01.11.2012 - 23.11.2012
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I've been meaning to blog a bit about the food out here, but have been very remiss, mainly because I've been eating, so this is a bit of a summary of the food in the Philippines and Singapore.
For me, food is a big part of travelling, when I've so little else to worry about what I'm going to have for my next meal takes on huge importance and a long and frustrating day travelling can be totally redeemed by a great dinner! However, you are always relying on someone else to deliver those tasty morsels, none of the places we've stayed so far have had any cooking facilities for guests. If you like to cook that can be a bit frustrating, especially with so much delicious and cheap produce on offer. It makes finding a good restaurant/cafe/food stall not just a luxury (because you can't be bothered to cook) but a necessity!
We won't be rushing back to the Philippines for the food - for the crystal clear waters and the palm-fringed beaches perhaps, but not for the culinary delights.
Filippino's like their food sweet or vinegary (or sometimes an odd combination of both). There is very little chilli used so rices or stews that you might expect to be spicy are often quite bland or overpowered by huge chunks of ginger or garlic. But mainly the sugar put me off, there were several BBQ meat dishes I couldn't eat because the sauce was so syrupy sweet.
For a nation of 7,000 islands seafood is, unsurprisingly, often on the menu. We did have some great fresh fish, especially on the Tao Expeditions boat trip. Elsewhere though, the fish was often overcooked, I'm still lamenting my charred tuna steak with tinned mushroom soup on top. Adobo, the national dish, is a stew usually with pork or chicken in a vinegary sauce. If done well it's actually nicer than it sounds but the bog standard version is pretty non-descript.
The vegetables were great though, probably because they are so fresh and ripened in a wonderful warm climate. You do have to order your veg separately as they're seen as a bit of an add on, but it's worth it. Green Papaya cooked in fresh coconut milk and aubergines slow cooked with tomatoes and served as a warm salad with rice were a highlight, as were the awesome salads with edible flowers at the Bohol Bee Farm.
Finally, I can't mention the Philippines food without mentioning halo-halo. Filipinos love their desserts and this is the culinary pinnacle. It's a bizarre concoction of fruits, evaporated milk, crushed ice (in large chunks), strange ice cream flavours (like yam) and all topped with coconut and cheese (though the cheese might just be on a particularly strange version Jo had)!
After the Philippines we were looking forward to some variety and some spice and Singapore definitely delivered. Food is a huge part of the culture here and there are hawker markets (a collection of food stalls around a shared eating area) everywhere. In shopping malls (there are a lot of malls) these have evolved into food courts that at lunchtime are absolutely heaving with workers, shoppers and the odd tourist. These aren't like shopping mall food courts in the UK, the food is cheap and top notch. I don't think the Singaporeans would settle for anything less.
Food in Singapore is a mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Southern Indian and Indonesian influences. Over time these cuisines have blended together somewhat, so you find dishes like noodles with a curry sauce. We ate great Hainanese chicken (steamed and roasted fragrant chicken served with rice cooked in stock, clear broth, chilli and dark sticky soy), Char Kway Teow (unctuous flat rice noodles with veg and Chinese sausage) and Murtabak (Indian flat bread stuffed with spicy mince meat, garlic, egg and onion). However the culinary highlight was undoubtedly Kokila's Sri Lankan prawn curry cooked in a light, but spicy, coconut sauce and served with hoppers (pancakes of rice noodles that soak up all the delicious curry sauce). I'm definitely adding Sri Lanka to my list of must visit destinations.
Now it all makes sense why Prabha (who grew up in Singapore) set up Eat Street at King's Cross. Bring on the UK street food revolution!