Things to Do: Little India

One of the nicest things about visiting Singapore is its multi-ethnic nature, and its ethnic neighborhoods. Simply by hopping on the MRT and traveling a few stops, you can visit areas as diverse as Chinatown and Little India. The MRT stop is called, not surprisingly, “Little India.”

As you exit the station you will be seeing, smelling and hearing things pleasantly different from other parts of Singapore: women in saris, unfamiliar languages, the sweetish smell of curries and the ticking of commerce in the shops around you. Even a short stroll around the station will show you shops selling Hindu religious art, the beautiful jewelry Indian women wear, a henna shop and restaurant serving the best food from the subcontinent. Bring an appetite!

Eating in Little India

You can pretty much choose a good place based on whether it is crowded (good) and clean (very good). With kids, we steered clear of the darker, empty storefronts until after a short walk we found a place packed with local families. In most instances the meal has up to three sections: a basic “set” that includes rice, curry(ies) and some vegetables, items you select cafeteria style to add on and special things ordered from the kitchen that can take a few minutes to prepare.

As soon as you sit down, the adventure begins. Wait, let's start over. BEFORE you sit down, get everyone's hands washed, because this food is eaten without utensils-that's right kids, your dream has come true. You get to eat with your hands, and so do Mom and Dad (OK, if you ask, forks and spoons are available).

As I was saying, as soon as you sit down, a waiter will appear and place a banana leaf on the table in front of you. This is your plate. He may offer a choice between white and yellow (saffron) rice, scooped onto the leaf, and then plop one or more curries around the perimeter. Some cracker/bread-like object comes next, and then it is time to roll up your sleeves and eat.

You should watch other people to see how it is done, but the basics include the following: eat only with your right hand (the left hand is considered “dirty” as it is traditionally used in the toilet). Clump a small amount of rice and curry together, and pick it up with the ends of your fingers. You should not grab whole handfuls and shovel them in to your mouth. The cracker/bread can be used as a scoop, or like a cracker with dip.

One special item to consider if you are going for the whole boat is fish head curry, a Singapore staple. If you don't like fish and/or curry, maybe not, but people who do like both foodstuffs say it is good eatin'. You do get the fish head in the curry pot, be advised.

If the restaurant has local coffee, have a shot of that and turn your back on McStarbucks forever. The coffee is strong, but well-laced with sweetened, condensed milk to a more close to syrupy consistency. A very nice finish to a spicy curry lunch.

Oh, yeah, and do wash your hands after the meal.

The place we ate at was Iniavan's Indian Cuisine at 37 Chander Road. Their motto is “NO RECESSION IN QUALITY AND SERVICE.”

Temples and Street Scenes

Little India is dotted with temples of various sizes, and most welcome visitors. In almost every instance you will need to remove your shoes and perhaps socks at the entrance. Some have dress rules, typically no bare shoulders, especially for women.

Some allow photos inside (one even charged to take your own pictures with your own camera!) but ask first. Even when photos are allowed, it is never cool to use flash, or to photograph people worshipping without their permission.

The temples we stopped in on were all very much family affairs, with kids running around the courtyard and Moms/Mums and Dads sitting around the perimeter being social. Our kids fell in with one child and folks chatted pleasantly with us. It all seemed very relaxed, and most places seemed comfortable and familiar with visitors.

There are a lot of small shops throughout Little India, and we enjoyed browsing. If you need some emergency children's clothing, this is the place to stock up at pretty decent prices. There were also a lot of sort of junky but cheap toys, and low priced T-shirts to be had. Sidewalks are more uneven here than in other parts of Singapore, so strollers might be a bit of a hassle.

One place to perhaps not spend too much time is Mustapha Center. This is heavily-promoted, and apparently is open 24 hours a day, but sells mostly electronic goods and household appliances of little interest to casual tourists. They do have some toys and kid clothing upstairs, wicked cold air conditioning and decent toilets, so a visit won't be a total loss, just maybe not a must-see.

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