One of the reasons why we chose to travel to Singapore for Christmas is because they celebrate Christmas there, well commercially anyways. There are Christmas decorations everywhere and people actually say Merry Christmas to you.
Christmas in a hot country. . .weird?!
Christmas day we decided to take it pretty easy. We had just hiked the day before and we were pretty tired. We decided to head to one of the best hawker centres for lunch: East Coast Lagoon Food Village. One reason why this hawker centre is so good, other than for its food, is its location. It is located in the East Coast Park which is a 11km stretch of seafront. So you can relax at the beach, take a dip in the sea, then walk a few feet to amazing food. Sounds good, right?
Us enjoying East Coast Park
East Coast Lagoon Village. You can see what a typical hawker centre looks like with stalls around the edge serving up deliciousness while customers eat at tables in the interior. It’s neat because you can sit anywhere, even with other people. They don’t care, everyone is just there to eat good food.
East Coast Lagoon Food Village has many stalls serving some of the best Singaporean food. We decided to try a few of these items. First we tried Laksa from “Roxy Laksa”. Laksa is sort of a noodle soup where the broth is mostly coconut milk and curry with lots of other spices and there are prawns and fat noodles inside. It was delicious. I think I enjoyed it more than Dave, but he still liked it. We also tried Sambal Stingray. Yup, that’s right, we ate stingray! It was grilled in a banana leaf and served with spicy sambal sauce on top – nice, meaty, and spicy.
Last but definitely not least we had some Satay. The funny thing about satay is that I wasn’t really psyched to try it. I figured how good could grilled meat skewers really be? Well the answer is AMAZING! These little skewers, usually of chicken and lamb, are marinated in a sweet and flavourful sauce. Then they are grilled over a charcoal BBQ. But they’re not grilled regularly. They actually place a smoldering log on top of the charcoals and fan it with a bamboo fan. Then they are served with onions, cucumber, and a peanut dipping sauce. I wish I could describe how good they were, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. We spent the rest of the day relaxing after our big meal and staring out into the sea.
Our man cooking up some satay.
Mmmm…satay. My favourite Singaporean dish. I know it doesn’t look like much but there is so much flavour in every bite!
Dave looking handsome and happy. He is quite content after eating his satay!
That night Dave and I had big plans for dinner. While doing our food research for Singapore, Dave discovered that there is a restaurant called “Enoteca L’Operetta” serving real Napoletana pizza. When I say “real” Napoletana pizza, I mean REAL Napoletana pizza! “Enoteca L’Operetta” has VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification. VPN certification is no little accomplishment. The Japanese chef built his wood-burning oven from rock taken from Mount Vesuvius outside of Naples. Then he had to meet the following requirements:
1. A Wood-Burning Oven.
The real Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 900ºF.
Gas, coal or electric ovens, while capable of produce wonderful pizza, are not conformed to the Pizza Napoletana tradition.
2. Proper Ingredients.
Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients (preferably imported from Naples or Campania region) are acceptable: Flour (Type 00),San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural Fior-di-Latte or Bufala fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, sea salt and yeast.
3. Proper Technique.
Pizza dough kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer (fork or spiral). No mechanical dough shaping, such as a dough press or rolling pin, are allowed. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.
4. Proper Equipment.
A proper work surface (usually a marble slab), a wood pizza peel to introduce the pizza into the oven and a long handle metal round peel to turn and remove the pizza from the oven.
5. The Final Product.
Pizza Napoletana is not larger than 11 inches with a raised edge crust and thin center. The pizza should be soft and elastic, and easily foldable.
Going to this restaurant on Christmas meant a lot to us. We were looking forward to it all day. We were excited not just for the food, but because it would be nice to eat familiar Italian food on Christmas when we were missing our usual Italian Christmas feast with my family. This was our first Christmas away from home and I was definitely missing my family. We had made a reservation earlier in the week and after our day on the beach, we headed back to the hotel to spiff ourselves up and go and enjoy our Christmas dinner abroad.
It was a nice night and we arrived at the restaurant. The restaurant is located in Boat Quay and they seated us at a table overlooking the river. It was great. Then they handed us a set menu. Now when we made our reservation we made sure to ask two things: Will there be a set menu? And will you be serving pizza? Their answers were: “No” to a set menu and “Yes there will definitely be pizza.” So you could imagine our surprise when we were handed a set menu. We had anticipated restaurants trying to make more money and capitalizing on Christmas Day by doing exactly this. So of course we explained how we had been told there wouldn’t be a set menu. We said how we had come for the pizza. Now this is when the real bomb landed – they told us the pizza oven was broken! At this point my heart dropped. We had been talking about and looking forward to this pizza all day. And to be honest, Dave and I don’t really believe that the oven was broken. We feel like this lie was a tourist trap to try to get everyone to spend more money on the set menu. With our hearts at our feet, we just got up and left. At this point they were saying we could order off the regular menu, but we just kept walking.
It is hard for me to convey exactly how upsetting this was for us. First you have to know that when you travel, everything is more effort: being somewhere on time, looking nice, figuring out how to get somewhere, deciding on a place to eat or what to do, etc. So just having a reservation, knowing how to get to the restaurant, arriving on time and dressing up were all a big deal. Then you add our excitement and anticipation for this dinner. We had talked about this place for months. Now add on the fact that it was Christmas! Christmas is my favourite holiday. I love everything about it – the songs, the decorations, the gift-giving and receiving, the merriment had with family and friends, the feasting, etc. It was a big deal for me this year not going home for Christmas. So here we were on Christmas Day sitting on a bench on the Quay with nowhere to eat dinner, missing home, and dealing with emotions such as anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, and tiredness. I was holding back my tears.
After a while of wallowing and stopping Dave from going back and arguing with the manager, we pulled it together and decided to go eat sushi instead (which turned out to be a whole other story). It was delicious sushi, some of the best I’ve had, but it wasn’t the familiar Italian food we were hoping for.
The famous decorated Orchard Road. On Christmas Eve we walked down this road to enjoy the Christmas decorations. It’s funny because at midnight everyone starts spraying fake snow everywhere. They don’t know what to do so it ends up feeling like New Year’s.
They were pretty but a little over-rated. I’ve definitely seen better in Canada.
Our pizza tale does not end there. For the rest of our trip we had given up on eating at Enoteca L’Operetta. The experience was now tainted. However a little twist of luck brought us back to its doors. We had decided to travel back to that neighbourhood to have a special dish of claypot rice. Unfortunately the legendary restaurant we had travelled to eat it at had moved! Here we were around the corner from L’Operetta, hungry, and trying to decide where to eat. When you’re foodies like us it’s a big decision. And with all the good food in Singapore you don’t want to waste a meal and eat somewhere average. Considering our location and how hungry we were, we decided that having pizza at L’Operetta was the best option we had.
This time we were not dressed up (in fact we were under-dressed as we were heading for a hike after lunch) and we had no reservation. As we sat in the chic restaurant, looking at the menu, Dave decided he should talk to the manager about our disappointment at Christmas. The manager was called to our table and Dave briefly explained our story and pleasantly asked him to make sure we enjoyed this experience. I felt a little awkward because I don’t like complaining but it turned out really well. The restaurant did everything right after that. The manager gave us Prosecco to start. We ordered an Insalata Verde (mixed greens with walnut oil dressing, parmesan cheese, and aged balsamic). It was good. I was happy to eat a salad again. Then Dave had the Pizza Napoletana (tomato sauce, garlic, anchovy, oregano, and basil – just like my Nonna’s) while I had the Pizza Romana (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, anchovy, and basil). The pizzas were some of the best pizzas I have ever had! The chewiness of the crust, the taste of the wood oven, the flavourfulness of the simple ingredients all came together perfectly. If I closed my eyes, I could’ve been in Italy. It definitely lives up to its reputation. And to top if all off, the manager took a big chunk off our bill.
In the end we had an amazing meal at Enoteca L’Operetta. The manager did exactly what he should have, the pizza was incredible, and we left happy. I still have mixed feelings when I think about the place but our experience is quite unique. If you know how to appreciate simple Italian pizza and you’re ever in Singapore, you should definitely eat here – you’ll eat some of the best pizza you’ll ever have!