Archive for June, 2009

Singapore – in search of the humble Poh pia

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Each time I return to Singapore a little of what I associate with the place has disappeared. I suppose this is inevitable, it happens to all places. But in the case of Singapore the process is faster and the effect startling. I have lived in Singapore for two short spells: in 1987-1988 and in 1999-2001. The changes seem to escalate over time. Now, I come back once a year or so, on a brief stopover travelling between my two home-countries.
Buildings and whole blocks vanish at a frightening speed, and both buildings where we once lived have ended their short lives and been replaced by new ones, three or four times as high.
But it is the food that I miss the most. Today, you can have almost any international culinary experience imaginable: French, Italian, Mexican. There are hamburger places, steakhouses and olde English pubs. But where is the essence of Singaporean food? I don’t mean sanitized hotel versions of it, but the real thing. The little street vendors selling satays in the streets. The roti parata joints. The sweaty market stalls with carrot cake and Poh pia? A hunt for the latter, the wonderfully spicy, tender Singaporean version of a burrito. An unfried soft spring roll asembled while you wait, filled with yams, eggs, pork belly and chilli.
I found construction sites, overbuilt markets and closed food courts. But no poh pia. On my last day I was ready to give up and went for a last foot massage (Fuji, best in town, though Sam is no longer there). I asked the girl who was working away on my feet if there was anywhere in town still selling poh pia. She said very few. But told me that there is now a food court at Wisma Artrium in Orchard Road, on the fourth floor. And in the farthermost corner there is a stand selling all the old foods.
So, I took myself there. And eventually I found the little stand, hidden in the far courner, as she had said. And there it was, my poh pia. And carrot cake (not the Western kind, this is savoury dish). And satays and chicken wings grilled over an old fashion coal fire.
It should be protected!