Raffles Hotel – Tigers and Singapore Sling

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Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Early one morning on 13 August 1902, an escaped circus tiger bounded under the Raffles Hotel Billiard Room, which was built on stilts. Charles Phillips, principal of Raffles Institution and a member of Singapore’s rifle team, was urgently called to the hotel. Rushing over in his pyjamas, he saw the eyes of the tiger gleaming in the half-light under the building, took aim, and killed it. A python and a wild boar have also visited the hotel in the days before Singapore became an urban jungle but no stories tell of their demise.

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Apart from the wildlife, Raffles is known for its Singapore Sling, created at the Long Bar between 1910-15 by the Hainanese–Chinese bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon. It has been popular ever since as a good antidote to tiger sightings. Sitting in rattan chairs under twirling fans in the hot, moist atmosphere of Singapore, any drink is welcome. In the early days, guests could sit on the verandah to catch the cooling sea breezes and see five miles of shipping from all over the world bobbing at anchor. The hotel still stands on Beach Road but so much land has been reclaimed that the beach is now out of sight. The following recipe was jotted on a bar chit by a visitor in 1936.

SINGAPORE SLING

2 measures of gin

1 measure of cherry brandy

1 measure of fresh orange, lemon, lime and pineapple juice

Drop of Cointreau

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry

Shake well with ice and serve in a tall glass. Don’t forget the umbrella.

Raffles Hotel was established by the Armenian Sarkies brothers and named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. They leased the 10-room colonial bungalow on Beach Road from an Arab trader, Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, on 1 December 1887. The glorious main building of Raffles Hotel was completed in 1899, designed by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Swan and Maclaren. Over the years a verandah, wings, ballroom, and a bar and billiards room were added.

Raffles is known not only for tigers and slings but for its famous guests. Somerset Maugham visited in the 1920-30s and wrote every morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court. He noted that Raffles Hotel “stands for all the fables of the exotic East.”

Raffles Hotel has featured in many films, including the BBC’s Tenko, which recreated the experiences of British, Australian an Dutch women captured after the fall of Singapore (February 1942). The film Paradise Road tells the story of the same camp. The women were held in internment camps on Sumatra until 1945, when they were repatriated to Singapore. Raffles Hotel acted as the clearinghouse for news. A woman who had been in the same camp as my father’s first wife recognised him from her description, told him of her death a few months before and handed back her wedding ring, which he wore for the rest of his life.

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Singapore Chicken Rice and Desserts

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Chicken rice is a favourite lunch dish in Singapore served at a hawker’s stall in waxed brown paper tied up with plastic string or in the air-conditioned Mandarin Hotel on Orchard Road. It’s quick to cook, tasty and very healthy. As long as you have the ingredients, it can be ready in half an hour.

CHICKEN RICE

In a big pot (Dutch oven) on the stove, add a tablespoon of cooking oil (not olive oil) and heat.

Add:

Onion or garlic, sliced or crushed
Ginger root, sliced (no need to peel)
Bunch of green onions (spring onions), chopped
Bunch of cilantro/coriander, chopped (save some to use as garnish)
Chicken (thighs, breast)(2 or 3 per person)
Cover with water
Add Chinese soya sauce
Add a couple of packets of chicken OXO/Bovril
Bring to the boil and then simmer
Adjust seasoning (soya and OXO)

When the chicken has cooked for half an hour and the soup is tasty, take the chicken pieces out with a slotted spoon and take the skin off. Slice chicken. Serve on rice and sprinkle fresh cilantro on top. Ladle the soup into a separate bowl. On the table have individual small dishes of Chinese soya sauce and sweet Thai chilli sauce for each person to dip their chicken in. Use Chinese bowls, ceramic spoons and chopsticks. Serve with Jasmine tea.

Next day when the leftovers have been in the fridge, a coating of fat will cover the soup. Scoop it off into a paper towel and discard; reheat the soup. It will be even better.

RICE

Prepare long grain Basmati rice while the chicken is cooking. A coffee mug of dry rice is good for three people. Fill a saucepan with water, rest a sieve on the top and put the rice in the sieve. With a wooden spoon under cold running water, stir the rice until the water is clear. Lift the sieve out of the water and discard water. Put rice into saucepan and cover with fresh water (about I cm/a knuckle above the rice). Put on high heat, wait until it boils, then turn it down to simmer until the rice is dry and fluffy.

SALTED FRESH FRUIT

After hot spicy dishes, the regular dessert is a plate of sliced fresh fruit, sprinkled with salt (sea salt). The salt brings out the flavour of any fruit – oranges, apples, water apples, star fruit, watermelon, bananas or what have you. Put toothpicks into the slices so they are easy to pick up; provide a dish for the skins.

LYCHEES & ALMOND JELLY

Another cooling dessert is almond jelly and lychees. In Chinatown you will be able to buy a packet of almond jelly. Stir the powder into hot water, pour into a baking tray and put in the fridge. When it has set, cut the jelly into cubes. Empty a can of lychees (and their juice) into a bowl with the almond jelly cubes. The flavours are subtle and refreshing.