meet antonio. he is a spanish gentlemen who serves lebanese food in his japanese manga cafe. he is assisted by a chinese waitress, who he affectionately calls his ‘tastebuds’ and a nepalese dude who is an expert in italian cuisine.
if you are confused, or at least mildly interested by now, i say… precisely! i met him while i was at suntec city earlier, photographing shopfronts for some web f&b directory that singtel is putting together. i am a long away from meeting my target, but that is not the point of this post.
antonio came as a fresh relief after countless stares from shop assistants and owners, who probably couldn’t decide to call security or leave me be. when i stopped outside antonio’s shop and raised my camera, he smiled and gave me a thumbs-up, which promptly caused me to lower my camera because i did not know how to respond.
i then noticed the stacks of manga comics, juxtaposed against the signboards that read like they could be from the mediterranean. he said that he ‘loves the international flavour’. that was how the conversation started, though it was cut short as i had to move along. he told me to ‘come back for some food later’.
so i did that after i wrapped up shooting for the day. i made my way to his cafe – the ‘manga oasis’, on the 3rd floor and nursed a glass of home-made lemon tea with a dash of mint while he prepared my meal – shawama which is basically lebanese kebab and a plate of chicken rice, which i tried to refuse but he wouldn’t hear of it.
above is antonio sans head gear laying down the veggies. he said the secret is extra virgin olive oil, which he uses liberally with his dishes.
antonio having his bald pate covered, thanks to his nepalese chef, whose specialty is pasta with tuna. he used to work in italy. my shawama is almost done.
he showed me the finer points of wrapping a shawama, while extolling the virtue of good hygiene via plastic gloves.
i started eating and boy, was the shawama delicious! apparently, the chicken is roasted after marinating in 10 different herbs and spices overnight. so we chatted while i ate, and we talked about family and stuff like that. he has got 2 kids, aged 4 and 6. he used to work in the states and was trained as a pilot in the past. been places, this guy.
not surprisingly, he said he made the decision to settle down in singapore because he loves the country and thinks highly of the education system. of course, a large part of that is due to the fact that his wife is a local chinese lady.
continuing with the impressive hospitality, he refused to accept payment for the food, booming: ‘how much do you owe me? you are my guest!’. i found out from the waitress that he has basically treated all the tenants of the surrounding shops at one point or another.
what a character. and what an experience to meet a generous soul with a story.
for more of my thoughts, click here.