CHASING A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN IN SINGAPORE

Fiber: edible wood-pulp said to aid digestion and prolong life, so that we might live for another six or eight years in which to consume more wood-pulp –  Writer and humorist Robert Benchley 

“It ain’t the heat,” baseball player Yogi “Malaprop” Berra used to fret, “it’s the humility I can’t stand.”

Raisa knows the feeling. 

She came to Singapore two weeks ago and, for someone born and brought up in equatorial Malaysia, began seriously perspiring the minute she stepped out of the airport. Being an island, the city-state is far more humid than Kuala Lumpur and almost three years of life in Europe had caught my daughter off-guard. 

But she became accustomed to the weather in short order and wanted to eat the stuff of her childhood, generally unattainable in Amsterdam but easily available in Singapore, give or take some differences. 

We sampled durian and mangosteens along the roadside in Geylang, tried chili and pepper crab in a restaurant on the East Coast, munched roti-chanai (called, rather grandly, paratha here) and chicken rice near Orchard, and tasted what the island tries to pass off as Hokkien mee in Tanglin.  

Meanwhile, I found out there is no such thing as Singapore fried meehoon in Singapore.  Go figure.

But Raisa had heard that the city boasted a certain famous restaurant and wanted to eat at Spago because she never had. Neither Rebecca nor I knew of its existence in Singapore. Apparently, we didn’t move in those circles! We Googled the place and finally secured a reservation ten days later. 

It was certainly grand enough, located as it was on the 57th floor of one of the towers of the Marina Bay Sands. Raisa asked Das, a knowledgeable waiter from Johor Baru, what was good, and he replied: “Everything.”

But Das let it slip that English chef Gordon Ramsey had come in some months ago and, having ordered the laksa with bream, had subsequently raved about it to anyone who would listen. 

Of course, Raisa had to have the laksa. Becky had duck breast, which smelt heavenly, and I ordered the wasabi-infused black cod.

My fish was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous and good enough to convert the vegetarian. Becca reported that the duck was similarly divine. 

Spago, it appeared, was the creation of one Wolfgang Puck, an Austrian American who was, after Julia Child, the first, genuine celebrity-chef. Like Child, he was a television personality but, unlike her, was also an entrepreneur with a brand of frozen pizza and, at one point, 63 restaurants spanning the US and extending from Shanghai and Tokyo to Singapore and Sydney.  

Before Wolfgang, American cuisine was humdrum, non-existent and boasted Chinese takeaway at its zenith.

Haute cuisine’s philosophy at the time might be distilled into a solitary sentence: if it looked like a duck, sounded like a duck and smelt like a duck, it probably needed a little more time in the microwave.

Wolfgang changed all that. He made cooking a sought after, even glamorous, profession and brought respectability and better pay to a job long regarded as a necessary, if thankless, one. It brought with it a certain grandeur to the experience of dining out.  

And we probably have him, now 70-plus, to thank for the ever-present cooking show – Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, for example – we now catch on television. 

Raisa flies back tonight. But she goes home happy.  

ENDS

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