Eastern Singapore is not only rich in history, culture and architecture, it's home to some exceptional food, from the multicultural delights of Joo Chiat (Katong) to the superb seafood along the East Coast. Hardier souls might brave the nightly, never-sleeping sleaze of Geylang, where some great food lurks among the prostitutes and punters. Look out for durian stalls along the way.
Durian: King of the (Smelly) Fruits
Durians get a bad rap in Singapore. They're banned from pretty much all forms of public transport (most notably, the MRT), few hotels will allow you to bring one through their front doors, and any shopping mall worth its salt enforces a 'no durians' policy. Why? It's simple: they stink. Even before the formidable thorn-covered husk is removed, they stink. And once you've opened it: pooh-whee! And yet durians are known throughout Southeast Asia as the King of Fruits (largely because of their enormous size and those crown-like thorns) and are still loved by so many Singaporeans that you really should give one a go. Aficionados say the flavour of the soft, mushy flesh is like custard with a hint of almond. Others are less complimentary.
Tucking into a durian is a sticky affair, usually best attempted beside an oversized paper bag, used to dispose of as much of the mess as possible. If the smell of durian lingers on your hands, try soaking your fingers in a glass of Coca-Cola: apparently it conquers the stench.
You can buy durians from markets and street stalls around Singapore, but if you're looking for somewhere to eat the thing too, drop into the flagship store of Durian Culture. Located in Geylang, the sellers will happily advise you on what to pick and how to eat it, then laugh as you take your first bite.
The Invention of Chilli Crab
In 1956, Mr and Mrs Lim opened a seafood restaurant called the Palm Beach. It was here that Mrs Lim first concocted the now-famous tomato, chilli and egg sauce that makes the quintessential Singapore chilli crab. At least that's the story according to her son Roland, who is the proprietor of the eponymous Roland Restaurant. Singaporean food outlets love their rags-to-riches tales.
The Lims emigrated to New Zealand in the 1960s, but Roland returned to Singapore to find his mum's dish a huge hit. He opened his own restaurant in 1985, and since moving to its present location along Marine Pde in 2000, the 1300-seater place has built up a solid reputation – so much so that former prime minister Goh Chok Tong dines here on National Day.