Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Baking

When I went to the Peranakan Museum after Hungrygowhere's Big Eat Out, I spotted something in the "Junk to Jewels" exhibition which I did not come across in my first, rather rushed visit to the Museum. It was a nonya's recipe book - not a published cookbook but a series of recipes which she had collected and copied into an exercise book. The originators of the recipes were also faithfully recorded as well, eg "Mrs X's Fried Chicken".

I smiled when I saw that because it reminded me of my mother's well-worn "Mrs Handy's Cookbook" (2nd Edition). These cookbooks probably started off the same way, when women recorded their favourite recipes in exercise books together with the source of the recipe. Finally, of course Mrs Handy published her cookbook with its references to "Kwa's layer cake" (for eg). These cookbooks also had no photos at all (hard to imagine today), and empty pages in each section. Why? Of course, the answer is so that ladies have space to insert their new additional recipes! My mother was certainly no exception. Her "Mrs Handy's" is bristling with additional recipes, cut out from magazines (or off the backs of those soup and carnation evaporated milk tins) or copied from other sources.

I must now admit that my mother and I just love reading cookbooks and collecting recipes. But we have only ever tried out a small proportion of these recipes. One of my projects, indeed, is to cook through more recipes from our cookbooks. The problem is that the rate we acquire cookbooks seems to be far greater than the rate at which we try out the recipes in them. Having said that, there is one tried and tested recipe amongst the many my mother has copied into her "Mrs Handy's" - for Shortbread Biscuits.

I remember as a child my mother happily making preparations for Christmas - the Christmas tree, the presents, the food. She would bake trays of these shortbread biscuits with her two young children "helping out" along the way. She did the heavy work (creaming the butter and sugar) whilst we assisted with cutting out the biscuits, pricking the tops with forks or toothpicks and making little snowmen out of the remnants of the dough. And eating bits of the uncooked dough as well (it was so rich in butter and sugar). We'd then put them in the oven and the smell of the baking would fill the house. The biscuits were better than any commercial shortbread. They were a big favourite with visitors because of the way they just melted in the mouth.

For various reasons, we'd stopped baking for Christmas for a few years. But this year, I had started baking again. It seemed only natural that we should bake a batch of shortbread again this Christmas. And yes, the uncooked dough was as good as I remembered...
So here's the recipe (and you know it is pretty old because it is all in ounces). Be thankful, it is at least in weight measurements and not volumes:
8 oz butter
6 oz granulated sugar
10 oz flour
2 oz cornflour
1. Cream butter and sugar till white (or light)
2. Sift the flour, and fold into the creamed butter and sugar to form the dough.
3. Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/3rd inch. Cut out the biscuits using cookie cutters. Prick holes on top using a fork/toothpicks.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes in preheated oven (temperature of about 180 degrees C).
5. Dust with icing sugar.
A lot easier to bake than pineapple tarts, too!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Big Eat Out!

The food website hungrygowhere, together with food blogger ieatishootipost and the Peranakan Museum, has organised a major food event, Big Eat Out as part of the Explore Singapore! festival. Held on 22 Nov 2008, selected "master" hawkers were invited to contribute their efforts to charity. There was satay, poh piah, hokkien mee, char kway teow, nasi padang, indian rojak, beef noodles, peranakan food etc.

Needless to say, two of the hawkers (the pohpiah and char kway teow stall) have their stalls in the east and two others were previously located in Katong but since have moved out. So the reputation of the east coast area as the prime foodie zone in Singapore has been certainly upheld.

My cousin and I turned up at the event venue - the Peranakan Museum car park - bright and early. In fact she got there 10 minutes before the official start of event and had gotten her poh piah before the queue built up. Indeed, Kway Guan Huat Poh Piah is the best! (All stall reviews can probably be found on ieat's website. I echo his views completely on this one - their poh piah skin is indeed a culinary marvel. It is thin yet strong enough that the filling doesn't break out of it. The filling was tasty and juicy and I loved the crispy bits inside. To remember it is to want to revisit it - Original stall is at 95 Joo Chiat Road.)

We went on to eat the Hill Street Char Kway Teow (now at Bedok South Hawker Centre), the Thye Hong Fried Hokkien Mee and the Kwong Satay and much more. My father and his friend turned up when we were half way through our meal and helped us finish up some Indian Rojak and Satay after they had eaten their nasi padang. We ended up with some Apom from Peramakan, which has been the subject of earlier posts, most recently here.

Some downsides though - the marquees did not completely cover the venue and so people ended up queueing for food in the noonday sun. The drinks stall was pretty pricey and if I pay $2 for a canned drink, I do expect a straw. But by and large, this was an excellent and worthwhile event, especially as it was for charity. Finally, it also came with an opportunity to revisit the Peranakan Museum for free! More of that later (hopefully I'll get to it at some point).
Photos (not many though) here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

St Patrick's School Chapel

St Patrick’s School is one of the older boys’ schools in this part of Singapore. It is a Roman Catholic mission school established by the de la Salle brothers. My mum’s and dad’s brothers, my brother and two of my male cousins are all Old Boys of the school (my father went to St Joseph’s, other cousins went to another Catholic primary school). And note that this excludes my grandfather (formerly principal of the primary section, now shifted over to St Stephen's) and my aunt (former teacher). So it is very much a family school.

My acquaintance with St Patrick’s School is obviously of a more distant nature. But I did at one point go there every week, when the Holy Family church was being rebuilt and the masses relocated to St Patrick’s School hall. I’d go there and look at the huge hall, and the huge school field (where my brother and cousins spent many happy hours kicking a ball to and fro), and think of the small relatively cramped grounds of Katong Convent. Then the church building was completed and I stopped going to St Pat's.

Indeed St Pat's is fortunate, for old Katong Convent building in Martia Road has been demolished and rebuilt twice. St Pat's on the other hand retains its old buildings, so old boys returning to the school still know every last nook and cranny.

Last Friday, I went back to the St Patrick’s School chapel for the 25th Wedding Anniversary celebration of my mother’s cousin and his wife. The chapel is a small, intimate room near the Brothers' Quarters (in front of which stands an Ng Eng Teng sculpture of Mother and Child). Stained glass windows line both sides of the chapel, leading up to St Patrick at the front the chapel. Of course, there is a shamrock on one of the windows. There used also to be a beautiful sculpture by Brother Joseph McNally in the chapel, but it seems to have been moved. It was the perfect small chapel for the renewal of the couple's wedding vows.

The ceremony itself was beautifully done. My uncle and aunt did their own readings, and renewed their vows in the presence of friends and family, some of whom had travelled from Australia for the occasion. The small 4-person choir filled the chapel with their voices. The priest (an old family friend) reminded the couple to remain in God's love. The concelebrating priest (another Old Boy) helped out with the mass and turned off the lights and closed up the chapel after.

What charmed me was that there were so many little elements from their wedding 25 years ago, which had been incorporated into their day. The cover of their programme booklet used as a motif the covers of the programmes they had had 25 years ago. That evening at dinner, they gave out a chocolate with their old wedding photo glazed on it, in black and white. The invitations for the event had been printed at the same time as their wedding, for use on this day. What confidence they had in their love for each other and God's love for them that they would be put to use. Sometimes it's useful to remember, in these days when one in three marriages end in divorce, that it's good to start with the end in mind for surely it helps you to get there.

May they be blessed for the next 25 years.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Katong Shopping Centre

Katong Shopping Centre (KSC) has been a feature at the junction of East Coast Road and Amber/Haig Road for as long as I can recall. It is an old shopping mall - probably one of the first few in Singapore. In fact it was featured a few years ago in the Straits Times. I won't call it a beautiful building but I've always liked it for the characteristic circles down the length of the building (that's the car park floor). Not so long ago, the Rose Garden apartments were directly opposite KSC but they have just been emolished for en bloc development. I was probably about a week or two too late to photograph them before they went under the wrecker's ball. So I guess I need to step up the pace on this blog:-)

As a child, I remember my family going over to KSC fairly frequently. The old Emporium Holdings had a supermarket and a department store at one end of the building. We'd do the weekly supermarket shopping there and run other errands at the same time. There were a few boutiques there (my mum's favourite dress shop was there). I used to buy my school uniforms there. And something far more glamorous too (at least I thought so). There were also a number of textile shops there as well - so my friends and I bought the material for our JC prom dresses there and brought it up to the dressmaker on one of the upper floors to make it up into a dress of our own choosing. These were clearly before the days Daniel Yam started making pretty and low-cost prom and evening gowns for the teenage and young adult market.

Even today, KSC is my auntie's favourite shopping centre where she gets everything she needs and more besides. Some of the old shops are still there, plus a few food outlets, maid agencies, interior decor firms etc. Plus one ghostbuster - as I said earlier, you can get anything at Katong Shopping Centre! There have been attempts to refurbish and update the building. It is no longer a nondescript grey colour but a cheery blue and yellow (IKEA colours!) and there is a imitation Starbucks in one corner.

But KSC is indeed past its prime, outclassed and completely eclipsed by the nearby Parkway Parade. Rumour has it that it is slated for redevelopment. Admittedly, I seldom go there these days but when it goes, another little piece of Katong's history and heritage goes too.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Grandma's Chicken Tempra

I've said it before and I'll say it again - my grandmother is a good cook. She doesn't do much nowadays, as she is slowing down with age, but in her day she really put tasty meals on her table.

My mother does use a few of her recipes. Not that many - my grandmother is a traditional cook, which means her recipes are generally from her head and she "agaks" everything, i.e. she flavours her food through instinct rather than bothering herself with writing down how many tablespoons of sugar or pinches of salt she requires. This chicken tempra recipe is one of her special dishes and, it appears, quite unique. Net searches for this recipe turn up one which is quite different from hers. But I guarantee that this recipe will knock anyone off their dining room chairs - it's that good.
6 Small Onions (shallots)
4 cloves Garlic
3-4 Cardamom
3-4 Cloves
3 cm Cinnamon
1 Star Anise
2-4 onions (depending on size)
4 tomatoes
1 chicken, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons tumeric powder
1 tsp salt
Chicken stock cube, black soy sauce, vinegar, sugar
1. Sprinkle the tumeric powder and the salt over the chicken, rub in. Fry chicken in frying pan. When done, place in pot.
2. Fry the small onions, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise together till fragrant. Sprinkle over the chicken pieces in the pot.
3. Add water to frying pan to de-glaze. Add the water to the pot till about to cover the chicken (don't put too much). Add the stock cube, 1 lug of black sauce, 2 lugs of vinegar, and sugar to taste.
4. Cut the tomatoes and big onions into quarters. Add to the pot. Simmer till cooked and chicken is tender. Gravy should be thick.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Deepavali at the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple

I took a morning walk around East Coast Road this morning and spotted the crowds around the well-known Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple in Ceylon Road. Hindus were starting off their Deepavali with a morning visit to the temple.

The temple is of course quite a well-known building on Ceylon Road - a temple building was first built on the site in about 1850. The site was chosen because a statue of the god Vinayagar had washed up under a Chempaka tree by a pond in this area. Devotees were largely from the Ceylon or Sri Lankan Tamil community (hence the name of the road). The temple has been rebuilt a few times and underwent major renovation and re-consecration a few years ago. It is a true landmark of Katong, and indeed of Singapore.

I'd walked inside the temple on a previous excursion. As it was not then a festive occasion, the temple compound was quiet and peaceful. The columned hall within had a brightly painted ceiling, telling stories of Lord Vinayagar (after whom the temple is named) from the time of his birth till marriage.

Today, the temple was indeed a busy place with people coming and going all the time. Cars and taxis dropped off their passengers, people walked to and from East Coast Road. The devotees seemed to be mainly men - likely, from the foreign worker community. They stood in groups here and there outside the temple dressed neatly in well-ironed shirts.

There were also a number of family groups - the women in colourful saris and punjabi suits, and children in their best clothing too. It was amusing to see one family come in their best clothes - all except their footwear, which appeared to be old slippers and sandals. Of course, I guess I would have done the same. I've never liked putting my shoes outside the temple where anyone could get at them.

The website has the history of the temple, and more photos. Reading the website, I found out that of the $6m required to renovate/rebuild the temple, some $500,000 was donated by Singaporeans from other faiths. What a precious treasure is religious harmony - and how sad that in Ceylon itself, this religious harmony has been shattered.

Here's wishing our Hindu brothers and sisters a Happy Deepavali!

P.S. More photos of the temple here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Omnivore's Hundred

Through Chocolate & Zucchini, I found a list, The Omnivore's Hundred on the food blog Very Good Taste. Not supposed to be the best food in the world (some bad, some good) but what an omnivore should try for once in their lives.

His suggestions are:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten (I've asterisked them).
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating (I've faded them).
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results. (comments in parenthesis) The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison*
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (to be honest, I really can't remember)
6. Black pudding*
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht*
10. Baba ghanoush*
11. Calamari*
12. Pho*
13. PB&J sandwich (peanut butter and jelly - I don't like PB)
14. Aloo gobi* (potatoes and cauliflour, Indian style)
15. Hot dog from a street cart*
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle (not a whole one)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns*
20. Pistachio ice cream*
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras*
24. Rice and beans*
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters*
29. Baklava*
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas*
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (clam chowder yes, sourdough bowl no)
33. Salted lassi*
34. Sauerkraut*
35. Root beer float*
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (no cigar)
37. Clotted cream tea*
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail*
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala*
48. Eel*
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin*
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone*
54. Paneer*
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal*
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian*
66. Frogs’ legs*
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis*
69. Fried plantain* (umm... aka goreng pisang?)
70. Chitterlings*, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho*
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe*
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu* (Chinese white liquor. Absolutely deadly. 40-60%)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail*
79. Lapsang souchong*
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum*
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky*
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers*
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam*
92. Soft shell crab*
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish*
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox*
97. Lobster Thermidor*
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

My total score: 44. What's yours?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kacang Kelor

To my horror I find that I am writing a series of food posts. Not very balanced in what is supposed to be a general blog about Katong, its residents and lifestyle. But sometimes, things just work that way. Today's post is about an unusual vegetable called drumstick, kacang kelor (pronounced Kah-Chang Kay-loh), or the seed pods of the horseradish tree.

This is a very unusual vegetable in that the exterior (the seed pod) is horribly hard and fibrous. But when cut into pieces and then cooked for some time, the exterior can be broken easily to get to the soft, juicy interior. This is the vegetable seen frequently in Indian curries, especially dahl (lentil) curries. But it really goes well in other curries as well, eg chicken, fish curries.

My grandmother's neighbour has a horseradish tree somewhere in his garden. Every now and then, he harvests the seed pods and my grandmother gets a share of his bounty. She passes much of this on to my mother. My mother used to cook it in fish or chicken curries. Then she realised that the meat was just taking up the surplus space in the pot. So now we have our drumstick cooked in vegetable curries, so that the main attraction of the dish is just this vegetable. After the end of the meal our plates are piled high with the thick, fibrous, remnants of the seed pods, all with their insides dilligently scraped clean. So here is a picture of kacang kelor, on the outside and inside.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Prawn Bostadar

We cooked some prawn sambal bostadar the other day and given that this blog has been silent for about a month now, I thought I'd put up an entry on this. Prawn bostadar is a very, very Eurasian dish. It is more commonly called green chilli prawn sambal, and used to make sandwiches with. In fact, what I like doing is eating the dish itself one day and eating the left over chillis in sandwiches the next morning for breakfast. Talk about eating your cake and having it too. But the traditional Eurasian birthday party tea (at least, for those living in Katong) would have red chilli and green chilli sambal sandwiches, sausage rolls from Chin Mee Chin, (next to Holy Family Church), and a birthday cake from either Cona Confectionary (other side of Holy Family Church) or Tay Buan Guan's cake shop (see older post here). Plus other goodies of course! And we'd play games like "Musical Chairs", "Passing the Parcel", "Crocodile, Crocodile, may we cross your river" and the like.
But back to the dish. Prawn Bostadar is a sambal, but because of the coconut milk it is not really a dry sambal (in fact the way I cook it is a rather wet sambal, coz I like the gravy on the rice). What makes it really unique is that the chillis are not used as a garnish, but as a vegetable - they appear in this dish in the same quantities as you would expect, for example, green beans to appear in a vegetable dish. And they are meant to be eaten! A dish not for the faint hearted indeed. I've used the proportions from the recipe in Mary Gomes' book, "The Eurasian Cookbook" but I've slightly varied the method. The major difference is that lazy people some of us are, the spices are pureed using a blender.
300g prawns, shelled and deveined
10 sliced green chillis (more, if you like)
1 teaspoon sugar
125ml (or so) thick coconut milk (I tend to add more)
5 cloves garlic, sliced finely
For the rempah (spice mix):
10 shallots
5 buah keras (or candlenut)
1 small cube belacan (Mary Gomes says 1 teaspoon.)
1 teaspoon kunyit (tumeric) powder (you can use the tumeric root - maybe about 1 cm's worth - but I always stain my fingers with this so I'd go with the powder).
Pound or blend (using the blender) these ingredients together. It's important not to skimp on the candlenut, and not to overdo the belacan or kunyit powder. Dish should come out a nice, sunny yellow rather than a bright orange.
1. Heat oil in saucepan and when hot, fry the garlic till golden brown. Remove from heat, dry on kitchen towels.
2. Add the rempah to the pan. Fry until fragrant, don't let it burn (medium-lowish heat)
3. Add the green chillis, and cook for a few minutes.
4. Add the prawns and fry (turn up heat). Because they cook quickly, after 1 minute or so, add in the coconut milk and sugar. Let the coconut milk thicken.
5. Remove from heat, serve garnished with garlic.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Babi Pongteh says Welcome Home

It’s funny what you miss when you’re out of Singapore. We all miss food, but somehow what I miss is green vegetables. There’s no kangkong or kailan in France, where I was for two weeks last month. French cooking relies heavily on seasonal foods, and obviously they never believed in growing the green leafy vegetables which we here in Singapore take for granted.

So when I got back to Singapore, I had a good time eating green leafy vegetables. But I was especially pleased when my mother whipped up a pot of Babi Pongteh for me. Babi Pongteh is made of a cut of pork called twee bak, the pork shoulder. It has a generous amount of pork fat laced through it which makes it really tender and juicy. But the distinguishing feature of Babi Pongteh is that the pork is cooked with taucheo, or preserved soya beans, with sugar, cloves and cinnamon. The gravy is absolutely delicious. I can eat any amount of rice so long as I can spoon the gravy over it.

Babi Pongteh is a standard recipe in most nonya cookbooks, as long as it is not a Penang cookbook. It is definitely more a Malacca/Singapore nonya dish, but I love it anyway. My mother uses a simplified version of the recipe in “A Singapore Family Cookbook”, by Violet Oon. Here is her recipe:


600g twee bak, cut into chunks
150g sliced bamboo shoots
15 or so dried Chinese mushrooms - soak and cut into half.
1 tablespoon of taucheo
8 cloves of garlic
5 shallots
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 cups water
2 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon

  1. Pound the garlic and shallots, stir fry till fragrant.
  2. Add the taucheo, fry till fragrant.
  3. Add the pork and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the bamboo shoots and mushrooms, cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add the soy sauce, water, sugar, cloves and cinnamon.
  6. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2 hours till the gravy is thick. Alternatively, pressure cook for 20 minutes or so (add more water if needed, and reduce after pressure cooking).
  7. Garnish with green chillis (cut chillis into 2-3 pieces).
Serve with sambal belacan and rice. And sambal kangkong. :-)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day at PeraMakan

Well, it's been a year and Father's Day has swung around again. So I asked my father where he'd like to go. I suggested a few places and met with pretty lukewarm responses. Then I mentioned PeraMakan (where we went to on his birthday) and the response was immediate. "That's quite good", he said.

So we arrived at PeraMakan (again) for lunch, and ordered their beef rendang, sambal lady's fingers, otak-otak, ikan kuah nanas (lemak) and the Father's Day special, nasi ulam. Of course we had to take care not to eat too much of the main courses or else there would be no place left for their yummy desserts.

All too soon it was over. PeraMakan's quality control is high and all the dishes come out just right. It was a bonus getting the nasi ulam, as this dish is not commonly found in peranakan restaurants. I do recall however that the Princess Terrace buffet also includes nasi ulam. Other than that, the only one which regularly put nasi ulam on the menu was the now-defunct Yuen restaurant on Upper East Coast Road. Even there it was available only on Fridays. The reason why this is so is probably because this dish is very labour intensive to make, with the many herbs which must be located and chopped up really small in order to make the dish.

There are also many different recipes for nasi ulam, with each family having its own combination of herbs. It is really a good opportunity to get to know and use more Asian herbs. Tasting PeraMakan's version of nasi ulam, the main flavours which came to mind were the laksa leaves (daun kesom), lime leaves, and the bunga kantan (ginger flower). The cooked rice is mixed with fried fish, hae bee (dried shrimp), toasted grated coconut, finely cut long beans, belacan, and the herb mixture. PeraMakan tops it off with some shredded omelette and prawns but that is purely optional. It is eaten cold and I like eating it with sambal belacan on the side (Yuen's version, if I recall correctly, had a little more belacan flavour).

u n a m i actually has posted a recipe for nasi ulam from "Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine" - with photos of the herbs used. I was pleased to see that I correctly identified three of the main herbs, but there were so many more - lemongrass, basil, mint, cekur leaves (type of ginger), kadok (wild pepper) and tumeric leaves. I have found two other recipes, one from "Cooking with Asian Leaves" by Devagi Sanmugam and Christopher Tan (does this name sound familiar?). In their recipe, there are slightly fewer types of herbs but the key ones - daun kesom, lime leaf are there. Plus some green chilies for extra kick! The other is in Sylvia Tan's cookbook, "Mad About Food" where she confesses to using a food processor to cut up and blend the herbs. She too has a slightly different herb mixture and her focus is different - she emphasises the lime leaf whilst others emphasise the laksa leaf.
So the idea, I suppose, is to experiment a little when making your own nasi ulam. Maybe I too will give it a try.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

First Episode of Sayang Sayang

Well, last night I caught the first episode of Mediacorp's new series, Sayang Sayang. Must admit that I was not too impressed, but am willing to give it more time to develop.

I was a little late (about 5 minutes). But that must have been enough for me to miss the vital family relationships which underly the rest of the episode. Took me some time to subsequently work these out. The storyline is also a little too improbable for a tv series - the grandfather's will requires his grandson to marry before 30 or he loses his inheritance, which then goes to a daughter? Grandson proposes to total stranger who is complete opposite of what his mother wants as a result? Strange. But let's give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

In terms of the performance, I thought Tan Kheng Hwa showed promise. She gave the most memorable moment of the episode when defending her decision to fire a pregnant woman from the workplace. But the potential daughter in law was just clownish. And her henpecked husband had more implausible lines like not remembering he had a son (?!). Certainly, the scriptwriting has some way to go.

Well, who knows. It could be one of those shows which improves with time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Conservation Houses, East Coast Road

To me, growing up in the East Coast, I never knew there was anything particularly unique or wonderful about the shophouses in the area. They were there, and had always been there and that was that. Today, I find that I really appreciate the timeless charm and quiet prettiness of these old homes.

I took my cat for sterilisation today, at the Mt Pleasant Clinic on East Coast Road. Just alongside the clinic is a small, narrow little road, lined on one side with the most charming little single-storey houses. Like many old houses in this once flood-ridden area, they are raised off the ground by a short flight of steps. The front of the house is decorated with detailed plaster mouldings, the sort one would normally see on the ceiling of a stately home somewhere in England...

Going past the houses, it truly feels like yesterday once more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Where little green worms come from

One of the fun features of the opening of the Peranakan Museum was the BaBazaar and the performances put up by various groups. I'll probably go again just to catch a few more but this time around I was watching the chendol-making demonstration by Christopher Tan. Here's a short recap of how those little green worms are made.


40 Pandan Leaves
1.5l of water
150g Mung bean flour (apparently a Thai brand is best)
30g sago flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate

Obviously, this will give you a whole mountain of chendol so it may be good to moderate the quantity at least for the first attempt.

Vital piece of kitchen equipment - a tray with little holes in it - a chendol making tray! Can't be found in Singapore, only in Penang. But apparently any tray with little holes in it will do.


Chop up the pandan leaves, and put them in a blender, top up with water. Pulverise the leaves, strain the water through a sieve. Top up the water further and repeat until you have got 1.5l of the green liquid.

Whisk in the mung bean flour, sago flour, salt and sodium bicarbonate. Let this stand for about 20 minutes or so.

Pour mixture into a broad based pan (like a deep frying pan) and put on a low flame. Stir mixture constantly, till it gets thick and glossy. This step takes about 15 minutes. Enjoy the aroma of pandan rising from the pan.

Taste the mixture to check whether the starch is cooked.

Prepare a large mixing bowl filled with ice and water. Put the chendol tray on top. Pour the mixture into the tray and quickly scrape the mixture through the holes so that it falls into the icy water and sets quickly. The mixture will set when it cools, so this step must be done quickly.

Scoop out the chendol from the tray of icy water - it's ready to put in the suntan and gula melaka.

Looks pretty simple, but then that's just watching someone else do it!
Other activities over the next two weekends - comedy skits, nonya fashion show, some print workshops, singing, music etc. Fun!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Great-Grandparents

In a previous post I talked about a remarkable family photo which I had seen in Penang. I was telling my aunt (or one of my father's cousins, rather) about it and she in return told me a story about my great-grandparents who are featured in that photograph.

According to my aunt, my great-grandfather travelled from China to Penang. There, he found a job working for a Penang businessman. He won the trust of this businessman, and more importantly (for me), the hand of his daughter in marriage. They then went on to have 11 children. My great-grandfather had 4 more children with another wife but the matriarch of the family was undoubtedly my great-grandmother.

I personally think that my great-grandparents were quite remarkable people. They did not follow the conventions of their time. Significantly, their many daughters were not brought up as traditional nonya girls, prepared for marriage and nothing else. Many of them were well-educated. One became a teacher, two doctors. In fact, one became the Chief Paediatrician for Singapore.

My great-grandparents shuttled to and fro between Singapore and Penang frequently, with assorted children in tow. Earlier on, my great-grandmother went back to Penang just to give birth to her children on the beautifully carved bed which her father had given her. Subsequently this bed was brought to Singapore and my great-grandmother donated it to the Singapore Museum. I visited it in the museum as a child (I remember that dusty old museum). I am happy and proud to say that I visited it yesterday, restored to glory.

My great-grandfather died when I was 1 year old and my great-grandmother, when I was 6 years old (I had just started Pr 1). But I do remember visiting her in her home (and running around) whilst she talked to my father and grandfather, the nonya matriarch to the last.

p.s. Sorry about the reflections. Bed is inside a perspex enclosure, probably to protect the hangings. Hard to photograph.

Opening of the Peranakan Museum

Well, yesterday was an exciting and most memorable day for the Nonyas and Babas of Singapore. The opening of the Peranakan Museum in the old Tao Nan School in Armenian Street was an important day for the community here.

My cousin and I had been awaiting this day for some time. We went down at about 2pm and met the crowd first in the "BaBazaar" which was on the carpark next door and then in the Museum itself. Many Nonyas and Babas came dressed for the occasion, chitchatting with friends, looking at the stalls and sampling the food. I have to admit that I did not try the food. It looked just the stuff I get around home - Chilli Padi (on Joo Chiat Rd), Guan Hoe Soon (Joo Chiat Rd), Rumah Kim Choo (East Coast Road) - you get the picture. There were also stalls there from the Peranakan Association and the Penang Peranakan society. There was also a lovely jewellery stall selling modern versions of the gorgeous old pieces - but the prices were such that put me off impulse buys. We also stuck around for the chendol making demonstration, of which more later.

The queue into the museum itself was pretty long, stretching outside the building and next to the BaBazaar. But we were happy to wait. The crowds just inside were also quite substantial and we went straight to the second floor, skipping the first room on "origins". The second floor features mainly the Baba and Nonya wedding rituals, whilst the third floor, the activities of daily life - the clothing, the jewellry, food and crockery, religion, and a special exhibition, "Junk to Jewels: The Things that Peranakans Value". Lots of lovely examples of beautiful beaded work (photo shows one sample). One special exhibit: Dr Goh Keng Swee's golf club, with which he had hit his third hole-in-one. There are also lots of interactive elements, mainly for children.

I don't really intend to go into the details of the collection. What really struck me was the strong feeling of connection which visitors seemed to have with the exhibits. There was an old, dainty Nonya walking around the museum hand-in-hand with her grandson. Dressed in her sarong kebaya and kasut manek, she was commenting about the exhibits to him. You hear people say comments like "Didn't my mother have something like this...." Truly, this is a people's museum indeed.

More photos of the museum found here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Katong Links

I've mentioned this before, that when I first started this blog there were not many similar blogs taking a backward glance at the heritage of this little part of Singapore called Katong.

But over time, more have emerged and are regularly updated by more diligent bloggers than myself:
(Tour around the historic parts of Singapore, and stories about the old days)
(Culture and history of Singapore - amazingly, there's a link to this blog on the site! Happy to reciprocate.
(A nonya cook's blog - perhaps not quite a culture and history blog but I love the yummy concept! )

The more the merrier! Perhaps one day all these blogs can be put together by some researcher to come up with a compilation of everyone's stories as our joint, collective, Singapore story.


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