Friday, May 16, 2008

Sometimes Only A Mac Will Do

I was in Singapore a few weeks ago and decided to take a stroll up and down Orchard Road.

Orchard Rd, for those who aren't aware, is full of shopping centres. It's also full of shopping centres for those who are aware, I wouldn't want you to think there's a load of awareness discrimination going on in Singapore by any means.

It's like Oxford Street only with good shops. Each shopping centre is like Odel's big fat American cousin, the one that wears only designer labels and knows what the world is about. Next door to Brad Jr, the American cousin, is Brad Sr, the bigger and better version.

Scary shit indeed. And I say that as a bloke who likes shopping. It's certainly not lack of choice or lack of variety but shopping in Singapore just leaves me bewildered and dizzy, like I'm drunk but it's caused by sheer volume of shops. They come at you from all angles. Along Orchard everywhere you look there's another designer label shop, another expensive watch gallery or another place selling more of the same.

I think my sense of mindfuck is because of my simpleness. A short walk around Kingston or Richmond is my thing, browsing in shops I know in areas I know. The busyness of Orchard Road and the scale of it messes with my head in the same way that my iTunes library messes with my ears. I can sit on a plane and spend so much time browsing through the songs that, by the time I've chosen what I want to listen to, I've changed my mind and decided to read a book instead.

Perhaps it's compounded by the fact that labels and clothing in Singapore actually seem to cost about the same, perhaps slightly more, than here in the UK. But then again, perhaps not. Too much choice makes perusing hard but perusing when I could get it for the same at home makes it seem pointless. Electronic bits and pieces is a different kettle of fish. If only I didn't already own just about every electronic gadget ever invented.

On the other hand one of the things that is great about Singapore is the hawker markets. Everywhere you turn there are these conglomerations of food outlets selling every type of food you can think of. For a Sri Lankan, with that innate love of carbohydrates we all have, Singapore is a culinary paradise. There's rice or noodles with everything, there's chilli and spiceyness on top of all the rice and noodles and it's all available whenever we want it.

There I was, on Orchard Rd and hungry. I had investigated the rather strange concept of Singaporean Chicken rice on my last trip. It was a dish that I read about in magazines and books and I was keen to try. Rice and chicken is usually a mouthwatering combination so I figured that it had to be good. Well I was unimpressed, it's basically rice cooked in chicken stock with some cucumber, some soup and a few other things. There's chicken pieces which are just plain old chicken and that's about it. But, in my search for chicken rice I had accidentally bought some claypot chicken rice, which is very different and very delicious, all spicy and saucy and full of flavour.

I found myself a hawker market type of place and spent some minutes "window shopping", if that's the term for hawker markets. I stayed away from the fish ball stall for reasons of ethics and decency, I looked at some noodle places, a Thai place and a Indian one. Then I settled on the claypot stall. I should have known better. As I checked it out the woman was busy chopping the most strange looking sausages you can imagine. I say that as a confirmed sausage lover too.

I glanced at the menu and figured that the claypot special rice would be a good move. The claypot chicken rice I'd had recently was so good that this "special" could only be better. Couldn't it?

It came in a claypot, no surprise there really, and was so hot that the woman serving it had some special device to pick up the pot with. I waddled to a table with my tray and chilli sauce things balancing precariously. Disaster could have struck at any point. There could have been hot rice, chilli soya sauce stuff and London, Lanka and drums sprinkled all over the floor so easily if it wasn't for the sheer strength and power of the motivation given to me by the thought of rice, more specifically eating it.

I sat down and peered at my choice. It looked good enough to eat. So I ate.

These Singaporeans may be clever and advanced in many things but this Claypot Special Rice was not an example of their brilliance. There was too much going on and too much of that tasted like rubber. The rice itself was passable but had some crispy bits where it had got a bit burnt. The sausage things that I had seen the woman cutting up were poking out randomly through the rice. They tasted like no other sausage I had ever tasted, not in a good way either. I am a serious sausage connoisseur and these things didn't make the grade. Were I a member of the sausage Police I would have arrested the woman and her sausage supplier and carted them off to a life of hard labour at once.
There were pieces of chicken involved too. But it was scrawny meat that looked like feet. In cockney rhyming slang feet are called "plates of meat". Clearly in Singapore rhyming slang plates of meat are called "feet".

I persevered for a short time but it was useless. I love my food and I wanted to enjoy this but it just wasn't happening. I remembered a phrase that my old mate D always uses to describe food he doesn't like, that's it's a "waste of stomach space". Never had that description been so apt. There was only one thing for it.

I gave the food a parting glance. I stood up with an air of confidence (fake) about me. Then I walked out of the hawker area, looking as if I was a man of a mission, as if I was quickly nipping out to the toilet and would be back in a second or two. A quick glance back at my table showed the rice still steaming and I felt guilty for the waste and embarrassed at my extravagance. But I knew what I had to do and I knew that this was a time to get my confidence back.

Some years ago I had a head on collision in my car. It was a pretty bad accident but both myself and the chap in the other car were lucky in that neither of us were injured. But after I had got home that night I knew that I had to drive as soon as possible. I went straight out in my ex wife's car, just to buy some food, knowing that it would have been easy not to drive and that my confidence might have suffered. In those days she wasn't my ex wife so she let me.

That's how I felt. I had ordered badly, suffered some pain and trauma, but the way to beat the psychological blow to my eating skills was to get straight back into the ring, to get an easy win, a quick confidence booster. As I walked out of the hawker centre there was a purposeful look to my gait. I knew what was needed and I knew where to get it.

In Orchard Rd, in Singapore where I could have got almost anything I wanted to eat within a short walk I headed for the easy win, the quick get back on the first rung of the ladder place. I walked up to the counter and said those words. They were painful yet comforting, they were cheap and nasty yet they meant something to me, they'd make it all okay. It was like going back to your first girlfriend, the one who lived in that council house, after you've split up with Jennifer Aniston. Poor quality but you know what you're going to get.

"A Big Mac meal please, with Diet Coke" (mindful of my health as usual).

I took a seat and felt as if I was back at home in my planter's chair. The Big Mac contained all the familiar flavours and characteristics. The lettuce was limp and lacklustre, the sauce had that strange tanginess that McDonalds can only do, the two slices of gherkin, or pickles, were hidden somewhere inside as they always are.

The Big Mac, true to form, looked nothing like the pictures up on the wall. The pictures show a Big Mac on steroids, all pumped up and pristine, with a plumpness and scale to it as if it would take a crane to lift the whole contraption up to your mouth. In real life a Big Mac is about half the size, the bun is flattened and the sauce and half the contents of the burger spill out of the side of the bun as you get to the fourth bite. The top and bottom beef patties slide so that, by the time you've eaten all the bun, one patty has got a tiny bite taken out of it and the other one has all but vanished.

It's about thirty years since I ate my very first Mac and I think there's hardly been any changes. In fact, judging by the state of the lettuce, the Orchard Rd one may well have been from that same batch.

Damn, I enjoyed it!


Anonymous said...

Never eat pickles at Mickey D's. Every morning it is customary for the first person who opens the store and does the layout to take a quick piss in the pickle jar. In fact, all over the world, it is tradition. Honest!

nirmal said...

McDi never fails man. Couldn't get in there since I got outta college (in a good way :)) frequently, bt i nd to go back..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

D - That could explain why they taste so "unique"!

Scrumpulicious said...

Oh, trusty MacD's! :)

T said...

thats so true really. even though im not a fan of fast food, after a wild night, a burger off the dollar menu hits the spot!

mixedblessings89 said...


so the burger saved your confidence?
good for you :D :D

Confab said...

i had the very same experience...ordered clay pot chicken rice during my first 2 weeks in singapore...twas rubbish...too much sauce...rice was burnt...tasted like shit...everything was rubbery...

maybe they served u what i didnt eat?

Dinidu de Alwis said...

Mac, the modern symbol of civilization.