SINGAPORE - Unlike his previous visit to Singapore in 2014, there were no durians on the menu as Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob sat down for an official lunch at the Istana on Monday (Nov 29).
But other favourite dishes enjoyed by both Singaporeans and Malaysians - such as chilli crab, rojak and ondeh ondeh - were served, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who hosted the meal.
The menu "reflects how similar the peoples, cultures and foods are in our two countries, how closely we are intertwined with one another", he said.
In his speech, PM Lee noted that it was Datuk Seri Ismail's first official visit to Singapore since taking office as prime minister in August this year.
"But, of course, it is not his first visit to Singapore because he is an old friend of ours. I recall hosting him in 2014 as part of a visiting delegation, to a tour of the then newly completed Sports Hub in Kallang.
"We had nasi briyani for dinner together with Cabinet colleagues from both sides - and in true Singapore and Malaysian fashion, we had some durians before the meal," he said.
While Covid-19 has limited the opportunities to have similar gatherings, the pandemic has also brought the countries closer together in other ways, said PM Lee, who shared a table at lunch with Mr Ismail, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
"Early on, many Singaporeans tumpang (Malay for "piggyback") on Malaysian evacuation flights; and vice versa as well, Malaysians on Singaporean evacuation flights. But that is what close neighbours are for," PM Lee added.
The start of the land and air vaccinated travel lanes on Monday was significant as it allows for the renewal of kinship and friendship bonds, and the reuniting of families who have not been home for a long time, said PM Lee.
"At the same time, I am sure Singaporeans and Malaysians are also looking forward to resuming travel across the Causeway for leisure, for shopping, and for makan (eating)."
Malaysia is the top destination country for many Singaporean travellers and holidaymakers, he said.
"Foreign Minister Vivian (Balakrishnan) told me that Bera, the Prime Minister's constituency in Pahang, is a most scenic place to visit.
"I have not been there, but I Googled it and found beautiful pictures of Tasik Bera (lake). I hope to go there one day and hope more Singaporeans will head there too."
Other leaders who were part of the Malaysian delegation include Senior Minister of International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong and Menteri Besar of Johor Hasni Mohammad.
Mr Ismail also called on President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Monday.
In a Facebook post, Madam Halimah said they reaffirmed the deep-rooted ties that Singapore and Malaysia have forged over decades of close cooperation, and discussed potential areas for further collaboration.
"I am confident that Singapore and Malaysia will continue to work closely together, to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic, for the mutual benefit of our peoples," she added.