Monday, December 25, 2006

The Night Before Christmas

Every Christmas Eve, my mother’s family gets together for dinner. It’s a tradition which we have had ever since I can remember. Christmas is a big thing for Eurasian families. The Christmas tree and Christmas decorations are put up. Christmas goodies (sugee cake, pineapple tarts, shortbread, fruit cake!) are baked or bought. Christmas presents are carefully selected, wrapped and placed under the tree.

My mother reminisces fondly of Christmases past. Those were the days when Christmas Eve was (for Catholics) a day of fast and abstinence. But, my grandmother would prepare Mulligatawny Soup (a hot, peppery and curry-like soup) and boil the Christmas ham all day, filling the house with delicious fragrances, thus making the fast/abstinence all the more difficult (particularly for my grandmother, who cooked the food without even tasting it!). In the days without refrigerators, the ham came cured and packed in sacking. So it was necessary to boil the ham to remove some of the salt.

My grandparents would take their children for Midnight Mass every year. Everyone dressed in their best for church then and obviously for Christmas, a special effort was made. Men came in tuxedos and women in their beautiful frocks and hats. After mass, my grandparents and their family would go home and consume the soup, ham together with a crusty loaf of French bread and a glass of wine. And, my grandfather would start pouring out liquers. For children, he would prepare a special version of Creme de Menthe, a peppermint liquer which he would then dilute with water (I remember him giving me little wineglasses of this too). They would hold open house (yes, this is in the wee hours of Christmas morning!) and everyone would have a good time, chatting, talking and eating.

These days, things are a little different. There is no fast and abstinence (praise the Lord!) and so we have our Christmas Eve dinner at regular dinner hours. And, the variety of food on offer is really quite extensive. This year, we had roast turkey and lamb in addition to the ham and soup (unfortunately, I'd put in too much coconut milk - see below - but it tasted absolute scrumptious anyway). Plus vegetables, lasagna, pasta, rice (saffron and tomato) and gigantic salads. There was fruit, chocolates and cake for dessert and wine to drink. We take out our songsheets and start caroling (not too untunefully, and quite enthusiastically). Then, the kids (defined as anyone who is not earning money) get their presents and they typically put up a little performance for our benefit. Sometimes some family members do go for midnight mass - but we certainly don’t stay up till all hours of the morning thereafter!

Our Christmas tree, too, is a little different from previous years. We have stopped putting Christmas lights or tinsel on our tree. The reason? My dear little cat thinks that the tree and the little baubles, angels and santa elves hanging from its branches are there specially for her benefit and amusement. She also does not think that our arrangements of the tree ornaments are done well and takes the opportunity to rearrange them, frequently taking them off the tree altogether. The result - we have had no choice but to adopt a minimalist style of tree decor.

Here's a recipe for mulligatawny soup below. My grandmother and mother both swear by Mrs Ellice Handy's book, "My Favourite Recipes" and this recipe is modified from her original recipe.

Mulligatawny Soup
based on Ellice Handy's My Favourite Recipes, 2nd Edition. Printed by Malaysia Printers Ltd, 1967.

6 pieces chicken breasts - steamed and shredded
2 cubes chicken stock

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
(tablespoons refers to big serving spoons here)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon of peppercorns (but really to taste - put less if you prefer)
6 dried chillis (again, to taste)
1 small piece cinnamon
2 cloves
1 tablespoon tumeric powder
(the above to be all pounded together; alternatively just use a blender)

4 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 cup shallots (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek (or alba)
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds

2-3 teacups of cocnut milk (from half coconut)
Tamarind juice (use about 2 tablespoons of the tamarind pulp, soaked and drained - but this is to taste)
Oil for frying

Boiled rice

  • fry the onions and garlic in a deep pan. Thereafter, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek and the pounded ingredients. Fry for a few minutes, until the mustard seeds pop.
  • Add the chicken cubes, two cups (about 500ml) of water and salt and simmer for at least half an hour. Intent is to extract the spices and flavours from the spice mix.
  • Strain the mixture, and to the gravy add the coconut milk, tamarind juice and taste. Note that the coconut milk should be thin coconut milk. If you are using a packet of coconut cream, dilute it. Add in more tamarind juice if you like the soup a little more sour. It is also good to have on hand some ready pounded spices just in case you feel the flavours don't quite come out. (Obviously this is not something Mrs Handy would recommend but not all of us are such good cooks!).
  • When the soup is boiling, add in the shredded chicken. Pour on top of a serving of rice to eat, or eat with French bread.


Soup can be topped with fried onions, garlic, and coriander. My grandmother also served it with fresh red chilli pounded with salt. Up to each person to decide how spicy and hot the mulligatawny soup needed to be.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Quentin's is a new Eurasian restaurant along East Coast Road. It really is authentic Eurasian as attested to by the true blue Eurasian who was with me. And when I looked at the menu, the words "prawn bostadar" leaped out at me. This dish is a green chilli prawn sambal and can be eaten on its own or in a sandwich. I've never seen it on a restaurant menu before. Looking further down the list, I spotted other favourites - corn beef cutlets (it was called something different in the menu, but that is what it is), fish moolie. So the dishes were authentic enough. How about the food?

We ordered three dishes: sambal kangkong, mackeral curry with pineapple and a fried tofu dish. I would have liked to try the corn beef cutlets but today is Friday and so no meat for us. Nonetheless, I enjoyed our lunch. The dishes were well cooked and nicely presented. The fish curry was tangy and spicy, and the kangkong nicely cooked with some red chilli and fried onions. The only downside was that my mother (revealed! the identity of the T.B. Eurasian) had indicated "less spicy" for the sambal kangkong which meant, for me, that it was not spicy enough. She said that the previous time she had tried the dish, it was extremely hot and spicy, hence the request. Well, we will have to find a way to convey the desired level of spiciness.

My mother said that the food reminded her of her mother's cooking. So let me end off with a food recipe as recollected by my mother.

My grandmother's corn beef cutlets
(in true traditional style, some quantities are agak-agak)

1 tin of corned beef
2 medium to large potatoes (boiled and mashed)
1 egg
3-4 stalks of Chinese celery (chopped)
Bread/biscuit crumbs

  • Mix the corned beef, mashed potatoes, celery and bread crumbs together. Add the egg as necessary to bind the ingredients together.

  • Make the patties/cutlets. Break off a portion of the mixture, roll into a ball and flatten. I like my patties about the length of my thumb in diameter (please excuse the unit of measurement).

  • In a frying pan, fry the patties evenly on both sides till cooked a nice golden brown. Try not to use too much oil (unhealthy!).

  • Serve with sambal belacan.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Where is Katong exactly?

So the question came up yesterday, where exactly is Katong? Aside from Tanjong Katong Rd, I don't recall any roads being called "Katong" road. There are a number of buildings (like Katong Shopping Centre, Katong Mall, Katong Convent!) but nothing very specific. Then there is Katong CC which is way out by Fort Road! Not really Katong at all - more like Mountbatten, or even in Kallang!

Katong, as I define it, is roughly bordered by the following roads:

  • In the South, by Marine Parade Road. Now, I think this is debatable. Marine Parade has got a slightly different character to Katong. It is also far newer and built on reclaimed land (old time Katong residents can recall the days when their homes were by the sea). But anyone staying in Marine Parade would be eating, shopping or passing through Katong all the time and vice versa. So in practice it is hard to de-link the two (e.g. my last post was all about Marine Parade!).
  • In the North, by Changi Road. Again, a little debatable. But Ceylon Road, Joo Chiat Road, Still Road are definitely in Katong. So it seems logical that where these roads end, that's roughly where Katong should end too.
  • In the East, by Frankel Avenue (beyond that it is already Siglap)
  • In the West, by Tanjong Katong Road (or possibly by Haig Road, but at least Tanjong Katong Road has the right name).

The heart of Katong is probably the East Coast Road area and the shops and buildings around it. Of course, others may disagree with these boundaries. But I think that my borders are no less arbitrary than the one that has Marine Parade extending all the way up to Serangoon.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Morning Walk

This morning, I went for a walk in East Coast Park. This is something I've been meaning to do all year; and so typical that I only get round to it when it's nearer the end of the year than the beginning! I went with my mother, except that we each walked at our own pace. In other words I went walking off ahead and she found someone to talk to until I got back. Not that I'm saying she planned it, mind; it is just what happened ;-)

It is fairly busy at ECP at this time (about 7.30am). There are people walking and jogging. Because it is not a Saturday morning, there are few cyclists so there is no need to be constantly on the lookout for some uncivic-minded idiot who is cycling on the jogging path. Then there are the many qigong and dance groups and even (I think) a wushu group or two. A few swimmers - a group of elderly men, and one chap who was practicing some high kicks on the grass verge. What surprises me are the many tents which have been put up. I don't see many schoolchildren, so I wonder who can be camping here on a weekday.

After our walk we went to Marine Parade hawker centre and ate chui kueh (sp?). The stall proclaims that it is a branch of the famous Tiong Bahru chui kueh shop and I do agree that the topping of chai por, chilli and hae bee is pretty tasty and not as oily as I recall the Tiong Bahru one was. Plus a hearty cup of real, local coffee. Such a pleasant experience compared to the dark water masquerading as coffee served up in the US.

We were happily eating when an elderly lady came by and asked (in Mandarin) if we knew where the "Good Life Centre" was. I'd never heard of it and her maid showed me this article in Zaobao featuring Lim Boon Heng. Apparently the centre is somewhere in Marine Parade but there was no address so I was clueless. I'd just gotten around to reading (I am a very slow reader of Mandarin) that it was in the Family Service centre when the chap at the next table intervened and offered to take the dear old auntie there. So she was quite happy. She confided that the previous day someone else had helped her find another spot she wanted to go to. By this time she cottoned on that my mother can't speak Mandarin and so switched to English. She kept forgetting though and so her conversation thereafter was a mixture of the two languages. But she is 80 years old and evidently quite active, going out with her maid for company and assistance every day. That's a good life for you!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Katong Life

I've lived in the East Coast of Singapore practically all my life, mostly in that little area of the East Coast called Katong. We Katong-ites think this place is special. It has got good food, lovely old buildings and great people. In particular, the Peranakans and Eurasians have strong communities here and I, of course, am a bit of both.

So I'd like to celebrate Katong in this blog.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...