After a year in Singapore and eating at 255 restaurants and a total of 37 Michelin stars, Jon Lu, an software engineer from New York City shares with us his experiences in Singapore and rounds up his top eats in our gastronomic city!
28 April 2021 / By SGN
Tell us a little about yourself! Why did you move to Singapore?
In August 2019, I was assigned by my company to a one-year project that involved travelling around Asia to work with some of our clients there. For the first six months, I actually spent most of my time outside Singapore working on engagements in China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and Australia and my time in Singapore was limited to just a few short trips in between my travels. During these brief visits, I viewed Singapore from the perspective of a tourist as I was only there for a few days at a time.
When borders in Asia started closing in late March due to COVID restrictions, I had a choice between Singapore and Tokyo for where I’d spend the rest of my deployment in Asia. I chose Singapore due to the lack of language barrier (I’m fluent in Mandarin and English but still a beginner in Japanese) and also because of the comfort I had experienced during my previous visits there. In retrospect, I’m incredibly glad I did because the subsequent nine months changed my mindset of Singapore as being mainly a tourist city to somewhere I consider a second home and would strongly consider moving back to someday.
What do you love most about Singapore?
Honestly everything. I know this is a bit cliché but Singapore is incredibly safe, clean, and beautiful; the integration of urban development with nature is unlike anywhere else I’ve been to and Singapore certainly lives up to its moniker as the “City in a Garden.”
As a foodie, the food scene in Singapore is incredible. Many other Asian cities have a strong local food scene and some also have a very strong international food scene, but few cities I’ve been to have anywhere near the diversity and depth of options that Singapore has. For starters, the hawker scene is amazing; I tried every single dish on an extensive list of hawker dishes one of my Singaporean friends sent me and visited as many hawker centres as I could and everything was delicious! I also found the communal hawker culture to be really distinctive and memorable and was so happy when it was announced late last year that Singapore’s hawker culture would be recognized as a UN Intangible Cultural Heritage.
On top of that, the fine dining scene is arguably the strongest of any Asian city I’ve been to outside of Japan and don’t get me started on the grocery markets in Singapore, where you can get quality imported ingredients from all over the world such as jamón ibérico from Spain and premium fruits from Korea and Japan basically at your doorstep. I really miss having Cold Storage and The Providore within walking distance now that I’m back in the US.
Another thing I love about Singapore that I really only came to appreciate after I started living there in late March is just how insanely comfortable it is. It is so cheap and convenient to get around by MRT, Bus, or Grab and one of the things I started doing later in my stay was biking around using SG Bike so that I could soak in the views which are gorgeous no matter where you are on the island. After Phase 1 of the Circuit Breaker ended, I started to explore more outside of CBD (I stayed in Tanjong Pagar) and visit some of the more distant parts of Singapore that most tourists never hear about. For each of these areas, I’d walk or bike around for a day and visit some of the local parks, hawker centres, community centres, malls, and look at interesting architectures just to get a feel of the neighbourhood — my local friends often joked that I knew Singapore better than them as they had never been to many of the places I visited during my weekend excursions. One eye-opening discovery I had from exploring 27 of Singapore’s 28 Residential Districts was that Singapore’s Urban Planning is brilliant; it’s decentralized so that no matter where you live you have access to all of the above conveniences in your vicinity without having to travel for unreasonable lengths. This really reinforced the idea that Singapore is a home for all of its residents, not just the ones who can afford to live in prime neighbourhoods.
You visited over 250 F&B establishments in 10 months! Could you do a roundup of the best food places in Singapore?
Tough question! For fine dining, Odette, Preludio, Sushi Kimura, Labyrinth, Meta, and Euphoria were probably the most standout (though there were many more noteworthy experiences that I share on my Instagram).
For local comfort food, my favorite spots were 88 Hong Kong Roast Meat Specialist, Roast Paradise, Tian Tian Chicken Rice, KEK Seafood, and Mr and Mrs Mohgan Super Crispy Prata. For hawker centres, all of the ones I visited were great though my most frequented due to sheer proximity to where I was staying were Amoy Street, Maxwell, and Lau Pa Sat (which I know gets a bad rap from locals for being overpriced and expat-catered but holds special nostalgia for me since it was the first place I ate at on my very first day in Singapore). I’m also an ice cream / gelato lover and explored Singapore’s artisanal ice cream scene rather extensively; Birds of Paradise and Monarchs & Milkweed Gelato were my two favourite ice cream boutiques.
What were your favourite memories during your time in Singapore?
For my favorite surprise discoveries from my explorations, I really enjoyed Pulau Ubin for its stark kampong contrast to modern-day Singapore, Punggol for its notable architecture, beautiful canals, and water views, and Tampines for its gigantic and futuristic community center Our Tampines Hub, one of the most impressive public sports complexes I’ve ever seen. There are a few other locations in Singapore that hold special personal significance for me. The first is my main running loop along the dynamic and winding Singapore River from Marina Bay to Great World City, which is where I picked up running during the Circuit Breaker and would eventually enjoy scenic sunrise and sunset runs several times a week. The other is Gardens by the Bay, which I had visited during my initial trips to Singapore but took on a completely different feel after borders were closed. Without all the tourists, this usually hectic and crowded destination became my favourite location for a late night stroll and the tranquillity and soothing music of the Supertree Grove felt magically therapeutic after a busy day.
Will you be back in Singapore anytime soon?
From the welcoming people to the melting pot of cultures here to the incredible international and local cuisine to the remarkable ease of getting around and convenience of life and much more, I’m truly honored that I get to call Singapore my home away from home and am strongly considering moving back at some point down the road. As much as I enjoyed my trips to Singapore as a tourist in previous visits, I found my time living there and getting to know it as a home to be orders of magnitude more enriching. Behind the perfect veneer of what outsiders see, is a city aware of its shortcoming and constantly trying to do better while remembering and taking pride in its roots as a small nation.
Jon Lu is an alumni of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and currently works in tech in NYC. As a passionate foodie and travel lover, his endless curiosity and love for exploring bring him to over 300 F&B establishments and new cities and countries every year. His time in Singapore in 2020 was one of the most memorable periods of his life and an experience he will cherish forever. He considers Singapore to be a second home and would love to move back one day.