Saturday, November 14, 2009


Singapore is only about a six-hour flight from Tokyo, so I decided to spend a three day weekend there last spring. It was still chilly in Japan, but the moment I stepped outside the airport I could tell I was in a tropical country. The towering piles of tropical fruit in the open-air market provided additional evidence of the latitude, as did an afternoon monsoon that encouraged me to slow down in my sightseeing and spend some time under the marketplace's metal warehouse roof, soaking up the exotic sights, sounds, and smells.

Speaking of smells, the reptilian fruit above is the durian, which is so putrid that it's illegal to bring one on Singapore's subways. The smell has been described as similar to decaying flesh or rotten onion. Nonetheless, it's one of the most popular flavors in Southeast Asia, used in everything from ice cream to cookies to milkshakes. The smell isn't really that bad when the fruit is fresh, and the flavor has an intriguing depth to it, in the same way as avocado does (though the flavor itself is not similar to avocado). One of the first things I ate when I arrived in Singapore was a durian-flavored ice cream sandwich. I first had the fruit in Thailand several years ago, when I bought it fresh from a street vendor. It came in a large, shrink-wrapped styrofoam tray, meaning that I had more than I could eat in one afternoon. Foolishly, I left the remainder in my backpack. That night, I was awakened from my sleep by the horrible smell that had permeated my hotel room. Lesson learned.
In a hot, humid, tropical country like Singapore, the market is bound to get pretty smelly, even without durian around. Even though these fish are probably on ice, the top layer at least must be at least at room temperature. It sure smelled like it. Fish head curry is Singapore's national dish. It consists of a normal yellowish curry soup with the front half of a fish, eyeballs, fins, gills, and all, as the centerpiece of the dish. These fish are probably destined for a spicy end. Which may be the best way to hide any putrification ...
I have no idea why there's only one black chicken among all the white ones here. Token de-segregation? I read that American consumers don't go for black-skinned chickens, but they're highly valued by the Chinese. Maybe the Chinese had already been to the market that morning and bought up all the black chickens.
Something else you don't see much of in America - or in Japan, for that matter. Chicken feet, anyone?

No comments:

Post a Comment