In Search of the Ultimate Dumplings in Singapore

Let’s rewind to November. I decided to go east after a beautiful weekend in London.

 

LONDON

An amazing autumn day in London. Trees show off different colors and people are peacefully strolling along the Thames. Youngster are sitting in parks enjoying the last rays of sunshine during a picnic. I found myself cruising with a Barclays Cycle while discussing London’s start-up scene with a one of the City’s best bankers. Somewhere between Buckingham Palace and the Big Ben we realized that we were on the same line. The next step in 2013 is no longer a job. And for the time we’d spend working for someone else, we should turn true glomads or global nomads.

The next day was rainy and it wasn’t even possible to spot The Shard. Clearly, it was time to move on and explore a new region: Southeast Asia. Preferably with better weather.

 

SINGAPORE

Always great to fly Singapore Airlines as they invest in the latest fleet and friendly cabin crew. It was no different this time.

The hypermodern feel of Singapore is omnipresent and kicks in from the moment you land on Changi Airport. Glass, steel, and vegetation result in both an efficient and livable city. There is virtually no crime rate and the government consistently generates a healthy budget surplus.

Singapore with only 710 kmof land, but over 5 million in population has chosen to expand vertically. Outdated buildings are demolished and give way to high-rise residential towers up to 280 m high. Or shopping malls. The national sport is shopping in large, air-conditioned shopping malls and you will find many Singaporeans spending their weekend in these malls.

 

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Condos are big business all over Asia, but a particularly spectacular one is Reflections at Keppel Bay, a composition of glass and steel packed with designer furniture. A collection of super yachts are moored at the nearby marina.

 

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Fifty shades of white dominate the cityscape, occasionally with baby pink, pale blue, washed out green and peach.

 

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Building as far as the eye can reach.

 

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Thou shall shop. Especially electronics are hot in Singapore and you can literally get in malls as Sim Lim Square or Funan Digatalife Mall.

 

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the ultimate 5-star hotel that is transformed at night in a surreal spectacle of spaceships that remind of Star Wars.

 

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Climb Mount Faber for a panoramic view of Singapore. You can also opt for the cable car, but the Marang Trail will show you the way up. Other great excursions in the Southern Ridges include the Faber Trail, the impressive Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge, and Telok Blangah Hill Park. The ‘managed jungle’ around Mount Faber is artificial and you can spot little speakers hidden in fake rocks playing Italian opera music. A managed jungle with music!
Next I saw the Labrador Nature Reserve with views on Sentosa Island, the massive Shell oil refineries on Bukum Island (Pulua Bukom), and a horizon occupied by ships. Indeed, the Port of Singapore is the world’s busiest harbour. According to Wikipedia, it transships a fifth of the world’s containers and half of the world’s annual supply of crude oil. And that’s a lot.

 

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The barrage at MBS is important to decrease dependence on water from Malaysia.

 

But the real question is: are people happy Singapore, also called Lion City in Sanskrit? Some research indicates: no, they’re not. Clean streets, low crime rate, and a rising GDP does not necessarily lead to happier people. And they actually don’t seem too happy. All the automation and technology have not led to super happy people. Also, the thing with perfect societies is that if all feels so fake. Let me give you an example. The MRT is fully automated with trains that don’t require a driver. The frequency of trains is incredible: every 2-3 min you have a train, but often every minute. Delays are almost non-existent. Or almost as I witnessed. A recent breakdown caused a delay of 15 minutes and people started panicking. As this scenario did not fit in most Singaporeans’ head, they tried to call home and 911. The neatly suited man next to me impatiently pushed the emergency button while crying as a baby. But let’s be honest, it’s not surprising if you continuously play messages over the intercom as “If you see any suspicious looking person or subject, please inform our staff” and spam the MRT’s walls with billboards saying “Report it”. Lately, I saw a more cruel warning on the MRT’s televisions. A combination of bombings (London 2005 etc.) is shown after which a man says “Don’t let this happen to us. If you see any suspicious…”.

 

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DUMPLINGS

The nice thing about Singapore is the large variety of eateries. On weekdays, I explored Indian restaurants with colleagues. I quickly realized that it can be tricky to comply with all dietary restrictions of a team: Hindu (no beef), Muslim (no pork), etc. Chicken is a safe bet and we ended up eating chicken biryani rather often.

 

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During weekends, I researched Singapore’s dumpling restaurants. This search let to some interesting discoveries.

I started my research for the ultimate dumplings or dim sum in Little India. Here, you can exchange Singapore’s perfect feeling for a healthy chaos. In the middle of Indian restaurants serving curries, I found Swee Choon Tim Sum restaurant on Jalan Besar.

Swee Choon Tim Sum has been around since 1962 and is open everyday except for Tuesday, from 6pm till 6am (!). The restaurant takes up 5 adjacent houses and still seems to be short in space. They pretty much seem to steadily take over the whole neighborhood. It’s part of one big dumpling revolution!

My first attempt was around 8pm, but the queue was so immense that I decided to come back later. I took my chance again at 6pm on a Sunday night. The restaurant was again packed to the attics, but I was able to get a table in an alley after the restaurant. A waiter guided me through the kitchen to a patio behind the restaurant where they placed some extra tables. Forget about fine Chinese porcelain, this is not exactly the most romantic spot as you’re sitting on plastic bar stools and eating with plastic cutlery.

But let’s not forget our goal, we were there to try the dumplings.

I counted at least 30 people in staff and in terms of efficiency they most probably beat the McDo at the other side of the road. I ordered the following items: Swee Choon Big Pao (SGD 1.60), Siew Mai (SGD 1.60) and Pan Fried Pork Dumplings (4 for SGD 4.00). Dumplings are typically consumed with green tea à volonté and it is no different here (SGD 1.20).

Amidst the loud slurping of my fellow dumpling hunters, my order was served. The Swee Choon Big Pao is served with sweet chilli sauce and was, well, big. The skin was pretty thick and inside I found pork meat and veggies. Delicious. Next were the Siew Mai and the Pan Fried Pork Dumplings. Both were served with ginger in soy sauce and top-notch quality.

This dinner set me back SGD 10 (EUR 6.50) together with the fresh coconut juice afterwards on Serangoon St. Although a bit crowdy, Swee Choon Tim Sum is a dumpling sensation not to be missed. They do charge you 20 cents for the napkin.

 

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A few days later, I was hungry and in the vicinity of Swee Choon Tim Sum restaurant. I resisted entering the same restaurant again and tried a place somehow opposite of it. The restaurant had no clear name but I spotted a huge dumpling

The waiter caught my attention and described the dumpling as, “velly big, lah!” The word “lah” is used by Singaporeans to emphasize. Clearly, we had to sample this place.

Only 5 hungry minutes later, a Big Pao (SGD 3) was served with a pair of chopsticks. Inside I found big chunks of pork and mince, together with mushrooms, egg and ginger.
I finished with pork dumplings (SGD 1.6) that were excellent, too.

 

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If you feel like taking a dumpling break, head to Loysel’s Toy in Lavender where freshly roasted coffee beans of your choice translate in an excellent latte. Combine with the tasteful cakes and you have a Sunday afternoon activity next to the Rochor river and surrounded by lush forest.

If you happen to be in Sydney, top picks for dumplings are Zensation on Bourke St, Surry Hills and Din Tai Fung on George St in Sydney’s CBD. Enjoy.

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