I haven’t been so thrilled with this current season of Top Chef, as there was really no one that I wanted to root for. Tiffany made a good run towards the end but she fell a bit short, and the remaining cheftestants just don’t excite me very much. Kenny and Angelo were the clear frontrunners, and while it was easy to dislike Angelo’s cockiness, Kenny didn’t do much to ingratiate himself to me either. Even though I think Kenny did go home too early, his arrogance before he was eliminated annoyed me as well.
The bright spot of the season, for me, was finding out that the finale would be held in Singapore. It was exciting because this was the first time Top Chef was going somewhere out of the country, but also because Singapore holds a special place in my heart. In October 2007, Josh’s job sent him to Singapore for five weeks, and I took a leave of absence from my own job to go with him. It was an experience of a lifetime, being able to live in a unique city halfway around the world, and I wasn’t about to miss out.
We had a lovely corporate apartment that was bigger than our apartment in NYC, with a fully equipped kitchen, but we never even used it. You see, the food in Singapore is some of the best in the world, and it was cheaper to eat out every day for every meal than it was for me to buy groceries in the supermarket. So while Josh toiled away at the office for 12 hours a day, I was living the life of a lady at leisure. I slept in until noon every day and only got up to meet Josh and his coworkers for lunch. After lunch, when they headed back to the office, I explored the city. I would take a different route home each day, wandering through Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street. I familiarized myself with Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, and hiked the hills of Fort Canning Park. On some days, when I was feeling more active, I’d take the bus or the train to the western part of the country, to see the Singapore Zoo or the Chinese/Japanese gardens.
After my afternoon jaunts, I’d head back to our apartment and take a dip in the pool to cool down (it was over 100 degrees every day). Then I’d watch TV or nap until Josh called me for dinner, and I’d go back out to meet up with him and his coworkers. They were eager to show us everything Singapore had to offer, and loved the fact that we were adventurous eaters. They took us to different hawker centers and would tell us to sit down while everyone else ran around to pick up various items from all the different stalls.
Basically hawker centers are similar to food courts we have at malls in the U.S. There are central tables, where people would reserve seats by placing packets of tissues on the table (imagine trying to do that here!), and then each stall sells just a few items. Usually a stall specialized in a certain dish, so you would pick up one dish from one stall, and then order another specialty dish from a different stall. Beverages were sold at a completely separate stall, etc. etc., and everything was outrageously cheap. For someone who likes variety, this was the best way to eat.
One of our favorite places was Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, a giant food court near Josh’s office.We had lunch there several times, and at night the outer rim of the market turned into a giant barbecue. There were stalls after stalls of people selling satays, the most tender and juicy satays we’ve ever had. The smells emanating from the market were absolutely intoxicating, and the atmosphere was lively and festive.
So going back to part one of the Top Chef finale, Josh and I were beside ourselves when we saw that the Quickfire Challenge was held at Lau Pa Sat. It was fun to see the cheftestants sweating it out (literally) as they tried to recreate some of the street food they ate earlier in the episode. Ed’s noodle dish did look pretty tasty, though I have to give props to Angelo for trying to make chili frog legs, a take on the popular chili crab dish. Contrary to the name, chili crab isn’t very spicy, and is more tomato-y in flavor. If you’re looking for some heat and burn, try black pepper crab instead.
The Elimination Challenge was held at the Tanjong Beach Club, which is actually on the island of Sentosa, just south of the mainland. The only time that Josh didn’t work was on weekends, so we took that time to explore places away from the mainland. One weekend we took a five hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and during another weekend we took a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Our first weekend in Singapore, however, we took the cable car out to Sentosa to visit the southernmost point of continental Asia.
Sentosa is a resort island, with a beautiful stretch of beach that is actually man-made. There’s lots to do on the island besides sitting on the beach or people watching from the various clubs that line the water. There’s a rainforest jungle you can hike through, animal parks with animal shows to watch, adventure parks, rides, a fort, and the famous Songs of the Sea water show, among other things. We spent a full day there walking around both in the jungle and on the beach, and had some of the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted at an outdoor restaurant called Coastes.
It’s too bad that Top Chef didn’t show any scenery from Sentosa because it’s a really beautiful island. The Elimination Challenge I thought was a bit contrived, but I’m glad that everyone turned out really good food. It was hard to predict who was going to be eliminated, and I was sad to see Kelly, the last woman in the competition, end up packing her knives. I’m looking forward to the final episode, not to see who wins Top Chef, but to see what clips they’ll show of Singapore. Josh and I spent most of the episode yelping whenever we recognized a location in one of the shots.
In conclusion, I know this post really has nothing to do with Top Chef, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic about our time in Singapore. It’s a place with an amazing blend of cultures, and that is reflected in the food. We had fantastic Chinese and Malaysian food while we were there, and the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. The people are so friendly and hospitable, and yes, the city is incredibly clean. Josh thinks he might have to go again for work in December, and I’m already seething with jealousy because I don’t have enough vacation time to tag along this time. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Singapore, don’t pass it up! It’s an amazing country, full of amazing people and amazing food. I sincerely hope that having Top Chef exposure will encourage more people to visit this wonderful place.