How to Pretend You’re in Singapore Tonight

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.


It took over a dozen visits to Singapore for me to fall in love with it. But when I did, I fell hard. As a teenager living in Jakarta, Indonesia — just under two hours away by direct flight — I looked at Singapore’s shiny veneer and dismissed the whole place as shallow and materialistic. It was one big shopping mall, I thought, with too many rules and not enough character. But then, as I kept going back, I intentionally squashed my preconceptions and I started noticing other things. I quickly realized how much I had been missing.


There are the 19th-century, pastel-painted shophouses tucked away in neat rows between gleaming apartment buildings. As I crisscrossed the city-state — easy, thanks to a well-oiled public transportation network — I became obsessed with the open-air hawker centers, formalized street food markets where you can have the best meal of your life for a few dollars. I marveled at the city’s diversity, where ethnicities — Chinese, Indian, Malay and more — intersect in daily life. I grew fascinated by Singapore’s famous, if sometimes oversimplified, rags-to-riches story: how a fishing village transformed into a global metropolis.


And now, like anyone else who has had the pleasure of digging into a plate of chili crab or spending a balmy afternoon watching container ships float just off shore, I miss it. Thankfully, with a little work in the kitchen, a handful of books and some time in front of the TV, there are ways to make you feel like you are in the Lion City for a night.


Fix a drink


Singapore’s cocktail scene has come a long way since the invention of the Singapore Sling over a hundred years ago at the famous Raffles Hotel — even if the guidebooks that still encourage visitors to drop $20 on a so-so cocktail suggest otherwise. Try your hand instead at the imaginative creations of Singapore’s more contemporary mixologists. Sasha Wijidessa, the former bar manager at Operation Dagger, an award-winning speakeasy in Singapore, now lives in Copenhagen and often turns to one of her inventions, the Annin Nai, when she wants a taste of home. It’s a combination of almond milk, dried osmanthus flowers and spirits, inspired by almond jelly, a dessert she ate growing up. “Making and having this drink fills me with nostalgia,” Ms. Wijidessa said.

自100多年前著名的莱佛士酒店(Raffles Hotel)创造了“新加坡司令”(Singapore Sling)以来,新加坡的鸡尾酒界有了长足发展——尽管旅游指南仍然鼓励游客花20美元买一杯普普通通的鸡尾酒,显得非常落伍。不如试试新加坡更现代的调酒师们富有想象力的创作。萨莎·维吉德萨(Sasha Wijidessa)曾是新加坡屡获大奖的地下酒吧Operation Dagger的经理,现居哥本哈根的她想要尝一尝家乡风味时,总会调一杯她自己的发明——“Annin Nai”。它由杏仁奶、桂花干和烈酒混合而成,灵感来自她小时候吃的杏仁果冻甜点。“调制和享用这杯酒让我充满怀旧之情,”维吉德萨说。

Be your own hawker


OK, OK; we’re not going to claim you can recreate generations of gastronomical knowledge by following a recipe. But it is possible to at least channel the culinary spirit of a city where people pledge their loyalty to hawker stalls selling chicken rice and bak kut teh (a revitalizing pork-rib soup) the way that others might to sports teams. For something relatively simple, New York Times Cooking recommends mee goreng, or fried noodles. If you’re feeling ambitious, there’s this braised duck. Be warned: just reading the recipe will have you salivating.


Dr. Leslie Tay, the Singaporean food blogger behind the popular ieatishootipost, says you cannot talk about Singapore’s syncretic cuisine without mentioning pandan, a fragrant plant that grows across Southeast Asia. “It is our equivalent of the vanilla bean,” Dr. Tay said. “The aroma of pandan adds a subtle but unmistakable fragrance to most of our desserts here.” The most sought-after recipe on his blog, he told me, is his meticulously researched formula for pandan chiffon cake, a light and fluffy dessert. To get it right, Dr. Tay consulted old recipe books and spoke to countless chefs and bakers in Singapore. He says he finally nailed it on his 30th attempt.

新加坡著名美食博客ieatishootipost的作者郑春茂(Leslie Tay)博士说,谈到新加坡的融合美食,就不能不提到班兰这种生长在东南亚的芳香植物。“它相当于我们的香草豆荚,”郑春茂博士说。“班兰的香气为我们的大部分甜点增添了一种微妙但又明显的香味。”他告诉我,他博客上最受欢迎的食谱就是他精心研制的班兰戚风蛋糕,这是一种口感轻盈松软的甜点。为了做好这种蛋糕,郑春茂博士查阅了古老的食谱书籍,并向新加坡无数厨师和面包师取经。他说他在第30次尝试的时候终于成功了。

Or just feast vicariously


You will forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but anyone looking to experience what it is like to fall in love with Singapore’s flavors as an outsider must start with that superfan of the Lion City, Anthony Bourdain. The chef-turned-globe-trotter returned to Singapore many, many times before he died in 2018. But it is in a 2008 episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” where you can see him truly grasp the city’s appeal as he learns that eating in Singapore is a national pastime. “This, if you like food,” Mr. Bourdain said, as he sampled one of an endless array of hawker dishes, “might be the best place in the world.”

如果我说的是显而易见的事情,请原谅我,但任何想要感受爱上新加坡味道是何种体验的局外人,都必须从狮城的超级粉丝安东尼·波登(Anthony Bourdain)说起。这位变身环球旅行家的大厨在2018年去世前曾多次流连新加坡。但在2008年《波登不设限》(Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations)的一集节目中,你可以看到他真正领会了这座城市的魅力,因为他了解在新加坡,吃饭是一种全民娱乐。“如果你喜欢美食,”波登一边品尝琳琅满目的小贩菜肴一边说,“这里或许就是世界上最棒的地方。”

For an insider lens on the culinary heritage of the city, watch the Singapore episode of “Street Food: Asia” on Netflix. Interspersed with mouthwatering shots of hawker dishes, the show takes a look at the lives of the hawkers themselves as they work to preserve family secrets that run the risk of disappearing as younger generations move away from the hawker trade.

想通过专业眼光了解这座城市的烹饪遗产,可以观看Netflix上《街头美食:亚洲》(Street Food: Asia)讲述新加坡的一集。这集节目讲述了小贩们的生活,随着年轻一代远离小贩行业,他们努力保护面临失传的家族秘方,中间还穿插了对诱人的小贩菜肴的描述。

See the city on film


Moving from television to film — but sticking, for a moment, to food — Mike Hale, a Times television critic, recommends the film “Ramen Shop,” by the Singaporean director Eric Khoo. In the film, a young man goes in search of a family bak kut teh recipe. Along the way, the film explores the close links between identity and cuisine and the history of Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II. In the end though, according to the reviewer Ben Kenigsberg, the film is mostly about good cooking: “It demands only your appetite.”

从电视转到电影——但先暂时停在美食一会儿——时报电视评论人麦克·黑尔(Mike Hale)推荐新加坡导演邱金海(Eric Khoo)执导的《情牵拉面茶》(Ramen Shop)。片中一个年轻人去寻找家传的肉骨茶食谱。在这个过程中,影片探讨了身份认同与美食之间的紧密联系,以及二战期间日本占领新加坡的历史。不过,影评人本·肯尼斯伯格(Ben Kenigsberg)表示,这部电影说到底主要讲的还是美食:“它只需要你的胃口。”

It is impossible to talk about Singapore’s role in film without mentioning “Crazy Rich Asians,” the blockbuster portrayal of Singapore’s 1 percent, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan. But, while the film is entertaining, it doesn’t exactly capture life in Singapore for most people. For that, Mr. Hale points to “Ilo Ilo,” a small-budget Cannes winner, which tells the story of a middle-class Singaporean family and the Filipina housekeeper who works for them during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Sui-Lee Wee, a China correspondent for The New York Times and a native Singaporean living there now, agrees that film can be one of the best ways to channel the spirit of the city.

谈到新加坡在电影中的作用,就不能不提到《摘金奇缘》(Crazy Rich Asians),这部根据凯文·关(Kevin Kwan)的小说改编的大片描绘了新加坡最顶层1%的群体。但是,虽然电影很有趣,但它并没能捕捉到新加坡大多数人的生活。因此,黑尔提到了小成本的戛纳获奖影片《爸妈不在家》(Ilo Ilo),它讲述了1997年亚洲金融危机期间,一个新加坡中产家庭和为他们工作的菲律宾女佣的故事。《纽约时报》中国记者、现居新加坡的本地人黄瑞黎也认为,这部电影可能是传达这座城市精神的最佳方式之一。

“I have spent 10 years away from Singapore, and Singaporean movies always bring me back home,” she said. “I love those set in the 1990s because it reminds me of the Singapore of my childhood.” Along with “Ilo Ilo,” she recommends “Shirkers,” the true story of one woman’s hunt for lost footage.


Learn the (real) Singapore Story


Part of the appeal of spending time in Singapore, whether physically or vicariously, is gaining a more nuanced understanding of the city-state’s history. That means moving beyond the established “Singapore Story,” which paints a rosy picture of unfettered capitalism. Sonny Liew’s stunning graphic novel, “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye,” is a good introduction to all the other forces — geography, colonialism, one-party rule — that played a role in Singapore’s meteoric rise. It follows the story of a fictional cartoonist, Charlie Chan Hock Chye, from colonial times to the present day, portraying a far more complex origin story for the independent nation than the government’s long-held narrative. Deftly switching between artistic styles, each a tribute to a different comic book legend, Mr. Liew, a writer and cartoonist, offers deceptively complex political analysis, unexplored takes of history and transportive snapshots of the city through the ages. The scenes leap off the page, and it will feel like you are traveling not only across continents but also across decades.

在新加坡享受时光——无论是亲临其境还是间接体验——一部分魅力在于更细致地了解这个城邦国家的历史。这意味着要超越既定的“新加坡故事”——它只是描绘出不受约束的资本主义的美丽表象。刘敬贤(Sonny Liew)令人拍案叫绝的漫画《漫画之王》(The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye)很好地介绍了新加坡迅速崛起过程中发挥作用的其他因素——地理、殖民主义、一党制。它讲述了虚构的漫画家陈福财从殖民时代到今天的故事,描绘了这个独立国家的起源故事,远远比政府长期以来的叙述更为复杂。作家和漫画家刘敬贤熟练地在不同的艺术风格之间进行切换,每一种都是在致敬不同的漫画大师,提供了看似复杂的政治分析、未被挖掘的历史和各个时代的城市交通快照。书中的场景引人入胜,感觉好像不但穿越了大洲,还穿越了时代。

Join a virtual tour


There is no better way to sync up with the pulse of a city than on a long walk. For the next best thing, try a virtual tour like the one being put on every Friday by P.S. Yeo of the Everyday Tour Company. While her city tour is based loosely on “Crazy Rich Asians,” Ms. Yeo says you don’t have to be a fan of the movie (or even have watched it) to appreciate Singapore’s sights.

要想与城市脉搏保持同步,散步是最好的办法。若要退而求其次,那就试试虚拟观光吧,就像Everyday Tour Company的P·S·杨(音)每周五在线上举办的那种。虽然杨女士的城市观光路线大致是基于《摘金奇缘》,她说,你不必是这部电影的粉丝(甚至不需要看过它)也能欣赏新加坡的风光。

Ms. Yeo told me that participants in some of her tours turn it up a notch, like ordering in some kopi, a hefty coffee roast spiked with condensed milk. Or, if that isn’t available, she recommends preparing something at home, like her own satay recipe. It really does always come back to food in Singapore.


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