I seldom cook Indian cuisine at home because many of its dishes call for a wide array of spices, some less common and more exotic than others. It doesn’t quite make sense to procure a whole bottle no matter how small it might be when the recipe calls for only a pinch. Seemingly insignificant but often too much to miss as the concoction build on these small components that results in the complex bouquet of flavours and aromas we get in the final dish. But most of it goes to waste when left unused as it would be eons when the mood calls for these spices to be used again, of which they would have gone pass their prime or even expired. But there are a few dishes which are reasonably simple enough to whip up at home without the hassle of having to hoard a large variety of spices. Butter chicken is most certainly one of them and nothing goes better with butter chicken then a couple of freshly made naans which are fluffy and soft inside while being crisp and crusty outside.
The french pastry scene in Taipei is as vibrant as ever, with new patisseries and cafes popping up every time whenever we are in town. We were spoilt for choice during our recent trip with so many new places to visit and try but so little time. So we narrowed down the list of pastry shops to sample down to half a dozen or so which is quite a feat to accomplish already not to mention a crazy sugar overload! I’m glad we managed to pop by quite a few nevertheless, and Escape from Paris 芙芙法式甜點 was one of them.
I love mee goreng of any style, be it the dry and smokey Indian “mamak” version or the slightly moister yet full of “tze char” way of frying mee goreng which became popularly known as “Punggol Mee Goreng” here in Singapore. We cook it quite frequently at home too, pulling together elements which I like from the various versions I have tried before into a single plate. When I was given two packets of Casa Rinaldi’s gnocchi to create recipes with distinct “local taste” the first thing that came to my mind was “Seafood Gnocchi Goreng”!
Among the numerous popular hawker favorites, char kway teow has a special place in the hearts of many. It is a traditional fried noodle dish whipped up by street hawkers who gathered at the now-demolished Ellenborough Market just across Clarke Quay along Singapore River. The area was also a well known enclave of the early Teochew settlers who knew this place as tsah tsun tau 柴船头, owing to the provision of fuel-related goods like firewood, charcoal and kerosene in this area. At night, some of these hawkers take to the nearby old Thong Chai Medical Institution 同济医院 for the supper crowd who flocked here after a session of tua hee 大戏 aka Chinese wayang opera nearby or a movie produced by Cathay Organisation at Majestic cinema just a short stretch down Eu Tong Sen Road. But as peddling of street food waned in the 1980s as it became outlawed, gone were the days when these illegal hawkers had to scurry and run away from the health inspectors, colloquially known as 地牛 “tee gu“. Together with the establishment of hawker centres around the island, local delights like char kway teow spread to the heartlands and became everyone’s favorite as well.
My pot of keng hua has been sending out blooms again. Around half a dozen around Valentine’s and now just barely two weeks later, 13 blooms, the same number when I got it last August. Friends said this is probably the best 12 bucks I’d ever gonna spend and I cannot disagree. Anyway, I’m making a sweet broth dessert again with these latest blooms and I’d changed the recipe slightly compared to the previous one. There isn’t really a fixed recipe for this. You can just cook with whatever combination of ingredients use in both versions and I’m sure they would taste delicious nonetheless! (more…)
You know when you’d tried a certain dish at a new joint, and after that tell yourself that the “gastrorgasmic” experience you’d gone through had just breached the boundaries of what you’d think was the best rendition that could possibly exist out there for that particular dish, hitting all the right spots, making you nod your head periodically, albeit uncontrollably as you close your eyes in attempt to shut off the other senses so as to concentrate on extracting every ounce of gastronomic pleasure from each bite, smiling to yourself without even knowing you are smiling, only to be overwhelmed by that oddly tingling sense of sadness that creeps in as you partake that last mouthful or slurp, savouring every bit of lingering morsel in the mouth, or waft of aroma in the air, bittersweet as you can’t help but let out a sigh of contentment and gratitude for the experience, interspersed with hopeful yearning for the next episode. Sounding both phenomenal and incredible at the same time while wondering how could that be even mortally possible. Well you could be if you live a life to eat. We’d experienced that before, on several occasions in fact, most notably with Mutekiya Ramen when we first visited a couple of years back and also my first personal encounter with Sugino’s mousse creations, and most recently, 金子半之助天丼 Kaneko Hannosuke Tendon.
Several new Peranakan eateries and “makan outlets” have opened over the short span of just one year and this is a heartening sight. Peranakan cuisine, despite being somewhat familiar to most Singaporeans remains as a niche to many who would only savour during gatherings or on “special occasions”. It is in hope that with Peranakan food being made more easily available through the opening of these new places that the cuisine would become a larger part of our daily meals as part of our daily lives for the non-Peranakans and even some members of the Peranakan community themselves.
For those who love Japanese ramen, 一蘭 Ichiran Tonkotsu Ramen should not sound unfamiliar. Hailing from 博多 Hakata, Fukuoka, they are one of the the first to popularise this stye of ramen from the south characterised by a rich and creamy bone broth with branches all over Japan. It is not only their ramen itself that makes them unique but also the way of ordering ramen, and also the sheer experience of dining in an Ichiran ramen outlet itself that makes things interesting…
There are many kuehs which we grew up eating and enjoying, often not just because they taste good but also the other dimensions of the gastronomic experience that surpass that from just the palate that makes each bite memorable. Like lapis sagu or kueh lapis beras, which can be made more fun by peeling the kueh layer by layer, or in the case of ondeh ondeh, the sheer joy one receives as every one of these sticky and chewy balls explodes with each mouthful to unleash an avalanche of sweet and savory juices from within…
When one thinks about Peranakan cuisine, what comes to mind immediately are probably the elaborate dishes one would see being showcased in a Tok Panjang feast. Ayam Masak Keluak , Kuah Hee Pio, Itek Sioh, Ikan Gerang Asam etc… laok ari besair as they are called in Baba Patois, to mean dishes specially cooked for special occasions like weddings and birthday celebrations. But we often forget that there are many dishes which Peranakan households enjoy on a daily basis, simpler dishes requiring less time to whip up which are by no means less delicious. So here are some of these everyday dishes, laok ari ari which you can also whip up for your everyday meals.
Sambal Jantong Pisang is an interesting dish, and one which is uniquely Peranakan. I love it for its kerabu-like freshness and crunchy textures, intermingled with the richness and spiciness of the coconut milk dressing. It used to be commonly served as a dish on the Tok Panjang banquet on traditional weddings, for its tedious making process seems most befitting of the grandeur and scale of this solemn once-in-a-lifetime event. More importantly as I was told by an old Baba, the dish is particularly meaningful for the occasion as bananas are symbolic for one to be bountiful blessed with many children, the wish for the newly weds to bear so, hopefully as many as the elongated flowers one would find in each unopened banana bud, layer after layer, generation after generation.
We enjoy homecooked food a lot. And because of that, we enjoy cooking at home a lot. What seemed to be a chore in the past, helping my mum wash the vegetables, cut the ingredients, tumbok the rempah in the past became what I missed the most now that mum is no longer with us. The dishes are usually very simple, spanning across a good range of Peranakan fare, not forgetting dishes from Chinese cuisine which she’d learnt from my grandmothers, our neighbours, her colleagues-turned friends at work, our old neighbours, and even from the vegetable sellers, fishmongers, butchers and hawkers from whom she will steal a recipe or cooking tip from. From them, she expanded her culinary repertoire that stretched across other cuisines to cook dishes from these dialectal groups when she didn’t even know how to speak those tongues! Amazing how fast and effortless it was for her to learn new dishes, sometimes indirectly from just tasting it once or twice would she be able to decode the recipe or figure out the cooking methods. Those were the days when experimentation was the fun thing to do and authenticity was never a question in mind.
It is always exciting to be back in Melaka and even more so at Casa Del Rio. Tucked in an idyllic spot near to the mouth of Melaka River, the hotel offers the tranquility of luxurious lodging and hospitality complete with the the convenience of being so near to the heart of all the bustling sights and sounds this beautiful city has to offer. I’m so glad to be back here again, not just to stay and enjoy the comforts of its amenities but more importantly to sample the all new Ala Carte Dinner Menu just recently made available at Case Del Rio’s key restaurant, the River Grill.
Literature and publications on the Peranakan community are far and few in between, so when a new book on this unique group to the Malay Archipelago becomes available, it is always met with much excitement and anticipation, and the new “Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum – Home of a Peranakan Family since 1861” is no exception . Fresh and hot from the publishers just a couple of weeks back, many of us await gleefully for a glimpse and surely, it did not disappoint.
Received a tip off from a friend this morning about a book sale hosted by Marshall Cavendish this morning and I immediately made a beeline for it since it is not too far from home. Unlike other clearance sales I’d been to where the books are individually priced and tagged, the books at this year’s MC Sale 2015 is sold by the cartons! Yes, you’d heard me right. Buy a cardboard carton at the door for just 20 dollars and pack it up as much as you can carry! Bizarre it may sound, this is absolutely true! What caught my eye was the array of cookbooks available for grabs at the sale. Despite being under the weather, and still recuperating from my HK trip, I must make a trip down and indeed I did!
There are some dishes which I cook over and over again for my daily meals. Some of these are purely out of simplicity, allowing the laziness in me to take over, so that I don’t have to think to much or fuss over what to have for a weekday lunch. But some of these dishes are revisited over and over again because of the memories they carry. Many of these are comfort foods, dishes which I’d been eating all these years since young when my mother was still around. And now that she is gone, these dishes invoke a profound sense of nostalgia，reminiscent of the times we’d spent together cooking, the sights and sounds, not forgetting smells from our small kitchen. Thankfully over the years of cooking together, I’d learnt from her and consolidated a small but decent repertoire of dishes which we’d prepared together and enjoyed tremendously, dishes which I cook over and over again, archiving the flavours and fueling memories…
I began noticing master boulanger 吳寶春 Wu Pao Chun when he first appeared in one of my favorite Taiwanese forum talk shows 新闻哇哇挖 upon returning to Taiwan, after winning the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie aka Bakery World Cup in Paris five years ago. Since then, he has been hailed as a 台湾之光 “Glory of Taiwan” alongside acclaimed director, Lee Ang, an honour accredited by the local Taiwanese press to their fellow countrymen who had achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim of sorts. This does not come easily for anyone from Taiwan, a country which has yet to be formally acknowledged by UN, and whose existence is constantly under pressure and threat across the straits from Mainland China. Since returning to Taiwan, Wu set up his first artisan bread bakery in Kaohsiung before opening another in Taipei the next year. Our previous trips to Taiwan had always been filled with pastries and cakes more than anything else, so for our most recent trip, we finally decided to make our way to Wu’s bakery located at Eslite Spectrum Song Yan Store.
Peranakan cooking is often thought to be complicated, elaborated, time-consuming and difficult to learn. Well, this is what many people think and some, expound or expect others to think. Yes there are indeed dishes in straits chinese cooking that have long ingredient lists and/or require more time to prepare and cook than others. But that is also true for most other cuisines which I know of. So the concept of the cuisine being “complex” and troublesome is to me much of a fallacy, perhaps used to instill some sense of apprehension or anxiety to newbies and the unwary, those who are approaching it for the first time. But this is often what I hear others describe Peranakan cooking to be. Sadly so, because in order to lead one to better appreciate the cuisine and hence the colourful culture underlying it, the last thing one wishes to hear is how intimidating and unapproachable it is. How should one embrace something which is so unachievable and intangible? So that the preparation of Peranakan dishes be left only to the exclusive who have inherited their ways of making from the grandmothers and bibiks of the faded past? It is a perpetuated thought by some that only through so, would the dishes remain “authentic”? Well， I choose to think otherwise…
There are a lot of simple dishes in Peranakan cooking, many which require much less time and effort to prepare than what had been described as being atrociously difficult. These would include dishes like kangkong masak lemak, ikan tempra, pong tauhu, udang masak nenas etc. Many of these simple dishes are cooked on a daily basis, and not just for the much-revered Tok Panjang. Afterall, how often does one hosts or attend a Tok Panjang at home? But surely one’s gotta eat everyday yeah? In fact, the ability to cook with ease, a table of dishes what may impress upon others to be difficult and painstakingly prepared, is what many would hope for. Minimal efforts to reap maximal sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Now that, is a true blue bibik’s secret if you ask me…
I usually do not blog about anything else here apart from my travels and my food ventures, be it those I’d tried to eat or those I’d tried to cook. However, something in the recent news made me shiver in my bones, as it concerns two countries which I’m very closely related to, i.e Singapore where I am born, bred and call home, and Japan which I’d been to couple of times and increasingly growing fond of and attached to. Singapore will be importing rice from Fukushima, Japan very soon, following a complete lift of import restrictions on Japanese food items to the small island state since the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011. It didn’t occur to me that we are going to be getting rice from Fukushima until recent news dating just two days back in our local newspapers. Should this be of any concern, especially when many Singaporeans like me, are particularly fond of Japanese cuisine?
After my night account to the Intan in January, I had the privilege of visiting this private museum again twice over the last two months under the kind invitation of its owner, Baba Alvin Yapp. I had the chance to experience the guided tours led by Alvin and even interact and share with some of the tour participants what little I know about the Peranakan culture. So it was quite an experience for me on many accounts!
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!
Quite a number of new hotel establishments opened in Singapore this year and just when we think that the local hospitality industry has already reached its saturation point, these new hotels strive to find their footing amidst the already crowded skyline. Some of them are totally new buildings made from scratch while quite a number of them are major overhaul projects to old blocks, revamped to breathe new life into them. BIG Hotel located at the junction of Bencoolen Street and Middle Road is one of these “new kids on the block” and we had a chance to find out just exactly what it is BIG on!
The art of 和菓子 Wagashi making is one of the finer elements of Japanese culinary culture and for me, it is the epitome of its levels of exquisiteness and artistry of its gastronomic heritage. Most wagashi used a grain-based starch as the main ingredient, usually glutinous rice or Japanese short-grained rice, but 蕨餅 Warabimochi is an interesting form of Wagashi using starch extracted from the roots and lower stems of the bracken fern instead. It is an extremely popular snack in the Kansai region and I remember first tasting it as part of the dessert served with a Kyoto-styled Tofu meal when we were in Osaka 2 years back. The texture was unique, somewhat chewy with quite a bit of bite yet soft and delicate at the same time. So it is quite difficult to describe but remains memorable until today.