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A City for the Senses

It's Easy to Indulge an Addiction in the Asian Capital of Street Food


Still, even she could not entirely subvert the sense of wonder at the armor plating on the greater one-horned rhino, the unexpected dignity of a bearded pig and the sensual terror of a Gir lion. As we passed in close proximity to flocks of cranes, herds of water buffalo and packs of jackals, I marveled at the invisible trenches, electronic fences and other barriers that created an illusion of freedom for the animals and titillating danger for humans.

The next day, I headed over to Lau Pa Sat, a cavernous, cast-iron former train station transformed into a congenial hawker center overlooking a marina. Here, at a table set up on the street just outside the main entrance, I devoured a heaping plate of satays--chicken wings and strips of beef and lamb impaled on sticks, marinated in a secret concoction of herbs, grilled over charcoal and served with a spicy peanut sauce.

Then I was faced with a quandary. This was my last evening in Singapore. There was only room for one more dish. I wandered the stalls, leering at the fried oyster omelets, the black pepper crab meat over glass noodles, the Penang laksa noodles in a sour and spicy fish broth. In the end, I chose what many consider Singapore's national dish, Hokkien mee: fried noodles with shrimp, chopped squid, garlic, lemon juice and a pungent fish paste. Draped limply over a chair in a postprandial daze, I briefly considered a small portion of kaya, an egg-and-custard jam dessert. But whom was I kidding? I no longer had the stamina of ribald youth.

The highlight of my final day was a visit to the Rasa Sentosa Resort on the island of Sentosa, just over the causeway from downtown Singapore. It is a popular family destination for Singaporeans who don't mind lolling on a beach in full view of one of the world's largest commercial fleets. But I was there because my plane was leaving late in the evening and I much preferred spending $100 on a three-hour spa treatment at Sentosa than paying twice that for an extra day at my luxury hotel.

Besides, nothing better prepares a passenger for a 20-plus-hour flight than a long bout of muscle pampering. A young woman named Yvonne got me started with a body polish, scrubbing away my outermost skin layer with a grainy lotion. Next came the Swedish body massage and, finally, a seaweed body wrap that left me feeling like a California roll. I slept for an hour to the recorded sounds of surf and New Age music.

And then Yvonne sent me away with a few words of wisdom: "Better not eat for a few more hours."

I would heed such advice when heading to any other airport in the world. But this was Singapore. The food court in the departure terminal offered dishes I had neglected back in town: squid fried with Chinese parsley and drunken prawns marinated in rice wine and garlic. I almost felt sorry for the business and first-class passengers closeted with canapes in the luxury lounge.

GUIDEBOOK: Singapore Fling

Telephone numbers and prices: The area code for Singapore is 65, followed by the local number. All prices are approximate and computed at a rate of 1.80 Singapore dollars to one U.S. dollar. Room rates are for a double for one night. Meal prices are for two, food only. Getting there: There are no nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Singapore, but United and Singapore airlines have direct flights (one stop, no change of plane); Northwest, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, JAL, Korean, Malaysia and Thai have connecting flights.

Where to stay: The Oriental, 5 Raffles Ave., Marina Square, 338-0066, fax 339-9537, toll-free reservations (800) 526-6566, In a city of many luxury hotels, this one ranks near the top, with 524 spacious, comfortable rooms and suites. Rates: $227 to $288, though steep discounts are often available.

Berjaya Duxton Hotel, 83 Duxton Road, 227-7678, fax 227-1232, This cozy 48-room hotel is located next to Chinatown and amid traditional shophouses, and has a fine French restaurant, L'Aigle d'Or. Rates: $105 to $125. Hotel Bencoolen, 47 Bencoolen St., 336-0822, fax 336-2250, A clean 74-room hotel that's an equidistant walk from Little India and the Western boutiques of Orchard Road. Rates: $55 to $68.

Where to eat: The hawker centers and food courts--indoor conglomerations of street food stands--offer a variety of delectable Asian dishes at $2 to $6. Chinatown Complex, at 335 Smith St.; Lavender Food Square, at the corner of Lavender Street and Jalan Besar; Lau Pa Sat, Raffles Quay and Robinson Road.

Restaurants: Sabar Menanti, 52 Kandahar St., 293-0284, specializes in Malay cuisine; $12. Seow Choon Hua, Sultan Gate 33/35, 298-2720, is famed for its Foo Chow fish ball; $10. What to see and do: The Night Safari at the zoo, about a 20-minute taxi ride north of downtown, offers one of the best "open zoo" experiences. 80 Mandai Lake Road, 269-3411, Nightly from 7:30 to midnight. Tram ride, $11.

The Botanic Gardens, at the junction of Cluny and Nassim Roads, has one of the world's finest collection of tropical plants. 471-7361;

sg. Open daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. Free, although admission to the National Orchid Garden is $1.10.

The Aspara Spa at Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Silosa Road, Sentosa Island, 270-2933, fax 339-2884, A two- to three-hour session of body pampering is available for $100.

For more information: Singapore Tourism Board, 4929 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 510, Los Angeles, 90010; (323) 677-0808, fax (323) 677-0801,


Jonathan Kandell last wrote for the travel issue about France's Finistere.

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