For many, Singapore has been little more than a stopover en route to more glamorous European destinations. However in recent years Singapore has experienced a cultural renaissance. With plenty of safe, gluten-free dining options and a flight time of a little over eight hours from Sydney, Singapore is a holiday destination in its own right.
“On a good day, you can see all the way to Indonesia,” the gentleman standing next to me explains kindly. I’m sipping a ‘damsel in distress.’ It’s a delicious blend of gin, fresh raspberries, crème de fraise and lemon juice and taking in the view from the SkyBar at the Ku Dé Ta Restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands.
Today is not what the gentleman would consider a good day. You can see the hustle and bustle of ships large and small in the Singapore Strait and out past housing development after housing development. Yet the Indonesian skyline remains elusive. However with a cocktail as delicious as this, I think it’s a good
day after all.
When you mention Singapore, most Australian’s immediately think of hours spent passing time between flights at Changi airport or shopping up a storm on Orchard Road. While Changi remains one of the best airports in the world (it’s efficiency and size are virtually unrivalled) and many a credit card has been maxed on Orchard Road. Today, Singapore offers travellers so much more.
FROM LITTLE THINGS
With a land area of just over 700 square kilometers, Singapore is about half the size of Sydney. The nation may be small, but as space is at an optimum, plenty is packed into a small area. While it has received criticism in the past for its “man-made” aesthetic, Singapore really has taken this into the new millennium.
To see it, you don’t have to look further than Gardens by the Bay. Opened in 2012, the Gardens showcase over 250,000 rare plants. An initiative by Singapore’s National Parks Board, the Gardens highlight is without doubt the solar powered “supertrees,” that blend natural elements with an industrial edge. The trees are up to 16 storeys high and act as vertical gardens, collecting rainwater and even generating solar power. Walkways connect several of the trees, providing visitors an opportunity to take in different views of the Gardens. Be sure to come back at night to take advantage of the free supertree light show.
Singapore is a great destination for young families. Arguably the most Westernised of the South-East Asian nations, it’s a great place to introduce your young ones to Asian travel andculture without it being too overwhelming. There’s plenty for them to do too.
If you’re visiting with a family, then you’ll need to schedule at least one day for a visit to Sentosa Island. This man-made island is just 15 minutes from the city and is home to a number of theme parks including South East Asia’s first Universal Studios. Thrill-seekers will enjoy 24 movie-themed rides and attractions, while toddlers will love getting close to their favourite Dreamworks characters including Shrek, Princess Fiona and Kung Fu Panda. A single day pass costs SD$74 for adults and SD $54 for children (aged 4-12).
Once again bringing together the natural and the industrial, the Sentosa Nature Discovery is a 1.8km nature walked that follows part of the route of Sentosa’s now defunct monorail. Along the way children learn about the flora and fauna found on the island including long-tailed macaques, squirrels and geckos. It’s also a great opportunity for some peace and quiet and a chance to give your wallet a rest. It’s one of the few, free activities on the island.
Sentosa is also home to three artificial, family-friendly beaches. It’s possible to swim at all three, but be sure to stick to the designated swimming areas, marked just like home with yellow and red flags. Siloso Beach is the most popular of the three and the least family friendly. The best spot for families is Palawan Beach, with free access to a paddling pool and a small play area. Here you’ll also find the Port of Lost Wonder, an adventure playground aimed at children between the ages of three and ten. Entry is SD$10 on weekdays for children under 12 and SD$15 on weekends. Adults are free.
Families visiting Singapore shouldn’t miss the Night Safari at Singapore Zoo. While open to visitors during the day, the milder evening temperatures improve comfort levels enormously. An hour bus ride will drop you at the door and you should aim to arrive at dusk (around 7pm). Launched in 1994, it was actually the first safari in the world to cater to nocturnal animals. Guided trams whisk visitors between seven different geographical zones providing a chance to witness different landscapes and wildlife habitats. The Night Safari runs daily from 7.30pm to midnight. Adults cost SD$39 and children SD$25.
SHOP TIL YOU DROP
If you must go shopping in Singapore forget Orchard Road and instead follow the locals in the know to Haji Lane. This small but colourful alley-way nestled at the back of Kampong Glam, is where you will find boutiques by local designers, established names and the up-and-coming, as well as excellent vintage stores.
The area is a must-see even without shopping. Kampong Glam, also known as the Arab Quarter, was designated a Muslim settlement in the 1800’s. It is now a conservation area and much of the original architecture has been preserved. A vibrant mix of textile stores, Middle Eastern restaurants and boutiques. The colours and intensity of the streets will stay with you, long after you’ve returned home.
SELF-CATERING IN SINGAPORE
In December 2011, there were nearly 1.5 million foreign expats living in Singapore. There are numerous supermarkets in Singapore catering to the needs of these international workers. It’s good news for those travelling on a gluten-free diet as it means you can pick up a number of your favourite gluten-free foods in the health food section.
It’s important to note that food labelling laws are different in Singapore. While all ingredients must be listed on packaging, there is currently no legislation regarding how many parts per million (PPM) is allowed in a product carrying a gluten-free label. With products imported from all over the world, just because it is labelled gluten-free doesn’t mean it would meet the strict labelling criteria used in Australia. To be on the safe side, it’s best to stick with the brands you already know. We were able to locate Orgran products, Nu-Vit cereal and lots of Freedom Foods.
EATING OUT IN SINGAPORE
The really good news about travelling in Singapore is that the gluten-free dining scene is improving. There is now a growing number of restaurants that are either entirely gluten-free or have enough of an understanding to be able to mark suitable items on the menu and can discuss their preparation with customers.
Jonathan’s was Singapore’s first dedicated gluten-free kitchen. With an understanding of the challenges to find safe places to eat, they promise a 100 percent gluten-free experience with no risk of contamination. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s also one of the first gluten-free restaurants we’ve been to with a bread menu! There is also a number of dairy and egg free options.
Glee Kitchen is the new kid on the gluten-free block. Another completely gluten-free dining option, Glee is open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday and dinner Thursday to Sunday.
While soup is not something we found ourselves craving in humid Singapore, it is good to know your options. The Soup Spoon has 20 outlets across Singapore and all are well versed on gluten-free needs. A number of their soups are gluten-free and are all clearly marked on the menus.
Raffles, the most famous hotel in all of Singapore is a tourist destination its own right. Many come to experience afternoon tea or a Singapore sling in the famous Tiffin Room and there’s no need to miss out when following a gluten-free diet. With 24 hours notice a gluten-free high tea can be provided.
While it’s great to know you won’t go hungry with cafés and restaurants now catering to your gluten-free needs, one of the joys of travel is tucking into local cuisine. And anyone who’s attempted to travel in Asia on a gluten-free diet knows just how hard it can be, with soy sauce a popular and common ingredient.
Fortunately in Singapore, English is extremely common, so if a restaurant isn’t familiar with gluten-free needs (which is highly-likely), most kitchen staff can tell you everything that goes into a dish. If you approach your question as a plea for help, rather than a request for alterations, in most cases you’ll be helped with a smile.
Hawker-style food centres can be found throughout Singapore and provide an inexpensive dining experience. However gluten-free customers need to be vigilant if eating here. Before ordering it’s a good idea to watch meals being prepared so you can see if any gluten-containing extras are sprinkled or poured on top of the meal. Hainanese Chicken (chicken rice) is generally a safe option, provided the chicken is steamed and no sauce is added prior to serving. Before ordering any meal with sauce check it doesn’t include soy and confirm thickeners used.
Little India is as fragrant as Kampong Glam is bright. While Indian food is often gluten-free you’ll need to watch for cross-contamination if dining in this area. Southern Indian cuisine uses fewer wheat products, so look for restaurants that specialise in dishes from this area. Dosa is one of our favourite gluten-free options, but check with staff when ordering that it’s not cooked on the same surface as wheat-containing roti.
TIME FOR BED
With over 53 million passengers passing through Changi airport each year it’s not surprising that you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. Many of the western hotel chains claim to be introducing gluten-free options to their breakfast menus or can order in gluten-free bread upon request.
The Swissotel Merchant Court is our pick. Located on the water at Clarke Quay, it’s within walking distance to a number of tourist hot spots. The Ellenborough Market Café located within the hotel has dedicated gluten-free section on the breakfast menu. It’s the first, and only, we found while researching our trip. With so much to see and do in Singapore it’s crucial you start the day right. Knowing that you’re heading out to explore on a full, but uncontaminated, stomach is good news for everyone.