From The Book . . .
From time to time, we'll insert excerpts from The Book here - something pertinent to the time of year, or a particular event, or just a passage which has struck us as share-worthy. We hope you enjoy them; please feel free to give us feedback here. Happy reading!
This month, we're happy to share the Expats' Guide's advice on one, sometimes stressful, aspect of Expat Life in Singapore: What to do for Christmas Day? The following comes from Chapter 9: "Finding Your Shopping Nirvana", under the heading "Christmas Food". (Oh, and one small thing: Footnotes are a total ballache to put on a website. Who knew? So where you see text in a smaller font in brackets, in the actual book that would be a footnote. And yes, there are . . . many. We're fond of footnotes.)
You have three food options for Christmas here: cook it yourself, order in, or eat out. We’ll start with the last . . .
Eating Out: While this might seem totally anathema to you—Christmas is a time for family gatherings! For roaring fires and sing-songs by the piano!—you need to face facts: You have no family here, there are no roaring fires, and your piano went rusty from the humidity back in April. Going out for a Christmas meal is an incredibly popular option for a huge number of expats. All of the hotels have Champagne or wine free-flow offers, as do most restaurants. You just need to book, pay, and turn up. It’s easy, it’s fun and you have an excuse to get a bit dressed up in your Christmas Best. The restaurants and hotels are always beautifully festive and twinkle-lighty, there’s usually a great big gorgeous tree, and you get the full range of Christmas Fare (spectacularly done, especially by Raffles and Pan Pacific, just to drop two names). It’s also great fun to buddy up with your friends (a table full of friends can do wonders to heal a homesick heart), the kids will be entertained, and there’s no cleaning up afterwards. Plus there’s non-stop champagne ffs. What’s not to love?
Well, unbelievable as it may sound, there are some cons. Firstly, you need to book—and pay—WAY in advance. We know people who are sorting their Christmas lunch plans the day the bookings open—which can be as early as September. As a result, the popular places can book up very quickly, and you’re left wondering if it’s really very sad to just pop into IKEA and have some festive meatballs instead. You need to be organised.
And wealthy. These places charge huge Christmas premiums; a thousand dollars for a family isn’t unusual. Which is SHOCKING. (But, what price not having to cook and clean??) Also, these affairs provide free-flow food and alcohol. If you can make the most of it, then it can of course end up being quite good value for money. What we have found from personal experience, however, is that this depends in large part on whether you have small children (aged, say, under six). If you do, and they eat a total of three cookies all morning, and then you are tasked with minding and entertaining them, it can really end up being very poor value indeed. Yes, almost every venue will cater for children—from food to entertainment. And yes, the price for children is always cheaper than for adults (even free for very little ones in many places). BUT. One of the adults—at least—will be distracted. Distracted from their food, from their friends, from their drink. The kids are in the chocolate fountain, or haven’t been seen for a while (because they’re climbing up the outside of the 18-foot banisters), or have hollowed out a massive loaf of bread and stuck it on their heads and are running around headbutting everyone and everything.(All real-life examples from ONE Christmas lunch. The SHAME.) We’re not saying that you shouldn’t go out for Christmas lunch if you have kids; but just that if you’re dropping a grand (or more) on it, you might want to make sure that your children will actually enjoy, and make the most of, the food and entertainment, and leave you in peace to have a couple of slices of turkey, ffs.(At the very least, bring electronic devices so that you can plug the kids into a Christmas movie and buy yourself two hours of grown-up time. People can judge all they want. At least your kid isn’t the one with a loaf of bread on his head.)
Finally, a major con in our book, is that almost all the venues have multiple seatings on Christmas Day. Which means that your preferred eating time might not be available to you. It’s also possible that when you do eat, suddenly you look around and notice that the staff is not only cleaning up, but has taken the tablecloths off the tables and is upending chairs. Which can be a bit of a disappointment when you’re trying to have your starter, while holding onto a wriggling child covered in chocolate sauce (and breadcrumbs).
Ordering In: This is another hugely popular option for expats here—particularly serial expats or long-termers. We don’t know why this is so—possibly that the serial expats do what they’ve always done, and the long-termers got a bit tired of the free-flow brunches by year four. Anyway, it’s a popular option, and one you should consider if the thought of eating out is second only in ridiculousness to that of cooking the entire meal yourself.
Essentially, it’s very posh (and quite—often, very—expensive) take-away. You put your order in usually between mid-November and mid-December, pay, then either sit at home on Christmas drinking Champagne and looking for batteries for the kids’ toys while your food is delivered to you, or you turn up at the venue with your receipt, and while you have a beer in the bar a porter will be dispatched to the bowels of the kitchen to retrieve your piping hot, fully cooked, totally catered lunch for you. Some venues only offer the roasted meat, reasoning that even expats with no helpers can mash a few potatoes on the day and throw together a platter of starters. Others offer the whole shebang, from roast goose with all the bells and whistles, to bread, appetisers, side dishes, and desserts. Whatever you want, you can find. Venues abound, and for every expat who recommends one of the large hotels to us, there’s one who swears by the butcher in Bukit Timah, or the deli place in Ridgewood. The only way to decide really is to get their menus, decide what portion sizes you want (they can vary quite spectacularly from venue to venue, and their idea of what constitutes “one serving” might be vastly different from what you envisioned. It might be worth a quick stop in to see what they consider a serving size) how much you’re willing to spend, and how much you’re happy to prepare yourself. Which brings us neatly to the final option . . .
Self-Catering: We’re both total lazy slatterns when it comes to cooking— and indeed anything vaguely domestic—so can’t comment on this from first-hand experience. HOWEVER. We are told by our less-slatternly friends that the key to successful Christmas Day cooking is to be organised and make plenty of lists. Being “organised” apparently means getting started in mid-November, by ordering your meats from a decent butcher. This in turn means starting the research (Who to use? What to eat?) and decision-making in early November. (Early November? We’re exhausted already and haven’t even opened a pack of ready-to-cook roast potatoes yet.)
The obvious choice for sourcing meats and poultry is a butcher; there are a few tried and trusted options, including some online retailers. Check out Chapter 8 for more details. All of the major supermarkets also have a variety of meat and poultry options; obviously, to a large extent the quality of what you buy depends on where you buy it and how much you pay (again, nip on over Chapter 8 for details). Note that you can’t buy fresh turkey in Singapore—it must be imported frozen. Even if it’s marketed as “chilled”, it will have been frozen and defrosted.
For the less snazzy dishes—the vegetables, sauces, breads, etc.—your usual grocery go-tos will be just fine. For anything a bit more unusual—a special sauce, or six different types of marinated herring (as requested annually by Jess’s Swedish husband, so it’s off to IKEA they go every mid-December. (For putting her through that hell, he gets a Billy bookcase as his Christmas present each year.)) —you may need to visit the upmarket expatty supermarkets or food stores. Check online that they still exist (and call them to confirm): Retailers come and go, and that great place on Bukit Timah which made its own Christmas Sauerkraut may no longer exist just when you and your lederhosen need it most.
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