Yesterday I found myself with a half a day in Singapore. I had arrived by car from Malaysia around 1pm, and had a plane to catch late in the evening. I also had my rather hefty purse and a carry-on bag on wheels. It is August and humid. I tried to think of the best way to spend the afternoon, without lugging my bags around all day in the heat, and without arriving at the airport in the evening feeling like I’d been through the wringer. I was jet lagged, so I needed to build a bit of downtime into the day. I also wanted to have fun, soak up some local culture and hopefully eat some good food. The answer: The National Gallery of Singapore.
I spent some time in the gallery last year and knew it had a bit of everything I wanted from the day. I had my taxi drop me off right at the front. I went up to the desk and asked if they could check my baggage for me for the day; they were very obliging. I then set about ticking one thing off my agenda: some delicious local cuisine.
Everyone knows that the local food in Malaysia and Singapore is fantastic. Alas, I have coeliac’s disease and must follow a 100% gluten-free diet. After 30 years of this, I don’t usually find it difficult, except when I travel. In Johor Bahru, where I had travelled on business, I found it especially tricky. First, none of the wait staff seemed to know what I was talking about when I tried to instigate the gluten conversation. Second, even more troubling, there seems to be a commandment in the local service industry, to say yes to anything the customer asks. It goes something like this: If the customer must be pleased, and the customer doesn’t want gluten, then tell them that the food is gluten-free. And because I found it difficult to engage in conversation directly with the chefs, I ended up ordering plain rice and grilled fish everywhere.
There are a range of restaurants at the National Gallery, including one called the National Kitchen by Violet Oon. It is small with fabulous interiors, and they were extremely accomodating. My waiter went and talked to the chef, who told me which dishes could be made specially gluten-free for me. The manager came to talk to me to make sure I was happy. I ordered the Udang Goreng Chili – described as “Angka prawns tossed in a spicy chilli padi garlic rempah”. I am not sure what the normal dish looks like, but here is my gluten-free version:
These prawns had so much chili and garlic, you would not believe. They were utterly fantastic! All of my food cravings were satisfied. Add in a lovely glass of wine and the lovely decor, and I had a great lunch!
They even had a fantastic gluten-free dessert: kueh beng kah, a steamed tapioca cake, served warm with gula melaka syrup and coconut cream. Heaven!
To build on a great start to my afternoon, my trip coincided with a major exhibit at the gallery of Yayoi Kusama’s work. Doug and the girls and I were lucky to catch Kusama’s exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2006. It was a real treat to spend the afternoon at this exhibit in Singapore. The exhibit is huge, spanning four galleries, and takes about 2 hours to get through. I love this, one of her many Venus de Milo pieces (Statue of Venus obliterated by Infinity Nets, No. 2, 1998):
Here is a photo I took in the installation “The spirits of the pumpkins descended into the heavens” (2017). (You can see my face as I hold the camera in the box in the centre and reflected throughout):
The sheer scale of some of the installations are impressive. This room has 50 enormous canvases of her black and white drawings stacked up on every wall:
The originals were done in magic marker and each contains repetitions of faces, eyes, and other small motifs. Here is a closeup of the intersection of two of the canvases:
In the tulip room, part of which you can see here:
I happened to catch a photograph of a young woman with the ‘dots’ from the exhibit reflected on her sunglasses. I love this photo!
The exhibit is only open through the 3rd of September and the admission lines are long (the entrances are timed and are very well managed). If you are anywhere near Singapore, I highly recommend it.
After the exhibit, I went up to the roof gallery where I sat and looked out on the fantastic view of Singapore, while enjoying a drink and my knitting. Here is a photo of said knitting against the backdrop of the view.
To make the end of the day even more fantastic, as I sat enjoying the view (and a very nice drink) a wild and wicked storm suddenly blew across the city. I watched it advance across the skies and then they opened and the heavens poured down. I went inside to the Supreme Court terrace, and was able to watch the rain pelting on the roof. Fantastic! Here you can see the darkening skies on the right, while the sun still shines on the left:
If you ever find yourself with half a day in Singapore, I say: forget having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar, don’t challenge your vertigo at the Marina Bay Sands, and instead take yourself to the National Gallery!
Oh, these are fabulous photos Kelly. It’s been over 20 years since I visited Malaysia and Singapore (my mother is from Malacca and lived in Singapore for many years) and while I’m sure a lot has changed, what I primarily remember from that trip was the FOOD. I had never tasted such intense, wonderful flavours. I don’t know if it’s still there but there was a satay market in Singapore with about 100 traders, just doing various types of satay and other street food. And that art exhibit looks so interesting. Sounds like the perfect afternoon.
Hi Maylin, it is true: the flavours and tastes stay with you! Such lovely food, and also beautiful textures, patterns, colours. (People wear the most fantastic clothes!) It really is a feast for the senses. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
Thanks for taking me to Singapore! The skyline certainly has changed since the mid 1970s!
Hi Susan. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I believe that you are headed for Madagascar now, so you win!!!!
Amazing art – and your photos of the polka dots are pretty amazing too. Now I find myself wishing for a layover in Singapore. Btw, have you ever had Singapore Indian cooking? Delightful.
Thank you. Actually, when I am over there, Indian food is one of the things I feel is easier to trust to be gluten-free. The Singaporan Indian food has a very nice fusion vibe.