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Beverages and Western Food in Singapore December 20, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Beverages and Western Food in Singapore” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Kn

Beverages in Singapore are quite standard.  You can easily find various colas and carbonated drinks everywhere.  It is important to keep hydrated when touring around Singapore.  I had become dehydrated a few times and finding a place to get a drink wasn’t difficult.  The one surprise I had was that you had to find an actual shop.  Tokyo has spoiled me as I can just go a block or so and find a vending machine to get a drink.  It is so easy to find them, but in Singapore, I had to look around a bit for a convenience store to get one.  While there are convenience stores everywhere, it isn’t always easy to spot them and you can get a bit of bad luck by zig-zagging and missing them all.  I was pleasantly surprised to find bubble tea shops around Singapore.  While I wasn’t expecting the best, I did try one.  I ordered a simple milk tea with pearls and was asked about the sweetness level.  I said, non-sweet, and the clerk was surprised.  Living in Japan, tea is rarely sweetened and when I went to Taiwan earlier in the year, the bubble tea was unsweetened.  While I like both, on a very hot day, I actually prefer unsweetened to feel more refreshed.  While the bubble tea was just average, I think I can see why people like it sweetened.  The tea didn’t taste as great and the sweetness could mask the imperfect taste.  In fact, I found it impossible to find unsweetened tea in Singapore as they take the western tradition that any cold tea has to be sweetened.

Alcohol in Singapore is something that is a bit strange.  Alcohol is easy to find and purchase.  You can easily buy alcohol at any convenience store and supermarket but it isn’t that cheap.  It isn’t expensive either but when you go to a restaurant or club, it can feel astronomical.  The lunch time specials, called “happy hour”, provide 2 for 1 or 50% off drink deals.  In fact, these deals tended to last from lunch till dinner, rather than just an hour.  After this happy hour, prices are scaled up to “regular” price.  One of the most common types of price scaling was a happy hour from open till dinner; then dinner time; then regular price after dinner.  This made drinking a little expensive but if you stuck to drinking in the afternoon, it was very reasonable.  The selection was also interesting.  You can really feel the influence of western nations as most of the beer was imports from other countries.  While there were regional brews such as Tiger beer and other nearby specialties, it was tough to determine what was local and what was foreign.  I try to support the local economy but in Singapore, I decided to support the European community by trying various beers from Europe.

Western food is also very common in Singapore.  It is very easy to find McDonald’s but it is also easy to find various pubs and bars as well.  I love to visit nice brewpubs wherever I go.  In Taiwan, I had a few drinks in the gay district and had a good time there.  In Vancouver, I often go to pubs where I grab a burger and a beer.  In Tokyo, I often go to various izakaya and drink till the sun comes up.  In Singapore, I found the drinking experience to be more like Vancouver where you have nice brewpubs, but also like Taiwan where you can have outdoor terraces with many drinks being served.  Alcohol is still a very western ideal in Singapore.  Muslims are very strict at not drinking alcohol and I have found Chinese people don’t often drink too much, especially with family.  I read that Singapore frowns upon public drunkenness so I kept myself in check.  Most of the western style restaurants have to cater to those who drink alcohol as that is what is expected in many restaurants.  Whether it is a bottle of wine or a pint of beer, people enjoy a little alcohol with their meal and Muslim Singaporeans respect that.

Singapore is not just about the foods that I have mentioned.  I did see a lot of Japanese restaurants and I feel that they must be delicious, albeit a bit overpriced compared to Tokyo.  I also saw many other places selling foods that I never had a chance to try.  You can spend days exploring Singapore and trying various types of food.  It is a matter of making time to go out and try new things that is difficult, especially when you also want to see everything else that is out there.  You can spend a small fortune eating if you want or save a lot by going to the Hawker’s markets.  It really depends on your personality and your budget.

Beverages and Western Food in Singapore is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

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Sake January 4, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sake” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sake

One of the most famous drinks to come out of Japan has to be sake.  It is a clear alcoholic drink that is enjoyed in various ways.  It is often said to be “rice wine” because of the taste.  The subtle differences in flavour and ability to pair it with most types of food, depending on where it’s made, creates this comparison.  However, unlike wine, it is brewed like beer.  The main reason no one would ever compare it to beer is because beer is carbonated.  In reality, sake cannot be compared to anything.  No one would ever consider comparing an apple and an orange, so we really shouldn’t be comparing sake with anything at all.  In fact, saying the word sake in Japan would only make people confused.  The true translation of sake is “alcohol” or an “alcoholic drink”.  The true translation should be “nihonshu”, Japanese alcohol.

Nihonshu can be found in almost every city in Japan.  Local nihonshu, however, is sometimes hard to find.  If you travel to Nigata, north of Tokyo, or the Kyoto region, you should be able to find a plethora of local nihonshu brands.  There are essentially only four varieties of nihonshu, Jumai, Honjozo, Ginjo, and Daiginjo.  Like wine, if you don’t drink a lot of nihonshu, it will be difficult to tell the differences in each type.  In Japan, the easiest way to tell what type of taste a brand has is to check its “level”.  Japan has a level classification to define how spicy or how sweet a bottle of nihonshu is.  A high number implies a spicy taste, while a negative number implies a sweet taste.   Playing it safe by buying a “0” is okay, but generally, like wine, spicy nihonshus are good with meat, and sweet ones are better with fish or vegetables.  When drinking only nihonshu, it’s up to your own personal taste buds to decide which is best for you.

In Japan, and around the world, you will be able to find various types of nihonshu.  Price makes a huge difference between a good and a bad nihonshu.  Paying less than $10 a litre will almost always guarantee bad sake.  In Japan, you can buy sake from a roughly 300mL jar for about 200 Yen.  This is probably the worst thing you can do.  The nihonshu is mass produced to such a degree that it generally doesn’t taste good.  For a small bottle, roughly 355mL, you can expect to pay at least 500 Yen, but that can also go up to 1000 Yen.  When leaving Japan via the airport, you can find several 750mL bottles running around 2000 Yen.  These are all valuable bottles and you can never go wrong with them.  I have never personally purchased any special nihonshu bottles, such as those in a ceramic jar or ceremonial barrel, so be aware that it may or may not taste good.  Do note that prices in North America should be at least 50~100% more than Japanese prices.

There are many ways to drink nihonshu.  You can look all over the internet and find different opinions on how to drink it.  Essentially, nowadays, most of the people I have talked to enjoy cold nihonshu.  Heated nihonshu is generally for the winter season, and there are specific types of nihonshu for the winter season.  When going to an izakaya, the most common way to be served nihonshu is in a shot glass.  This is also how I generally enjoy nihonshu.  It’s simple and it keeps the flavours in tact.  You can also drink nihonshu from a “choko” which is essentially a small ceramic tea cup.  This is the very same cup you will see that comes in a “sake set” where you get a bottle and two cups.  While this is nice, a shot glass is more versatile.  There are some special cups used to drink nihonshu.  “Sakazuki” is a saucer like dish, about the size of a small tea saucer.  It is almost exclusively used in ceremonies and highly unlikely to be seen in a restaurant as it can only hold a small amount.  More commonly seen in Japan is a “Masu”.  This is a small wooden box made of hinoki or sugi.  Generally, these are fragrant woods that add to the flavour of the nihonshu.  High end restaurants may use real masu boxes, but regular izakayas tend to use plastic versions that are lacquered.  It’s customary to put a shot glass inside the box and fill it till it is overflowing.  The best way to drink the nihonshu is to sip it from the glass until it’s possibly half empty.  Then, you can pour the nihonshu that’s in the masu into the glass.

Nihonshu is one of my favourite drinks in Japan.  I don’t really drink enough of it, to be honest.  Like any alcohol, it isn’t for everyone, but if you only drink the cheap stuff, you won’t like it.  It can be an acquired taste as well, so just do your best and over time, maybe you’ll grow to like it.  This is only a basic introduction, so please read some of the following guides if you want to find out more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sake (sake basics)
http://www.jetro.org/trends/sake_intro.php (a good introduction to sake)
http://www.sake-world.com/index.html (everything you need to know about sake)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokushima June 9, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokushima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bZ

Tokushima is situated in the north-eastern region of Shikoku.  It is the major gateway to the island from Kansai.  It is connected via Awaji Island to Kobe.   Unfortunately, this city is very small and easily visited within a day or two.  You can easily get out of Tokushima city and head to Naruto in the north; Iya Valley in the west; and towards Muroto in the south.

Tokushima is primarily known for one thing, and only one thing, the Awa Odori.  It is a summer festival held in August.  It is one of the most distinct and unique festivals in Japan.  The Awa Odori is literally a traditional dance of the region.  People dress up in the regions unique festival clothing and the dance can be heard for blocks.  It is very difficult to describe the dance and it is something that must be seen in video to truly understand how complex, active, and interesting it really is.  All over Tokushima city, you’ll be able to see statues, banners, art, and videos of the Awa Odori.  You can even take a dance class at the base of Mt. Bizan.  While the Awa Odori is the most famous thing about Tokushima, sudachi is the most famous gift from Tokushima.  It is a small green citrus fruit that is similar to limes and lemons.  It has a slightly stronger taste, but very refreshing.  Beware that buying any sudachi sweets can be dangerous.  They last a long time, but once opened, they “could” expire within a day or two.  I would recommend buying sudachi alcohol and drinks, which are very popular.

There are only a few things to do in Tokushima itself.  The most famous thing to do is to head up Mt. Bizan.  There is a gondola that will take you from the base to the peak, but it runs every 15 minutes.  You can also get a discount if you go in the evening.  The top of the mountain is very beautiful and gives you a great view of the city.  Heading up in the evening is worth the price, however heading up at full price may not be worth it for those on a budget.  You can also hike up the mountain, and the peak offers various hiking paths.  If you are an avid hiker, this is a great place to get started for a short day hike.  Routes tend to be well marked and wind their way around the mountain.  In May, you will also be greeted with beautiful flowers blooming around the peak station.  If you are lucky, Mt. Bizan has over 1000 cherry trees, so the cherry blossom season is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

After Mt. Bizan, Tokushima Central Park is the next best place to visit.  It is located on a hill behind the station.  It can be a little difficult to reach as the station has only one entrance, to the south.  The park is located north of the station.  Once you find the park, it is a very nice place to visit.  The entire park is the site of the ruins of Tokushima Castle.  There are two routes to the top of the hill.  While both routes are equally difficult, be aware that the main route may have some school kids running up as part of their training exercises.  In all honesty, this park is better served to the locals.  There isn’t too much to see.  The view from the top of the hill, while nice, isn’t that great.  It’s difficult to see much of the city as there are large trees surrounding the old courtyard.  However, it is a good way to enjoy an afternoon in Tokushima.

Finally, walking along the Shinmachi River, south of the station, is a lot of fun.  The parks along the river are very beautiful, and there is a lot of outdoor art to enjoy.  You can even take a boat cruise around the city for only 100 yen.  It takes about one hour to go around the city.  You can also take a 4 hour cruise up to Naruto.  The river is also conveniently located near the main shopping area.  Shopping in Tokushima is sparse, to say the least.  It is probably the smallest major city in Shikoku, so finding any major name brands would be very difficult.  If you are looking for something to eat, I would recommend ramen.  It is a local specialty and the local food maps, available in most hotels, show the locations of famous ramen shops.  While it isn’t very different from other ramen shops in Japan, they tend to add slices of meat, and the soup base tends to be a little thinner and saltier, in my opinion.

Overall, I couldn’t say there is a lot to do in Tokushima city itself.  However, there is enough to make it a good weekend trip.  If you are just backpacking around Japan, timing a visit to coincide with the Awa Odori is the best way to go; otherwise it’s best to skip this city.  I would definitely like to return someday.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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