GILLIAN MCLAREN does durian
It is disconcerting to select a fish for one’s meal from tanks in a restaurant, having scuba dived near these creatures on various reefs of Asia. I am in Singapore, dining in Ah Hoi’s Kitchen, accessible from Traders Hotel (pictured above). I entrust this decision to Lam Loon Tuck, the Chinese sous-chef, who proclaims Soon Hock (Marbled Goby) to be his tastiest fish in the tanks that day. The Chinese custom is to order and share various dishes and my companions – Tina Sim and Wai Ling Wong – select the rest of our meal.
The outside fans bring a welcome cool breeze to the humid evening as we dine alfresco with a view of the swimming pool edged by lush tropical plants.
Wielding my chopsticks, I tuck in to my Green mango salad with crispy fried fish skin. So delicious, it makes me wonder why we don’t eat green mangos in South Africa. The Soon Hock arrives, steamed to show the delicate flavor to its best advantage. It tastes sublime with subtle flavours.
The smiling waiter presents honey glazed ginger chicken and a dish of steaming Sambal kangkong (Water convolvulus fried in a chili and shrimp paste mix.) We chat about life in Singapore, is organized and efficient. The robust economy is driven by the hard work and long hours of a service-oriented people
A Sri Lankan crab, in a light chili sauce, appears on our table. My friends honour me with the best part – the meaty pincers. We are given an apron and a finger bowl. Only piles of carapace remain after we have relished this treat, using Deep fried Manitou – hot fried bread – to mop up vestiges of the superb sauce.
Taking a city tour earlier in the day, I was amused to see a long list of rules displayed in the bus. Singapore is a city that is strictly governed, with severe consequences for disobeying the vast array of legislation. One of the rules is NO DURIAN! This expensive fruit exudes such a nauseating, powerful odour, that it is forbidden in public places. I tell Tina and Wai Ling that I would love to taste durian, and the chef is given my request. My bravado weakens as I inhale the pungent fumes of a dessert comprising the notorious Durian and cream. It is exceptionally good on my palate: a layered taste, sweet and soft with a heavenly texture. My companions tell me that I would also enjoy durian-flavoured ice cream, sold in most ice cream stalls and in kopitiam (local coffee shops).
Back in my air-conditioned suite on the 15th floor of Traders Hotel, overlooking elegant skyscrapers, interspersed with verdant strips, I gaze down on the illuminated pool area where I had enjoyed good company and a great Chinese meal. Singapore offers a clean and fascinating Asian space in which to experience the delights of exotic food.
- Gillian McLaren travels light. The only thing she collects is stamps. In her passport.