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Singapore — I wake up happy. The air, noticeably humid, might make the day go south for some, but I like humidity. I tend to think it does good things for my skin. I start with an hour of Nike Training in the living room. Sliding doors open to a world of blue skies, lush trees, and buildings climbing as Singapore aims to accomodate a growing population soon topping at eight million.
After an hour of waking my blood with exercise and my playlist called ‘Metamorphosis’, I feed on two steamed barbecued-pork buns and a cup of coffee. I’m staying at a friend of a family’s apartment. As I walk into the kitchen, I feel like Goldilocks as I think to myself, ‘This is just right!’
I step outside and walk along Orchard Boulevard, lined with trees branching towards the sky with monkey arms.
One of the best things about Asia are the food courts. I don’t mean the food courts in malls pandering teriyaki rice bowls and Panda Express. Food courts in Asia bustle with appetites, wooing diners with gorgeous delights. I often feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Where do I begin? It’s almost cruel to prioritize so much for the capacity of my appetite.
I walk through the maze of temptations, summoning my will power to help me choose my lunch.
And then I found the stall that spoke both reason and curiosity fulfilled… JJ Yong Tau Foo’s stall of tofu in many forms.
Perhaps those of you who know me are asking, ‘Why would Shanti opt for a lunch without pork?’ It may have had something to do with my healthy start of exercise or the notion that I may have all my days filled with pork until I fly back to Beijing. Seeing all the tofu forms had me curious. I wanted to taste the variations and feel the different textures.
Each piece of tofu is $0.60, so I pile them in and snag a few veggies. Between the soup and ‘dry’ option, I go with soup. I eat crispy, crunchy, chewy, soft, stuffed, and rolled incarnations of tofu.
I was tempted to have the Lakhsa noodle soup and though I never ordered it, Pei indulged in the rich coconut curry soup and I steal a few bites.
After a big lunch, the blood migrates to do the good work. I’m sluggish as I digest. The search for something perky begins. Two subway stops and a walk to Waterloo street, a popup café awaits on the third floor…
Inside what looks like an office suite, wooden palettes line the wall, kettles and brewing contraptions display, and one of my favorite tunes plays — ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’.
I feel in my element.
Andre is a barista from Manila whose love affair for coffee began at Starbuck’s. A trip to Italy showed him there was more to the ‘tall’, ‘grande’, and ‘venti’.
I order a cold-brewed coffee and listen as Andre utters lingo I’d only heard in wineries. He speaks the way chefs do about their creations, but there isn’t an air of ego. Rather, he and his accomplice exchange terminology I’d expect to hear in a lab.
Malissa, the other barista, would clarify a brewing temperature and Andre would confirm his method. Together they conduct an entertaining series of coffee-making demonstrations nearly converting me to their divine passion. These two really love their bean drip.
Andre first pours hot water in the filter to eradicate any flavor of paper. After adding freshly ground coffee, he pours enough water to degas the grounds. A ‘soufflé’ forms and this he explains is called the ‘bloom’. ‘The higher the bloom, the fresher the coffee’.
After brewing the Sumatra, I taste it and claim it tastes like berries. Malissa looks at me and suggests it should not taste as berry-esque as perhaps their other bean should — the Ethiopian Harrar.
It is around 5 o’clock p.m. and no good reason for me to drink another demitasse of coffee, but here I am assisted by two coffee chemists and when there is an opportunity to have my palate schooled by the pros, I yield.
Alas, this glass of coffee is indeed more berrylicious than the last and I am at a loss for how to describe coffee for the first time in my life. Usually, I describe coffee as bitter and roasted but here is a coffee I’m likening to juice or a citrus-flavored Pu’er tea. It’s good!
I’m awake. It’s 5:45 p.m. and I say goodbye to our endearing coffee connoisseurs. I step outside and see the world with eyes that usually greet my mornings. I’m seeing crazy things!
I walk past SOTA, an art school and spot a piece of lawn. It is an art installation called “Rest In Peace’. Then I see people…
Strange, musical, technical beings.
Perhaps it is time to tone down the caffeine high with more food. Orchard street is not short of places to eat; Singapore does not starve of food options.
While some people chase Hard Rock Cafes and Hooter’s birthday dance routines, I seek out the Din Tai Fung soup dumpling (小笼包, xiaolongbao). I first tried this piping pocket of heaven in Taipei, five years ago. The Din Tai Fung restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing keep my withdrawals at bay and I don’t know how I’ll ever leave the tasty confines of Asia.
Really. I love living in China as it places me only a short flight away from food safaris I’d never dreamed of in childhood. My friend Bee (RasaMalaysia.com) implores me to travel Malaysia as she impresses upon me the wild fear that I have no idea what I am missing. It gets better than this? Four and a half years living in China, two and a half of which I’ve traveled for ShowShanti.com and there is yet more ecstasy to revel?!
Apparently there is and will always be. I wish I were immortal, but then food might not be the joy that sustains me. Be careful what you wish for.
Off the bus and back on the tree-lined street from which I started the day’s musings, a tree with branches like entangled wishbones claws for the stars. What maddening wishes might be granted from such a cluster of bones? Tomorrow finds another day with new appetite and more inspiring bites.