The Glory of Singapore Malls

The great American shopping mall is my personal hell. I went - out of necessity, not having time to order from Amazon - just before leaving for Singapore, arriving at exactly 10 am, aiming to avoid all human contact. Regrettably, it was full of fannypacked mall walkers, leaving me dodging the elderly left and right. I will never return. The typical Singaporean mall, on the other hand, is where I spent most of my time when I wasn't sleeping or working. Why? Well, when you're in a tiny country and not the urban sprawl, you don't have the luxury of space. You're limited horizontally, but not vertically. Your typical mall dives three or four stories below ground, with the bottom levels linked to the next closest mall or metro station. With everything connected, you rarely have to go out into the blazing heat to get from place to place.

The middle floors will be your typical stores, then the top will be either residential, a hotel, or office space. My apartment there was literally connected to the mall. From our pool deck, I looked into the restaurants and coffee shops. Think about all those lucky Starbucks customers who got to watch me sunbathe.

Speaking of restaurants and coffee shops: the malls are where you go to eat. There are, of course, tons of street-side restaurants throughout the country, but as new malls pop up monthly, the restaurants move inside. The biggest differentiation between U.S. mall restaurants and Singapore's is that their target clientele aren't mouthbreathers who think Cheesecake Factory is the greatest restaurant ever.

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Seeing as I was living both above and next to a number of malls, it was only fitting I'd start my day there. Perhaps with Ya Kun's [symple_highlight color="blue"]kaya toast with peanuts[/symple_highlight] and a [symple_highlight color="blue"]kopi peng[/symple_highlight], the breakfast of fat champions. Kaya is this wonderful egg, coconut, and sugar spread that's sure to give you diabetes, and Kopi is the buttery Singaporean coffee, typically mixed with condensed milk, sure to give you diabetes.

Other healthy options include a wide range of donuts from J. Co, including Patricia's favorite, the [symple_highlight color="blue"]Avocado di Caprio[/symple_highlight]. Avocado glaze, avocado cream filling, chocolate flakes around the rim. Solid donut choice, right there.

Not a huge donut fan myself, I preferred to stop by Breadtalk and peruse. You get a tray and tongs, then you can just go crazy and grab all the breads you want!

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Moving on from coffee shops and bakeries, you'll find a lot of small stalls that focus on one or two things. I'm a total slut for Japanese [symple_highlight color="blue"]takoyaki[/symple_highlight], so I'll usually hit up Gindaco once or twice. Takoyaki are molten balls of what is basically pancake dough, filled with octopus, green onion, crispy stuff, and who cares, just eat it. It's topped with a BBQ sauce, Japanese mayo, and bonito flakes. The temptation to eat it right away is strong, but if you do, you will burn your goddamn tongue off. TRUST ME.

Can't get enough balls? You could get the Hong Kong Egglet waffle from Far East Plaza for dessert.

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Mall restaurants vary in size, with some seating 30 or so people, like Nam Nam Noodle Bar. Contrary to what the name would tell you, skip the noodles and get the bahn mi. You choose the meat (braised beef, caramelized pork belly, tofu, grilled chicken, chicken meatballs, lemongrass pork), then it's piled into a toasty baguette filled with chicken pate, cilantro, chilies, mayo, pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumber. If they would replace their bread with a better version, this would probably be the best bahn mi I've had.

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Sick of East Asian food? No problem. Try Pita Pan, a Middle Eastern build-your-own pita shop. The setup is like Subway, except the food has mountains of flavor and they don't hire overweight pedophiles as their spokespeople (I don't think...). Speaking of Subway, all your favorite American chains are there: Kenny Roger's Roasters, KFC, McDonalds, etc. McDonalds Singapore has something called the McSpicy that packs enough heat to burn like the sun going in and out. A fitting punishment for eating McDonalds while in Singapore.

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Something no one is making in St. Louis (and not even in the US, really) is Japanese curry. Most people think that the Japanese sit around eating dainty bites of sushi while drinking green tea. Wrong. They're at CoCo Ichibanya eating plates of curry the size of a small child. Just look at that pork katsu cutlet! And how about those shrimp? I'm getting hungry.

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Maybe curry rice isn't your thing. Maybe [symple_highlight color="blue"]curry udon[/symple_highlight] from Tsuru-Koshi fits your needs better.

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One of my all-time favorite spots to grab a meal in Singapore is at 4Fingers Fried Chicken. Korean style fried chicken brushed with either soy-garlic sauce or a fiery hot sauce with your choice of seaweed or kimchi fries. This chicken has megacrunch and great flavor. The gargantuan sandwich you see at the bottom has become my new go-to.

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Finally, we have the food courts. Cheap eats cooked to order. I ate at the 313@Somerset FoodRepublic 3 or so times a week for nearly 2 years and didn't even get to try most of the stuff there.

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A couple recommendations:

  1. Popiah: it's a Singaporean vegetarian spring roll filled with all sorts of stuff. Crunchy stuff, soft stuff. Get it with chili.

  2. Ayam Panggang, aka Indonesian Grilled Chicken: Holy sweet mother of God, this is it. This is my favorite of all the food court foods. You get grilled chicken topped with a sweet, thick black sauce, a mountain of rice, and an omelette. Then...the curry. I don't know what it is about this curry, but I'm 100% addicted to it. The woman at Indonesian Riverside BBQ in 313@Somerset knew me as "curry guy" 'cause I always wanted extra.

  3. Roti Prata: Thin Indian bread that you can get plain or filled, served with a side of curry. Simple, fatty, wonderful.

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If you ever make your way over, don't skip out on the malls: there are plenty of gems in there for you to eat.