When I think about packaged food in India, my mind automatically conjures up images of cold tetraPaks of mango Frooti (fresh and juicy), packets of crunchy Kurkure (can never have enough of Kurkure, can you?) and rows of instant flour mixes pledging loyalty to India's long standing tradition of hearty carb-filled breakfasts.
The Singaporean supermarkets however have a different story to tell. And I, being the eternal experimenter of all things strange and wonderful, bring you the lowdown on what's hitting the aisles at our local stores.
The Go Green movement
Singaporeans are all about doing things the Green way. And this applies to their beverages too.
If you picture the average Indian sipping on a Frooti, then the average Singaporean is sipping on his/her green tea. They come in tetrapaks, bottles and cans and people are guzzling it down by the litre. Green tea flavour has crept its way into every possible food here. There are green tea noodles, ice creams, soya milk, cakes and rolls. The local Starbucks even sells a green tea latte which I have not yet mustered up the courage to try out.
The Indian understanding of seafood is mainly restricted to fish, crabs, prawns, etc. So I was quite taken aback while browsing through a tempting array of Ruffles Lays packets and I spotted a packet of dried seaweed nestled amongst them. Yes, actual seaweed. Although I have to tell you it is most definitely edible and actually very delicious. Comes in chilly flavour too for the Indian palate.
Then there's shellfish, abalone, octopus, eels and other odd things that you don't know how to cook. Seafood here is pretty much anything which lives underwater. Nothing is spared. On that note, you might even find the odd raw lotus root slice or white fungus floating in your soups.
Beverages that Baffle
The milk aisle will have your usual array of whole, low-fat, skimmed and 2% milk and oooohh…what's this? As I move nearer to get a closer look, I am initiated into a world of strange soya milk flavours. Apart from plain soya milk, you are offered options as bizarre and diverse as almond, black sesame seeds, green tea (again) and pomegranate.
Bubble teas are another local favourite. Though at first glance, it looks like someone has taken a practical joke too far and dropped a few small black marbles into the drink. I soon realised that these 'marbles' were rather tasty - squishy balls of yam paste that gave your drink a definite 'kick' to it. This drink gets a 'Must Try' from me.
Also worth mentioning is the dizzying array of strange, 'other-worldly' drinks made of ingredients which you rarely ever ate, let alone made a drink out of. Here are a few examples: White Chrysanthemum Tea, Grass Jelly, Winter Melon Tea and Water chestnut Drink. Get the drift?
Here Kitty, Kitty....
The Hello Kitty brand has generated a cult mass following in Singapore. To a creepy extent. There are entire shops dedicated to the big-headed, passive, expressionless white kitty. Entire bedrooms disguised as temples to Kitty paraphernalia. Cars covered in Kitty covers, photos framed with Hello Kitty borders and even personalised Hello Kitty panties! But Quails eggs? Frozen chicken feet? Tofu puddings? They are all here and more. And each day, I shake my virgin palate out of its comfort zone, discovering a new 'exotic' food.