What to Bring Home from Singapore
And I'm not talking about designer goods here.
I conceived this topic after a friend asked me what to buy for her friends overseas. And I couldn't think of a thing off the top of my mind! I didn't want to recommend items specifically produced for tourists or obvious souvenirs like t-shirts and keychains.
My failure to come up with even one thing started me thinking about what might be "Singaporean", bought by ordinary Singaporeans, yet make good gifts for friends overseas.
I came up with three Singapore brands -- Bee Cheng Hiang, Bengawan Solo, Eu Yan Sang. What these companies have in common is that they took traditional items, and started selling them in modern-style franchises or store chains. Thus you have the advantage of being able to find a branch in almost any major shopping centre in Singapore, and you can expect a certain level of consistency in quality.
Bee Cheng Hiang
Bee Cheng Hiang sells Chinese-style barbecued meat and meat floss, both very delicious and both a favourite with our families.
The barbecued meat, called bakkwa, is especially popular with locals during Chinese New Year, when families will often queue up to buy many boxes to consume at home, or give to friends and relative.
Bee Cheng Hiang makes various versions of barbecued meat and meat floss using either pork or chicken. Ask the staff at the shop for a sampling of the different types, starting with the most traditional, the sliced pork barbecue meat. My mum's favourite is the chicken barbecue meat -- she thinks it's healthier. I'm not too sure about the "healthy" part, but the chicken tastes as good as the pork, in my opinion. My own personal favourite is the crispy pork floss, so be sure to sample that as well. The floss can be eaten by itself, or as a filling for a sandwich.
Bengawan Solo is a bakery that sells many types of traditional cakes. Check out its cookies, traditionally produced for Chinese New Year, but available all year round at this chain.
My favourites: their Kuih Bangkit, a traditional cookie made from tapioca flour and coconut milk; and the traditional folded Love Letters, also made from coconut milk.
Eu Yan Sang
Eu Yan Sang is a modern incarnation of the traditional Chinese medicine shop.
This chain is known for being pricey, but Singaporeans trust the quality of its products. Locals patronise the store for its traditional chinese medicines as well as birds' nest, cordyceps and ginseng.
Its modern retail practices -- nice packaging, product descriptions in English, and informative brochures -- make shopping there less intimidating for the visitor. Having said that, Chinese herbal preparations and traditional medicines are definitely an acquired taste, so most products will probably not be suitable as gifts.
The one product I'd recommend as a gift: their American Ginseng packaged in tea bags, a fantastic convenience for people like who can't be bothered to brew ginseng roots.