Peranakan culture is often described as a colourful culture. From the juxtaposition of vibrant hues and motifs that adorn the ravishingly beautiful kebayas and kasot manek, to the amalgamation of flavours and aromas from various ethnicities present in the plenitude of dishes both savory and sweet which defines what we know of today as Peranakan cuisine, the Baba-Nyonya heritage has often astound and impress upon many as one which is lavishly extravagant and vivaciously decorated. And speaking of being decorated, one cannot help but be in awe of the exemplary levels of intricacy and craftsmanship found in Peranakan jewellery, especially amongst old antique pieces. From the sanggols (hair pins) to the gelang kakis (anklets), Peranakan ladies in the past, be it the young nyonyas to more matured bibiks were often found “embellished” from head to toe quite literally. Yet so little of it has been documented in printed literature. As such, Nyonya Lilian Tong’s “Straits Chinese Gold Jewellery” is timely, in quenching a thirst long endured since the last publication written on this important aspect of Peranakan material culture. And for those who are unfamiliar with the genre of Straits Chinese jewellery be it in style or form , this book must surely be an eye-opener as well!
About a month back, I had the pleasure of visiting The Intan, a privately owned Peranakan themed museum located in the heart of Joo Chiat, one of the enclaves of Nyonya-Baba culture and heritage in Singapore. It was my second visit to the Intan, the first being a collectors’ sale organised more than 2 years back. The visit was held in conjunction with the release of this year’s Lunar New Year angbaos by the National Heritage Board (NHB). What made the visit special was the fact that it was held at night. Not your regular run-in-the-mill visits to a museum I’m sure. But the dim light conditions did pose a “challenge” to photography. After all the hustling and bustling in the kitchen during the Chinese New Year period with all the cooking and baking to be done, I finally had time to sit down and sort out the photos and write a bit about the visit. So here’s a small collation of some shots I took. Enjoy!
At the end of last year we booked for ourselves a staycation at Capri by Fraser located in the heart of Changi Business Park next to Simei MRT. It is a relatively new hotel and for me, the main attraction was the mini kitchen the room was equipped with. Since there was an online promotion going on, we got ourselves the deal for a one night stay, as well as a chance to test out their in-room kitchen!
Chinese New Year is around the corner and for many of us, the baking and making of Chinese New Year cookies and other delectable goodies has started. It is barely a month from all that Christmas cooking and feasting, and just when we thought that we could rest our ovens and stomachs for a while longer, it is time to get busy again! But this is no surprise as once Tang Chek is past, traditional households look forward to the coming of “Chun” (spring) and of course Chinese New Year celebrations. Time to take out all those kueh moulds which had been kept away over the last year and for some, even longer. Wooden moulds to tekan kueh koya and cutters and crimplers for kueh bangket (kuih bangkit), aluminium or steel clam-shell moulds for kueh belanda (kuih kapit) and of course the heavy brass ones for kueh baulu (kueh bolu or kuih bahulu). Let’s not forget the tortoise-shaped wooden moulds for making kueh koo (angku kueh) for sembayang tikong on the birthday of the Jade Emperor which falls on the 9th day of the Lunar New Year as well! Many peranakan households still have old moulds which have been handed down over the generations, used by the bibiks of the past to whip up all those popular snacks which are enjoyed over the festivities. My personal favorites are the kueh baulu moulds incidentally, so its a good time to take them out for a good scrub amidst all that spring cleaning to be done!
Odd it may seem, my favorite dish to order whenever I walk into a traditional chinese noodle shop in Hong Kong is not a bowl of 云吞麵 wan tan meen or 水饺麵 shuei gau meen. For years, it has always been 柱侯牛腩麵 ngau nam meen aka braised beef brisket noodes for me. Not sure why but I’d always preferred this over the popular pork or shrimp dumplings for its robust flavours and the melt-in-your-mouth bites of beef brisket as well as succulent chunks of beef tendon which had been braised to the right texture and consistency. It was until more five years ago when I first visited 劉森記 in Sham Shui Po where I found another love. Their 南乳焖猪手 Braised Pig Trotters with Nam Yu Fermented Beancurd was cooked to perfection I thought. Delightfully aromatic and with flavours which are strangely familiar and yet alien to me at the same time, it was love at first sight… or taste rather. Since then I’d been going around trying out various noodle joints not only for their 柱侯牛腩麵 but also their 猪手麵 whenever possible. We braise pig trotters at home all the time, from 卤猪脚，the traditional dark soya sauce version which is prevalent in local Hokkien and Teochew cooking, to 猪脚醋, the richly vinegared version for the occasional indulgence of sweetness and tang. It didn’t take long for me to try and cook 南乳焖猪手 at home for myself, to satisfy my own cravings for this dish whenever I could, whenever I want.
January and it is strawberry season. Specifically Korean and Japanese strawberries that is. This is practically the only time of the year that I eat strawberries. Apart from the erratic French gariguettes that come a couple of months later. IF they ever come that is. Fraises des bois and Mara des bois…I can only dream. Yes we do get strawberries on the supermarket shelves almost all year round. Call me picky but I don’t buy straws from Australia, New Zealand or the Americas, be it North or South. They just don’t dig as well as the Korean, Japanese or French fellas. Neither do I eat Driscoll’s
crappy strawberries. No offence guys but they just make you think that you are eating strawberries. So in reality and as snobbish I may sound, the “real” strawberry season is actually very short. For me at least. As seasonal as how these fruits had been in the past and should rightfully be so. Apart from buying and savoring them as it is, we often crack our heads to find ways to extend our days to enjoy them before the season closes. And what better way to lock in these flavours through making jams out of them, an age old method to “immortalise” the delicate sweetness the current season bequeaths upon us which alas, come so swiftly yet ends all too shortly.
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每次到香港，我们必定得走深水埗一趟。深水埗在旺角以北，较少外国和内地游客的喧嚣，多了份香港在地人的味道。二三十年前的深水埗是造就香港成为当时世界成衣王国的一大功臣。想当年，拥有一件 “Made in Hong Kong”的T-桖是极为普遍的事。但随着劳工成本的提高，许多当地商人已经移资到大陆内地去设厂发展。那些之前以成衣公司为主的大夏已经被其他企业所进驻，而以往车衣声此起彼伏的工厂也随着人去楼空沉寂下来。走在长沙湾和荔枝角的街道上瞭望年久失修，残壁斑驳的高楼，这座成衣工业大城昔日的繁华和如今的沧桑形成了强烈的对比。当然，我们来深水埗追寻老香港的足迹，不仅仅是为了这些大楼。更重要的是在深水埗的许多街道上和店铺里尘封了旧时香港的味道。当然，我们说的是美食。像是“合益泰小食”的肠粉和艇仔粥，或是“劉森記”的蝦子竹昇麵，每每吸引着我们造访的应该是隐藏在食物中的那种上一代，再上一代和现在新的一代一起过日子的味道。简单而鲜美，朴实而率真。平民美食，老铺传统继承了华丽外衣下的香港，里头包裹着那一层层的老味道。