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Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore
Kopi-C and Kaya Toast

Exhausted from the previous day of transit and walking, we opted to sleep in and needed some coffee to get us going. Luckily, across the street from our hostel was a small café called Nanyang Old Coffee 南洋老咖啡. The most popular order? The renowned kopi o. Originally derived from the Hokkien term kopitiams meaning “coffee shop,” kopi is a strong black coffee served with sugar. Made from a blend of Indonesian Robusta and Colombian Arabica beans, the mixture is traditionally wok-roasted with sugar and margarine until deep dark brown in color. The result? A strong flavorful brew reminiscent of warm and cozy cups of coffee on a Saturday morning. And exactly what was needed.

Full of energy and zest, we head out to tackle the famous Lau Pa Sat food centre, also known as the Telok Ayer Market. Hidden in the middle of the downtown core, Lau Pa Sat is home to a rich variety of hawker stands. I was extremely excited, not just to have my first taste of Singaporean hawker stands but to venture through the rows of fragrant dishes that catered to my foodie imagination. Having recalled numerous stories of traditional fishball noodle soups, I opted to try the light but flavorful dish common during anytime of the day. The first thing I noticed was that the broth wasn’t what I was used to back home. While full of flavor and just the perfect touch of chilli paste, the fish broth was light and brought a lot of the other flavors to the forefront.

Xiao Long Baos at Din Tai Fung

With a long week ahead of us, we decided that we would spend a part of the afternoon visiting Suntec City, which unbeknownst to us at the time, was a massive super-mall of a scale we were not used to back in Canada. Covering an area so large that some stores had 2 locations on opposite ends. Powered by a short stop for xiao long baos at Din Tai Fung (Suntec City, #02 - 302-304), we set off to explore the alleys of Haji Lane.

Haji Lane was home to bright and colorful murals, welcoming patios and quaint little shops. While people tend to have a variety of travelling styles, I always liked to wander. Letting my feet, eyes and nose lead the way, I liked exploring all the back alleys and hole in the wall cafés a neighborhood had to offer. Haji Lane (and its neighbor Arab Street) were perfect for this, grid-like and systematic like an art-deco version of a grocery store, we slowly made our way down each aisle, picking up snacks (Teh Halia; a spin on traditional Teh Tarik with the addition of ginger) to fuel the surprisingly large number of steps we were taking each day (spoiler alert: we clocked 26,000 steps this day).

Famous Soy Sauce Chicken Dish at Liao Fan Hawker Chan's brick and mortar restaurant in Chinatown

We later made our way to the award winning Liao Fan Hawker Chan located in Chinatown not far from our hostel. Made famous by his soya sauce chicken rice, Hawker Chan was one of the first to authentic hawker stalls to gain Michelin star status and recognition. And while reading all about the raving food critics and the 4/5 average Google rating across over 1,000 reviews, experiencing it firsthand was still unbelievable. The chicken was tender and flavorful, with just the right amount of soya sauce making the rice soft but not soggy.

Chendol Ice Kachang at Mei Heong Yuen Desserts in Chinatown

After dinner, I pleaded my friends to wander with me in search of the famed ice kachang. Having heard my mom talk about her childhood ice kachang favorites, this was the one dessert I set a goal to seek out. Typically consisting of shaved ice, red bean and jelly (grass jelly or agar agar) and topped with syrup, ice kachang put a smooth and refreshing spin on shaved ice. Other popular toppings available were fruit flavor infused shaved ice, peanuts, sweet corn, condensed milk, fruits or chendol.

As the evening wound to the close, we slowly walked back to our hostel and spent the evening hanging out and talking on the rooftop terrace. I know what you’re thinking, “Brendon… you’re eating an awfully large amount so close to your marathon…” and believe me, the very same thoughts occurred to me. But another feeling I’ve had is that this trip was the culmination of nearly 6 months of hard training. Training that worked my legs and lungs to their limits. Having spent the last couple of days relaxing, sleeping more, eating heartily, I felt refreshed. My legs have felt strong the last couple of days and while it has been tough to stay hydrated in the heat and humidity, I feel ready.

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