Last weekend, Singapore celebrated her Golden Jubilee, 50 years of glorious nation building which saw her rose from a third world nation, separated from Malaysia and forcefully pushed onto her road of independence which she had not wished for, to become one of the major key players in the regional political and economic development. In fear that the Chinese-majority population in Singapore would threaten the rule and dilute the prowess of the Malay-dominant UMNO which controls the Federation of Malaya then, Tunku Abdul Rahman “talak” Singapore, ousting her from the Federation which she had joined less than two years back. Left largely on her own, the initial years were full of staggers and struggles, but through the sheer hardwork and determination of our parents, Singapore’s first taste of success is by no means an easy feat. While the dramatic transformation our island state undertaken had been repeatedly retold in media all over the world, like a fairytale, this Golden Jubilee marks only but the closure of the first chapter of her ongoing story, far from the climatic conclusion many seem to be perceiving and enjoying. Lying ahead are more challenges to follow, many of which are intangible and unpredictable. As the paradigm shift over the last 20 years or so deemed that our fate should become invariably intertwined with the increasingly turbulent global climate, it seems like our future no longer lies solely in our own hands. From the frustrating and stifling realities like escalating costs of living, increasing population densities beyond comfort limits, all-too-frequent MRT breakdowns, to other “softer dimensions” like the disintegration of our social fabric, attrition of our cultural bearings and extinction of our local heritage. The latter aspects seem lesser noticeable but far more important than how they are usually being played out for without our bearings and roots, we are nothing. On the whole, Singapore is a nation that grew so rapidly overnight, that she had hardly any time to reflect and ponder over what was sacrificed, eroded and forever lost. Too caught up with being and staying competitive, her people were tugged into the rat race, constantly instilled with invisible fears of the repercussions and possible aftermath for being left behind or simply not being Number One. In our concerted efforts as a nation to become richer in tangible gains like economic growth, integrated infrastructure, standards of living, global ranking, we had also become poorer, as we silently mourn for our loss, some deplorable beyond being reparable. Friends who visit Singapore seem to be always telling me how fast our country grows, some areas changed and developed beyond recognition in a matter of just a couple of years. Like a child who is all too eager to want to grow up and step into adulthood to prove her worth, much of her time is spent to better herself, with little left to enjoy her childhood and growing up years, let alone to smell the flowers along the way. As we admire the towering skyscrapers that grew like magical beanstalks, we also lament the demolishing of the old architecture built brick upon brick by our forebears. As we broaden our expressways to ease increasingly tense traffic conditions, we scramble to save our old cemeteries from being raised to the ground to make way for establishments in the name of modernisation and modernity. In short we live in an age of dilemma, torn between the want to constantly “majulah” and the need to stay in touch with our past. We see that happening all over Singapore, and even more so in our beloved Katong.
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.
I was at Golden Mile Complex along Beach Road last week and believe it or not, it was my first trip to this place. Often dubbed as “LittleThailand”, it is the place to go for Thai groceries and produce. 10-15 years back when Singapore’s construction industry heavily depended on Thai and Burmese workers, this place was packed over weekends by those in seek of solace for something that reminds them a bit of home, be it food or just to be in the company of fellow kinsman. The lower floors are now occupied by travel agents who mainly offer coach packages to Malaysia and southern Thailand as well as hair salons and eateries offering authentic Thai cuisine while the higher levels are dotted with Thai bars, nightclubs and massage palours, not unlike wha one would find in Patpong, Bangkok. But it is the supermarket on the second floor that I am here for. It boasts to have the most comprehensive spread of Thai groceries and sundries and with a mega floor space that occupies almost the half of the entire level, I’m quite convinced that this would be a one-stop Thai shopping experience for me. The fresh food section was quite an eye-opener with an assortment of Thai vegetables and fruits on display, some of which I’d totally not seen before. There are at least five different types of basil available, all smelling and looking different. Some of them have only their Thai names labelled making them incomprehensive and alien. Altogether very intriguing indeed! One name struck jackpot as it was ชะอม Cha Om, a vegetable Wendy had told me about before. Curious that we should be able to find it here in Singapore. Had to grab a bunch or two for ไข่เจียวชะอม Khai Jeow Cha Om, a Thai Acacia Omelette!
Sometime back, I can’t remember exactly when, I was told that the art of making tamagoyaki is the true litmus test to the “greatness” of a sushi chef. There are many things which a good sushi chef needs to master, i.e. his fish handling skills, his knife work, his sushi rice clasping technique, down to the proper way of toasting nori sheets… but a truly great sushi chef has to know his tamagoyaki well too! Well, I didn’t really buy it then. I mean… “how difficult could making tamagoyaki be?” I told myself. It was not until I attempted to make tamagoyaki on my own did I realise that yes indeed… not the easiest thing to do for sure. To make something which “looks like” tamagoyaki is manageable but to get all the ticks in texture, taste, colour, level of moisture, presentation etc… definitely requires quite a bit of dexterity. So this post is basically a little documentation of my experiments with the famed Japanese egg omelette (that is “omelet” for you guys in the US). I’ve not perfected it yet… no where near yet in fact.
When we were in Kyoto, we were intrigued by the variety of traditional Japanese snacks available in just one shop alone which we’d visited. It is a 老舗 shinise, which means that it has been around for a very long time, and the selection was far more extensive than what we would probably find in all the snack shops we’d seen elsewhere combined. Senbei and other forms of rice biscuits in all thinkable Japanese-inspired flavours from the savory sansho and sakura-ebi to sweet ones like kurogoma and matcha. But this comes as no surprise of course. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. Many of these snacks have their roots deep in the art of 和菓子 wagashi, the traditional artform of Japanese sweet-making. But some of these are classified as 南蛮菓子 nanban-gashi, brought into Japan by the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries more than 500 years ago. The most famous of these “imported confectioneries” must surely be the カステラケーキ kasutera cake which was derived from the Portuguese “Pão de Castela”. It has since become a speciality of Nagasaki. Another lesser known confection which is essentially a nanban-gashi as well, is a cookie known as そばぼうろ Soba Boro, These have since become a popular snack which is synonymously associated to Kyoto, where visitors would buy packets of them home as omiyage. But the recipe is fairly straightforward, so now you can make them on your own as well!
When we were in Tokyo for the first time back in 2009, everything was literally a culture shock for us, despite having prepped up for it a couple of months before that with internet research and guidebook reading. Although both being very built-up Asian cities with a strong urban infrastructure, Singapore and Tokyo are vastly different. So almost everything was interesting, intriguing, puzzling to the point of being bewildering. This perpetuated through every aspect of our brief glimpse into the lives of the Tokyo people. It starts with the morning mad rush at JR Shinjuku station, where everyone moved with such fast pace in a concerted clock-work fashion, yet with immensely high levels of artistry and rapport no one knocks into each other. Yet the peak hour trains are so jam packed, the train companies need to call upon a special “task force” employed specifically to nudge and push passengers onto the trains to make sure that everyone gets to work on time. This is when being squished and squashed, jostled and pushed is inevitable! There are times when the trains are so congested it seems like in comparison, sardines in a can could breathe better! A world of ironies…
Yet at night Shinjuku transforms into a totally different world, a complete paradigm shift and reveals its Mr Hyde. Along the streets of Kabukicho, Ni-chome and San-chome lie every thinkable ounce of carnal pleasure and worldly decadence. Sex shops, pornography parlours, izakayas, nightclubs, gay bars, sleazy saunas… bearing strong and powerful juxtaposition to the buddhist temples and shinto shrines we’d visited in the daytime.
The food culture in Tokyo was also quite intriguing. We are accustomed to buying canned drinks and occasionally packets of snacks or snicker bars from vending machines over here. Yet in Japan, practically everything, from a fresh organically grown apple, to a hentai soiled panty could be peddled in vending machines! More commonly, vending machines in Tokyo serve a greater purpose. One could order a meal through vending machines placed outside an F&B establishment, and customise everything in accordance to one’s preference from adding of toppings on a ramen, ordering an additional side dish, to upgrading a miso jiru to a ton jiru that goes with the 牛丼 Gyudon. This saves the hassle of the already busy shop staff who could now concentrate on handling the food and not the money!
For anyone who is studying or familiar with the modern history of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman is a man who needs no introduction. Born into the royal family of the Kedah Sultanate, he became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister on 31st August 1957, when Malaya gained independence from the British colonial rule. The words “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” still resonate and resound in the hearts of many older Malaysians who witnessed that historical moment, on the same day as today 56 years ago,
An interesting but lesser known trait of Tunku Abdul Rahman, is his passion for food. A true blue foodie of his time, Bapa Malaysia (Father of Malaysia) as he is fondly known as loved cooking as much as he loved eating. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s repertoire of signature dishes which he loves to eat and whip up for his dinner guests is far more extensive than what one would have imagined for a man of his time. Apart from traditional Northern Malaysian cuisine from Kedah where he was born and raised, he is equally at ease Thai dishes, possibly prepared and taught to him by his Thai mother. His studies at Cambridge University, UK in his younger days also exposed him to traditional British cooking where he learnt his “famous Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding”, a weekly staple on the dinner table at home . He is said to have particular fondness for Cantonese dishes as well! So here on Malaysia’s Hari Merdeka (Independence Day). I share with all of you one of the dishes featured in a cookbook compiled and collated by his niece, “Favourite Dishes From The Tunku’s Kitchen“. One of the more interesting recipes I’d read in this cookbook has to be his favorite Otak Otak.