Friday, March 21, 2014

First, let's eat!


Grilled charcoal fish
The House of Sundanese Food started off in a little shophouse near the Holy Family Church in Katong.  It subsequently moved (to Suntec City) but now it is back again!  But in a different guise, because they wanted to broaden their menu to include other non-Indonesian items.  Bring it on, I say.  Especially when this means they have pohpiah on the menu!

Tauhu Telor
House of Sundanese's new restaurant, "Makan Dulu" is now at Katong Shopping Centre - a corner shop, facing the road.  We have our favourite dishes - the charcoal grilled dishes such as fish (see photo) and chicken, rather tasty and succulent beef rendang, and a lovely ayam bumbu (fragrant curry with a very more-ish curry gravy).  Indonesian favourites such as tauhu telor (below) and sayur lodeh are also available.

"Makan Dulu" translates directly to "Eat First" in Malay.  It is used in many ways, for example, someone who is coming home late might say "makan dulu", or in this context, don't wait for me, eat first.  Or it may be used by a mother to a child who wants to go off and play - you have to eat before playing.  But in this context, it truly reflects the priority we Southeast Asians place on food :-)

For more details, their Facebook page is here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Once a Guide, Always a Guide

I have many happy memories of my days as a Girl Guide in secondary school.  Of afternoons (we used to meet every Saturday afternoon, from 2pm to 5pm) spent in all manner of activities - of starting a fire in one corner of the school field (it was a sandy rather than grassy field), of learning First Aid, of playing Kim's Game (an observation and memory game), even of etiquette lessons.  Guiding aims to train us up to be all-rounders.  I remember singing around the campfire, of going camping during the school holidays, and going orienteering in the Macritchie reservoir area (we got lost for some time and had to walk until we hit the main road).  

Guiding Badges - The Trefoil, World GG Association Badge,
Patrol Badges, and accomplishment badges
I am not sure what is left of my Guiding skills.  Certainly, the First Aid knowledge has largely dissipated over time and I'm not too sure if I can remember all the orienteering instruction either.  But Guiding was far more than just doing activities.  In a way, it was really about inculcating values in young girls, which would put them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

What are these values?  It starts with our Guide Motto: "Be Prepared".  Guiding teaches the skills for Guides to use in various situations.  But the instincts - of looking ahead, thinking, planning for contingencies and preparing for success - is embedded in this simple motto.

Guides are also exhorted to "do a good deed every day".  It teaches us to be proactive in looking out for and helping others, to be unselfish and to think of others besides ourselves.

Every Guide must know the Guide promise - the threefold promise - in order to get to wear the Trefoil (the three leafed badge).  The promise goes:

"I promise to do my best,
to do my duty to God.
To serve my country, and help other people,
And to keep the Guide Law".

Indeed a challenge for each of us to live up to, every day.

Today is World Thinking Day.  In my day, it was just "Thinking Day", but the word "World" was added in front to reflect the international movement of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.  Indeed a time for us to think about the international sisterhood and brotherhood we all share, Guides or not, and maybe also to think about whether we are living up to the values that Guiding sought to inspire in us.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Four years - the beginning of the end?

Well, it has been four years since I started on this kasut manek project.  I'm glad to say that there was greater momentum over the past year and I'm on the last stage of my right shoe.  Now to move back to the left shoe to even up the progress.

Right shoe - outline completed
 Hope that I can move faster this year - would be so exciting to see one shoe completed at least!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tracing One's Roots: An Exhibition at the National Library

Welcome to "Roots"
I finally found the time to go to the National Library's exhibition, on "Roots: Tracing Family Histories".  The exhibition is for people who are interested in tracing their family histories, and helps provide more information about the resources available in both the Library and elsewhere in Singapore to help them to do so.  I must say that I went a little on the late side; the exhibition started in Jul 2013 and ends 16 Feb 2014 (the day after the anniversary of the fall of Singapore to the Japanese).  But I did manage to join a guided tour, which was useful in supplementing the information provided at the exhibition, and in telling stories about how the individuals featured had gone about the process of tracing their ancestors.

Mr Supramaniam's family tree
What really was so inspiring was the patience and perseverance these people demonstrated, and the amount of research they put in to learn about their families.  The starting point of their journey was often the family - the family stories and anecdotes which were passed down from the older family members in particular.  One gentleman featured, Mr Paul Supramaniam, not only took extensive notes but also recorded an oral interview with his maternal grandmother who passed away many years ago. His hand-drawn family tree and notes, together with more information on his family, can be seen at the exhibition.

Interviews of family members, particularly older ones, is essential - but memories fade and grow imperfect over time, so must be supplemented by searching through old records - old newspapers, birth and death registers, burial records, land registers, company registers and so on - rather like detective work.  One lady, Ms Christine Moss, was under the impression that her ancestor, Captain Mark Moss, had sailed to Singapore on a boat called the "Black Duke".  But she could not find any records of the "Black Duke".  Eventually, she found a newspaper report that her ancestor, a Captain Mark Moss was sailing on the "Black Joke" when the ship was attacked by pirates near Macau.  He was the sole survivor of the attack and subsequently came to Singapore on a ship called the "Sultana" - quite a different story altogether.

Baby Spoons
The exhibition also features family heirlooms (largely wedding and baby gifts) and other artifacts, loaned by the families themselves. There was beautiful jewellery and a kris (dagger) with diamonds embedded in the hilt (an Arab diamond merchant's family).  I really loved these little silver spoons, for a baby's first Christmas.  Reminded me of my own Christening spoon.  Quentin Pereira's book of recipes (I've featured the pot luck recipe here) was also on display - a reminder that family heritage goes  beyond just physical artifacts.

Embroidery pattern book
Another section of the exhibition talks about family businesses.  I was intrigued by the family business, Eng Tiang Huat, which deals with Teochew embroidered goods.  The business has been passed down to the third generation, and is still around today.  One precious business asset was a big book of embroidery patterns, which was on display.  Customers would select their pattern, and the order would be relayed to the craftsmen in China to execute.  Of course, a sample of the embroidery itself could be seen at the exhibition too.

I came away from the exhibition happy that my approach towards tracing family history (interviewing older family members, web searches, visiting Bukit Brown) appeared to be on the right track.  Other tips also give me new avenues to pursue in finding out more about my family - learning, for example, that the words above the house door can also be the name of the home village in China, that the Chinese also keep meticulous geneologies of their clan.  It gives me hope that if I only persevere I will succeed, one day, in finding the name of my mysterious ancestor

The other great take-away from the exhibition?  The Resource Guide full of more useful tips and information on resources available in Singapore for this detective work. Go for the exhibition, get a copy!

Monday, December 30, 2013

What the Devil


Ellice Handy's Curry Devil
Devil Curry (also called Curry Debal, Curry Devil, etc) is one of those classic Eurasian dishes, for which every household has their own special recipe and their own traditions surrounding when they cook/prepare it.  But, one key characteristic of this dish is that it is cooked with leftover meats.  So, most households will make it after Christmas Day - a good way to use up all that leftover turkey!  I must admit that in my household, we don't cook this particular dish.  We normally don't have turkey on Christmas Day in the first place.  It's roast lamb and cold ham for us.  That's why I often end making gammon curry instead.  And for some reason, we just don't make it other times of the year.  

This year, however, my uncle turned up on Christmas Day with a lovely roast turkey, complete with all the accompaniments of stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and even a lovely little cranberry and apple relish.  Of course, we could not finish the turkey.  I turned to my recipe books for a good Curry Devil. I read through the lengthy lists of ingredients (including roast pork, potatoes, cucumber and even cabbage).  But my mother had only one recipe in mind - Ellice Handy's recipe out of her 'My Favourite Recipes" cookbook.  That was the version her mother used and if was good enough for her mother, it was good enough for us.  No potatoes, no cucumber, no cabbage.  No roast pork even (my mother wouldn't have minded, but we didn't have any in the house).  It was just the leftover roast turkey meat and some sausages.  

This is a nice, simple recipe to cook.  And since the meat is all cooked up, it's pretty fast too.  I doubled the quantities in Ellice Handy's recipe since I was using far more than 1/2 pound of meat.  Also some slight variations here and there. It's one wicked dish!

Here we go:

Ingredients:

4 slices of ginger, cut into short strips
2 large onions, sliced
Leftover meats (I used about a quarter of a turkey, plus 3 sausages, sliced)
(1 tablespoon of brown mustard seeds, optional)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste (or use 2 large tomatoes, sliced)
2 teaspoons of mustard (Coleman's)
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Spice paste
12 shallots, peeled
2 cloves of garlic
10 dried chillis, soaked in warm water till soft and cut up (add more chillis for extra wickedness!)
4 fresh chillis 
1 teaspoon of tumeric powder
1 teaspoon of belacan, toasted
3-4 buah keras (candlenuts)

Directions:
1.  Prepare the spice paste, pounding ingredients together (or use a food processor like me). 
2. Fry the ginger and large onions in a large pan till soft.  Add in the mustard seeds (cover the pan until they have popped).
3.  Add the spice paste, fry till fragrant.  Add the leftover meat and sausages.
4.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Continue to cook, adding a little water (keep it a dry curry though) for some gravy.  Ready when the gravy thickens a little.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Short stories from long ago

Since the last post was about a bookshop, it's time to follow up with a book review.  "Kebaya Tales", by Lee Su Kim, is a book of short stories - tales which you can just hear being told by old bibiks to their friends or their children, which have made the rounds of their family circles.  

The short story is very different from a novel.  It is meant to be easily digested and enjoyed - you jump right into the story, it builds up quickly, and ends with the climax or the twist in the tale.  This little book is full of such little gems.  Stories of matriarchs, matchmakers and unexpected brides and grooms.  Some tales touch on the supernatural, playing to the superstitious nature of the baba community in the past.  Some deal with the wartime years, under the Japanese.  

But the ones I like best are the ones which deal with family relationships.  The story of the old bibik who managed to figure out how to ensure that her caring daughter-in-law got a fair share of her inheritance.  Or the story of the no-good husband who managed to hide the existence of his mistress from his wife... until the day of his funeral.  

What I also like about the book is that the stories are interspersed with family photos, and photos of the beautiful kebaya, shoes and jewellery belonging to the author and members of her family.  I drool over the intricate lace and embroidery work on the kebaya and the bright patterns on the shoes.  (BTW, in case anyone is interested, the pink of the book cover is close to the pink of the beads of my kasuk manek project.)

Reading through this little book of short stories indeed brings back a flavour of years gone by.



Monday, December 16, 2013

The Little Bookshop at the Corner

 BooksActually is a small independent bookshop on Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru.  A  little way from my usual haunts here in the east coast, you might have noticed.  It is a niche bookshop selling both new and second hand books - I once saw a nice collection of those old Nancy Drew hardbacks - copies of which once stood on my own bookshelves, many many years ago.  Aside from selling books, there's a selection of vintage bric brac - old crockery, glasses, bottles, etc.  Last but not least, the bookshop is presided over by a friendly pair of cats.

So back to the books. This little bookshop sells a variety of books about Singapore - about the different areas of Singapore, Singapore history etc.  My copy of the 4th Edition of Ellice Handy's "My Favourite Recipes" was bought here.  But it also has its own printing press and as such its real niche is in commissioning and printing the works of Singapore writers and poets.  I was especially taken by a series, Balik Kampung, which is a collection of short stories by different authors, each writing a story about a part of Singapore which they had stayed in for a number of years.  "Balik Kampung" is a Malay phrase, which means to go back to the home village.  [Note: It is sometimes used in a derogatory sense, to get rid of someone incompetent. It is particularly used in football matches, and applied to the referee after a particularly disappointing decision.]   The book was so popular that it inspired two more books, Balik Kampung 2A and Balik Kampung 2B.  There's another charming book, From the Belly of the Cat.  Same concept, except of course this time the short stories are about cats.  Particularly apt in a shop featuring these handsome animals.

It's a pleasant place to spend a rainy afternoon :-)

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