Goodbye, Little Red Dot (and My Ultimate Singapore Favorites)
To Devon, Medha, Hongyuan, and Kai–until we meet again.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. –A.A. Milne in Winnie the Pooh via my dear friend Medha
I watched G watch Singapore for the first time, holding my breath more often than taking it. I had been to Singapore once, and yet based on that 3-day trip alone, we had decided to move. But it wasn’t until now that the thought G may not like the place flooded me with worry.
To my advantage, the taxi driver had taken the scenic route, and as we came down from the palm-tree-lined airport road, Marina Bay appeared in all her nightly glory. I saw the corners of G’s mouth turn up, and in his eyes, the glow of the bay intensified.
G and I told our family and friends we’d stay in Singapore a year at most, but the city-state turned out to make for a comfortable home, and so we stayed five.
As a foreign professional coming to Singapore, life is likely to feel like an upgrade. You’ll probably reside in a lush condo with a gym, swimming pool, and entertaining areas, and if you’re an expat with a family, a domestic helper to take care of your home and kids.
Besides these privileges, the taxes are low, the crime rate still lower, healthcare options abundant, and most people understand English, as does the paperwork, which is often digital and a breeze to get done.
Furthermore, the public transport is excellent, taxies are cheap, and the city is clean and green, dotted with artworks and tropical plants and trees, which at times pop up from unexpected corners.
Also, it’s always summer, with the lows seldom dipping under 25°C. And if you want to escape the dot, that’s smooth too, with plenty of travel options to neighboring countries. Plus, I’m sure you’ve already heard everything about Changi airport.
Lastly, Singapore’s chart of greatest hits wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the city’s food choices, ranging from Michelin-awarded hawker stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants in every cuisine you can imagine. And, if you’re more into cooking, you can have your groceries delivered to your doorstep with the help of a few apps (including organic produce and grass-fed-anything from Australia and New Zealand).
Thus, with all these everyday comforts, you may see how G and I could’ve easily stayed in Singapore for years to come. That is, had it not been for the virus.
Although I don’t think there was a better place than Singapore to get used to the new reality of our world, after 438 days without leaving the city-state, some of its inconveniences and ugly sides magnified and ultimately made me wish to move on.
Some annoyances, like the lack of silence and nature, were simply the realities of living in any city, but which before Covid-19, I remedied by traveling half of the time outside of Singapore.
Other concerns were more inherent to Singapore, like how dirty the public spaces became once foreign workers couldn’t enter and clean up after its citizens.1
Also, on top of the already heavy state surveillance, the state decided to make the data from the Covid-19 tracing app available to the police to trace crime, even though they first said the data would be private.2|3
Then there was the now-undeniable discrimination against migrant workers (mainly from Bangladesh and India), as the state grounded more than 300.000 workers to their dormitories under the guise of containing the virus outbreak, while everyone else was free to continue life as usual. 4|5
As time passed, I became increasingly more nostalgic about the freedom to express oneself, love who you want, and make mistakes, in contrast to Singapore’s somber realities of censorship, anti-gay laws, and corporal and capital punishments.
Yet, this is in no way an easy goodbye. Singapore has been the backdrop to five of the most important years of my life, and I’ll remember it with warmth.
In Singapore, I finished The Spin-Off Project, started this blog, and found my first two jobs as a web developer.
G and I married in . And I got the idea for The Knitting Club on the F1 tarmac.
I ran my first 10K here, the last of the Green Corridor runs, and wore my medal after the race for the entire day. And I learned to juggle, swim freestyle, do a cartwheel, and strict pull-up.
I also joined the 5 AM club, started drinking coffee daily, and overcame my fear of asking strangers for photos.
I went to numerous workshops, including tea, coffee, kombucha, cooking, and pottery ones. Plus, there was the acting one, leaving me flattered, still, with an offer to produce a one-woman show.
I visited nine new countries from the dot. And I was always happy to come back, racing G through passport control, back to our humbling loft on the fringes of Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar, a serendipitous 5-minute walk from that stole my imagination the first time I visited Singapore.
Most importantly, I met the people who make a place. Strangers who became friends and filled my heart with their being and quirkiness—merging speckles of their sameness and otherness with mine, into something else, a dot of a different culture and way, now part of me, and from here with me everywhere.
☕️ Coffee (+ a smidge of tea)
Alchemist · The Mill
I get all my coffee beans from The Alchemist in Tanjong Pagar. However, this branch of The Alchemist, located in a neo-gothic building, makes for quite an impressive drop-in.
Founder Qing He of Apartment Coffee is the man that sparked my fall into slow coffee.
Common Man Stan
Stan is my neighborhood café where I come to soak up sweet staff vibes.
Whenever I’m nearby, I’ll pop in for a filter and chat with some seriously passionate baristas. Also, I buy most of my coffee gear from Kurasu’s online shop.
Nylon Coffee Roasters
Nylon makes for a nostalgic spot in Everton Park, one of the oldest hoods in the city.
Hvala · Chijmes
Where I get my matcha whisked.
🔖 Related reading: Slow Coffee + Tea Faves
I tend to order Bife de Lomo (beef fillet) or Ojo de Bife (ribeye), but I also love Bochinche’s lunch offer. All their meats are super smokey, prepared over a wood & charcoal grill. Plus, they have Argentinian wines.
Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House · Gemmill Lane
Get yourself half a dozen oysters, a Dirty Chophouse Martini, and their USDA prime ribeye “naked style” with confit garlic. I find Luke’s lunch menu also a hit.
I like to go for the pork sausage, pork belly burnt-ends, the Wagyu cheeseburger (bunless), and 14-hr smoked beef brisket–topped with a glass of red wine and a pickleback.
I love the foie gras and the Wylarah Wagyu New York Strip, which comes with a chunk of silky bone marrow. The lunch sets are a far better offer, though. The views are ridiculous.
Sidenote: Since moving to Singapore, my diet has changed plenty. While I spent the first couple of years eating three times a day at hawker centers, I went keto into my third year here, and nowadays, I eat a primarily animal-based diet. Meaning there’s not much room for carbs in my life. But since there’s likely in yours, here’s my list of old favorites.
A Noodle Story · Amoy Street Food Centre #01-39
A Michelin Bib Gourmand winner, serving high-quality Singapore-style ramen at hawker prices. In the words of the owners: “Super springy noodles tossed in our special aromatic dressing accompanied with Hong Kong-style wontons, soy-flavored hot spring egg, meltingly-tender cha-su, and a crispy potato-wrapped prawn. Beautifully garnished with freshly sliced scallions and red pepper.”
Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee · Hong Lim Market #02-58/59
Ah Heng serves one dish: curry chicken noodles in an addictive, thick gravy. It’s one of the first local spots I was introduced to and the place where I practiced my chopstick skills.
A hidden burger bar from New York, flipping high-quality buns. Get a cheeseburger with “all the works” and pair it with a couple of (sour) craft beers.
Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao · Chinatown Complex #02-135
For steaming baskets of Xiao Long Bao (pork dumplings), plates of pan-fried dumplings, and a good dirty-ish vibe. After picking up the folded goods, I like to waggle over to On Tap (#02-75) or The Good Beer Company (#02-58) for accompanying beers.
Keisuke Gyoza King
Keisuke Gyoza King serves gyoza sets including gyoza, two side dishes, Koshihikari rice, and a soup. My go-to used to be the pork gyoza, the deep-fried prawns with mayonnaise sauce, and stir-fried eggplant with miso. A counter spot completes the experience, but just don’t do that with freshly washed hair.
Mr Mrs Mohgan Super Crispy Prata
As the name suggests, you’re here for the super crispy pratas. Come as the Mohgans open because they do run out. Eat the pratas plain, sprinkled with sugar, or dipped in fish or mutton curries.
For thick, crispy, chewy Masala Dosas, stuffed with soft, spiced potatoes.
Start with 100 grams of the grilled Wagyu Skirt Steak (served with wood-fired veggies and a cube of potato gratin). Then move on to the pasta bolognese with handmade pappardelle (wagyu beef ragù, mascarpone, parmesan) or the wood-fired, Naples-style pizza Margherita–or ideally, both.
The Coconut Club
Dig into Malaysia’s national dish, Nasi Lemak (coconut rice, anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, fried egg, and sambal), done fancy. l tend to order the chicken leg or chicken breast set. The Iga Bakar (braised and grilled beef short ribs), Beef Rendang (dry curry of beef brisket in spices and coconut milk), and Sambal Lala (clams cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce) are delicious too.
Artemis Grill & Sky Bar
An under-the-radar rooftop terrace overlooking Marina Bay Sands. Reservations are a must.
Atlas is housed in a most impressive art deco building and has a gigantic gin library with over 1300 labels. G and I had our just-married-toast here.
A classic New York-style hideaway that makes you forget you’re in Singapore.
The Warehouse Hotel
I like to steal one of the sofa corners and settle in with a glass of champagne on my artist dates.
28 Hongkong St.
Speakeasy cocktails and glorious deep-fried Mac’N Cheese Balls with three kinds of cheese and truffle oil.
Writer’s Bar · Raffles Hotel
My preferred time to sip a Dry Martini at Raffles is Sundays, just when the bar opens at 16:00.
Ann Siang Hill Park
Tiny park with palm trees on one side, rows of air conditioning units on the other, and peek-throughs to the Central Business District. Right here is where my travels ended in 2015, and G and I would come to live next to less than a year later.
Don’t follow the signs. Instead, let your curiosity and the plants and trees guide you.
Duxton Plain Park
I alternate between a morning walk around Marina Bay Sands and a stroll in Duxton Plain Park. It’s an adorable stretch for watching locals do their elaborate morning gym routines or joining them with your own. G plays basketball in the court nearby while I practice my pull-ups here.
Fort Canning Park
Makes for a lovely, early morning stroll, with occasional whiffs of Pandan leaves. Also, G and I got married here.
Telok Ayer Park
A patch of green, best combined with a visit to the temple next to it, and a sticky espresso at Common Man Stan.
🍯 Gourmet Groceries
Little Farms · Guoco Towers
For the best avocados and burrata. But also: organic eggs, berries, Medjool dates, and coconut yogurt.
Sidenote: For a simple salad – Cube an avocado · Tear the burrata in parts · Sprinkle with Maldon Sea Salt Flakes · Drizzle with high-quality olive oil
The Cheese Ark
For serious cheese platters. Pro tip: Let owner Ai Ming Syu guide your cheese selection.
The Providore · Mandarin Gallery
I come here for the cold cuts and last-minute wine (Marqués de Vargas) and cheese urgencies.
The Rare Honey Company
My favorites are the Jarrah, Creamed Kari, and Coastal Wildflower.
Get the Sourdough Country, Sourdough Rosemary, or Miso Baguette, and pair with all the above.
Pekoe & Imp
Loose-leaf teas (my favorites), kung-fu teaware, and tea workshops for the lucky ones.