Nearly everyone wants at least one outstanding meal a day.—Duncan Hines
Me(al)-time in Singapore
But I ended up eating with everybody
At a glance
I once took a trip to Singapore with zero plans, as in nothing scheduled, nothing I wanted to do, except to sleep, eat, maybe shop a little, and read a lot. I booked myself a room at a cheap hotel, not so cheap that it would be uncomfortable, as I was prepared to spend much of my four-day stay in my hotel room, and not so cheap it would be so far from anywhere that I might feel trapped at the hotel and eat only in nearby places.
I found the hotel on Bras Basah, walkable from Orchard Road, and with an MRT station just outside the door, I could go anywhere. The opportunity to ride the MRT was an extra treat because, though I have been to Singapore countless times, I have zero understanding of its train system.
Also, arriving at Changi Airport, I wanted to get into the city the way I would do it in Europe, asking around at the point of arrival, whether airport or train station, for how to proceed from there. I was pointed to the Ground Transport kiosk, where a woman, in true Singaporean fashion, answered my questions curtly, without any emotion, collecting SG$9 or thereabouts from me and then directing me to an exit, where I was to wait for a coaster.
The public transport gods must have looked upon me so favorably that I ended up the only passenger on the coaster, not bad at all for SG$9, about ₱315. Just to show you how much of a steal of a ride that was, on my way back to Manila, I took a cab from Bras Basah to Changi that charged me SG$25, ₱873. Though I didn’t know it yet, what I saved from my land transfer budget would have bought me two hearty meals at Food Republic, a food court setup in the corner of Bras Basah and Bencoolen, where I had only one of those two meals, to my regret, a whole plate of rice and four viands I chose through a glass window turo-turo style—crispy pork belly, string beans with minced pork, stir-fried bok choy, and half a century egg. More than a decent meal, it was solid and healthy, tasty, and delightful—and cheap, by Singapore standards and, at ₱280 (this was back in 2016), given that it was a quality meal, not just pantawid-gutom, also by Manila standards.
On arrival at my hotel, I spent just enough time in my room to secure my free WiFi connection and make a few posts on social media and took a walk down Bras Basah, going all the way, past the Singapore Art Museum, to the Raffles Hotel. It was almost 10 p.m. and, with the exception of a few bistros, many of the restaurants were closed and, though my in-flight dinner from Manila was filling enough, I was a little sad I couldn’t spend my first hour in Singapore eating. If only I was in the mood to cab it to River Valley, where I thought the chicken rice place stayed open ’til much later in the night.
That was why, though my original plan was to spend my time in Singapore doing nothing and seeing no one, I was soon back in my hotel room messaging my Singapore-based friends, “Psssst, I’m here.” No sooner had I sent the message than my schedule filled up, beginning with after-lunch coffee, followed by a barbecue dinner party the next day.
Brunch and lunch on my first day would have also been taken, if I didn’t insist that I wanted to wake up slowly into my first Singapore morning on this trip. Well, the reason for that was because I was destined to discover Food Republic to enforce my faith that it is possible to have a decent, healthy meal at a budget in the city not so much for my sake—though why not?—but for the people in my city, in Manila, whose options are so limited to fast food, fake food, or food that looks so lonely on plastic plates or in transparent plastic wraps.
As it turned out, that lunch at Food Republic was the only meal I had to take by myself on this trip that I planned as a solo adventure. Immediately after lunch, I had to run to Orchard for conversation and specialty coffee—Ethiopian!—with a colleague from my advertising days. I had only an hour to enjoy my cup of brew before other friends picked me up from the coffeeshop to take me on a cab ride to Sentosa Cove, a coveted residential address on Sentosa Island, along Tanjong Beach.
There was a barbecue dinner on a balcony that opened up to sweeping views of the sea that my friends said would reach all the way to Indonesia on a clear day. My host was a Filipina married to a Japanese-American and she and her husband, as well as some of their guests, a German/Austrian couple included, instantly became my friends over wine that poured through the night along with barbecue and sisig with duck liver among other Pinoy treats.
The following day was a blur of me(al)times that I ended up spending with even more friends as they took me to the best places, say Clinton Street Baking Company on Purvis Street for coffee and banana chocolate cake, or cocktails and oysters at Humpback on Bukit Pasoh, or Muchachos for burritos and frozen Margarita at this popular food strip, an F&B haven-on-the-rise in Outram.
It was such a memorable trip, though I didn’t get to do what I set out to do, like shopping for crisp white shirts and, since I discovered Food Republic, having one last meal there, the crispy pork belly particularly. With my return flight scheduled early evening, my last day would have been a free day, but as I turned in for the night, there was a comment on my Instagram account: “You’re here.” It was a Singaporean poet and spoken word artist I made friends with at the Singapore Writers Festival in 2014, so readily I replied, “I forgot you were Singaporean and therefore in Singapore.”
To cut the long story short, I spent my last day with him in Tiong Bahru, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Singapore. Lunch was chicken rice at the Tiong Bahru Hawker Center. Plus with him I got the chance to shop—at BooksActually, Tiong Bahru’s true gem, in which I bought my friend’s new poetry book and an anthology of short fiction and poems inspired by Singapore that, thanks to these friends, I’ve learned to love.
So much for solo travel, not in Singapore.