|High tea at Raffles|
And now the delicate moment: ‘…and, please, no soy sauce’.
The cashier / manager frowned at me. ‘No soy?’.
‘No soy. It makes me sick.’ I put on an anguished face and clutched my stomach but this only made her frown even more. ‘I’m really sorry’. (Why should I be sorry??)
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Oyster sauce?’
‘Mmmm… I’d better not risk it. No.’
‘No oyster sauce?’.
‘No.’ Firmly. Politely but firmly.
She shook her head a little and punched numbers into her till. Then she turned and shouted the order to the chef in a language I couldn’t understand. I’m pretty sure that conversation followed the same lines as our exchange but I suspect it was also laced with a little sarcasm and things like ‘she says it will make her sick’ and probably finished with something like ‘These bloody strange tourists’. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes.
I didn’t mind the drama at all – it was worth the delicious plate of fried rice topped with a fried egg, and laced with the mysteriously named chicken ham but sans soy sauce. It was the first decent meal I’d had in Singapore in three days. I was there for the Formula 1 Grand Prix and I wasn’t going to risk being sick and missing it after waiting so long and spending so much money.
For the first three days, while the race was on, I would scurry back to a corner of my tiny hotel room in downtown Little India munching nut bars, cracking open tins, and boiling water for my gluten free noodle cups. It was a little pathetic – tuna flecks on the sheets, rice cracker crumbs on the vanity, washing plastic cutlery in the tiny bathroom sink and hiding it in the back of my suitcase. I felt like a girl with a nasty fetish to hide.
At the Grand Prix I had to ask inane questions at food outlets that generally baffled the person being asked: ‘Do you fry your chips in the same oil as your battered fish?’ (at the recreated English pub), and ‘When you say cheese sauce, is it just melted cheese or is it cheese made into a sauce?’ (getting nachos at the Mexican outlet). I looked enviously over at the noodle bar, sniffed deeply and sighed. I watched kids shovelling hot, spicy, saucy battered morsels into their mouths and licked my lips.
Instead, I ordered another gin and tonic.
Day four, Grand Prix over and I was ready to be unleashed! To hell with the risk of vomiting in public spaces, I was ready to give it a whirl. For the next few days it was a feeding frenzy. First stop was the cafe I mentioned above where I ordered the fried rice for breakfast (it was 11am!). The cranky fried rice lady was the only one to give me attitude. Everyone else in Singapore was so understanding, accommodating and willing to play. So, next I conquered Chinatown with the most delicious plate of pork chop with honey sauce I’ve ever had the good fortune to consume. I regretfully relapsed into colonialism for a rib eye steak smothered in pepper sauce and a very proper English high tea at Raffles. But the next night I consumed a seven course Chinese banquet with the desperation and abandon of a rescued survivor. Salt and pepper crab! Taro battered scallops! Sago pudding! I waddled back to the hotel, sated, smug and happy.
Towards the end of my stay, I was taken to dinner by some new friends – Indochine on Clarke Quay. Hip understated waterfront restaurant, moody lighting, humid of course, but a cool breeze off the water. And then imagine my surprise and joy when I was presented with a gluten free menu.
Coeliac nirvana. I’d made it.
* A Coeliac cannot tolerate anything that contains gluten (including wheat amongst other things). Soy sauce is usually processed with wheat and other sauces sometimes contain wheat flour thickeners.