Many of us grew up in kitchens made convenient, and colourful through an assortment of Tupperware storage products. Favorite snacks and cookies were secretly stowed away in these containers which come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, not to mention psychedelic colours, only to be meticulously rationed to us gluttons in moderation. Thanks to Tupperware’s wondrous airtight properties, the goodies remained crunchy and crisp in storage, allowing them to be enjoyed and savoured over long periods of time. Our impressions of Tupperware were affixed at being “storage specialists”, a household name which any decent homemaker would quite readily resonate with. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Tupperware have branched out of their “comfort zone” and expanded their inventory to include other household items aimed at making the lives of modern folk like us a breeze in the kitchen, just like they had done so over the decades with their storage containers. Very recently, I had the pleasure of attending a cooking presentation by local celebrity chef Eric Teo, who demonstrated the use of one of the latest products in the catalogue, the Fusion Master mincer. It is definitely a household item worth looking forward to.
When we were young, many weekends were spent at my grandma’s where my aunts and cousins would gather as well. I remember particularly looking forward to following my mum go back to her mum’s place for several reasons. Firstly, we got to take a cab! Grandma used to stay a distance from us and visiting her meant long bus journeys, not to mention changing feeder buses at the interchange. It was the pre-Translink card days without travelling rebates so given our family of four, taking a cab seemed the most logical thing to do. Those were the days of the yellow-top black taxis with rickety doors which needed a hard slam to close properly but I enjoyed the rides simply because the taxis had air-con! Secondly, grandma doted on us grandchildren down to the dribbles and drips, often having snacks prepared for us already which we got to eat upon our arrival. She would also secretly stuff our pockets with money behind our parents’ back! Being the eldest grandson, I was often assigned to run errands for her at the sundries shop just next block. I bought an assortment of things for her, from ingredients like eggs or flour which ran out on the last minute while preparing certain dishes, to her cigarettes. I loved it when she asked me to buy things for her because that meant I could keep the spare change! Knowing this, my cousins would sometimes offer to tag along, and this was when we would make a quick detour to the nearby playground to play with the slides, swings or see saw! Finally, I loved visiting Grandma when I was young because she was such a wonderful cook. With the help of my mom and aunts, Grandma’s kitchen came alive every Sunday afternoon as the women chatted vivaciously and exchanged the weekly gossips, usually about other family friends and relatives, or about the latest TV and movie film stars, while dinner preparations went on for the weekly feast. Popular dishes on the dining table which we all enjoyed were Tee Tor Tng, Chap Chye, Kari Ayam, Tau Yew Bak, Ikan Chuan Chuan, Ayam Char but our absolute favorite which everyone loved had to be Grandma’s Ngoh Hiang.
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.
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…
It has been several months since the news of the renowned Japanese patisserie Henri Charpentier (HC) has finally set up a dessert salon here in Singapore, making it their first overseas outlet outside Japan. Truth be told, that came as a surprise for me as most others would have made their presence in other Asia-Pacific regions, like Hong Kong or Taipei where the pastry scene is somewhat more vibrant than us here. Perhaps the pastry and dessert markets in these places are somewhat saturated already, making it more competitive to venture into. Perhaps HC saw the potential in establishing a joint or two here in this relatively untouched land. Whichever the case, a new player in the market is always welcomed. Hopefully the coming of HC signifies the escalation of our local pastry scene onto the next level. But that remains to be seen.
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!
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!
Straits cooking, be it Malay, Indonesian or Peranakan is characterised by the elaborated and generous use of chillies, spices and herbs. Given the variety that grows within the region, a slight difference in combination of these ingredients permutates to produce a plethora of different culinary delights which Straits cooking is so well-known for. Baba-Nyonya cuisine, heavily influenced by the other cuisines in the region, pushes this further through the incorporation of fruits into dishes. The additional dimensions rendered through these fruits often bring dishes from Peranakan cuisine to the next level, be it in visual appeal, aroma, texture and/or flavour.
Mango, pineapple, jackfruit and bananas are the “regulars”, being used in many signature dishes which many of us are familiar with. Once a while, we encounter lesser known local fruit varieties like bilimbi buluh (Averrhoa bilimbi), buah cermai (Phyllanthus acidus), buah kedondong (Spondias dulcis) and buah sukun (Artocarpus altilis), buah binjai (Mangifera caesia). These would be a real treat to those who appreciate the interesting flavours which many of these fruits have.
“Kuih Bingka Ubi Kayu“, or better known as “Bingka Ubi” is another much-loved “kueh” of Malay-Peranakan origin which my family enjoys very much. It is sometimes spelt as “Binka Ubi” or “Bengka Ubi” depending on how it is being pronounced in the variety of colloquial tongues in this region. Coconut and cassava/tapioca go really well together, with the natural earthy sweetness from the starchy root complimenting the richness of the santan (coconut milk). And of course coconut milk and salt is an age-old combination. i.e. when there is santan, there must be salt. And the salt is perfect to bear contrast and accentuate the sweetness of the dessert snack without making it too cloying. Unlike some other kuehs, the recipe for Bengka Ubi is rather straightforward. And given how easily grated cassava is now available in local wet markets, it is literally a breeze to make it nowadays.
For me, this kuih is both intriguing and perplexing at the same time, and first is of course the name. In fact, it goes by more than one name…Kueh Sarlat , also spelt as Kueh Salat is the name favoured by the Peranakans, It is however better known to the larger Malay community as Kuih Seri Muka or simply Seri Muka to mean “pretty face”. And the folks in Melaka would find this more familiar as Gading Galoh while other variations include Puteri Sarlat and Kueh Serikaya. Now what else is there about it that is intriguing and perplexing?
Over the last year or so, we saw several new patisseries and boulangeries coming up in Singapore. International names like Paul and Maison Kayser made it to our shores and yet, we also saw several local establishments like Antoinette bloom. The latest new kid on the block is of course Laduree. But the one which garnered the most raves and truly worthy of the limelight is undoubtedly Tiong Bahru Bakery.
Yet another F&B venture after their incredibly successful Tippling Club and Skinny Pizza, the folks behind Food Collective under the Spa Esprit Group flew in the suave and dynamic Parisian boulanger Gontran Cherrier to helm this establishment. Born into a family of bakers and patissiers who passed down the know-hows of the trade from generation to generation, Cherrier subsequently received his professional training at l’Ecole Ferrandi, and then l’Ecole de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie de Paris. Stints at l’Arpège alongside Alain Passard and later Lucas Carton with Alain Senderen, as well as the growing up experience in a family-owned boulangerie by generations of traditional bread makers help to shape and sharpen Cherrier to become what he is today. Yet interestingly, the bakery did not bear the “GC” label, umlike those in Paris as well as Tokyo. “Tiong Bahru Bakery” with a name unassuming and reminiscent of an old school confectionery which many of us here in Singapore may affectionately remember was thus born. But being rustic and nostalgic are hardly the hues and tones this artisan bakery exudes. Those who come in search of traditional kaya toast and egg tarts would be surprised… pleasantly surprised…
A visit to Old Aiport Road Food Centre and you would be quick to observe a rather prominent sight, i.e. diners all around carrying plastic bags containing disposable bowls of soyabean curd! And its not just that idiosyncratic one or two, but a concerted act which seems to perpetuate the entire place! Now that made me very curious indeed…
Singaporeans love soya beancurd. “Tau huay” as it is affectionately called here by folks from all races and walks of life, we eat it all the time, and quite literally! Traditionally, it is enjoyed as a breakfast treat piping hot, together with a warm glass of soyabean milk and a 油条 youtiao dough fritter for dunking in. Yet we see OLs queuing for them during lunchtime in the CBD area for a dessert after their midday meal, or as a takeaway for tea break later in the day. And as the day draws to an end, we see folks making a beeline for famous beancurd joints all over the island for communal supper, with friends and family. So you can see now how we truly love tao huay!
“Rochor Beancurd” and “Selegie Beancurd” are some of the more familiar names and have since opened franchaises all over the island. And of course we have Mr Bean and Jolibean (alongside Old Chang Kee of course!) in literally every other mall and shopping centre of the heartlands. Amongst those which have made their way onto the Tau Huay Hall of Fame is surely 老伴豆花 Lao Ban Soya Beancurd.
High tea set for 2, for jan & feb 2011. It was a good bargain we thought so we went for it!
Dinner @ Skinny Pizza, a chic-looking place at the newly refurbished basement of Raffles City.
Bolognese With Mozzarella. ($23)
Minced beef Bolognese spread over a crispy crust and topped with chunks of mozzarella, rocket and freshly ripped basil.
3rd visit to Bakerzin within a month! The Gods Must Be Crazy! And that’s if you don’t count the “Macarons Takeaway” visit at Bakerzin Vivocity two days back! Truth is, we went back to do some online reading, basically to get to know what are the raves of this place and these fellas popped up! So here we are to check ’em out!
We ordered two tea sets, which we thought was a steal as they came with a choice of tea and a cake each at only $8.90 per set! I chose Vanilla Bourbon while J’s was Chamomile. On top of that, we ordered a tart as well! Dessert overload!
Lunch @ Ding Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 Paragon
For most food lovers, Ding Tai Fung is a name that does not require much introduction. It, with its roots in Taiwan, specialises in Chinese cuisine and is immensely popular amongst the locals as well as tourists from all around the world, who flock there to sample 小籠包, their signature dish, amongst other simple yet scrumptious delicacies. The restaurant chain also continually make the news, i.e. with the Taipei outlet being voted as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in the World” by The NY Times in 1993. More recently with their Tsimshatsui restaurant joining the stellar ranks of Michellin-starred dining hotspots around the World after it was awarded one Michelin star by the Hong Kong and Macau 2010 edition of the Michelin Guide. While the establishment of the Asian versions of food guide is considered controversial by some, others feel that its a well-earned accolade.
We’d been to Ding Tai Fung several times since their inauguration in Singapore a few years back and have been reasonably satisfied with the quality of food and service. This time, we ordered pretty much ordered the usual things we are accustomed to eating here.
Lunch @ Jack’s Place is something which we had been wanting to do for such a long time but never get the opportunity to materialise. Hectic work schedules is usually the
excuse reason. But as the year closes to an end with us clearing leave and not travelling out, it seemed like the best place to enjoy a slow and simple weekday lunch. We chose the branch at Bras Basah complex for several reasons. Firstly, its just a stone’s throw away from the gym where we workout, hence allowing us to sweat out a bit to lighten our conscience on the culinary indulgence we might land ourselves in. And secondly the ambience and decor here is so well-preserved at the 80s and early 90s! Just the way we like it, uh huh uh huh!
We order two set meals of the day which came with Cream of Vegetable Soup served with garlic bread.
Autumnale, a chestnut-themed cake from COVA Pasticceria – Confetteria, a rather “upperty” Italian restaurant at Paragon Shopping Centre.
Too expensive for us for a comme il faut dine-in, and we already had our dessert fix at Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie just barely 2 hours back. So we opted for takeaways from their dessert counter. They offered a good selection of cakes and tarts of all sizes from finger-food to whole cakes but the Italian styling is distinctively different from the French. Pardon my ignorance but my knowledge on Italian cuisine is pretty much limited to the savoury items like pasta, pizzas and delicious rich stews. Tiramisu and Panna Cotta are the only two that comes to mind readily when I try to recall what Italian desserts I’d tried before.
Amongst the array of takeaway desserts available at the counter, Autumnale stood out prominently and we decided that Autumnale it shall be!
Desserts @ Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie, Scotts Road.
We’d passed by this place umpteen times when you are in Orchard but neve tried their stuff before, be it dine-in or takeaways. Partly because the prices were on the exorbitant side by our standards. But since we are on a mini pâtisserie craze, we couldn’t resist trying their beautifully crafted desserts!
Yes! We are back at Bakerzin again! The cheapos in us tell us to utilise the 20% birthday month promotion! And we definitely want to try more cakes and bakes from them. 🙂
Free flow bread for any order. A generous gesture I think, like what Cafe Cartel does. But I’m not really much of a bread person other than the usual baguette and Gardenia!
Nothing like a good dessert after a hearty meal. And we had not only one, but three!
After lunch @ Tampopo Restaurant, we went to the basement of Liang Court at Tampopo Deli! Also under the same helm as Tampopo Restaurant to Creative Food Concept (CFC) , Tampopo Deli is well-known, especially amongst the Japanese expat community for delicious, affordable meal takeaways and japanese-french patisserie.
Dinner @ Tampopo Restaurant at Liang Court.
Our second visit to this popular Japanese family restaurant. Some previous attempts to dine here proved futile as the dinner queue is often long, not to mention the reservation list. We are the lazy sort who choose to gate-crash on the spot rather than to make reservations.
Thankfully, we were here early today and there wasn’t much of a crowd. We still had to take a queue number but were seated very shortly after. 🙂
Tampopo has a wide selection of rice and ramen dishes. They are also well-known for their katsu, as well as being one of the first to bring in kurobuta at affordable prices into Singapore. Many others like Tonkichi soon follow suit.
We ordered two dishes, their signature Tonkatsu Ramen, and an ebi fry with hire katsu rice set. The Mini Buta Donburi came as a “side-order” to the ramen set at an extra cost of $4++.
Our new membership at Bakerzin!
Feeling a bit”sweet-toothy” after our dinner at Ashtons, we went for desserts at Bakerzin nearby. And definitely on impulse, we subscribed to their membership! It’s quite a steal actually, at 20 bucks a year for a good list of deals worth up to 60 dollars from free macarons, to free cakes, soups etc. Definitely gonna put the card to good use! 🙂
Dinner @ Ashtons Specialities, Suntec City Mall. We always see a long queue outside this place, alikening the outlet at Katong so we would usually give it a miss. But we were early for dinner today so we reckon that we should give this place a try.
We “repeated” orders for the same dishes we had at the Katong outlet some months back. Partly because we didn’t get decent photos then as the ambient light of the restaurant was simply too dark for my Ricoh to produce a decent shot. Secondly, this seem like the most “ideal” choice for us personally.
Pork Chops with mashed potato and coleslaw as side orders.
The pork chops ain’t bad but we prefer the ones from Cafe Cartel. Its somewhere in between the good version at Cafe Cartle and the bad version at Hans. Then again, anything compared to Hans is considered good.
The mash potato was too grainy while the coleslaw as a tad too soggy. Basically the whole dish was pracically drenched with brown sauce, which was simultaneously used for both the pork chops and mash potato, as well as whatever dressing that’s oozing out from the coleslaw.