continuation of Our First Day In Singapore (Part 1) - August 20
Singapore has a diverse population made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Caucasians and Asians (of various descent). It isn’t a wonder to find shopping and ethnic districts like Arab Street, Little India, Chinatown, Orchard Road and Marina Bay. We were able to do a walking tour of two of them before the day ends.
Our food trip in Bugis Street was preceded with a walkabout around the vicinity of Arab Street just a few blocks away. Arab Street interestingly illustrates the Arabian culture. You can easily find conservatively dressed Muslims, beautiful old shop houses lined up on the streets and marvel at the largest mosque in the country – the Sultan Mosque – easily identified by its golden domes.
Right across the Sultan Mosque is the famous Zam-Zam, one of Singapore’s best know restaurant for all sorts of Muslim-Malay food, which serves their legendary Murtabak (a type of stuffed pancake eaten with curry). Too bad we’re still full from our last meal.
Along Kandahar Street was a long line of street food vendors selling items quite unfamiliar to my eyes. I spotted a table that sells mini Otah-Otah. I asked what it is to which the vendor replied, “Fish cake made of mackarel”. I have never tasted fish cake so to my curiosity I bought some and shared it with the others. It’s spicy and is an acquired taste. I can do for one more hadn’t we moved along.
Later on I found out that Otah-Otah is also sometimes called Otak-Otak. Otak means brains in Indonesia and Malay. (Very close to the Filipino word “Utak” with the same meaning) and the name of the dish is derived from the idea that the dish some what resembles brains, being grey, soft and almost squishy. Otah-otah is made by mixing fish paste (usually mackerel) with a mixture of spices. The mixture is then wrapped in a banana leaf that has been softened by steaming, then grilled or steamed.
At Bian’s Cafe
We chanced upon a cozy looking coffee shop along the same street and decided it’s about time for some caffeine in our system. We took our seats and was greeted by the very nice Chinese owner named Bian Huibin. While we wait for our order he offered us a book to browse: “The Sidewalk Beauty – The Stray Cats Of Singapore” – a photographic journal that pays tribute to Singapore’s street cats. Over 200 pages of beautiful cat photos with humoring captions. We notice most of the cats’ left ear in the photos are snipped. His website mentioned that in an attempt to curb the proliferation of stray cats, most of the strays have been sterilized. The snipped left tip on their ear is the mark of their surgery.
It took awhile before we found out he’s the author/photographer of the pictures in the book. Very entertaining for cat lovers like us. (I have one at home name Doro, Law has one named Bassline, both Ian Zafra and Antonette has one too and Bachie has a dozen!) Quite interesting is the author’s biography:
Bian Huibin graduated from the Faculty of Music at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in 1985, having majored in Percussion and minored in French Horn. In 1991, he graduated from the Beijing Film Academy Photography faculty, having majored in Feature Film Photography. He has been in Singapore since 1995 upon invitation to work in television production here. Since then, he has produced numerous advertisements and documentaries. He is currently the Artistic Director of Hetian Film Productions.
It’s very humbling that a man of his stature is serving coffee and drinks to his customers. I admired him for that. For more photos and info about his book visit straycatsofsingapore.com and singopera.com.sg. I went inside his shop and found a lot pictures on the wall of chinese opera singers in costume. He told me his wife is a Chinese Opera singer and instructor. Chinese Opera is an old form of drama and musical theater in China with roots going back to the third century. Upstairs is Singapore Chinese Opera Museum (SCOM) in which Bian is also the museum director.
Bian and I had a difficult time conversing since he is not well-versed with the English language. But graciously tried to explain the things he do, showed me around a bit and opened his website for me to browse. He also showed me a sample clip of an actual chinese opera he produced. He asked about my music and I showed him our site and in no time at all the whole coffee shop was blasting “Canto De Maria Clara“, one of our songs from the debut album. And when it was time to say goodbye we took pics and exchanged cards for future correspondence.
Children’s Little Museum
There’s wonderful pedestrian area on Bussorah Street located right behind the Sultan Mosque. There are shops and cafes there. Many of the restaurants have sheeshas or water pipes, which you can smoke. We also checked out a vintage shop called Children’s Little Museum. It has items from 1950s to 1970s. A very nostalgic and enjoyable find!
Continued at Our First Day in Singapore (Part 3)…