100 toothless fish nibbling on my feet for 30 minutes? Yes please…sign me up for that!
One of the things I’ve wanted to do while in Singapore, is to experience a fish spa. Many people say not to do it because most are quite unsanitary but I believe I found the best fish spa on the island…called, “Alleviate” located in a cute shophouse in Chinatown.
It’s significantly more fun to share such an experience with a friend so I asked Siew Mei if she would be up for an adventure and to my delight- she was more than willing! From the outside it looks quite sketchy…a bright neon sign and dark staircase to climb…hmmm.
But inside it is cheerful, welcoming, and overlooks the shoppers below.
Garra Rufa fish are hardy little toothless fish that come from the warm spring waters of Turkey. They are bottom dwellers and feed on the bacteria and fungus on dead scrappy skin. They have been known to be useful in treating skin diseases, joint pain, headaches, insomnia, and in producing skin as soft as a baby’s bottom. Because of their abilities to bring health, these little fish are also referred to as “Dr. Fish”. This is what they look like up close:
Steven Yap owns this quaint little shop and is very entertaining and knowledgable. He explained how he keeps the highest standard of cleanliness by using a blue light in each tank which kills bacteria. He comes in very early each day to make sure the tanks are clear and clean. When we first entered, he washed our feet and examined them to make sure there weren’t any open cuts.
He told us to take a deep breath, and warned us it would tickle for the first few seconds and then we’d get used to it. It was the strangest, funniest feeling!
For the next 30 min., while the fish feasted on our feet, Steven taught us about his business, how he cares for the fish, how it all began in Turkey in the 1800’s, when a man jumped in the water, was attacked by hundreds of these little fish, and how he felt great afterwards. The man continued to jump in on a regular basis. He soon found his skin condition went away. It wasn’t long before others learned of the healing properties that came with allowing the fish to dine on their skin. A man visiting Turkey from Thailand was the first to open a fish spa. Now there are countless fish spas in SE Asia, but few have high standards of cleanliness, like Steven’s shop. It is quite expensive to run a fish spa with high standards. Steven needs to bring in 16 customers daily to cover the $14,000 monthly expenses, which includes continually having new fish shipped from Turkey.
After examining our beautifully groomed feet, Siew Mei and I walked around China Town, stopping to enjoy some local Chinese sweets including red bean pudding and almond pudding, and a traditional sweet called Wife Cake, which is a pastry with a sweet center. Traditionally, a groom would deliver this to his bride at her home prior to the wedding. Siew Mei fondly remembers her husband, Wai Wah, delivering her Wife Cake years ago! This is what one looks like:
This is Kaya Toast, a fried, breaded base with a sweet topping:
We also tried some savory pastries like Curry Puff and BBQ pork buns. Really good.
We then stopped in a Chinese herb shop and she told me about how her mother used to use Chinese herbs for any and all ailments. Smart woman!
I had such a fun day with my dear friend Siew Mei. We walked and talked in the hot sun, while dabbing the sweat from our faces along the way.
Thank you, Siew Mei, for the precious memories, and mostly for your friendship!