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.


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