Monday, 23 April 2012

little india, singapore

little india, buffalo road
singapore’s local cuisine is a blend of malaysian, chinese and indian influences. after a week of eating chinese and malaysian food both o and i were craving the familiar tastes of the subcontinent and so we headed to little india. there is much to see in this vibrant neighbourhood from the wet market (in singapore open air markets that sell fish, meat and vegetables have wet floors due to melting ice, fish cleaning and vegetable washing that goes on with the produce), food centre and shopping mall in tekka market to the temples, adbul ghafoor mosque and one of the last surviving chinese villas in little india. the residence of tan teng niah is bright and colourful. it features richly carved pintu pagar (decorative swinging doors) and a bamboo roof. the restored building is now used as medical and health shop and a yoga therapy centre.

tailor shop in tekka market 
wet market at tekka market
wet market at tekka market
clothes on display at tekka market
on cuff road i found an old and one of the only surviving spice grinding mills in singapore. its presence is felt in the air outside, which is heady with spice and makes one choke involuntarily. the interior is dark and cool but heavy with spice fumes that make it hard to breathe. a petite lady in a sari with a mask over her face operates the mill. on the day that i went little mountains of red chilli powder sat along side bright yellow ones of turmeric. she tells me that she works five days a week. despite the high demand for freshly ground spices there is an issue finding workers who would perform the task of grinding. so it is likely that the mill will not survive once the lady who currently runs it is unable to do so.

abdul ghafoor mosque, little india
sri veeramakaliamman temple
tan teng niah residence, little india
aside from an abundance of fruit and vegetable shops there are numerous jewellers and flower stalls. garlands of jasmine, marigold and roses are strung for hindu devotees as they go for puja at the temples dedicated to the fiercely courageous kali and vishnu. i bought the jasmine (motia) garlands to wear on my wrist as i did in pakistan. the heady and sweet fragrance of them reminded me of the wedding season in pakistan when my paternal aunt would string the little flowers onto thin wire to wear them as earrings. girls with long hair often wove strings of jasmine into their braids and plaits. baba would often buy the garlands to perfume his mercedes. they were only item permitted to be hung from the rearview mirror.

flower stall, little india
we went to komala vilas twice during my stay in singapore. this indian vegetarian restaurant has existed since nineteen forty-seven and is always busy. o and i had delightfully crisp dosas (fermented indian pancakes) with lentils the consistency of thin milk (sambar), a chilli chutney and a cooling sweet one made with coconut. i tried the rawa dosa that is made from semolina. it is texturally more interesting than the typical dosa but i much prefer the tartness of the fermented dosa. on another occasion i tried the channa’s with roti. they were held together by an excellent masala and were very good. a plate of vadai was less successful if only because the yoghurt that accompanied the lentil and onion fritters was warm and too tart. o loved the badam (almond) milk despite its lurid yellowness. i found it overbearingly sweet much like most milk-based drinks in singapore. the masala chai at komala vilas is excellent as it is not too sweet and well brewed. it is served in stainless steel tumblers with thin rims. the tumbler is seated in a shallow wider version of the glass like tumbler in which the tea is contained. this is meant to be used to cool the tea and is similar to the manner in which truck drivers take their tea at dhaba’s (roadside kiosks) along the grand trunk road in pakistan. they would pour the steaming pakki chai (cooked tea) into the saucer and sip from it. at komala vilas the idea is to pour the tea between the two tumblers allowing the heat to escape. i like my tea as hot as possible but observed that a lot of the men cooled their tea before drinking it.  

masala dosa at komala vilas
on another visit to little india a colleague of o’s joined us. together we tried the fish head curry at banana leaf apolo. this is a signature singaporean dish created in the nineteen fifties by a south indian migrant to singapore. the indian’s and chinese make different versions of fish head curry with the former featuring a rich chilli curry. the fish head used to make the curry is large and has ample meat on it. it was very tasty. chunks of chicken marinated in hara masala were succulent and juicy. our order of biryani never materialised but the bill included a charge for three biryanis. if there are two things you ought to be aware of eating out in singapore, they are the lack of good service and incorrect bills. be rest assured that you will experience both of these very frequently so make sure you check your bill thoroughly. as for the less than satisfactory service, you will need to cultivate patience for that one. i am afraid there is no other solution available.    

1 comment:

  1. ahhh, good times. miss fish head curry, though the version I favour is the chinese or the monya (malay-chinese) one.