4 year old boy’s death from Nasi Padang a misadventure

From ‘NEA to take action against stall owner’, 1 Nov 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said it will be taking action against the owner of the nasi padang stall linked to the death of a four-year-old boy. A coroner’s inquiry completed the day before found that Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre’s Kopitiam foodcourt, before dying four days later on Jan 22. The coroner called the tragedy a “misadventure”.

Operations at the stall were suspended for three weeks for the NEA to conduct investigations. After the coroner’s inquiry, netizens wondered if stall owner Siti Abibah Guno would face further action. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said yesterday: “With the coroner’s inquiry now completed, NEA will proceed to prosecute the licensee in court.”

Under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, Madam Siti faces a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge. Investigations had revealed unsafe levels of bacteria at the stall because of two main hygiene lapses – failure to register a food handler as required and failure to protect food in a covered receptacle.

Madam Siti was adamant when she told The Straits Times over the phone on Thursday that she had done nothing wrong as her licence to run a food stall had not been revoked.

According to the NEA’s advisory webpage, ‘3 persons’ were reported to contract ‘food poisoning’ on 18 Jan 2014, and NEA decided to drop the grading down to ‘C, but only effective from 10 April 2014, nearly 3 months after the boy’s death. My Paper reports that other than the deceased, his mother and 2 year old sister were also hit by the salmonella bug, the culprits being curry chicken and tahu goreng. If you check the latest grade for Siti’s stall from NEA’s online database, you would find, to anyone’s befuddlement, that it has since been upgraded to A. But what’s more surprising is that Siti was awarded NO DEMERIT POINTS and listed as NO SUSPENSIONS at all the past year, despite the Jan incident. You might even say it’s an unblemished track record just looking at the details below. No wonder she thinks she has done ‘nothing wrong’.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 7.47.12 AM

 ‘C’ means a score of 50-69%, or barely meeting the passing mark, though the running joke among fans of hawker food is that the lower the score, the tastier the food, with the lowest rating ‘D’ standing for ‘Delicious’. With this Nasi Padang tragedy, you can’t tell that joke anymore without someone groaning at its, well, tastelessness. D is diarrhoea, then death. So, the question remains, how reliable are these ratings anyway? How does the public make an ‘informed choice’ from these grades if there’s a lapse of a few months between a tragedy and the actual ‘demotion’? Or if your online licensing details says there were no suspensions the past year when in fact there was?

It seems that NEA will only issue some kind of strained apology or reassurance when hundreds of people are affected, like the Geylang Serai rojak poisoning back in 2009, which also took 2 lives thanks to an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that also sounds like a Harry Potter spell to induce instant faecal incontinence. Back then, the CEO of NEA himself wrote a letter to Today saying he was ‘deeply saddened’ and that NEA ‘should have moved in firmly’ to tackle the rat infestation problem at the Temporary Market. In this Nasi Padang case, they’ve decided to go on the litigious offensive straight off, before telling us how ‘affected’ they are by the tragic demise, or what measures, other than tweaking gradings up and down, are going to be implemented to ensure that such ‘misadventures’ don’t happen again. Incidentally, the rojak stall was also rated C (Rojak stall given C grade for hygiene in Dec, 8 April 2009, ST).

 Meanwhile, if you think you’re safe if you avoid stalls which display uncovered food, whether it’s economic rice, rojak or Taste of Nanyang Chicken Rice, think again. Even dipping your fishballs in a Sichuan hot pot may not avert a gastrointestinal holocaust. Nor eating Prima Deli chocolate cakes. You should also worry about what your kids eat in their school canteens. If you see a food stall with a ‘C’ rating, don’t think of it as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘average’, but ‘CAUTION’.  Do a quick spotcheck of the premises before ordering, and don’t gobble down the food in case it’s swarming with gross, hidden maggots, as what happened with another case of Nasi Padang last year (also from a stall in Yishun), an image that is enough to turn you into a vegetarian for a week. Watch out for Ecoli in salad though.

As for NEA’s online database, if it’s really a case of wrong information displayed, then you’ve just scored a big ‘F’ in my book.

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Pizza Hut calling customer a pink fat lady

From ‘Pizza hut Singapore apologises for calling customer ‘fat”, 14 Oct 2014, article in CNA

Pizza Hut Singapore has apologised to a customer who found the words “Pink Fat Lady” scrawled on her receipt. The customer, Ms Aili Si, who was at the chain’s Bukit Merah outlet on Sunday (Oct 12) evening, found the words written on her pizza takeaway receipt.

She posted a photo of the receipt on the company’s Facebook page, along with the message: “I don’t think it is nice for your staff to describe me as such on my receipt. As a customer I definitely hope to be treated with basic respect deserved by any others. I hope to receive an apology from the staff and Pizza Hut.”

She added: “Just feel insulted. What’s wrong with being plus size? I’m a customer and I pay for my pizza! Not that I’m getting it for free!”

It ain't over till the fat lady complains

It ain’t over till the fat lady complains

No, there’s nothing wrong with being ‘plus-sized’, ‘big’, ‘chubby’ or any other euphemism for ‘fat’. What went wrong was that the Pizza Hut server should have just asked for a name instead of writing out 3 words that would identify her most accurately. Would the customer be any less angrier had the receipt read ‘Pink Big Lady’? Or the exotic bubble tea sounding ‘Pink BBW’?  Some feminists, in fact, even take offence to the word ‘Lady’. If you didn’t get the name of a customer like Aili, or afraid to make a catastrophe of it like they do at Starbucks, perhaps the safest way to describe her on a receipt without getting flamed on social media is ‘Full-figured Woman in pink’. Which is how some people would describe rose wine.

Some years back, a bunch of women displayed ‘plus-sized’ pride by posing nude in a calendar for charity, as a crusade against the fat stigma, and incidentally during a time when the BBW fetish community was gaining ground. The word ‘Fat’ to describe someone’s physique in everyday conversation, particularly that of a woman, may be even less frequently uttered than another taboo word ‘Pregnant’, unless it’s used as a superlative for some over-achievers, like the lady who holds the  Guinness Book of Records for the World’s ‘Heaviest’ Woman. Back in the seventies, we had no qualms about blasting fat people for not looking after their health, or even celebrating their rotundness. Today we’re more afraid of hurting their feelings than worry about them hurting their heart and arteries. In 2008, the Ministry of Education scrapped the TAF CLUB , a national school fitness programme that spelt FAT backwards, and renamed it to the HHF (Holistic Health Framework), which tells you absolutely nothing about how chunky these kids are. Conversely, you don’t hear people complaining about the words ‘THIN’, ‘SKINNY’ or ‘SMALL'; in fact sometimes these are even taken as compliments. If you wrote ‘Pink Skinny Lady’ instead, you may even get a tip.

If you’re on the curvy side and want to get some XXL clothes, you don’t go to a ‘Fat Lady Boutique’, you shop from ‘Joy in Curves’, Big on Attitude, and the god-awful sounding ‘PLUSYLICIOUS‘. From the names of such shops alone, you’d notice this patronising tendency to associate women on the heavy side with ‘attitude’, ‘confidence’ and ‘sexiness’, when most overweight women are, well, just plain Janes.  We restrict the F-word to the realm of food science, as in calories from FATS, or when used in the beauty industry to denote something repulsive that needs to be destroyed with fire, like ‘fat burner’, or ‘eliminates fats’. There are movies titled ‘Big Momma’s House’ and not ‘Fat Momma’s House’, or ‘200 pounds beauty’ and not ‘OBESE beauty’. Hipster FnB establishments are named ‘Fat Boys’ or ‘Two Fat Men‘ but not ‘Two Fat Women’. The IMDB synopsis for Shallow Hal reads ‘ A shallow man falls in love with a 300 POUND woman because of her ‘inner beauty”, not ‘falls for a FAT woman’. It seems more socially acceptable to be as heavy as a pregnant sow, than to be called the 3-letter word FAT.

There are some instances, however, where adopting a PC-stance against fatness would just seem out of place. You don’t say ‘It ain’t over till the plus-sized lady sings’ for example. The ‘Yo Momma so Big’ insult just doesn’t have the same sting as ‘Yo Momma So Fat’. Weird Al Yankovic would have never pulled off a MJ parody hit had he sung ‘Curvy’ instead of ‘Fat’. Some do take the euphemism to the extremes, the worst examples being ‘Queen-sized’ and ‘Natural Body Type’, which is like calling a complete idiot ‘selectively talented’.

I’m not sure if ‘Veg Lvr’ or ‘Shrm Dlt (mushroom delight?) from Aili’s receipt refers to vegetarian pizzas, which may be a sign that she’s conscious about her weight, despite being defensive of her ‘plus-size’. Perhaps to test just how sincere Pizza Hut is in their apology, I should do down to any of their branches for a takeaway order, make a nuisance of myself,  and see if the staff would write ‘Crazy Ugly F**ker’ on my receipt.

 

 

 

 

 

MBS food court chicken rice stall infested with cockroaches

From ‘NEA to take action against Marina Bay Sands stall for cockroach infestation’, 11 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will be taking enforcement action against a chicken rice stall at the foodcourt at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for cockroach infestation.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 11), NEA said it has found cockroach infestation at the stall in the 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang foodcourt. The foodcourt has voluntarily closed since Tuesday evening (Oct 7) for cleaning and pest control treatment, in the wake of customer complaints and photographs of cockroaches that went viral online.

…The 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang food court is located at the South Promenade of The Shoppes at MBS and is run by Koufu. Other branches can be found at Changi Airport Terminal 1, JEM, Republic Polytechnic, ITE Ang Mo Kio and the Nanyang Technological University.

When Facebook user Kovit Ang posted his image of a troop of five roaches ready to attack pieces of fried meat, he did weight-watchers all over the country a huge favour. Now if you find yourself having a ridiculous craving for chicken rice between meals, it helps to recall that horrific photo, feel the surge of bile up your throat, and switch to an apple and a protein bar instead. But before one tars all Food Republics, Kopitiams and Koufus with the same brush, remember that one of the reasons why food courts exist is because people wanted to avoid pests like stray mynahs and, in the case of the recently shut down Ghim Moh Market, rats living in up to 71 burrows.

Not much is mentioned about the significance of ‘1983’ in the Koufu website other than a story that suggests the origin of nasi lemak at Malacca Street. It wasn’t that far from ‘1983’ when Singapore had its very first ‘food court’. Scotts Picnic in Orchard, established in 1985, was supposed to be an ‘upmarket’ hawker centre, where patrons could eat in air-conditioned comfort. A string of food halls with the same dining concept and similarly snazzy titles (Food Paradiz, Food Palace) followed suit, but within 3 years owners were reporting slumps in takings, with complaints that the air-conditioning made oily smells cling to one’s office attire. This despite attempts to install roman columns and chandeliers or employ a live DJ to spin the latest 80’s hits.

The food court idea was meant to be an improvement of the existing hawker centre infrastructure, a culinary ‘renaissance’ so to speak, for the busy office worker in the heart of town. Today, with a near patriotic resurgence of hawker culture, these places have been reviled by food lovers all over, not so much for the hygiene or stubborn oily smells, but because it’s the only place where you’ll get charged $8.50 for chicken rice, cockroach or no cockroach, that tastes mediocre, if not downright terrible. There are exceptions, of course, though seeing a Hokkien Mee seller in a food court wearing a straw hat doesn’t mean the dish is any good.

Food guru Dr Leslie Tay is all too familiar with how the food court subletting system compromises the quality of one’s cooking, himself declaring that he would never visit such a food court if he could help it.  Koufu Sentosa has even found itself listed on Lonely Planet, the nadir of the evolution of the food court from hawker centre upgrade to campy tourist trap. The operator has even masked its hydra arms in various guises, calling its Star Vista branch in Buona Vista ‘Kitchen’, among others including ‘Gallerie’, ‘Rasapura’ and the ultimate, ‘GOURMET PARADISE’. The only thing ‘nostalgic’ about 1983’s Taste of Nanyang after this roach incident is how it suddenly reminds you of the conditions on board the overcrowded boats our migrant forefathers arrived in, like in ‘The Awakening’.

But if you’re a Koufu devotee and still believe that the cockroach incident in an iconic building is an isolated incident simply blown out of proportion, maybe this photo below, snapped at Koufu HDB Hub Toa Payoh circa 2011, will change your mind not just about the franchise, but chicken rice forever.

The menu at Koufu has gone beyond ‘exotic’

F1 Grand Prix is not a $25 chicken rice race

From ‘Singapore GP not a $25-chicken-rice race: organisers’, 14 Sept 2014, article in CNA

The Singapore Grand Prix is meant to be a great experience and not a ‘$25-Chicken-Rice’ race, said the organisers of Formula One’s (F1) only night race, in response to a report that showed the city-state may not be the most affordable place to catch an F1 race.

Race organisers say Singaporeans consistently make up about 60 per cent of the over 80,000 race-goers each year. This applies to every price category – from the cheapest walkabout tickets to the Pit Grandstand.

“Over and above a sporting occasion, it is a huge social occasion now. Singaporeans like a good party,” said Mr Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore GP. “I think this loyalty has grown among Singaporeans – they’ve become quite proud of the Singapore Grand Prix and they like it when the world is watching Singapore and the skyline.

“We don’t want to be a ‘$25-chicken-rice Grand Prix’. We want to be a great experience.”

But there is a price to be paid for the chance to experience F1’s only night race. Travel website TripAdvisor ranked the Singapore Grand Prix as the seventh most expensive, out of the 19 races worldwide. It said the price of catching the Sunday final race here is S$622.67. This includes the cost of the cheapest tickets at S$207.33, a meal and a night’s stay at a hotel near the track.

Roche’s analogy of a ‘$25 chicken rice dish’ is likely a snub at the famous house special at Meritus Mandarin’s Chatterbox, which now incidentally costs $27. Curiously enough, the ‘legendary’ chicken rice was created by a German chef back in 1971, who was inspired by the hawker version to create a premium dish, made from COBB 500 chickens, medium grain jasmine rice and homemade ginger and chilli sauces. I wonder what former executive chef Peter Gehrmann would think of the comparison, with Roche suggesting that $25 for a plate is overpriced, overrated when it seems like only top-grade ingredients went into its concoction. Chicken rice will never be ‘sexy’ or ‘glamorous’ like an F1 race no matter how you mark it up. And honestly, thank God it’s not.

While Chatterbox used to be a ‘coffee house’ in those days, today it’s a casual diner and its ‘award-winning’ chicken rice still wins the hearts of some locals who appreciate the generous servings of meat, describe the sauces as ‘sublime’ and the meal as an ‘annual pilgrimage’ (WHAT awards exactly, I wonder). Perhaps the Night Race is more of a $25 XO Chai Tau Quay instead? 20 years ago, Chatterbox charged their chicken rice at $16 per plate (Is $16 too high a price for chicken rice, 17 Aug 1995, ST), which is still cheaper than what you can get for a BURGER at F1 ($17) today.  In 2009, food stalls in the F1 zone were charging chicken rice and HOKKIEN MEE at $8, which was expected since the whole event was designed to milk the most out of rich people, though if I had to choose between a sub-par, measly $8 chicken rice and the Chatterbox dish, I’d rather splurge on the latter. According to Trip Advisor, we also sell the most expensive pint of beer in the history of F1 ($13.58), no thanks to our recent increase in sin taxes. Nobody seems to be overly concerned about a riot breaking out on the grandstands.

But look at the discrepancy between our minimum ticket price vs Malaysia just across the Causeway ($207.33 vs $39.12). The CNA article also didn’t mention that, according to the BBC, Singapore has the MOST EXPENSIVE 3-day ticket OF ALL (1,109 pounds) (2013). The second most expensive ticket in the world was from Brazil, at a distant 745 pounds per ticket. This year, for $42276.50 you could book a GREEN ROOM (Oops, you can’t now, it’s sold out!). What the F1 organisers are avoiding to explain really is WHY so expensive compared to the rest of the region (i.e Malaysia), even for a night race. It’s not that we have the most ardent racing fans so much as we have the greatest concentration of goddamn billionaires  (26) here.

Not to mention the other intangible costs of a night race on our environment, namely the excessive use of lighting. No, the F1 isn’t a $25 chicken rice dish. Ecologically speaking, it’s a $25 triple-decker Big Mac, sinful beyond redemption, greasy, artery-clogging, too much of which will eventually kill you. In the government’s eyes, it’s a billion-dollar baby.

Changi Airport food street hawkers not from original stalls

From ‘Airpost’s hawker stalls: Not so famous after all’, 2 Aug 2014, article by Rebecca Lynne Tan, ST

THE week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be. The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3’s transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls.

Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes, but have no connection to the original brands. For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3. Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport’s new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group’s executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: “If you use the name of the stall, then you’re in trouble, but if you don’t use the name and just use the street, it’s a free-for-all.”

…It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location-specific dish such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: “The new stall will be living off someone else’s reputation, someone else’s good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right.”

When the ‘food street’ was launched last month, it boasted ‘household hawker names’, yet with a surprising omission of a dish that even Gordon Ramsay swears by; Laksa. Otherwise, it came across to me then as a rather obvious tourist trap and I was skeptical that our hawker heroes would sell out to a place that calls itself a ‘street’ when it’s actually in a building. Changi Airport’s media release was also damningly cringeworthy, describing the assemble as ‘specially curated’ from all over Singapore, as if they sent hawker archaeologists out with a bag of money to hunt down the holy grails of local delights.

If even our locals could be fooled into thinking that the char kuay teow in Terminal 3 is the same as what you get in an old-timey hawker centre, what more foreigners? Location, location, location. One reason why ‘Katong Laksa’ wasn’t in the list could be that food enthusiasts have been doing so much detective work over the years on a brand notorious for its copycats, that it would have hawker geeks up in arms in protest should anyone even have the cheek to ‘borrow’ the Katong name once more. According to Leslie Tay, the real Mccoy, the ‘Janggut’ style, is from an unassuming stall in Telok Kurau. Fans of prata would also appreciate that there’s only one ‘true’ Jalan Kayu stall, the Thasevi one.  Some hawkers continue to exploit the good name of a place that doesn’t even exist anymore, like ‘Blanco Court’ Kway Chap.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Punggol Nasi Padang  are also two completely different entities.

In 2010, a relative of the man behind the original Tai Hwa Hill Street ‘Minced Pork Noodles’, or more affectionately known to Singaporeans as bak chor mee, was brought to court for claiming that his own version in Vivocity food court was the original and in the process ‘misleading the public’ with this ‘publicity gimmick’. Since then, we’ve only heard of such name-stealing suits from the big boys in the FnB industry, like Subway trying to take down Subway Niche for example. If anything, ST’s reveal on the Changi Airport Food Street misnomers helps to raise awareness of where the real deal is located, and if you’re a savvy traveller in transit who’s done your fair share of culinary homework, you would skip the wannabes and go for something less pretentious like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. If you’re a Singaporean and you’re willing to travel all the way to Changi Airport to queue up for counterfeit char kuay teow on a weekend instead of going to Old Airport Road hawker centre, then shame, SHAME, on you.

PM Lee queuing for fried chicken wings

From ‘PM Lee spotted queuing 30min for chicken wings at Redhill Food Centre’, 13 June 2014, article in Asiaone.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was spotted at Redhill Food Centre, queueing for 30 minutes to buy fried chicken on Thursday night. A passerby took a photo and uploaded it on Facebook with the tongue-in-cheek caption: “Just your regular 50-60 plus uncle queueing half an hr for famous fried chicken wings. Albeit swarmed with guards. Lots of em.”

According to Lianhe Wanbao, the photo of him started circulating this morning, with many excited to see the PM dining at the hawker centre located at Blk 85 Redhill Lane. Netizens have praised the prime minister’s willingness to do queue for food himself just like any other member of the public, as well as immerse himself in the public community.

The Chinese daily learnt that the stall is the popular chicken wings and fried bee hoon stall Yan (#01-19). Online reviews recommended its two eponymous items, and cited reasonable prices and large portions as other plus points besides taste. Bee hoon costs 60 cents, while a chicken wing costs $1.20.

The minister also posted a picture of a dessert stall at the same hawker centre on his Facebook page, mentioning that the ‘Lucky Cat’ in front of it seemed to bring it popularity and business indeed. He also thanked an anonymous person for giving him a bowl of green bean soup.

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Wing Commander

Imagine the field day that ‘netizens’ would have if PM Lee had queued up for pork soup instead. It’s not a common sight to see a leader of his position actually queuing for stuff. Even less so for half an hour, enough time to make some key decisions of national importance. PM Lee looks solemn and pensive in the pose above, probably meditating on the fate of the nation, or plotting  to get Roy Ngerng to shut the hell up once and for all. I wonder what dessert he ordered after chicken wings though. I’m sure more people are interested in what he had than his musings on ‘Lucky Cat’. Ice Loong-an Jelly, perhaps?

‘Wayang’ or not, the person who snapped PM Lee has inadvertently promoted this humble breakfast bee hoon stall in Redhill, which blogger Hungry Bunny says is actually known as ‘Eng Kee’. I trust our PM has great taste in hawker fare. He’s known to be a fan of Tiong Bahru Tau Huay and Zion Road Char Kuay Teow too. Spotting him  at these stalls is like catching a rare migratory bird. You’d hit the jackpot if you catch him queuing at a Malay stall for Mee Siam (Just plain Mee Siam, thank you very much).

Here are some queuing PM Lee ‘memes’, sans bodyguards, of our leader simply blending in with ordinary Singaporeans in everyday situations other than buying hawker food, like the ‘People’s PM’ that adoring fans know him to be.

PM Lee in a Hello Kitty queue

PM Lee buying Lim Chee Guan

The lucky cat follows him EVERYWHERE.

PM Lee at Krispy Kreme

PM Lee taking peak hour MRT

And a World Cup bonus image.

Viva PM Lee

Viva PM Lee

 

Tourists charged $707 for Alaskan king chilli crab

From ‘One meal equals to one meal’, 11 May 2014, article by Melody Ng, TNP

Seafood meals can be expensive. But a Filipino family on a trip here were stunned when they were hit with a bill for $1,186.20. Just the crab alone cost them $707.

Their meal on April 26 at Forum Seafood Village Restaurant at Boat Quay also included prawns, a fish and a plate of vegetables. Mr Santiago Caaway, 54, said the total bill was more than what the family paid for their flight here and back. The restaurant had been in the news previously after tourists accused it of over-charging. But Forum Seafood spokesman Thomas Tham said the restaurant clearly states its prices and patrons know how much the dishes cost.

And it was no ordinary crab that the Caaway family ordered. They had chilli Alaskan king crab, which other restaurants and seafood suppliers say is expensive. Was Mr Caaway aware that he was getting the Alaskan king crab instead of the more common and cheaper mud crab?

Mr Caaway claimed his family did not know there were different types of crab on the menu but said they wanted it cooked in chilli gravy. “We heard that Singapore is known for its chilli crab, so we thought we must have this,” said Mr Caaway, who has since returned to the Philippines.

The Alaskan king crab rip off aside, Caaway paid a remainder of almost $480 for ‘prawns, fish and vegetables’. They may not have heard of the Newton Tiger Prawn saga back in 2009, when a group of Americans were charged $239 for EIGHT tiger prawns at the iconic hawker centre. NEA ordered Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood to shut down for 3 months after STB relayed the complaint. Not sure if the prawns the Caaways ordered were of the tiger variety, but it was fortunate that they didn’t order the lobster, which was priced at $348 for 1.6kg in 2011, incidentally the target of an expat’s complaint. For the price of 1 Alaskan king crab, the Caaways could have had 6 servings of Sin Huat Crab Bee Hoon instead.

A case of following bad advice dished out by their hotel concierge, the Caaways could have avoided getting fleeced by Forum if they had read TripAdvisor’s reviews of the place, where hopping mad patrons reported the following prices and called the place a blatant tourist trap, with little being said about the actual quality of the food. Wonder if anyone told them about this other thing we have called ‘zi char’. Not in STB’s brochures or website, I suppose.

Fish – $115
Broccoli – $27
Asparagus – $20
Fried rice – $18
BBQ King prawn – $23. Each.
A ‘tofu dish’ – $30
Plain rice – $1.50

Philippine media also reported that a STB director had apologised personally to Caaway and made sure that they were ‘properly remunerated’ since this arose from a case of miscommunication between patron and staff. Despite the online flak, calls for boycott, and demands for closure, this place is still in business, just like how tourist traps remain viable in any other country. Rival Boat Quay restaurant Fuqing Marina Bay Seafood also has a reputation for charging ridiculous prices, with STB having to deal with a similar PR fallout after an American complained about his $210 crab a few years back. No wonder expats have rated us the most expensive city in the world.

It takes a savvy or experienced traveler to avoid such scams, and I’m not sure if we’re spoiling visitors by giving them partial refunds if they aren’t very streetwise when it comes to identifying potential daylight robbery. You can imagine other ‘crabby’ tourists exploiting STB’s niceness by claiming that they were ripped off by a seafood restaurant and expect compensation. In 1986, an exasperated Briton called it the ‘Singapore Rip’, after having to pay $30 for chilli crab at Punggol Point. These days, that’s the price you pay for a BBQ Prawnzilla. Buyer beware, especially if the menu reads ‘Seasonal prices’ and the staff spotted you entering the premises with your DSLR hung conspicuously around your neck. Not all foreigner complaints are valid of course. In 2001, one K. Will whined about paying TWO DOLLARS for one prawn at a East Coast seafood restaurant. Pretty average in those days if you ask me, unless he was talking about belacan-sized prawns instead.

A holiday gone terribly wrong for the Caaways, and such a shame and irony that it takes a national dish sampled in a wrong place to put all the efforts spent on a recent STB promo ad to utter waste.  Singapore always has a surprise for you indeed.

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