Singapore. It's not hot here, but it's humid - like walking in a humidifier. The pages of my paperback book have curled into gentle waves. Paper receipts are floppy, like wet lasagna sheets. The cork bottoms of my Birkenstocks feel strangely spongy.
I have come to this warm and sultry place so the steam can release my emotional wrinkles. This week will be the longest I've been away from my three small kids. This is something I need to do, to run completely on my own time, to be in a neutral space. I work from home so even when the kids aren't there, from the dried Weet Bix a sandblaster won't get off or the agony elicited by standing barefoot on a single Lego block, their presence is still everywhere.
And now there's quiet. I've just woken up on my own speed for the first time in six years - no one coming in crying becaue they lost their Monster High hairbrush, no awful jolt awake realising that school will start in a horrifying half hour, no radio blaring Vietnamese pop in the middle of the spare room and kids boogie-ing around it (OK, I admit, that was kind of cute). The peace is utterly intoxicating.
I chose Singapore partly because over the years I've now known Bryan, I've been so inspired by his Singapore food trail. His writing and photos have made this tiny multicultural city utterly fascinating to me. Top of the list was Eng's wonton mee.
This business has been successively owned by three generations and has evolved from push cart to hawker centre to its own storefront today. The ticket is pork-filled wonton dumplings, egg noodles and fresh BBQ pork. Oh my God. So humble yet so unbelievably good! The noodles are so springy and flavoursome, the pork is actually meaty (unlike cardboard-y char siu often seen in Aus) and the wontons - slippery, juicy, so incredibly good. And - AUD $3.10.
Would I eat anywhere else this entire journey?
Eng's isn't far from Katong or Joo Chiat which is traditionally a Peranakan area. Many ethnic groups make up multicultural Singapore, and while their history is complicated, from what I can gather the Peranakans are descendants of Chinese migrants (the first wave arriving in the 15th century) who intermarried and assimilated with the local native Malay population. The area is full of these traditional Peranakan houses, lined up like a delicate eyeshadow palette.
Pineapple tarts are a Chinese New Year delicacy and the Peranakans (also known as Nyonya) have a long tradition of making them. It's a rather epic undertaking (as Bryan has found) but you can happily cut corners by buying them at Kim Choo Kueh Chang. Step into the back room for tastings of all their hand-made treats.
A gorgeous day, a pristine room, a whole jar of pineapple tarts and me. If you never hear from me again, send help. Or then again - maybe don't!
If you're exploring the Katong area, be sure to try Katong-style laksa. It's hotly contested who had the "original" Katong laksa stall, but check out this post at The Wong List to kick off your search.