Where can you eat in Singapore? Everywhere!

“I have one more day in Singapore. I feel I’ve seen a lot, but if you have any suggestion of places not to be missed, please don’t keep it for yourself”, I am telling the Indian taxi driver while looking at his reflection in the rearview mirror.

“Have you been to Little India?” “Yes, yesterday”, I reply to him while rewinding different scenes in my mind: thousands of people walking chaotically, millions of garlands in blatant colours hanged all over the place, the intoxicating smell of burned incense.

(Little India)

“You might want to try Little Thailand. It’s on Beach Rd, in the Golden Mile Complex. And if you walk towards Arab St, you will find a small Vietnamese place with the best baguette in Singapore. They stuff the bread with juicy beef and mouth-watering pickled vegetables. This is a good authentic place, not like Jumbo Seafood. Famous among tourists, but not of high quality. I am a foodie, so I know what I’m talking about.”

“My friend, we are talking the same language! Take me to that Vietnamese place,” I hear myself saying with a smile in my heart and a twinkle in my eyes.

(The Singaporean Chinatown)

I knew from the beginning that Singapore is a heaven for foodies. I was mentally prepared for heartburn and a flare-up of my acid reflux because I wanted to try the food without restrictions.

My hotel was situated in the Kampong area, close to the Arab quarter and on the same street with the Sultan Mosque. Apparently, it was a cool area with a myriad of small and not so expensive bars and restaurants. I noticed several buildings covered in street art – nothing controversial though, let’s not forget about the draconian laws in Singapore – and I thought the walls looked better this way, colourful and happy.

On my first day, I had a Cantonese style steamed sea bass with plain rice and leak. A simple dish, but the fish and the sauce were delicious. The price was around 20 Singapore dollars (SGD). Later on, I enjoyed a Turkish coffee, strong and tasty and sweet, while facing the golden dome of the Mosque.

(The Sultan Mosque)

In the evening, I took a 40-minute boat trip from Marina Bays to the Clarke Quay area. I saw a plethora of restaurants on the riverside so I got off at Boat Quay to explore them. For dinner, I chose a restaurant randomly.

They all had almost the same menu. I served scallops and steamed asparagus combined in a thick sauce. The dish surprised me with its fresh and bright flavour. This time, due to location, the price was higher: 65 SGD, no alcohol included. It was my most expensive meal in Singapore.

Next day, Ray, my friend from Hong Kong, came to meet me in Singapore. Together we had a clear plan ahead: the best brunch place and the best dim-sum restaurant, both recommended by a good friend of Ray who has been living in Singapore for a couple of years.

Dong Po Colonial Café was supposed to serve a delicious brunch. Close to my hotel and to the Mosque, it took us less than 10 minutes walking to get there. It looked like a canteen, with a menu based mostly on toast and eggs: sugar and butter on toast with eggs; peanut butter on toast with eggs; honey on toast with eggs. I can’t mix sugar with boiled eggs, this is an unacceptable fusion for a Romanian! Hence I asked for toast with plain butter or cheese. The woman behind the counter who was never smiling couldn’t grasp what I was trying to order. Toast with no sugar? Toast with cheese? For her, the simple concept of cheese was inappropriate, it was even a sin. After some negotiations, I managed to get my plain butter on toast with two very soft eggs. Too soft. Coffee was also quite tasteless. Ray, on the other hand, was eating quietly. She seemed very pleased. Her toast had a reddish dried shrimp paste spread in a rather thick layer. It was tasty and spicy. I took a bite and then looked disappointed at my almost-raw-eggs and almost boring toasted bread. Maybe I should have mixed peanut butter with eggs after all.

In the evening, we had dinner with Ray’s friend and her big group of buddies. We all gathered at the “Hand in Hand Beijing Restaurant”. I felt like a spoiled kid. Being the only European at the table who visited Singapore for the first time, I was allowed to start the tasting for each dish. And boy, we ate a lot of dumplings, we tried two types of soups and a peculiar dessert – the deep fried and caramelized yam (a kind of tropical/subtropical sweet potato).

While I loved the dumplings, I was not pleased with the potatoes. I need the so-called CCC desserts – “chocolate with chocolate and chocolate”.

20181117_214332210063816051650918.jpg(the unfamiliar yam dessert and some colourful bubbles that I have no idea what they’re called)

To end the night properly, we tried a Cantonese place in Chinatown, famous for its sweets: Mei Heong Yuen Dessert. I ordered the Mango Pomelo Sago, a dessert I first tried in Hong Kong two years ago – a summer sweet course, made of creamy mango pudding loaded with soft tapioca pearls and pieces of mango and pomelo. Although it doesn’t have chocolate, I felt an explosion of flavours for my taste buds. It was light and fruity but sweet enough to make my eyes smile. I can’t say the same about the Durian cake, this stinky, controversial, alien-fruit that is not really a fruit, but a mix of flavours that individually are amazing (onion, garlic, strong cheese, dill, beef meat), but all combined create an unexpected, hard-to-digest, confusing result.

I tried the cake because my new group of friends made me curious. Half of them liked it very much, while the other half was disgusted only by the thought of durian.

I didn’t like. I didn’t feel nauseous after my first bite, but it was clear that my brain was rejecting the idea of a second bite.

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Our next day started on a more spiritual note: Ray and I visited the beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, located next to a Hindu temple – sacred places of different religions located on the same street in harmony and peace.

However, an intense spiritual experience requires a good meal after.

We tried laksa in green curry (a very spicy noodle soup with, well, green curry, seafood, sprouts) and scallops with broccoli. No croissant, no fried or poached eggs, no coffee. A different kind of brunch for me.

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The peak of my culinary escapade was the Vietnamese place that the taxi driver told me about: Co Hai. The baguette was indeed delicious, the beef was as juicy as I hoped, but the surprise was that cup of coffee with condensed milk, my first Vietnamese coffee ever.

The intense flavour of roasted coffee beans was simply a transcendental experience.

Afterwards, full and pleased, I decided to visit Little Thailand. If I managed to see the Singaporean India, China and Turkey, exploring the Singaporean Thailand was a must.

The Golden Mile Complex welcomed me with strong odours: toxic plastic, grilled meat and fish, mould. Vendors were selling mango and lychees and custard apples, candies smelling like plastic because of their cheap package, clothes, dried prawns and mobile cases. The sellers didn’t speak English so I had a difficult time to find out the names of those fruits I’ve never tried and I’ve never seen. I asked random people to tell me the names of custard apple and rose-apple. One man gave me a few longans, which are small and sweet fruits very similar to the lychee. I didn’t see durians, so I assumed it was banned in that place. Too stinky.

monk(Buddhist monk in Little Thailand)

I arrived at the hotel late. I was not sleepy because of the persistent jet lag. I told myself I need to have another Vietnamese coffee before I am heading to the airport at 10h10. But the next day I overslept and I missed my cup of black magic potion. I am still craving…meaning that I already know where my next culinary immersion will take place.

The invasion of Menorca’s best beach

While in London I decided to travel solo.

One of my trips was to Menorca, Mallorca’s more unspoiled sister, full of sandy beaches with pristine water. Some Spaniards told me is the place to visit, not as hectic as Ibiza and not yet as crowded as Mallorca. A colleague had a trip there a few weeks before I was planning my escape and for some months she was still in some state of ‘daydreaming’.

These were valid reasons to book the flights and a nice room in an aparthotel. MenorcaMar is a beautiful location, spotlessly clean and relatively close to the main town, Ciutadella. Mind that in Menorca hotel owners are not allowed to build tall constructions so they don’t spoil the view and the coastline. Airbnb is also not popular there.

menorca 1

I was craving for sun and sea, so on my first day in Menorca, I decided to go to what is considered one of the best beaches on the island, Tourqueta – a virgin beach, 20 minutes from Ciutadella by bus. I took my towel, my book (The Good Terrorist – Doris Lessing), some water and the sunscreen. I couldn’t forget my floaters. At 30, I was one of those lame adults not being able to swim in the sea.

…….

I am heading to the bus station in Cap d’Artrutx, 5 minutes walking from my aparthotel. It’s hot. I have sweat beads glittering under my pink sun hat. 10 minutes. No bus. 15 minutes. I get sweatier. I am dying to jump in the water with my orange floaters. 20 minutes. Where is the bus? There is no other soul in the station and I am wondering if the bus is actually running.

An old dusty red is slowing down on the other side of the road. The car has stopped. Someone is rolling down the window and I can see a white head with a smile.

‘Senorita, a donde vas?’

‘Ciutadella, senor.’

An 80-year old Menorquin grandfather, as old as his car, wants to give me a ride to the town. Yes! Vamolos abuelo! I decide to practice my Spanish – actually, I am successfully mixing Spanish words, Romanian words, English words and sign language. I am having a proper conversation in the end about the beautiful island, some politics including the independence of Catalonia. Abuelo has kind eyes, neat hands and a lot of passion when talking. In less than 15 minutes I am in Ciutadella. I would have liked the ride to be longer.

I take the bus from the centre of Ciutadella, completely packed, to the virgin beach. 20 minutes, of which 10minute-off road. From the bus stop, where a small shop is selling water and ice-cream, I need to walk another 10 minutes in the woods to get to the magic beach. Yes, I can see it! And the turquoise water! And the golden sand!

But my virgin magic Tourqueta is suffocated. Tens of people and screaming little people are running and swimming and eating and scratching and pinching and playing. Towel next to the towel. A cruise ship is coming closer to the virgin beach, slowly like a heavy lazy monster. Oh God, I can’t breathe, I was hoping for a tranquil environment. “Tourqueta has lost her virginity”, I whisper to myself rolling my eyes.

menorca 3

My first challenge: find a spot for my towel. It’s already late, almost 13h00, so I can’t be in the sun. I have no umbrella but I see a good spot under the shade at the end of the beach. Hurry, put your towel down. Take out your dress, put on the floaters, leave the phone in the bag, don’t stress about it, no one will steal it, don’t be paranoid. Jump in the water! I manage to take my feet off the ground and swim a bit. I am moving forward! Meanwhile, kids are swimming like mermaids. Their moms, aunts and grandmothers are swimming like mermaids. 5-year olds are jumping like superheroes from high cliffs directly in the crystal-clear water.

A crowd of people from the cruise are conquering the empty strips of the beach. Two more families are placing their towels next to mine. My towel is surrounded now by kids and toys and Tupperwares with fresh fruits and sandwiched. And by…goats. Jumping from a bush. One of them is brave and steps on my towel. It’s sneezing my beach bag.

‘Goat! Goat, leave my bag alone. Take your nose out of there. Goat!! Stop chewing! What are you chewing?’

I have to stop my swimming performance abruptly and run back to my towel, shhhs-uing the black, small and shameless goat. It takes out its head from the bag with my phone in its mouth.

I am pale. I feel I can’t breathe anymore. ‘Goat!’ I am running faster to catch the animal and rescue that little device that has people in it. People from my home(s). And passwords. And maps. And my soul. Leave it there!

I am most probably screaming. The goat gets scared, drops the phone and runs back into the bush. She pulls a magic, disappearing trick. My device is ok, no scratch, just zero signal.

Cool, I feel like having an ice cream. Jumping myself like a goat over people’s towels, I am heading to the shop by the bus station to indulge my taste buds in a sweet refreshing treat. I am leaving my towel and the book under the shade as I will be back in 20 minutes. Go ahead goat, chew my book, the story hasn’t caught me.

Note: I lost some photos from Menorca, therefore I only have a goat-free image gallery. 😦

12 Things You Should Know Before Moving To London

I first arrived in London four years ago, for a one month experience in the UK headquarters of the consultancy I used to work for in Bucharest. “I am sure I will love the city”.

I hated it. I was so happy to leave once that month was over. The commuting, the robots walking to their offices in the morning, confined spaces that made me feel claustrophobic, the overall impatience of the city, all these freaked me out.

“I will never be able to live in that horrendous London”, I was telling to anyone who had ears to listen to me. I have been living now in this city for almost two years.

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If you want to defy Brexit and still move to this metropolis, you might want to know that:

  • Rents are high. Sharing is the norm here. Even people in their 40s have flatmates. If you want to be by yourself, put aside some significant chunk of your monthly paycheck.
  • Public transport is expensive as hell. I pay £131/month to use the tube, trains, buses for zones 1 and 2 only. Last year the monthly pass was £126, I think a sudden £5 pound increase is outrageous.
  • Despite the high prices, public transport is not reliable. When I first moved here, I thought I was living close to work. I had to take the tube one stop and then change at Canada Water station, where I had to hop on a train called the Overground through 3 more stations. Easy peasy. Except that the amazing Overground is slow as a turtle, it always comes fully packed, and it has signal failures every week. My advice: move close to work. When I say close, I really mean it. Not ‘almost close to work’. That means you will still curse your life almost every day.
  • On the other hand, Uber is great! Much cheaper than the black taxis, drivers come wherever you tell them to pick you up, and they give you a ride even for short distances. In Brussels or Amsterdam, you should avoid Uber drivers.

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  • You will find medicines in supermarkets and food and beverages in pharmacies.
  • Try to get a private health insurance. The public system, also called NHS, has some big issues. Great specialists, but it takes an eternity to get an appointment: three, four, five months. Without a private insurance, you will not be able to afford the private services. An endoscopy can cost £1500. A consultation is £250. Another option is to fly back to your own country for medical issues. Or to pray.
  • You can find amazing restaurants in London. Cuisines from all over the world. Artisanal coffee. Street markets are a big thing and you can easily find delicious meals when you visit them. I can recommend the Maltby Street Market and Brixton Market. Borough Market is really colourful and beautiful but too pricey. There are also plenty of excellent brunch places. I can mention here 100 Hoxton and The Pear Tree @Greenland Place. The food in supermarkets is not of high quality. I usually buy it from Waitrose, which has better fruits and vegetables.
  • You can find plenty of desserts as well but they lack finesse. Too much butter, too much sugar, the cake batter is dry, with a dense, chewy texture.
  • Going out is expensive. There is a fee for almost everything. A friend tried once to book tickets for us for a Halloween party. The venue was asking extra money for insurance. Insurance? Insurance for what? For being on this Earth? It’s the venue’s responsibility to provide the insurance in case something bad happens. We felt that someone was trying to rob us so we gave up.

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  • It’s difficult to be spontaneous in London. If you want to go to any kind of performance, to go to a spa or even to enjoy a brunch in a nice restaurant, you can’t just show up like that. You can’t even book them two days in advance. It has to be planned a few weeks ahead. It’s the same when meeting friends. Everyone lives in different parts of London so any encounter needs to be carefully planned in advance.
  • Brits love air conditioning. There is air conditioning everywhere, summer, winter, it doesn’t matter. You will feel the cold breeze at the gym, in the taxi, in your favourite brunch place, at the theatre, in the public bathroom. You will not feel it when you most need it: in the tube/trains during summertime.
  • Opening a bank account is literally more demanding than being Elon Musk and sending a Tesla car on Mars. Read more about it in my next post.

[2/2] Lisbon to Dublin: the Leftovers

kids

I have dinner with V in the Cork airport: a tasteless burger with tasteless fries. ‘Thank you God for giving us ketchup and mayo, otherwise, 95% of fast-food restaurants would have gone bankrupt!’

An Irish lady sits with us. She was at the back of the airplane so she gives us more details about the sudden death of the Brazilian guy: a Portuguese girl was seated next to him. She saw that he was agitated and asked him if everything was ok. It was not ok. The Brazilian was obsessively saying that his time has come. He will die soon. ‘How do you know this?’, I ask. the Irish woman ‘I was a few rows in front, so we had a girls’ chat at some point’.

After dinner, V and I go towards the exit. A coach is supposed to take us to Dublin. We are not in a hurry, maybe a bit too relaxed. Outside we see that the two coaches are full already. We are left outside.

‘Lady, what about us?’ I am asking the blonde working for the airport, a woman in her late thirties, with red lipstick and thick eyeliner. ‘Another coach is waiting for you. But the driver can’t go before the last passenger is coming, a Portuguese woman.’ ‘Cool, where is she?’ ‘I think she lost her luggage’.

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Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

21h30

I sit with V in the coach chatting about life.

22h00

The mysterious woman is not coming. V and I keep chatting about life. I start biting my nails and looking at the watch every 5 minutes.

22h30

No trace of the mysterious woman. I become agitated. Tomorrow I have to organise a conference for 300 people. At 09h00.

The driver doesn’t know anything. I go out of the coach and head back to the airport. I see the blonde with a lot of make-up. ‘Excuse me, how long do we still need to be here’? ‘We need to wait for the last passenger,’ she says. ‘Hmmm, mmmkay, we will wait here, I hope not too long’. We sit. I am anxious. V is tired and impatient.

23h00.

The Irish lady appears from nowhere and sits in front of us. ‘My son needs to come and pick me up. I live 20 minutes from Cork. This boy is late, ai. What about you?’ ‘We were left outside. There is another coach ready for us but we need to wait for this Portuguese woman that lost her baggage’, I explain. ‘Ha, the Portuguese woman is interrogated by the police. She was found with methamphetamine in her backpack’. ‘What? How…how do you know?’ ‘My dear, I know everything’, the Irish lady tells me petting my back. ‘Oh, my dumb son has arrived!’

I almost run to the blonde woman. ‘Lady, who exactly are we waiting for? Are we kept here because of another drug smuggler?’ ‘Wait, no, what?’, she is babbling. ‘Look, it’s not our fault that she is smuggling drugs. Why do I need to pay hours of my life for this? Why does V need to pay hours of his life for this? You need to send us to Dublin!’ ‘There is nothing we can do. You need to wait. You will leave soon’. The blonde magically disappears.

I don’t understand why we need to wait for a lady who is interrogated by the police.

23h15 The blonde lady is untraceable and invisible.

23h30 No blonde lady. No Portuguese drug smuggler. I call my colleagues in Dublin and tell them the short version of the story. ‘I don’t know when I will get to Dublin’. ‘But Camelia, are you ok? Why are you still there?’ ‘Good question’.

23h40 The blonde lady appears out of thin air.

I go to her covered in clouds and thunders. ‘Lady, we are still here. I have a conference to organise tomorrow at 09h00 in Dublin. I can’t do it from Cork. You will get me fired. You see this guy here? He is working for NATO. He needs to be on a boat. The boat will leave early tomorrow; it will not wait for him. You will get him fired too! Are you going to sleep well after this? Are you? ARE you? CALL US A TAXI WOMAN!!’

00h00

Finally, V and I were sitting in a cab. Tired, feeling cold and angry. We fall asleep. I arrive around 02h00 at my hotel. My colleagues tell me that, the next day, I can come to the venue later, at 11h00. Just get a God damn rest!

[1/2] Lisbon to Dublin – the coke smuggler

Lisabon on a cloudy day

The photo was taken two days before the flight, in November 2015, in the area of Belém Tower. It was windy. Old phone, bad quality.

I am flying from Lisbon to Dublin. I am in the middle seat, in front of the plane, between two men. After approximately one hour, the captain is asking for a doctor through the station. There is a person feeling unwell in the aircraft. A doctor and a nurse get up from their seats ready to help whoever is in distress. The ‘patient’ is at the back of the plane. I am struggling to see what is happening, but I am too far and all my attempts just make me look like a hopeless giraffe.

But then I see this flight attendant, a blonde lady in her late forties, red-faced, obviously highly panicked, running on the aisle. I become again a giraffe trying to catch a glimpse of what happens but it is confusing, there are people coming towards me, other people gather around someone who has some kind of seizure.

I am a chicken when I fly, I get easily scared, I cannot breathe properly, my heart is pumping hard and sometimes I have panic attacks. Once a teenager held my hands when we had a bumpy landing in Bilbao. So two scenarios are unfolding in my head – either the person is a terrorist, or those people are performing some kind of exorcism on the ‘patient’. In both scenarios, there is a high risk we will all die.

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I am nervous, pale, I look at the guy on my left side – he is rather calm and ignores me – and then at the guy on the right side – he is empathetic (Thank God!, I might ask him to hold my hand) and starts talking to me. He tells me he is Portuguese, works for NATO, tomorrow he needs to be on a big boat and he is happy because his wife gave birth to a beautiful baby two days ago. ‘Dope, man!’

‘Do you think everything is fine back there?’ I ask him. ‘I am going to check’, says V. He goes, he pees, he comes back, but he’s not sure of what is really happening, he couldn’t see too much. ‘I think someone has a heart attack’. ‘Oh my, are you sure he’s not a terrorist?’ He looks at me pitifully and he shares one of his headphones to watch a movie. It’s a bloody thriller with Ben Affleck which doesn’t help too much. I turn my head again and wow! There is a guy with a lot of blood on his arm. ‘Jiiz, there is a guy with a lot of blood on his arm, I am telling you, something fishy is happening!” I tell V. People are even more agitated in the back, the flight attendant’s head is completely red and sweaty, and the captain is announcing us that we are going to have an emergency landing in Cork. Oh boy, Cork. The guy on the left is calm as a cucumber. I breathe in, I breathe out.

The landing is smooth, and policemen are coming in the aircraft. We are held in our seats for one hour at least. A lady starts talking with – most probably – her husband, with a very posh British accent: ’I am so pissed, Edward, we have this stupid delay because this guy has just died. OK, he has died, but why is this our fault? Why do we need to be here for an eternity’? I look at V – ‘The guy really had a heart attack. Kaput!’ We imagine a 50+ man on a business trip (flying with Vueling though?) going to his family and with his poor heart too weak to make it until Dublin. What a pity.

We get out of the plane. More police officers at the terminal. They are asking questions to every single person on the plane. ‘Do you have footage of what happened?’ ‘Footage? No, why would I have footage’?

V and I are asking people around us what that was all about. We finally find out: a Brazilian young man, around 25, had a seizure and died because he was carrying in his stomach capsules of approx. 8 gram of cocaine each. One of these capsules exploded and the boy got very ill. And paranoid, so paranoid that he bit one of the doctors who wanted to help him. That was the reason for the blood I saw on the passenger’s arm. The Brazilian died eventually and this is why we ended up in Cork with a corpse in the aircraft.

To be continued…yes, there is more to be shared…