Yesterday was Cheng Beng, traditionally a day when prayers would be made to our ancestors. Some folks would take the opportunity to visit and pay their respects at the graves of those who have passed on, a custom which is known as “teh chuah“. Those who “piara abu” i.e. house ancestral tablets at home may also prepare offerings of food and welcome their “nenek moyang” for a feast. And that was what I did. Traditionally, chap chye is one of the staple dishes prepared in our home for ancestral worship but this year I’d decided to go for something similar yet different, and cooked Jiu Hu Char instead.
鱼香茄子 Szechuan Style Spicy Brinjal is a classic dish from one of the 8 main cooking styles representative of Szechuan cuisine, which also include 麻辣，宫保 etc. There are several sources to how the name came about. One mentions the use of a range of ingredients like spicy soya bean paste, garlic, chilies, ginger and spring onion etc to create the sauce which was used traditionally for braising fish. In those days, fish was not a common dish on the daily dining table and only available during important festive occasions when the family pay their respects to the deities or ancestors was when fish was offered and the family got to eat. For everyday meals, cheaper vegetable alternatives often grown in their own fields like brinjal wer used instead…
A good friend recently gave birth so when some friends and I visited her last week in the hospital, I thought of cooking her something which is simple yet nourishing at the same time. Remembered I still have some bottles of essence of chicken at home so a quick trip to the market in the morning to get some fresh chicken thighs to go along with some chinese herbs and dry ingredients I already have at home for a fix of 鸡精蒸滑鸡腿 Steamed Chicken Thighs with Essence of Chicken.
The whole week has been rather chilly in tropical Singapore with temperatures dipping to a low of 21-22°C a couple of days back. A rare sight to see everyone going around in jumpers and light jackets. It is the perfect time for herbal tonic soups as well. In the past, my mum used to stock quite a bit of dried Chinese herbs at home for soup making but nowadays, they are easily available in prepacked “concoction packets” where one just needs to buy one which is suitable for one’s needs and constitution to brew. And that was exactly what I did.
I stayed in hostel during some years of my Uni and NIE PGDE years in NUS and then NTU. Those were the fun and crazy years, away from home with lots of me time. Perched on the Kent Ridge hilltop, staying in KEVII Hall isn’t the most convenient of all places to be. Yes the canteen provided meals of course but as we all know, hostel food sucks so sometimes we would eat out, either NUH canteen just down that treacherous and scary flight of steps down the hill, taking a bus to Clementi central or finding our way the other side of the campus where Fong Seng Nasi Lemak is. Nowhere remotely near to being the best nasi lemak around but that would have to do. But some days ended really late, with lab sessions that stretched all the way past sunset or rehearsals and sessional practices. It helped to stock up some “supplies”, usually canned food of course since we
are not allowed had to pay more rent to keep a mini bar fridge in our rooms. Campbells was my best friend then, good with instant noodles as a “cheat meal” for “creamy pasta”. Then there are the familiar Asian flavours of course, pickled chye sim stems in soya sauce, fermented beancurd cubes, and of course a good old bottle of kana chye to go with Teochew porridge cooked in the common pantry, when the cylinder gas hadn’t been completed exhausted by my PRC hostel mates that is! So simple yet so so gratifying. On some days, when I decided to get experimental, weird concoctions and adventurous sounding dishes were derived, usually out of hungry desperation truth be told, usually when some ingredients ran out, thus the need to put whatever’s available together. In retrospect, the creations then which folks now cleverly call “fusion dishes” looked more like a case of “confusion”. But it was fun nonetheless and Teochew Kana Chye Pasta was probably “invented” under such circumstances…
冷やし中華 Hiyashi Chuka literally meaning “chilled Chinese” is a popular Japanese noodle dish which is normally enjoyed during the summer months. Well, we don’t have distinct seasons in Singapore so all the more better as that meant we get to enjoy it all year round!
I am gonna be brutally honest here. I am not at all that familiar with Indochinese cuisines. Despite being in the big ASEAN family, Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes still largely fall within the “exotics” category for my palate. Hardly an excuse really, given the proximity but fact is I do not eat these foods as often as I could or should, despite there being quite a few good Vietnamese eateries around Singapore, especially in my all-too-familiar Joo Chiat area just a stone’s throw away from my favorite wet market at Geylang Serai. I love Pho Bo and have an affinity for Bahn Mi and Bahn Xeo but apart from these two dishes, my next to-go-to Vietnamese dish to order whenever I am dining in a local viet deli would be Thit Heo Nuong Xa Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops with Rice Noodles. Love the smokey and lightly charred aromas of the grilled pork chops against the assortment of crunchy and refreshing greens. And here’s my take of this popular yet healthy dish. (more…)