Once upon a time, before I actually visited a mostly Chinese ethnic country, I thought I knew what Chinese food was, and it looks like this:
Imagine my surprise to not find egg rolls over there. No one knew what an egg roll was, unless they’d been here. There’s something similar called lumpia, but it’s not quite the same.
Chinese food in the US has been thoroughly Americanized, to make it more appealing to the local palate. The Chinese food I ate in Singapore was a lot blander in most cases, with most of the flavor coming from dumping lots of chili sauce on everything. That or eating green chilies along with each bite of food. There’s also a lot of MSG used. (Just a note, I’m basing this on the common Chinese food found in food stalls that a person would eat at on a daily basis, not expensive restaurants.)
[Update: It was very rudely brought to my attention by some piece of shit Singaporeans that I accidentally uploaded the wrong photo from my folder. I’m quite aware that this is ramen, a Japanese dish, most likely from that Japanese food court in Tampines 1. I can’t remember its name.]
That’s not to say that the food there, the ‘real’ Chinese food, was bad. On the contrary, a lot of it was awesome, and thankfully I did read about a place in NYC where I can get chicken rice and pork rice. The pictures looked similar to the dishes I grew to love in Singapore. I’ll blog about it when I find it and try it out myself.
One other thing, the orange duck sauce that you can find at most Chinese restaurants in the US? Ya, that’s nowhere to be found in Singapore that I saw.
The Intramuros area of Manila is actually pretty big. There are still sections of the original wall wall running through the city, complete with rusty cannons and stone guardhouses, which people can still walk on. These areas aren’t maintained well, though they’re kept relatively clean. The inner area of the wall seems to have been converted into mostly tertiary schools, souvenir shops, restaurants and a few businesses. We didn’t wander the walls or the greater Intramuros area during this trip; we went straight to Fort Santiago.
Fort Santiago is the site of the oldest military compound in the Philippines and has been attacked, destroyed, rebuilt and used by the Spaniards, Filipinos, British, Americans and the Japanese during various wars and occupations. It’s purpose has been both noble and terrible as a site for national defense and the scene of a major massacre. Currently, the area is in varying states of repair, with some areas looking well manicured and others crumbling with every gust of wind. You can see where some structures have been shored up with improved technology over the centuries, like a few steel braces and beams we saw on the original red brick Spanish military barracks which was originally built in 1593.
Before entering Fort Santiago proper, there is a well manicured area that must have been rebuilt to give you a sense of what the area looked like in its prime, under Spanish control. It’s really quite nice. There are also a few cafes and gift shops in this area, as well as a partially restored warehouse that was used for storing goods brought in off ships.
There are still a few ugly ducklings around that need some attention and restoration, but I saw plenty of construction material positioned alongside and in front of them, so at some point these should be fixed up nicely. I’m especially curious as to what the second building was for. It looks like a residence. A rough guess is that it belonged to the owner of the shipping warehouse across the plaza. Some of the chips on the walls look like they were caused by bullets though, so perhaps at some point a group of soldiers tried to use it for a makeshift defense.
To enter Fort Santiago proper, you have to cross a moat using the original bridge.
Flanking both sides of the gate are relief carvings of what look like Spanish soldiers. They’ve both been heavily damaged, perhaps through intentional defacing by angry Filipinos who resented Spanish rule.
These red brick ruins are all that’s left of the barracks built by the original Spanish soldiers in 1593. During the American period they were used by military officers and their families. The building was destroyed during World War II.
The two holes in the first image, and a few others like it, were placed along the waterfront area of the fort, by the Pasig River. When we first saw them my wife said they looked like places for holding prisoners. I looked down in one and saw that it had a tunnel that led back into the fort so I guessed that it was a powder and munitions storage area. Turns out we were both right.
The Spaniards originally used the area as storage vaults for munitions and powder, but it was too damp to suit their needs. They built a new storage area further away from the river and turned it into a dungeon for prisoners. This area would later be used by the Japanese to imprison and torture Filipino and American guerrillas, civilians and POWs.
Just past that sign I’m standing in front of in that picture there’s an opening that leads down into the lower level. It was locked up. I’m guessing it was damaged during the Ondoy disaster last year and hasn’t been reopened to the public yet, which is a shame because it would have been very cool to get a first-hand look at something with so much historical significance. I’ll have to find out who to annoy into reopening the area.
Since I couldn’t go in, I stuck my arm down through the opening and took a few pictures with my camera. When I got home later and transferred the images to my laptop, this is what I saw:
Notice anything odd about that image? Here are two more that I took from different angles:
That’s just a tad bit creepy right? I think it must be a statue, because later I saw bronze statues through an opening in another closed off area, but those were all one solid color. This one has different colored clothing on and a more natural looking skin tone. The area is creepy anyway, because the Japanese massacred 600 people in there at the end of the war:
The whole Fort has a pretty heavy atmosphere. A lot of lives were lost in that small area and during the majority of its existence it has been used as a stronghold for a foreign military on Filipino soil. As we walked through I couldn’t help but imagine the way things must have been in the past, what the soldiers must have done, both good and bad, or how the Filipinos felt when they saw the walls. I spent some time in the US military so I wasn’t imagining ‘glorious battle’. I was just wondering at the daily routines. What did they eat? Where did they eat? I wondered how they’d adjusted to the heat and if they ever flicked cigarette butts over the wall into the river. I wondered where they used the toilet. The simple stuff that often gets overlooked in action movies.
Fort Santiago is well worth a visit and I’m looking forward to going again when more areas are open to the public. Besides the dungeons, the actual building Jose Rizal (the Philippines national hero) was imprisoned in as well as a walkway down by the river were blocked to the public. I still think it must be due to last year’s Ondoy storm damage so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a reopening sometime in the next few years.
Note: In this post I deliberately avoided talking about Jose Rizal, though his presence in the fort does play a large part in the nation’s history. The reasons for that are that I don’t know enough about him to discuss him yet and I focused on the areas that interested me or had significance to me as an American. The fort has a very nice Jose Rizal museum which you can take a look at if you have an interest in that aspect of Filipino history. I’ll be posting about Jose Rizal in the future when I’ve heard about and read up on him more.
Singapore is often hailed as a ‘food heaven’, and in some cases that’s true, especially if you have the money to afford the ‘authentic dining’. More often than not, it’s impractical to constantly go to high end restaurants, so I get excited when I see cuisine from ‘home’ that’s listed at an affordable price.
It was with great excitement that I saw French Toast on the menu at a beverage stall in the Tampines 1 food court on the upper level. I could, of course, just make French Toast at home if I wanted to, but when I saw it on the menu and realized how long it’d been since I had it, it seemed the perfect dish to go along with the iced kopi I had ordered.
What I was given was nothing short of the murder of a dish I grew up loving. I was a bit thrown off when the auntie behind the counter asked me if I’d like some kaya to go with my French Toast. I couldn’t figure out how that would go well with a sweet dish that is supposed to be coated in sugar, cinnamon, and syrup.
Well, the answer was simple. This stall’s idea of French Toast was a piece of bread with scrambled egg and butter fried to the sides. There was no sugar, cinnamon, or syrup, which are what make French Toast … French Toast.
While it tasted well enough on its own, this isn’t what I thought I was going to get when I ordered it, and I couldn’t help but be disappointed. The sign shouldn’t list this as French Toast, because it’s definitely not.
We’ve known Wendy’s was here in Singapore for quite a few weeks but we just never took the time to get out to it. The reason is that it’s not situated in a very easy to get to area. It’s way out in Lau Pa Sat. First off, that’s a good distance away from where most anyone lives, and it’s not a major thoroughfare like Orchard Road either. It’s sitting off by itself, near Raffles MRT station. It’s not easy to find if you’re not familiar with the area and it’s not a place you can stop to eat at while window shopping.
If you look at this map, you can see that it’s not even close to the MRT station. Zoom out twice and you’ll see Raffles MRT a bit north of the location. The reason this is bad is that this is the first Wendy’s in Singapore. It has to make a name for itself, and it’s not going to be able to do that effectively where it’s located. Besides the fact that it’s hard to get to, it’s been stuck in with a landmark food court that sells local dishes. That makes it a hard choice, even if you went there specifically intending to go to Wendy’s. My wife and I almost passed on it to eat the satay that was being served right next to it. This restaurant would fare a lot better in a mall at the least, and on Orchard Road somewhere for sure. I suppose what it does have going for it is that a lot of foreigners likely work in the surrounding area, but even so it could have been better situated.
That aside, it was nice to see that familiar Wendy’s logo. When I lived in the US I rarely ate there. I just didn’t care for the burgers that much and I still don’t, more so than ever after watching Food Inc. So, in the US I would usually pass them up for Arby’s or Subway or Chinese or Mexican. You get the point. If this were the first Wendy’s in a US town I wouldn’t have even cared. But, since I’m an American in a foreign country it was worth the trip just to have a small taste of home.
Despite the location, many people were making their way out there to eat. The line stayed consistently long the entire time we were there.
And also despite my desire for a small taste of home, I wound up loading two trays with my order for my wife and I. My wife was downtown already and couldn’t wait so she got started with a cup of chili and a salad. When I got there, I ordered some additional food. Like I said, I never did care for the burgers so I didn’t bother to order one. Instead I opted for the Grilled Chicken Ceaser Salad, which was good. We also got a cup of chili, a chili cheese baked potato, sour cream and chives baked potato, two small Frosties and a medium Coke. It’s more filling than it sounds. It was all great, especially the chili. I was surprised at how well it was priced, considering how much meat was in it. I think it was only 3.50. Or maybe 2.50.
It’s well worth the effort of finding it and I’m sure we’ll be making another trip soon to enjoy the chili and Frosties again.