There is much to do in Singapore: shopping, sightseeing and, of course, checking out the wide variety of restaurants that offer a range of epicurean delights.

The chef named each ingredient he added to the salad. Last of all, he poured an unusual plum sauce. Then he began to toss it and while doing so, said, “I wish you all a very happy new year. I wish you prosperity, joy and long life.”

The salad was then placed on our table. We stood up, chopsticks in hand and took turns to toss the salad as we too wished the others prosperity and joy. This is the famed ‘lucky' salad, Yu Sheng, served during Chinese New Year in Singapore.

Recently Singapore Airlines and Singapore Tourism Board hosted five journalists from India to promote the new package that the airlines has on offer. Having tied up with some of the best hotels in Singapore, you can now book your holiday package and have a stress-free vacationy. There are packages for Bali, Hong Kong, Thailand and, of course, Singapore.

Gourmet's delight

Singaporeans love their food, so Singapore is quite the gourmet's delight. You have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from to savour not only their cuisine but also those from other lands too. At the Hyatt's Straits Kitchen you get to taste the local fare in a comfortable setting. You have a lunch buffet that ranges from Singapore laksato rotiand chicken curry. There are desserts too, mostly Malay, and hence coconut milk and palm sugar play an important part.

A visit to the quintessential hawker centre, so much a part of Singaporean life, will not leave you disappointed. With various stalls under one roof, the food on offer is delicious, fast and affordable. Some of the more famous hawker centres are the Old Market and Newton Circus. Meal times are inevitably very busy and finding a table may prove almost impossible. If you see packets of tissues on empty tables don't try to sit there. That's the Singaporean way of reserving a table!

Take a walk around the stalls and see what is on offer before you decide. Old Market offers some truly delicious satay and dip. While the favourite at Newton Circus seemed to be the oyster omelette! Of course there are firm favourites like chicken noodles and chicken rice dished out in ample helpings.

At the Mandarin Orchard, their signature dish, the Mandarin Chicken Rice, is not to be missed. The chicken is specially farmed in Malaysia and only certain portions are used.

Ensuring the chicken is cooked just right is a work of art as it involves several steps from blanching to cooling and making sure that the meat is tender and juicy. Cooked in herbs and light spices, the dish is served with rice, sliced chicken and three different sauces – ginger, chilli and soya.

In the old town

You can enjoy a quiet dinner at The Universal, on Duxton Hill. Situated on a cobbled lane, the row of houses/offices are actually renovated Chinese shop-houses. This is Singapore's old Chinatown. Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles planned the town's layout and decided where the various ethnic groups should live. He suggested that all the shop-houses be built in brick and tiled; each house with a five-foot wide verandah or a covered passage. The verandah would provide access to fresh air for the people in the houses. It was also a place where hawkers could sell their wares. Today, the shop-houses have been aesthetically renovated and revamped, yet retaining the façade of the early years when they were built.

The narrow lane leads up to the restaurant. Muted strains of 1970s music greet you. The appetizers range from Smoked Salmon with Fennel Salad, Mustard Dressing to Tiger Prawn Cocktail with Crusty Bread, Garden Salad. There are soups, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, before you move on to the main course of either seafood or meat.

After sampling so much good food, it is time to don the chef's cap and apron. We get an opportunity at “At-Sunrice the Global Chef Academy”.

The academy is at Fort Canning Park and, historically, this is where Raffles started the first spice garden in 1822. The aim of the academy was to specialise in Asian cuisine. However, over time they have expanded to include western cuisine as well.

Chef Macdonald is all set to help us try our hand at some Malay food. He begins with a demonstration of the Spicy Fish Grilled in Banana Leaves (Otak Otak) and the dessert Sago Pearls Pudding (Kueh Sago Dan Gula Melaka). Then it's time to roll up our sleeves and make Stingray with Chilli Paste (Sambal Stingray), Turmeric Rice (Nasi Kunyit) and Water Convolvulus with Chilli Paste (Sambal Kangkong). It's loads of fun, until Chef Macdonald turns the tables on us and tells us that that is our lunch!

A must-see

The Raffles Hotel in Singapore is an institution by itself. Built in 1887, and named after Sir Stamford Raffles, it is a lovely colonial-style hotel.

The Long Bar is probably the only place in this country where one can litter and not be fined. A dimy lit and homely place, each table is placed with a bowl of peanuts. You can shell the nut and throw the shells on the table or on the ground. The studied display of litter adds character to this unique bar.

It was here that the Singapore Sling was first served. This cocktail was invented by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon sometime between 1910 and 1915. The original recipe used gin, cherry herring, Benedictine and fresh pineapple juice. Of course, over the years the Singapore Sling has been modified many times and is today blended, not shaken to create a nice foamy top.

Tea tales

No visit to Singapore is complete without sipping tea at the TWG Tea Salon and Boutique. The Wellness Group (TWG) offers over 500 blends of tea from all over the world. There are limited edition teas and seasonal blends.

Each tea has a story to tell; from the historic tea blended exclusively for the Chinese emperor to the Singapore Breakfast, which is a fine blend of green and black tea, vanilla and rare spices.

What is fascinating in this exquisite boutique is that the patisseries and cookies they serve are also tea-based.

The Yellow Gold Tea Buds tea is the most expensive at this boutique and the leaves are actually painted with real gold! Apparently, this tea is harvested on just one mountain, one day in a year. And it is not the two leaves and a bud that are plucked but just the bud. The process is long and painstaking. It is said that the Emperor of China drank only this tea.

Otak Otak

Ingredients

250 g Spanish mackerel fillet, skinned

1 egg, beaten slightly

5 tbsp spice paste

3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thin

2 tbsp white sugar

1/2 tsp table salt

Sharp toothpicks

10 (15x15 cm) banana leaves, blanched in hot water to soften.

Spice paste:

3 candlenuts

10 red dried chilli, soaked in water

15 g galangal, sliced thin

1 lemongrass stalk

5 g turmeric root, sliced thin

8 shallots, sliced thin

5 g shrimp paste

1 tbsp coriander powder

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 cup coconut cream

Method: Prepare spice paste. If using mortar and pestle, pound all ingredients except coriander powder, oil and coconut cream to a fine paste. Add coriander powder. If using blender, combine all ingredients and blend to a fine paste. Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add spice paste and stir-fry until dry, shiny and fragrant (about 15 minutes). Add coconut cream and cook for another three minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside to cool. Scrape the fish with a spoon and remove the fish meat. Set aside. Stir the lightly beaten egg into the spice paste. Add fish meat, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and salt. Mix well. Divide the fish mixture into 20g per portion size. Place each portion in the centre of the banana leaf and shape it into a rectangle. Fold the leaf to hold the mixture and pin both ends with toothpicks. Barbeque for three to four minutes on each side till the banana leaves crinkle or turn brown or bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (356°F) for 10 minutes.

Note: Other leaves such as palm leaves, turmeric leaves, coconut leaves or corn leaves can be used for wrapping.

Check out their website http://www.siaholidays.com.au/hotel-and-resort-packages/region-SIN01-singapore-holidays/ for more details.

Keywords: foodgourmetcuisine

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