"Would you like to go for a Princess Tea?" I asked my two daughters. It's the summer holidays and the long days seem to stretch in front of us. "We could go and get dressed up and have little sandwiches and cakes."
Madeleine and Tilda jumped up and down in front of me, excited as puppies being throw a stick.
We were heading to The Tiffin Room, at Raffles Hotel, for lunch.
A trip to Raffles is like stepping into a time machine. Steeped in history, the grandfather clock in the hall may still be ticking, but time has stood still. It's not that I walk around with rose-coloured spectacles. I like to think that I'm fairly progressive (did I hear my husband just scoff?), but I love to preserve the past, otherwise it's difficult to learn from it for the future.
Architecturally, the hotel has had some pretty hideous alterations over the years, including a flat roof ballroom plonked right in front of its beautiful facade. However, more recently the layers of paint and patina have been rubbed away, unsympathetic additions have been erased, furniture has been lovingly recrafted to match originals identified in photographs, and the Victorian colonial era has been preserved.
And what could be more British than immortalising Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, by building the hotel in his name? Its creators, the Sarkies brothers, were not Brits however, but Armenian, born in Iran. Regardless, Raffles is the epitome of English, colonial grandeur, with sweeping staircases, clipped lawns and polished brass. In December 1887, a ten-roomed hotel opened its doors – today there are 103 suites. The Tiffin Room was opened in 1892. In 1987 the hotel was designated a National Monument by the Singapore Government.
The Tiffin Room is white, airy and spacious, with huge picture windows. Holding the hands of my two princesses, we entered with a great sense of occasion. There was a familiar smell in the air and it wasn't the aroma of tea. Forget the sandwiches. I had mistaken tiffin for tiffin, and they are entirely different.
It’s fascinating how names have evolved over time, and taken on different meanings. After my visit I asked several people what they thought the word “tiffin” meant. Half said afternoon tea and half said curry. A little research was required to get to the bottom of this confusion, and here are the results:
Tiffin is slang for a snack between meals, such as second breakfast or an afternoon tea. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word itself is derived from the word “tiffing”, which is now obsolete, and means to take “a little drink or sip”. The term tiffin originated in British India. In South India and Nepal, tiffin is a general term used to describe a snack between meals. In other parts of India, such as Mumbai, the term refers to a packed lunch of rice, dal, curry and spices, and the special container became known as the tiffin-box.
Ironically, curry has practically become the modern British national dish, so I shouldn't have been surprised. I have to admit though to being a bit of a lightweight when it comes to spicy foods, and I wondered what Madeleine and Tilda would think. Tilda, it turns out, has inherited my delicate taste buds. Madeleine, on the other hand, vacuumed everything up, exciting by the opportunity to try new tastes.
The lunchtime curry buffet caters for lightweights and those hardened to spice. Creamy chicken curries, crisp poppadoms, aromatic lentil curries, sweet treats and, to top it off, an Indian Sauvignon Blanc, that was surprising fresh, pairing perfectly with the spices.
So I have learnt that tiffin is a curry meal. And given its alternative meaning as a snack between meals, we plan to return to The Tiffin Room for afternoon tea in our Princess dresses another day.
The practical bit:
Where to find it: Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore, 189673
Contact details: email@example.com, +65 6412 1816
A bit of fact: In August 1902, the last tiger to be killed in Singapore was hunted down at the Raffles Hotel, and was shot while cowering under the Bar and Billiard Room.
#raffles #restaurant #tiffin #singapore