Or so I’ve heard from friends who have actual money in their bank account instead of ghosts and cobwebs.
However, being broke should not stop you from exploring Southeast Asian culture in all its infinite splendour, from appetisers to mains to dessert.
Here’s how your stomach can travel the region even if your body is too poor to leave Changi.
Inasal is also the name of a famous barbecue chicken dish … which I did not order because I am an idiot and failed to make the connection between Chicken-Inasal and Eatery-Inasal until 2 days before this article’s submission deadline.
And because I am an idiot, I stared blankly at the service staff when she warned me: “Sir your Bulalo comes with 3 servings of rice.”
Me, an intellectual: “Yes, I want rice with that please.”
This is how you end up with five person’s worth of food on a Monday afternoon.
The staff also recommended Lechon, a uber-crispy roast pork belly which crumbles like an umami-and-lard cracker between your teeth. Then there’s Sisig, the best iteration of sizzling pig’s face you will ever have. It is served on a hotplate with half-caramelised onions and a raw egg stirred in, its yellow yolk forming a natural gravy.
Inasal also serves dessert like Halo Halo and Flan, but I was about to explode and die from all the meat. So instead, I did the sensible thing and bought Chicarrones—deep fried pork rinds—for the office.
Well, let me tell ya, they are entirely correct. But would you rather die with an acai bowl in hand?
Don’t worry if you know nothing about Myanmar and even less about the country’s cuisine because the staff is incredibly helpful. They’ve even prepared a special booklet for beginners who cannot comprehend their sprawling menu.
For starters, we had gourd fritters and a tea leaves salad—yes, your eyes deceive you not—tea leaves. Pickled tea leaves are mixed with garlic, toasted nuts, tomatoes and cabbage to make an astringent appetiser that’s every bit as addictive as those small plates of pickles you find in a Korean restaurant.
This is followed by a steaming bowl of Mohinga a.k.a a fish-and-noodle soup that tastes like the lovechild of assam laksa and mee-siam, and a massive portion of Myanmar Kway Teow, distinguished from its East Asian cousins by a liberal helping of split chickpeas.
Judging by the orders, we’re not the only admirers of Sanwin Makin. The neighboring table ordered a double portion of the cake and quite a few customers seem to have come for the desserts and nothing else.
Grandlink Square’s Little Vietnam, however, is a ‘no-frills’ place by the Kallang river which invests its time in food instead of puns. The menu is mostly Vietnamese with haphazard English translations, and the service staff isn’t entirely fluent, so you might experience some trouble ordering.
However, I didn’t really care because most of it is pretty good— and cheap. Their Bun Cha comes with a massive slab of pork and a veritable Eden of crunchy veggies. The brisket pho ($7!) is a comforting soup paired a delicious but hair-raising chilli which derives its sting from countless tiny seeds.
Think roasted barbecue chicken wings you get at East Coast, but better. Think sticky fingers.
As for soy, it just feels too healthy for a restaurant.
Not at Cumi Bali, however. Their spicy Tauhu Tempe is so good that my companion and I had to stop ourselves lest we finish the whole plate before our meats arrived. I’m not sure what spices they used, but you can practically make a supper of the tempe’s paste alone. All you need is some leftover rice.
My companion and I finished the entire plate within 5 minutes of its arrival, then spent the rest of our dinner staring longingly at the Paiseh Piece—before she reached over with a fork and divided it down the middle, to my immense relief.
But if you’re down and out for whatever reason, don’t feel sad when your friends start posting Instagram stories of perfect sunsets or neon-lit cafes. If you really care for it, you can still close your eyes and let the flavours transport you somewhere else; somewhere far away.