Food, drink, Old-world charm: Much to love about Singapore [with gallery]

Published 12:57 am Saturday, February 25, 2017

I just read in Condé Nast Traveler that Singapore is the No. 1 country in the world for expats to live. There is stability—-and the food. This is a Muslim majority region but Buddhist, Hindu and Christians all share space without problems it seems.

We recently went to Singapore, the trip we missed last year when my husband was injured and on crutches. A long flight, but the schedule was good. We spent two nights at the Raffles, one of the grand dames of the Orient. One author noted, “Once upon a time, well before World War II, there was such a thing as a ‘Grand Tour’ of Asia, a chain of exotic encounters and experiences linked together by some of the finest hostelries the world has ever seen.”

On this list are a few that I have visited before: the Taj in Bombay, the Oriental in Bangkok, the Peninsula in Hong Kong. These are places that are a destination in themselves, not just a place to spend the night. The Armenian Sarkies brothers created three of these great hotels, the Strand (1901) in Rangoon, the Eastern and Oriental (1889) in Penang and the Raffles (1887) in Singapore.

We have stayed at the Raffles before and remember the drive from the airport being as pleasant as driving through a public park. This time we decided to take the subway, a cheap, easy travel experience that let us off just in front of the hotel but no garden views along the way.

After checking into our suite—high ceilings, fans, shutters, all refurbished old style, no new wing—-we went to have a drink at the Long Bar. We elected Tiger beers instead of the famous ‘Singapore Sling’ created there in 1915 by bartender, Ngium Tong Boom. We nibbled on peanuts and threw the shells on the floor—the only place in Singapore where one can legally litter. The original recipe given in the Long Bar menu was pink for the ladies and was big on pineapple juice (too sweet for me):


30 ml gin

15 ml Heering Cherry Liqueur

7.5 ml Don Benedictine

7.5 ml Cointreau

120 ml pineapple juice

15 ml lime juice

10 ml Grenadine syrup

Dash Angostura bitters

Garnish with pineapple and cherry


But this recipe from our room’s ‘Raffles Magazine’ has a new twist which they call the Raffles 1915 Gin Sling—-not so much sweet juice.

50 ml Sipsmith Raffles 1915 Gin (We thought about buying their gin but thought it too expensive.)

15 ml Heering Cherry Liqueur

15 ml Fresh Lime Juice

15 ml Dom Benedictine

Angostura Bitters

Soda Water

Combine all the ingredients (except soda water) in a mixing glass filled with ice, shake well. Strain into a long cocktail glass together with some ice. Top the mix with soda water and garnish with lime peel. I think I might like this one better.


Next we walked their famous polished teak verandas to the shops. I still needed a wedding dress for my daughter’s wedding now only a month away. I had found something I liked in New Orleans while waiting for my flight but this chic Chinese shop at the Raffles had a lot to choose from. I opted for a red silk suit with the skirt being ankle length. (My Vietnamese hairdresser told me Chinese mothers wear red for happiness, and my daughter does speak fluent Mandarin.) The jacket belt ties into a rose which my husband videoed the shop owner doing so he can repeat it for the wedding. I had my dress; now I could go home! Not yet.

My favorite place to eat at the Raffles is the Tiffin Room—a buffet of Indian dishes. Tiffin is a light midday meal, but not light at this place. Enjoying a curry on Sunday was an essential aspect of colonial life in early 20th century Malaya. Raffles has been serving tiffin since 1899. Chinese are a large segment of the population and the Indians are not far behind. We also had breakfast in the Tiffin Room—a huge buffet with everything, but my husband favors the Asian flavored dishes. He usually had rice with a fried egg accompanied by peanuts, fried anchovies, sliced cucumbers, and maybe other sides, and of course Sambal Oelek.


Sambal Oelek is a Malaysian stable chili sauce. It can be bought in stores in the US and you can substitute Siracha or make your own.

1 lb. red chile

5 ½ ounces garlic, peeled and chopped

5 ½ ounces tender young ginger, peeled and chopped

2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced (white part only) (I do have this in my herb garden. It is hardy here.)

6 fluid ounces vinegar

8 ounces sugar

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon lime zest, chopped

Blend the chillies, garlic, ginger and lemon grass in a food processor, gradually add the vinegar. Place in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Add sugar and stir, add the salt and lime zest. Remove from heat, cool and bottle.



We again visited the Singapore Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was an easy journey by subway. It was hot but not as hot as I remembered from the past. The gardens were established in 1860 and are free. In 1928 the National Orchid Garden was started and is now the largest showcase of tropical orchids on earth—home to over 1000 species and 2000 hybrids! It cost a Singapore $ ($.70 US).

Our journey continued from Singapore to Malaysia. We had thought about the Eastern and Oriental Express but elected to try the train by ourselves as far as Penang. My husband found online booking to be difficult getting from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur—too many train changes, getting off twice for passport control, odd times, etc. But there was Mr. Roslee to help. In an interview in the Raffles magazine Sir Alan Cockshaw (a British engineer) said that he returned to Singapore over and over and noted that “Roslee, the senior concierge, at Raffles is particularly wonderful.” We were lucky enough to run into him on arrival and he asked about our plans and suggested a bus to KL. He arranged tickets and gave helpful information about navigating the trip. A definite first class experience with drinks and meals served on board.