Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Pointing at Chinese Food

Written 14 November

Walking a new place can be daunting. But if you’re strong enough and have faith, it can be rewarded.

Hitting a point of hunger around lunchtime I tried to find food. This would seem to be a fairly easy task at noon in Chinatown in a city state comprising ~70% ethnically Chinese. Yet every food stall was shuttered and restaurants charging Sydney prices in a SE Asia country had few patrons. The options were not acceptable.

The street was Smith St. A sign at the end had directed me that this was the food street. The convenience of it all was a sticking point. Why was there an English sign saying, “Food this way?” And why was there a Smith St. in Chinatown? I blindly ambled on. Crammed stalls of a market selling kitsch I didn’t need told me I was headed in the right direction. Beyond lay a four story Buddhist temple complex. Behind that lay a fairly run down and depressing multi-storey, half-open-air concrete block called Chinatown Complex. The crowd outside indicated this might be where the hungry come to feed.

Inside on the second floor was a huge array of restaurant stalls that looks as if a self-storage business had decided it would do better as a food court. The lit signs above the roll-away doors indicated the establishment in huge Chinese characters. Below, in smaller font, were names like Run Ji Cooked Food and Hao Xiang Ju Cooked Food. Each stall contained some approximation of fridge, freezer, cooking surface, and a bain-marie filed with various dishes to be served up cafeteria style.

Having made it this far there were only two choices. Some stalls had pictures of the dishes with prices beside. This would be the known quantity.

I chose the second option – having faith in people. I found the longest line and queued up. I watched the dishes that seemed the most popular. And given my turn I smiled, indicated I would eat here, and pointed to three mains. Atop a bed of rice I had a feast for S$3.10 (about $2.30US).

And my reward? Chicken with kelp, something I’d always been interested to try. An egg and green bean dish that elevated the promise of eggs to new heights. And sweet and sour chicken that finally answered why anyone would ever order it.

It isn’t true for every realm, but find the longest line and the most people and you’ll generally find fantastic food.

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This entry was posted on November 21, 2012 by in Singapore and tagged .

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