Best of Asian Travel
Our list of top Singapore restaurants to dine at
Singapore has forged its place in the food lexicon as the home of award-winning cheap eats.
Ask any local the best places to eat and they will eschew fine dining and instead send you down narrow streets lined with repurposed shophouses and to outlying neighbourhoods to sample outlets that have earned a mention in Bib Gourmand (Michelin’s directory of 'good meals at moderate prices’ and a must-have app on Singaporeans’ phones) or even a coveted star.
And the best thing is that most dishes come in under the SD$10 mark.
Our top 3 list of restaurants to eat at in Singapore
328 Katong Laksa
A tiny storefront on a corner in the Katong neighbourhood, with outdoor seating on plastic chairs, the traditional Peranakan laksa served here costs around $5-7 a bowl and is so good it has earned the unassuming establishment an actual Michelin star.
On the wall there are pictures of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay who challenged it to the equivalent of a soup-showdown and came off second best.
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
Equally unassuming, the bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) served at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane (use Lavender MRT station) are also a Michelin star recipient. Originally founded in the 1930s, and still family run, the line at lunchtime here snakes out the door and around the corner and can take quite a while to clear.
Locals are adamant it’s worth the wait.
HJh Maimunah Restaurant
Located in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, Bib Gourmand inclusion Hjh Maimunah Restaurant is bustling at lunchtime with family and friends making their way through plates piled high with spicy and aromatic dishes, from crumbly, dark beef rending to sweet coconut chicken curry and all manner of vegetable dishes drenched in spicy sambal.
There are also a selection of snacks like samosa and tiny sweet doughnuts for a few dollars each.
One of our plates with a selection of five or so vegetable dishes came to just over $3.
New eats to treat yourself to
Ding Dong is a neon bright space serving up mod sing creations; start with a cocktail at the bar before working your way through the menu of small plates designed to be shared.
Potato Head Folk
In a corner shophouse in Chinatown, Australian artist David Bromley was given artistic free range, daubing one entire floor of the building with his distinctive works and filling many of the spaces in between with installations of his distinctive sculptures.
It is all delightfully whimsical, and perfectly complements the menu of burgers, organic dishes and homemade sodas, Potato Head Singapore is definitely a place to visit.
Open Farm Community
Sitting high on a hill above the Botanic Gardens, Open Farm Community is an earthy, honest proposition, with dishes constructed from locally grown and sourced ingredients, many of which come from the market gardens (complete with chickens) that surround the main dining room, providing a lovely green outlook.
The menu, created by big deal UK chef Ryan Clift, is huge on taste and goodness, and represents value for money considering the hearty portions served up. This place became an instant favourite as soon as I stepped in the door.
Open Door Policy
Another little local getting big kudos for its sustainable and now totally gluten- and dairy-free cuisine, which also happens to be filled with taste. Open Door Policy grow their own herbs and vegetables inside the narrow space they occupy in Tiong Bahru that is constantly filled with bright young things.
Located on Robertson Quay, the chosen neighbourhood for ex-pat Australians, Sprmrkt comprises two floors and two concepts: downstairs in Sprmrkt Daily it’s casual outdoor dining overlooking the Singapore River, and upstairs Sprmrkt Kitchen & Bar is a little fancier.
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The Kingdom of Mustang, Nepal: The Last Lost Kingdom
The once forbidden kingdom of Mustang in Nepal, with some of the last vestiges of traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture on Earth, is slowly revealing its dramatic beauty to intrepid explorers, writes Saransh Sehgal.
So secluded is the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Mustang (or the Kingdom of Lo as it is also known) that those taking it on will need to calculate the journey in days rather than distance, and commit to a medieval-style caravan in order to get there.
Lying beyond the 8000-metre peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas, just inside Nepal’s border with Tibet, the region stretches far into the vast Tibetan plateau and its mystical wilderness, presenting an untrammelled paradise for travellers looking for that elusive ‘last great frontier’.
Although the landlocked sovereign state of Nepal has long offered a treasure-trove of epic trekking expeditions, the vastness of the Himalayan range has also aided in preserving hidden societies that maintain a level of ethnic diversity, adding more layers to the journey.
In Upper Mustang the Tibetan culture, religion and traditions are believed to be at their purest, harking back to a Tibet before the Chinese occupation in 1951.
The Mustang region is made up of Upper Mustang and Lower Mustang, which occupies the far southern fringes of the Tibetan plateau and is more attached to Nepali tribes.
Upper Mustang is populated by the Loba tribe, the ethnic Tibetans who still believe that the world is flat.
The Loba are considered highly religious and prayers and festivals are an integral part of their daily lives.
By the time the first Western explorers became interested in Upper Mustang, they could only gain a peek into the kingdom due to restrictions in the region (imposed by both the Chinese and the Mustang people themselves, the latter in an effort to protect their ancient way of life).
The first official tourist groups didn’t gain access to Upper Mustang until 1992, and there are continued restrictions today: the Nepalese government in Kathmandu offers a special 10-day permit and it is mandatory for explorers to travel in groups (two people or more) with a guide.
This allows for a tantalising glimpse of Upper Mustang’s barren moonscape of eroded sandstone pillars and discontinuous moraine terraces, which together present a vibrant mosaic of earthen reds, yellows and brown, as well as its fascinating people.
The journey into the lost kingdom begins with a 20-minute flight from Nepal’s second largest city Pokhara to Jomsom, where the restricted area of Upper Mustang starts.
The flight is an adventure in itself, flying through what’s considered to be the deepest gorge in the world between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges.
Once on the ground, my German friend and I are joined by our local guide and a porter, who navigate us straight from the airport past the dramatic cliffs of the high mountains.
We follow the famous Kali Gandaki River upstream, sometimes walking in the riverbed itself, to Kagbeni and the entrance to Upper Mustang.
The terrain is striking, a semi-arid desert with deep ravines and rock shelves, flanked by snowy peaks.
We hike along the mountains, through valleys and riverbed paths, passing villages of few inhabitants that offer a unique blend of culture, history and nature.
Each day we venture deeper into this mysterious land, marching across the high-altitude desert with its idyllic setting, ancient dwellings and rare wildlife.
I find tangled webs of Buddhist prayer flags, bleached by the sun and worn by the mountain winds, and stone-carved sacred text at every mountain pass, and encounter the smiling Loba people as they chant their prayers.
The richness of the kingdom dates back to the 15th century when the region was an important transit point on the salt trade route, between the dry saline lakes of Tibet and the large markets in the Indian subcontinent.
Mustang was once an independent kingdom in its own right, under the rule of Ame Pal, who founded the Kingdom of Lo in 1380.
Its kingdom status ended, however, in 2008 following the end of its suzerain with the Kingdom of Nepal.
(The Kingdom of Lo became a dependency of Nepal in the 18th century but was allowed to keep its hereditary rulers as long as Nepal also remained a kingdom; Nepal transitioned from a kingdom to a republic in 2008.)
It was from the walled city of Lo Manthang that the royal family, which could trace its history back 25 generations directly to Ame Pal, sat surveying a world that – even to this day – has much more ethnic proximity to Tibet’s capital Lhasa than to the bazaars and shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu.
In fact, Mustang makes few concessions to modern civilisation, with life proceeding at the same unhurried pace that it has for centuries.
The day-to-day here revolves around local trade, controlled tourism and animal husbandry. A partial road connecting Lo Manthang with Tibet has been constructed, but yaks or ponies are still the only way to transport goods between villages.
The ancient traditions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism also play an essential part in the daily existence of Upper Mustang’s people.
Every village I encounter has its own monasteries cloaked in the smoke and aroma of butter lamps.
Some of the most mesmerising sights in the region are the hundreds of isolated cliff dwellings that are believed to date back to between 8 and 10,000 BC.
Recently, a team of mountaineers and archaeologists discovered more of these cliff-side caves, many of which were used by Buddhists as meditation chambers (others seem to have been used as storage units).
Some of them remain in use to this day; there are even a few families living in them permanently.
Crossing Lo-La, the final pass into Lo Manthang, I catch a glimpse of the remarkable 14th-century citadel, with its seven-metre-high boundary walls and square towers (dzongs).
The whitewashed palace at the heart of the walled city remained the hereditary royal residence of the last Mustang king, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, until he passed away on 16 December, 2016, at the age of 86.
Inside the citadel a settlement of no more than 200 households makes up the population of Lo Manthang.
The compact city offers up a unique walking experience, during which we explore mani walls, chortens, and monasteries that have housed veiled Buddhist texts and artwork for centuries.
Down narrow lanes I see local women sitting outside their houses spinning yak wool in preparation for the next winter.
The compelling mix of nature and culture that makes Lo Manthang such a wholly unique experience for outsiders is what has kept modern transformation from touching the lives of its people: there is no mains power or use of any technology, and the only traffic jams occur when local shepherds herd sheep through the streets.
A highlight of a visit to Lo Manthang is the Tiji Festival, a three-day ritual known as the ‘chasing of the demons’, held here during the summer.
Centred on the Tiji myth, which tells the story of a deity named Dorje Jono who battles against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction, Loba villagers converge on the capital to participate in masked dances, offering prayers and celebrating a new season.
It is also possible to request a brief audience with the titular royal family, with guests welcomed with the Khata, the traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarves, and wishes and prayers for a safe return.
For an outsider, this unforgiving land is a sea of myths and mountains that shed light on a once great civilisation.
While the hidden Himalayan outpost is slowly feeling the influence of the outside world, from China to the north and Nepal in the south, the Loba people remain wary of any change that may cause its centuries-old culture to vanish.
“We are trying to preserve our ethnicity and ancient culture,” a member of the royal family told me during my audience. “Even though we are slowly opening to the world.” IT
The Details: Upper Mustang, Nepal
Most trekkers fly from Pokhara to Jomsom, and enter Upper Mustang at the village of Kagbeni, a three-hour walk from the airport. The view from the plane, which passes between some of the world’s highest mountains, is mind-blowing.
The trekking season takes place from April to July. The maximum altitude reached while trekking in Upper Mustang is 4230 metres, while the level of difficulty is moderate.
Foreigners will need to arrange a special permit through trekking agencies; most Kathmandu- and Pokhara-based trekking agencies offer English- and Tibetan-speaking guides and local Sherpas.
Every major village on the trekking trails in Upper Mustang offers homestays; experienced guides know the best ones.
Can't get enough of Nepal? Check out 20 things you didn’t know about Nepal
Quick Guide: things to see and do in Mumbai
Tackle the sprawling metropolitan gem that is India’s biggest city. Written by Daniel Down
Where to sleep in Mumbai:
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel has it all: six storeys that combine the Indo-Saracenic style with Victorian Gothic, Romanesque and Edwardian details; topped off with a huge Moorish dome… and that’s just the architecture.
Located in a prominent Colaba location overlooking the Arabian Sea and a stone’s throw from the Gateway of India, the hotel – built by Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata – has been the jewel of the city since it opened its doors in December 1902.
It was the first building in the city to be lit by electricity and held the first licensed bar; today you can choose from a number of fine dining options within the hotel.
Its grace, charm and luxury has attracted maharajas, dignitaries and celebrities to stay – its 550 rooms and suites includes the Ravi Shankar suite; so called after George Harrison stayed here in 1966 under a pseudonym and studied sitar with the (equally legendary) Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Where to eat in Mumbai:There are 6 local Mumbai favourites you can’t leave without trying.
1. Bhel Puri: Rice with papadi, mango, potato, chutney, sev and onion.
2. Bombay Sandwich: White bread with potato, beetroot, cucumber, tomato, onion and mint chutney.
3. Batata Vada: Potato dumplings with chilli, ginger, turmeric garlic, lime and coriander.
4. Vada Pav:Dumplings added to a bun and accompanied with a fiery sauce.
5. Butter Crab: A simple seaside classic; enjoy a takeaway with oodles of garlic butter.
6. Ragda Pattice: A street food favourite: chickpea stew with pattice of fried potato.
Festivals to attend in Mumbai: India is a land of festivals and in any given month in Mumbai you might find yourself swept up in colourful celebrations.
Ganesh Chaturthi – 25 August
Celebrating the birth of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom, preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi begin months ahead in Mumbai where over 6000 Ganesha idols are commissioned every year.
At the end of the seven to 10 days’ worth of festivities, thousands of processions come together on Mumbai’s beaches to immerse the idols in the sea; accompanied by music and dancing.
Diwali – from 19 October
India’s five-day-long festival of light, Diwali marks the start of the Hindu New Year and sees diyas (oil lamps) twinkling from inside homes and fireworks lighting up the sky (the most impressive display is at Marine Drive).
Take a wander down ‘Lantern lane’ – LJ Road at Matunga-Mahim – after dark and you’ll find a dazzling display of lamps for sale in all conceivable colours and forms.
The impromptu market is an attraction in itself.
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival – early february
This is India’s biggest celebration of its many cultures, a month of traditional dance, food and visual arts.
Various venues across the city host everything from film to stand-up comedy, book readings and you’ll also find plenty of food stalls.
The guided heritage walks are a great way to explore Mumbai’s architecture and urban design that constitutes one of the most crowded cities in the world.
Did you know? More than 22 million people live in Mumbai and smack bang in the middle of it is the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, where you’ll find leopards, deer, crocodiles and monkeys, as well as ancient Buddhist caves.
At 104 square kilometres, it cuts a huge swathe out of the city, forcing commuters to travel around it to get to work.
Mumbai is famous for being the home of Bollywood, the centre of India’s Hindi film industry that generates more than 1000 movies a year.
Full of colourful dance routines the films often include intermissions, given they’re often three-hour epics.
Join a Bollywood tour to watch stars getting their make-up done, sets being made and dances being choreographed. For info, visit getyourguide.com.
Want to learn more? Discover more about Mumbai
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