get the day off work and the people around you don’t understand the holiday in its entirety.

Last year in London I decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner at my home. I had a friend visiting from the US who had brought along a friend of hers and a few other American and non American friends to invite over.

I envisioned a day full of cooking and sipping wine followed by lively conversation around the gorgeous dinner table in our conservatory. I spent time sourcing ingredients and pre-ordered my groceries online.

Thanksgiving Table

And then things just fell apart.

The girls staying with me had a massive fight the night before, leaving one of them missing until the next morning and when she did reappear they were not speaking.

My groceries were late. Really late. Which left me late to put the turkey in.

People’s schedules got delayed and I spent the day cooking alone with two house guests who were in a sour mood.

And as the weather was changing, the nights getting longer, people were more and more fatigued. Dragging their bones from across London to my house after a long day of work to have a few bites of turkey and leave.

So much preparation, and then it was over. The guests had given it their all, considering the situation. My expectations obviously needed to be adjusted.

I had made sure there were plenty of leftovers to take home, but few obliged. As I don’t eat turkey, there were to be turkey sandwiches for my husband for weeks to come.

“I tried to get a small one,” I reasoned.

“Next year can we just get a small chicken or a ham?” he asked.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t a tofurkey,” I answered.

So this year, we have done a major oops. Without the constant reminder that it is around the corner, we have made other irreversible plans that do not involve traditional Thanksgiving activities.

Maybe it will be better this way. We can celebrate the following Saturday. Gather together the few Americans we know across the island of Singapore and cook a turkey on our primitive gas fired camping stove that acts as our primary cooking device.

Or perhaps its time to redefine Thanksgiving and make it work for us. Afterall, the Australians spend Christmas having a BBQ on the beach. Maybe we trade in the warm cider and oven baked turkey for corn on the cob and champagne. Adapt. New traditions are all in the making.

Editor’s note: You’ll be happy to know that the primitive gas camping stove was eventually upgraded to a real stove complete with oven and burners.

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The first time I saw this, I giggled.

Coffee cup carrying case

Seriously? You have added a plastic piece to turn my beverage into a carrying case? They do this almost everywhere in Singapore. You order a juice, a coffee, from just about everywhere unless it’s an American chain and you get this flimsy appendage as a bonus.

Because it’s too difficult to carry a cup?

“Hey don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” my inner voice tells me.

I tried to order my coffee without it once, but I’m not sure what it’s called and the lady behind the counter didn’t understand me and just thought I was weird.

I’ve progressed. I now ignore it instead of immediately ripping it off, but it still just seems like extra trash destined for a landfill to me.

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