This was an invited food trail. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.
I am of the opinion that the importation of culture, while generally welcome, should not come at the expense of our own culture. The way other people do things is great to know, but the way we do things is just as good. And this is why the St. Patrick’s Street Festival, despite the apparent scarcity of the Irish in Singapore, sounds like a good idea to me. The way we party is, uh, we don’t really. That’s a niche that needs filling, and why not fill it with Ireland?
This is why I was quick to accept the invitation to their food trail, which in turn got me here. By here I mean on the rooftop of a building at Boat Quay, in a bar I didn’t even know existed.
As it turns out we are at Southbridge. A relaxed space with low tables overlooking the river, they have created two cocktails for the festival. My favourite is the Irish Cola, a float-like creation based on Jameson Whiskey with Coke, cream and Bailey’s, while the Pat’s Martini is for people who like fruity cocktails, given a green hue from midori.
The highlight at Southbridge, though, are the oysters, gnarly Atlantic gems that have come in from Galway Bay. They are shucked as we eat them, by a young man who explains the whole process of shucking an oyster to us patiently – finding the hinge, opening it, then cleanly scraping the cream-coloured flesh from its white shell. The mollusc itself is a burst of clean, kelp and brine flavour.
Moving inward onto Circular Road, the main venue for the festival, Draft & Craft greets us with little ramekins of something covered in potato, along with little, coffee-dark measures of stout. The bracing flavour of the stout is a good lead-in for a shepherd’s pie that broods as hard and darkly as Yeats – the same amount of lingering, bittersweet aftertaste, and even more umami and malt aroma.
Funny thing, but the traditional colour of Ireland isn’t green – it’s blue, a colour rooted deeply in Catholicism (much like traditional Ireland). But then green is a little more exciting in such things as beer, and so Red Dot Brewery has come up with its Monster Green Lager, wherein they’ve put spirulina. The algae is mostly colour, but still discernible since they’ve held back on the hops; the result is something light and intriguing. I mean, intriguing even besides the green colour, of course.
Molly Malone’s is named after a semi-mythical fishmonger in Dublin, so it is perhaps apposite that they are bringing out their signature dish, fish and chips. The fried haddock wears a batter jacket that isn’t weighed down with too much oil, but it’s the chips that impress me more – plank like, as it ought to be, thickly cut so there is plenty of hot, floury interior with which to soak up malt vinegar or tartar sauce.
The other thing they’ve got is even more special. The recipe for this bacon and whiskey marmalade was apparently provided by none other than the Irish ambassador’s wife, a fitting diplomatic gift to a country as into food as Singapore. Bacon, having rendered its grease into the glistening mix, mostly contributes texture and the right amount of salt alongside onion-tinged sweetness. Brown soda bread, dense but easily crumbled, is just the thing to soak it up.
So here we are – slightly more than a decade of St. Patrick’s Day festivals in Singapore, and there is plenty of evidence that Boat Quay’s traders are really getting the hang of Ireland’s produce and cuisine. While Paddy’s feast day is March 17, the festival will really kick in on the weekend of 19-20 March – they’ll close the road, set up stages, and make Circular Road into a family-friendly corner of the Emerald Isle. It sounds like there’ll be plenty of craic to go around. And goodness knows Singapore could do with a lot more craic…
St. Patrick’s Street Festival
When: 19 – 20 March 2016
Where: Circular Road