The low rumble of thunder echoed the hollow churning of my jet-lagged stomach as we slipped and skidded across sleek pavements in cheap flip flops. In the two blocks between our hostel and the streets of Chinatown it began to rain. Big rain. The kind that soaks through your skin, never mind your clothes, in two seconds flat. In the humidity of Singapore evenings it carries the smell of palm oil trees on the back of it.
Puffs of tiny insects floated like clouds around bare lightbulbs as we crossed the threshold from towering grey skyscrapers into the Colonial shambles of Chinatown. Ducking under canopies bulging with rainwater, we ignored the gentle caw of women reclining behind rows of nick nacks.
Temple Street was lined with little restaurants and Mark began his slow, methodical assessment of every single menu on display. The rain was still coming down fast so I grabbed him by the arm and into the closest little eatery with the two most common words on the street: dim sum.
Plumes of steam rose from wicker baskets behind a dull metal counter, the smell of meat and spices added to the humid rain. The gentle “click click” of plastic chopsticks marked time amidst a medley of chatter in Malay, Mandarin and Cantonese. A serious-looking pair of elderly ladies rolled, tweaked and shaped white dough at lightning speed before placing the parcels neatly and carefully in woven baskets for steaming. Glancing around the other tables, Mark quickly assessed the situation. He snatched up the tiny pen and what looked like a Bingo card from the table. I had swept in to take the menu before him but, seeing it didn’t have any pictures, handed it over. Mark scrutinised like a trainspotter over a timetable and ticked off four little boxes on the bingo card, tongue out in concentration.
The rain was still coming down in sheets and neon lights blazing with foreign characters shone through steam billowing from hot-wok noodle stands. It looked like the opening scene from Bladerunner. When the waitress placed our dumpling baskets on the table she laughed at us staring out at the rain.
“It is the same every day,” she said, giving us a crinkly old smile “Good appetite.”
As we tore into fat dumplings, fluffy and sweet Char Sui Bun quickly became my favourite. I burned the roof of my mouth, not wanting to wait another minute for second helpings.
We lived on dim sum in Singapore. The low rumble of thunder became more than an announcement of the daily evening storm, but a dinner bell that my stomach would reply to. Sheets of rain brought the promise of Char Sui, not just clearer skies. Now, when I pop to my favourite dim sum café back home, I don’t just taste fluffy Char Sui Bun and sweet slow-cooked pork, but Singapore storms in each bite as well.