Thursday, February 19, 2015

New year, (more) new clothes

One of my favourite things about Chinese New Year is that I get to wear all my nonya baju without people looking funnily at me, or maybe I mean that I can buy new nonya baju to wear at Chinese New Year.  So when I was last in Malacca, I took the opportunity to buy myself a new kebaya top. And of course, I got all gussied up today in my new kebaya, and my new Intan bracelet.

I really like the fresh pink flowers and fresh green leaves on the white Swiss voile background.  And the little lines of kotok or the special "holey" seams make it oh-so-traditional too.

So now I have three kebaya tops, one each from the three nonya strongholds of Malacca, Penang and of course Singapore.

But going back to my earlier point.  I recall that when I was in Japan, I did see ladies walking around in their elegant kimono. Of course, maybe this was because I was in the traditional part of old Kyoto.  But I do think that people feel comfortable and confident in wandering around in their traditional dress, in a way we don't quite do here in Singapore except on these rare occasions.  So maybe I should throw all this diffidence about wearing the sarong kebaya out of the window and glide out confidently in my lovely clothes whenever I can.

Have a Happy Chinese. New Year, or as someone smsed me in this strange combination of Chinese and English puns, "yang yang dou very goat".

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Five whole years!

I never really expected I'd take so long.  An exercise in perseverance, I like to call it.

What feels good is the sense of progression now, as I can do two or even three rows at a time, as I go down to the bottom of the shoe.  So maybe I'll be inspired to push on, and finish quickly. the end is in sight! (Or have I said that before.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Malacca - old and new

Since my last visit to Malacca three years ago, there have indeed been a number of changes. Malacca (together with Georgetown, Penang, were awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2008.  This has resulted in a lot more visitors to Malacca, and a lot more tourism-related investments.

Casa del Rio - view from our window
So when I go visiting Malacca, it is a little bit old, a little bit new.  This time round, we stayed in Casa del Rio, this swanky new hotel along the Malacca river.  It has a slightly Mediterranean (Portuguese?) vibe, and a great view from our hotel room out on the river, and out to the Straits of Malacca beyond.  It was kind of pricey, but after I got a refreshing ice-cold towel and ginger and lemongrass sorbet at reception; and checked  into our lovely spacious room, complete with a little balcony, large bathroom, and another welcome snack of a little cup with ondeh-ondeh waiting for us to tuck in, I didn't mind at all.  There were a few books left for guests to read - including "Kebaya Tales", by local girl Lee Su Kim.  Of course, I had already read it :-)  

From our hotel, it was a short walk to Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat).  We walked down the familiar streets and looked for our old, favourite shops - the goldsmith shop, San Shu Gong (the biscuit and snack shop), the kebaya shop where my friend also buys her ground coffee, our regular kasut manek shops and pineapple tart shops.  They were all there and seemed to be doing well.  In fact some had expanded! I bought my Pineapple tarts from Christine Ee at Jalan Hang Lekir, together with some good quality gula melaka. It was good to be back.  

There were new shops too - a chocolate shop, a shop selling essential oils and soaps, and the like.  The hotel we stayed in previously has expanded across the road and has gone into retail as well, with yet another shop a few doors down the road  -  I actually managed to buy myself a kebaya top (my third) - white, with pink flowers and green leaves, with the delicate line of "potong" running around the seams.  Simple, but very charming and can probably be used with my pants and skirts (not just the sarong).  Also picked up some nice enamel mugs for my morning coffee.

Interior of the old Dutch House
There were other new boutique hotels to be seen, as well as new indie cafes, occupying the old, long, narrow courtyard houses around Heeren (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) and Jonker Street.  On a more plebian but very practical note, pavements are being extended onto the road, so that pedestrians can now walk in greater comfort and safety on the narrow streets.  We also visited one of the few remaining Dutch houses on Heeren street.  It's a restoration project, aimed at giving an example of what housing was like many years ago. We met an elderly gentlemen here, who told us about the history of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock.  The street is named after him because this is where he used to stay.

Sun May Hiong Satay
Gula Melaka Chicken Wings!
Foodwise, I had checked for new food options and found a useful post from ieatishootipost.   I was a little disappointed that Baboon House appeared closed when we walked past it but we managed to eat at both of the satay stalls on the list, "Loi Satay" (on Lorong Hang Jebat) and Sun May Hiong, (at Jalan Kota Laksamana).  What struck me was the sauce!  Loi Satay apparently uses belimbing, so you get this sharp sour taste contrasting with the richness of the pork and in Sun May Hiong you get loads of sweet pineapple in the sauce.  I preferred the sauce with the pineapple inside, but I must say that I preferred the slightly more chunky satay meat at Loi's.   We also went to Geographers' Cafe, as my friend wanted to try the "no coconut milk" curry mee.  The curry used ground cashew nuts to thicken the gravy but I must say that I would rather consume the calories - nothing beats the lemak-ness of coconut.  I also tried Eleven Bistro - the Portuguese restaurant which seems to have expanded considerably since my last visit.  We had the green curry mussels, which reminded me a little of a mussel dish I had in Macau.  I suppose this means that it is authentic!  My favourite though was the gula melaka chicken wings - chicken wings well-marinated in a gula melaka based sauce. Sticky on the fingers but really rather yummy.

A little shopping, a little sightseeing, a little eating, a little lounging around in a comfortable hotel room.  That's what a good holiday is all about! 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Blinging out in Malacca

Bridal Head-dress
Checking back through this blog, I was surprised that I had not been to Malacca for over three years, since 2011. I note that my post was all about buying cooking equipment!  Am glad to report that this time round, I have a more "cultural" highlight - my visit to the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum in Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street).  Set up by the same folk behind the Pinang Peranakan Mansion in Penang, the museum features a typical Baba-Nonya home downstairs, with the jewellery displays on the second floor. 

Exhibit - Necklace studded with intan
My favourite section of the jewellery display was the  bridal jewellery.  Indeed, this was the occasion when the nonya displays all her bling-bling to showcase her family's wealth and prosperity (and to ensure that she would have some form of insurance if life went wrong).  I really liked the beautiful head-dress, with the delicate streamers hanging down from the front.   Of course, some times this ostentatious display of wealth can go a bit too far - the golden Chinese spoons used by the wedding couple being a prime example.  In general, however, the beautiful, delicate golden pieces - intricately patterned, studded with intan diamonds - take my breath away.

Another room features the jeweller's equipment.  Now, everyone who knows antique jewellery in Malacca knows Ban Onn, the goldsmith shop on Jonker Street.  This is a family-run business, now moving into its third generation.  Check out the corporate video here.  It's my first stop every visit to Malacca, and I often succumb to temptation - so it is a good thing that I've not been to Malacca for a few years!  Anyway, it was no surprise to see uncle's photo (big-big) on the wall of the museum!  I suppose it is reciprocal since there is a large poster of the museum in front of their shop as well.

Josephine Wee's bedroom
The next room was a bit of a surprise.  Everyone in Katong knows Katong Antique House - and its owner, Baba Peter Wee.  Well, some of Peter Wee's mother's old furniture and clothing can be seen here, in this little display of a typical nonya's bedchamber!  I asked our guide who indicated that her boss and Baba Peter Wee are old friends.  Hence he donated these items to the Museum.

In short, this little museum may be much smaller than the palatial Mansion over in Penang but it is literally a little gem.  So do visit!

The museum also has a very good book for those who want to know more.  But there's a useful and informative write-up here.

More photos of the jewellery museum here

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Festive fruit cake

As is my usual practice, I made my traditional sugee cake this Christmas, plus some mince pies.  Plus my mother made her shortbread.  But I felt that it was time for something new.  So, I decided that this year would be the year I tackled fruit cake! Fruit cake is another Eurasian Christmas classic, a British tradition handed down to the local community in Singapore.  But, I never got round to making it even though my mother continued to get a commercial cake (normally the Lion's Club charity cake) every year.

So I started checking recipes.  I looked through Mrs Ellice Handy's book for her recipe, but was totally bowled over by the amount of fruit (almost 2kg worth) and the fact that the recipe was for 3 medium loaf tins!  Of course, I could have just divided the recipe by 3 and baked just a single loaf.  But considering that this was my first attempt, decided to play it very safe, and use Nigella Lawson's traditional fruit cake recipe from her "Domestic Goddess" cookbook.  Nigella has generally been pretty reliable, at least for the recipes I've used.  And this particular recipe gives the different quantities for different fruit cake sizes.

And indeed, I think it turned out quite well, as the photo indicates.  There was still masses of fruit in the recipe, but I thought that the end result was quite moist, full of sherry-soaked raisins and mixed fruit.  It smelt wonderful too!

I can't seem to find the original recipe online, but Nigella has provided a slightly modified version hereThe main difference, as she says, is that she upped the alcohol content and replaced some of the fruit with chopped pecans.  I can live with that :-)  On my part, I normally cut the sugar content by about one-third since I'm not too keen on sweet cakes. The original recipe also called for marmalade, rather than treacle, a substitution I'll probably stick to as I don't really use treacle for other dishes and we are huge fans of breakfast marmalade in this house. 

So maybe this is a cake to come back to again in future years.  The other good thing with fruit cake, of course, is that it has to be made in advance, so it doesn't really add to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.   

One small thing to end with.  For the first time ever, I heard about a "sugee fruit cake" which one of my colleague makes.  Coincidentally, my aunt received one from a Malaysian friend and we ate it at my cousin's Christmas dinner. I must say it is a denser, heavier cake than our traditional fruit cake.  But it interested me, this fusion between the two Christmas classics.  So I looked it up on line and it seems indeed to be quite common in Malaysia, but the origins seem to go back to that island in the Indian Ocean , where other semolina-based cakes have come from.  Here's the recipe I spotted, for anyone who'd like to give it a try and then report how it turns out so I can figure out if I want to do it too!

And of course - Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dutch Burghers in Sri Lanka

A few months ago, I paid my first visit to Sri Lanka.  I was here essentially to spend time with a friend and also to meet up with an old University classmate.  But I must admit that I also came here  to explore the links and connections between Sri Lanka and the other colonial territories of the Portuguesse and British in Asia, principally Malacca and Singapore.

St Theresa's Church, Colombo
The histories of Sri Lanka and Malacca are surprisingly alike.  First colonised by the Portuguese, who brought with them Catholicism, and churches.  Then by the Dutch, who started off the task of institution building. and then, lastly the British.  Finally, the Sri Lankans got the opportunity to govern themselves.

I spent a little time with each of Sri Lanka's former colonial masters.  In Colombo, I went to mass in St Theresa's church -  the parish was under the charge of the Redemptorists.  I must admit that I would associate Redemptorists with St Alphonsus rather than St Theresa, but then St Theresa is one of the patron saint of missionaries; so it is a good name for a little church far from the homes of the missionaries themselves.  We had an Irish priest giving the sermon, so the missionary spirit is indeed alive and well here.  Mass was "organised" the way it was in my childhood - the songs dated from then, and we knelt around the altar to receive communion.   The altar boys were dressed all in red.  I am still wondering whether it was a local custom or whether there was a special feast day being celebrated.

The Dutch Burgher Union House
We also went to the Dutch Burgher Union cafe for lunch.  Called the VOCafe, the "VOC" is actually a reference to the Dutch East India company or the Vereenigde  Oost-Indische Compagnie....  its definitely easier to say VOC. We had lampreis for lunch, a "typical" Burgher dish but I also saw traditional Eurasian dishes such as Mulligatawny soup and Beef Smore on the menu.  We were to have lampreis again a few days later, as my Uni friend is a Dutch Burgher by heritage and his wife cooked it for us.  Lampreis is not really a dish we see in Singapore.  It looks like a packet of nasi lemak from the outside, but it is actually rice cooked in a beef stock, with "seeni sambal", some  meat cutlets, a mixture of cubed meats and spices which is the exciting part of the dish.  The food is all packed together in a banana leaf which can then be kept aside till it's time to eat.  At this point, it is steamed for a few minutes till it's all nicely warmed up.  Pure comfort food.

Driving around Colombo, we saw the institutions the British left behind - the Parliament, the old government offices.  My friend told me that her husband's parents met because their families were living near each other, in the government officials' quarters.

Beyond Colombo, the old buildings and institutions the British left behind were really evident in Galle, where we visited the old Fort.  Built originally by the Dutch, the British fortified it further.  These sturdy walls have withstood storms and even the Asian tsunami of 2004 (there was some damage, apparently, but it has since been repaired).  Its institutions - the old government offices, the police etc are all here, in addition to the military barracks, and the lighthouse etc. It reminded me a little more of Malacca, rather than Singapore - I suppose that's the combined influence of all three colonial Masters rather than just one.   Unfortunately we got here a little late in the day and didn't have the opportunity to have high tea at the posh hotel.

Galle Fort

In short, I had left my home behind but found myself in a familiar place on the other side of the Indian Ocean.  I do have some family connection to Sri Lanka.  My mother's father's sister (my grandaunt) was married to a Ceylonese Burgher, of French descent.  He left Ceylon before the war, and came to Singapore where he met my grandaunt.  I distinctly remember visiting them every year at Christmas, tagging along behind my parents.  I would sit and look at their beautiful Christmas crib with its lovely figurines and eat Sugee cake and Love Cake.  So, you can see that the Ceylonese burgher and the Singapore Eurasian indeed lived harmoniously together.

And now that the Sri Lankan civil war has ended, I do hope that the people of different races, languages, religions  in this little island can also live harmoniously together.  It is time for the rich history and heritage of this lovely island to shine again.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Outlines completed

And here we have it folks!  Slightly belated, as my cousin's wedding was last week and I didn't have time to work on it.  But I have at last completed the outlines of the two shoes.  Now to fill in the remainder...

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