As the Managing Director of Buffalo Tours, Matt Masson plays an important role in how Buffalo Tours creates unforgettable journeys in Asia – but his passion for travel, adventure and sustainability are more than just company values. Follow his stories – and many others from the Buffalo team – for a closer look at the people and stories behind the tours.
It may sound clichéd, but Singapore is truly a melting pot of the very best things in Asia. From multi-cultural communities to eclectic fine arts, hip cosmopolitan fashion and endless variety of food, it’s hard to nail down just what you couldn’t find in this vibrant metropolis. Even for me – having lived in the Lion City for six months now – I’m still just beginning to scratch the surface of Singapore’s cultural and culinary options.
That isn’t for lack of trying, though. In my six months, I have made an effort to visit the various quarters of the city which specialise in different cuisine, from breakfast roti in Little India to some mouth-watering baba ganoush and kebabs in Kampong Glam – through to chicken rice (a Singapore staple) at the Maxwell food court in Chinatown. In addition to my own culinary forays on foot, I often read blogs and restaurant reviews to keep my finger on Singapore’s thumping food pulse – and that’s easier said than done in a city that’s constantly adapting and growing.
So when I set out on one of Buffalo Tour’s newest Local Life tours – namely, the Singapore Taste of Chinatown adventure – I was pleasantly surprised to be immersed in a new variety of dishes, none of which had crossed my palate prior to setting off on this culinary excursion. As someone who would consider myself “well eaten” in my chosen hometown, it was an exhilarating and eye-opening experience to realise how much more there was to discover.
First Stop: Some history, and a hole-in-the-wall
We met our guide, Jen, in the early evening at the Chinatown MRT, and set off by foot. We didn’t have to stroll too far before our history primer began. We hadn’t even sat down for our first taste of the area’s food, but already we were building fascinating historical context for the foodie adventure that lie ahead. As we walked along the bustling streets with Jen, she pointing out some of former great buildings, including the Majestic Hotel, which housed some of the visiting dignitaries back in the days of the British colonial rule.
“As someone who would consider myself “well eaten” in my chosen hometown, it was an exhilarating and eye-opening experience to realise how much more there was to discover.”
The fading hotel façade peers out across Eu Tong Sen Street, at “Lim Chee Guan”, one of the most famous and busiest ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants on the strip – our first stop. Still within view of the historical architecture we’d gotten to know along the stroll, we pulled up a chair here for a taste of the restaurant’s most famous delicacies: bakkwa, or meat jerky. Here, this dish is especially tender, soft and bursting with flavour. My favourite was the chilli pork – its spicy perfection was the perfect introduction.
Second Stop: Alley-hopping
Our small group of five people then descended into the smaller alleys of Chinatown, all running adjacent to Smith street, which is a popular area for tourists and locals to enjoy al fresco dining. Along the way, Jen pointed out some of the former opium dens, explaining how opium was an important commodity for the British traders back in the 19th Century. Imagining how these streets must have looked during that era was a welcome eye-opener – especially since I would have likely strolled past this area without ever having taken a second glance to consider its past lives.
Nowadays, these streets have changed face with market stalls selling imported trinkets, interspersed with food stalls selling a mix of grilled meats, soups (including frog soup, another local delicacy). One of the local favourites here is fresh fruit cut to order – and it’s not uncommon to sit down at a small plastic table, and sample it immediately. Like true locals, we did just that, and before long were presented with a dish that none of us were expecting.
That dish was one of Singapore’s most infamous fruits: the durian. Although I had heard much about this legendary fruit – including the sign banning it from the city’s MRT trains – it was the first time I had ever mustered the courage to actually eat it. It does not rate as one of the sexiest fruits based on its spiky outer skin. However, like most things in life, it is what is on the inside that counts. Its soft, yellow flesh is sweet and has a custard-like texture. If you can get past the initial strong scent, it is a delicacy – although, I have to admit that the other people in my group did not share my thoughts.
Final Stop: Flavours, surprises and a lot of inspiration
It’s hard to say exactly when it happened – perhaps somewhere between the chicken rice and the durian – but I managed to up-end my assumption that I’d discovered what was worth discovering in Singapore’s culinary scene. Even after six months of exploring some of Singapore’s best foodie hubs, we managed to stumble across some places I would have never found on my own. It is this kind of experience that reminds you of a simple truth: if you want to really get under the skin of a destination, ask the locals.
For our Local Life tours, that’s exactly what we did. We brought together the passion, interests, expertise and ideas of our people – some born-and-bred locals, others long-term expatriates – to create tours that went beyond the obvious. We set off on a mission to connect our clients with not just the highlights, but some of the region’s best kept secrets, too. What we got was a collection of some of our most exceptional and in-depth experiences. These tours feel like you’ve got a local friend with the perfect tips and tricks to get to know their home.
“We brought together the passion, interests, expertise and ideas of our people – some born-and-bred locals, others long-term expatriates – to create tours that went beyond the obvious.”
For me, that experience was sampling all of those dishes I hadn’t even heard of before my trip – and getting in touch with another slice of Singaporean culture along the way. For others, that might mean spending a morning cycling around Sanur in Indonesia – and getting to know our Country Manager’s favourite neighbourhood along the way. It could mean sipping tea with Beijing’s own “Cricket Master”, our China Product Manager’s favourite “old soul” in his home city. Our Local Life tours are more than just in-depth experiences in our destinations – they’re some of our team’s favourite moments, stories and top spots.
Of course, we can’t wait to share them with visitors. There’s a whole lot more in Asia waiting to be discovered, and we’re ready to help you get there.
Add Local Life experiences throughout customised tours in 11 Asian destinations, and discover another side of Asia alongside the locals!