me in the piazza

I'm a writer, publishing both as SJ Rozan and, with Carlos Dews, as Sam Cabot. (I'm Sam, he's Cabot.) Here you can find links to my almost-daily blog posts, including the Saturday haiku I've been doing for years. BUT the blog itself has moved to my website. If you go on over there you can subscribe and you'll never miss a post. (Miss a post! A scary thought!) Also, I'll be teaching a writing workshop in Italy this summer -- come join us!
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Singapore: the food

When I started telling people I was going to Singapore, everyone I knew who'd been there said the same thing: "Singapore! The food, the food!"

Boy, were they right.

Now hear this: I even had a great Starbucks sandwich in Singapore. Honest to Pete, Starbucks makes a chicken salad and apricot sandwich on whole grain bread spread lightly with goat cheese. I'd heard about it, I tried it, I'm here to tell you it was delicious. The tea bags in my hotel room were Lipton Yellow Label, which Lipton reserves for Europe and Asia. Much better than the white label Lipton's we get in the US, where they figure we don't know the difference. (Yo, Lipton's! We DO!) Also, this being Asia, the hot water in my hotel room came from a plug-in kettle, not a coffee maker; coffee-drinking guests had to content themselves with instant. I'm sure it was great instant, though. And no whitener, but actual milk.

With my friend Paul, an architect who lives there, I ate roast duck, rice, and baby bok choy from a stall at a hawker center. Singapore used to have street hawkers, the way NYC has street vendors' trucks. Singapore decided that was messy, oh no -- Singapore hates messy -- and also interfered with the smooth progress of pedestrians and therefore of commerce, oh no, so it made it illegal. But you don't want to banish cheap eats, oh no. So they set up hawker centers. These function like giant, and I do mean giant, food courts. Singapore also has many smaller food courts; Singaporeans, in their multi-ethnic glory, don't like to be too far from an array of choices about their food. In the hawker centers former street cooks rent stalls from which they sell their various wares. This one was in an old cast-iron structure. I don't know what it used to be but it was pretty cool. The tables are shared among the booths and the hawkers' tableware bears their stall names (Notable: "Mongolian Barbeque, Eat All You Khan." Or maybe notable only to me) so the cleaners who collect dishes when you're done know where to return them. Hello, America: food courts with real, reusable dishes and tableware, not plastic trash to choke the world on? I'm just sayin'. Anyway, it was some of the best roast duck I've ever had. Paul had taken the day to hang with me, so I decided to be a big spender and buy him lunch. He had noodles and shrimp dumplings. Grand total: $7.00. For both of us. Singapore dollars. $5.60 US. The rent on those stalls must be really, really cheap.

Other memorable meals: curry laksa from one of the smaller food courts, right across the street from my hotel and pretty sorry-looking, but recommended and fabulous. An early morning steamed pork bun, taken with tea made with steamed sweetened condensed milk, from yet another small food court. Malaysian chicken stew from the commissary in the basement of Singapore Management University. A breakfast Moroccan lamb sandwich at an Australian coffee house. A dumpling-palooza at a branch of a famous dumpling restaurant at a downtown mall, with my basketball buddy Arlene. (Arlene also lives in Singapore and I went to the Bird Park with her and her husband and son. You'll see those photos later.) The seven-course Chinese banquet at the opening festivities of the conference I was in Singapore to attend -- that one will get its own entry when I tell you about the conference. A breakfast pot of tea and a carrot-raisin muffin in the oh-so-far-flung-colonial-outpost tea shop in the arcade of the Raffles Hotel. A massive pepper-crab feast (just about the national dish of Singapore) hosted by my friend Jonathan for me and some of his work crew -- yes, he lives there, too; when he lived in Hong Kong years ago he also took me to dinner, resulting in the Big John character in REFLECTING THE SKY.

In between all these there were the noodles, Hainan chicken, and dumplings at the conference coffee breaks. Just in case anyone should get hungry. I'm thinking whatever historical or current rivalries existed/exist among Singapore's various ethnic groups, they're played out not with street gangs or even sports teams, but in a food competition -- my meal's better than your meal -- and all Singapore is richer for it.

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