In conjunction with the ongoing festivities and jubilation to celebrate our 50 years of nation building, Concorde Hotel Singapore located right in the heart of the Orchard Road shopping belt has specially chosen and recreated a selection of Peranakan dishes as part of the spread for the buffet available at their Spices Cafe. Two weeks ago, the hotel specially invited Baba Jolly Wee, together with some of his family members and close friends, for a luncheon organised as a tribute and appreciation for putting together some of the Peranakan staples on the menu and coaching the chefs who helm the kitchen at the Spices Cafe during his stint as their culinary consultant. Baba Jolly, a doyen of Straits Chinese cuisine in Singapore who is now well into his eighties, is held in great esteem and highly regarded here for his work on promoting baba-nonya culinary culture to fellow Singaporeans, as well as the rest of the world.
Peranakan desserts and snacks are such a large and colourful collection of delectables that they warrant special attention on their own. Being a unique group with members from such different backgrounds and rich heritage, the sweet and savory treats which signify the Peranakan community are exemplary of this wonderful diversity. Look closely, and one would be able to identify easily the cultural elements from the origins of forebears where the Peranakan roots developed from. Just to name a few, we have Kueh Koo Merah and Popiah from the Chinese, Rempah Udang, Pulot Inti with Malay-Indonesian influences, Pang Susi and Kueh Blanda with Portuguese-Dutch origins and of course Roti Babi from the proximal colonial links, and these are only a teeny tip of the iceberg of the repertoire affectionately known as “Kueh Chuchi Mulot” to the babas and nyonyas.
Many of these kuehs apart from tasting really good, are symbolic with their cultural significance tightly woven into the customs and practices of the Peranakan tapestry of life in the yesteryears. Some are prepared specially for specific occasions, like kueh bakol for the Chinese New Year, and were enshrouded with much mysticism through a relay of “patangs” (taboos) which had to be observed to strict accordance for guaranteed success in their making. Some like kueh koo itam were made almost exclusively for ancestral worship and serving them during other joyous or celebratory events would only invite “koosmangat!” from the nyonyas with their overtly animated and dramatised “terpranjat” look, not forgetting a string of gossips that would soon follow and before long the extended family or even the whole community would know who “kentot“. Many of these kuehs, like kueh koo, kueh sarlat (gading galoh), kueh lapis beras (kueh genggang) are “colour coded”, so it mattered to many Peranakans “what” to serve “when”, to “whom” and in “which colour”. Like many of the earlier mentioned kuehs with specific “functions”, apom balek is no exception.
Bubur Cha Cha or “Bubor Cha Cheir” as it is known to some Peranakans, is a dessert soup which comes close to heart for my family. My mum loved it immensely and made it often enough for us to develop a liking for it as well since young. It is a chuchi mulot which she would exercise her creativity in the ingredients to be added depending on the amount of time she had at hand and of course what we loved to eat. Kept minimalistic, it would simply be just a sweet coconut milk broth base with diced kledek (sweet potato) and keladi (taro) cooked in it. More elaborated, an assortment of other “accessories” like bijik sagu kechik (small sago pearls), and legumes like kacang merah (red beans), kacang ijo (green beans) or kacang mata itam (black-eyed peas) can be cooked separated and added. Our favorite condiment must surely be sagu gunting, chewy morsels made from either sago flour or tapioca flour that look like gems sparkling in a pool of ingredients coated with a riot of psychedelic colours. Sometimes fruits will be added, mostly pisang (bananas), occasionally nangka (jackfruit) or even cempedak, and of course whenever it is in season, durian!
2015 has really been a trying year for us. My dad had undergone a major surgery just last weekend and is now recuperating in hospital. Thankfully, everything went on smoothly as for now, and he is recovering slowly, but surely. The sheer ordeal of going through the last couple of months of chemo and radiotherapy with him was really challenging to say the least. My family had just “bukak tua har” as well, coming out of the three year mourning period since the demise of my beloved mother 4 years back and we are trying to cope with our lives without her, revisiting the usual traditional practices, like “golek kueh ee” during tang chek at the end of last year, and semayang tee kong during the Chinese New Year period, albeit keeping things simpler and less elaborated. It is afterall the thought that counts… I
think hope. Tomorrow is 端午节 duanwu festival aka dragon boat festival or what is known as “bulan lima lima ari” to the Peranakans. I had planned to “ikat kueh chang” nearer the date for more than a month, something which I had not done for quite a few years already, since there is a patang against doing so when one is mourning. Alas my dad’s operation came right before the preparation period and that basically threw everything off course. But as my dad’s condition stabilised and is getting better, I pushed on ahead with my plans to ikat kueh chang nonetheless, grabbing ingredients and materials on a very last minute basis and slogged the night before preparing the ingredients and frying the filling, to be used the next day for making the dumplings. So here is a quick photo log of the making of my kueh chang babi this year. Having not done it for quite a few years now, my skills are really rusty. They look kinda out of shape yes, the wrapping job looks shoddy and the tying shitty yes, and the shade of bunga telang blue isn’t even close to what I had intended. But I’m glad I’d gone through and am now done with it. For me, to be able to celebrate these traditional festivals stretches far more than just being ritualistic or observing old customs plainly and passively. It rekindles memories of wonderful moments I’d enjoyed when I was young, with my loved ones who are no longer with me now, and more importantly, it likens to be able to embrace and celebrate life itself!
I love travelling because it gives me the opportunity to experience cultures, traditions and local food which we don’t get very much nowadays in urban Singapore. The other reason why I love travelling out is because I love visiting their markets! Soaking in the sights and sounds, smells which are familiar and yet exotic at the same time, market visits are always full of surprises and hence, much anticipation! Market visits allow me to “sample” what the locals eat, and how they are different from what we get here in Singapore. And even with the same ingredient available here, varieties may differ which makes it so interesting!
In our most recent trip to Hong Kong, we chanced upon a vegetable which I’d not seen before, Crystalline Ice Plant aka Ficoïde Glaciale (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) which is often dubbed as 冰花菜 or simply 冰菜 in Mandarin as its scientific name 冰叶日中花 is simply too long! I saw this vegetable being cooked on an online TV show shared by my friend Hody and got very curious to how crunchy (脆口) it is, even after cooking. Thankfully we managed to spot some at one of the local supermarkets and promptly put a punnet into our shopping basket. It stores remarkably well and were still good despite being a few days since we bought it. Probably slightly passed the prime to be used as a salad vegetable as what it is commonly used, so I cooked it the style which I would normally do for a quick water convolvulus aka kangkong stirfry. Not surprisingly, the 腐乳冰花菜 Crystalline Ice Plant with Fermented Beancurd turned out really yummy!
We woke up really early to beat the crowd at the Tokyo Skytree. Knowing how unpredictable the weather in Tokyo can sometimes be, we didn’t wanna be committed to buying our tickets in advance and end up going there on a rainy day. Thankfully, the weather throughout the whole time was quite pleasant and the visit went on rather smoothly. Time flies so quickly and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. the conjoining mall to the Tokyo Skytree has a good selection of eating joints from family restaurants to burger delis to choose from. We landed ourselves in a place which we’d always been wanting to visit, Nana’s Green Tea!
Omelettes are a common dish on the dinner tables of many Chinese households. The versatility of the eggs, is like a clean canvas that provide us with endless possibilities for omelette dishes, each differing from the next. From Cantonese classics as elaborated as 桂花蛋 or 芙蓉蛋, to something as simple as a SPAM or an onion omelette, omelette dishes can also work to reflect the changing seasons, using ingredients that are only available during specific times of the year. To usher in the summer heat, 夜香花 Tonkin Jasmine bloom to exalt one and all in their perfumed blossoms and one can work it very nicely into an omelette as well ,together with sakura ebi, for a very refreshing 夜香花樱花虾炒蛋 – Tonkin Jasmine & Sakura Ebi Omelette.