Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the Pot

The thing about me and cookbooks is this:  I tend to have favourites - there are some recipes I will cook repeatedly, and others will remain uncooked forever.  I would really not be able to do a Julie/Julia thing and cook every recipe in a cookbook.  And so it is that the Pot Roast in "Robin's Eurasian Recipes" has indeed become one of my favourite recipes.  It's easy to cook, and the smell of the onion gravy filling the house in the process is absolutely heavenly.  I brought it for my extended family's annual Christmas eve dinner, and so thought it was timely to share it now.

Before I go on, a little about the book itself.  Robin is the father of Quentin Pereira, whose restaurant "Quentin's" is one of the few truly authentic Eurasian restaurants in Singapore.  Quentin's used to be on East Coast Road (see my earlier post) but has since moved to the Eurasian Association Clubhouse in Ceylon Road.  The menu is based on the recipes in this book (including this Pot Roast recipe - after eating it, had to make it!).

There's one thing about this dish though.  It is indeed heavy on onions - which means, that much time and tears are spent peeling the shallots.  Still, no pain, no gain. My mother makes it with fewer onions, but adds a mirepoix of celery, onions and carrots instead.  I prefer the oniony version (because of the wonderful aroma mentioned earlier).  But we both add cinnamon, cloves and star anise, which was not in the original recipe.  Anyway, here it is - my slightly modified version of Robin's Pot Roast recipe:

Pot Roast, covered with onions
1.5-2kg beef (I use shin)
1 medium onino, sliced
5-6 carrots, chunked
4-5 medium potatoes, quartered
2packets fresh button mushrooms 

2 beef stock cubes (I've used 1 beef and 1 mushroom instead)
2 tbsp ground pepper corns
1 litre water

1 stick cinnamon
3-4 cloves
2 star anise

(Blend together)
20 shallots (or 5 medium-sized onions)
6 tbspdark soy sauce
2 tbsp pepper
2 tbsp sugar

1.  Marinate the chunk of beef in 10 tablespoons of the blended mixture, for about an hour.
2.  Fry the marinated beef in a pot, to brown.  Remove from heat and set aside.  
3.  Fry the onions till soft.  Add the rest of the blended mixture (including any remaining marinade) till fragrant.  Add the water (should not be too much, just enough to generate steam to cook the beef), beef stock and peppercorns.  Heat till it reaches a boil.
4.  Add the beef, and cook for 1.5 hours, till soft.  (Alternatively, pressure cook for half an hour).  Add the  carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms.  Cook till the carrots/potatoes are soft.  
5.  When the beef has cooled, remove and slice thinly.  Place in serving dish,and add the vegetables and gravy.  Can serve with some nice French baguettes, but my preference is to eat with sambal belacan and rice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Own Ellice Handy

Elsewhere in this blog, I have made reference to the excellent Mrs Handy's cookbook, "My Favourite Recipes". My grandmother has a copy of the first edition, my mother swears by her second edition. And me? I am glad to say that I got my copy of the fourth edition, as a Christmas gift. It's a beautiful hardback book, with the introduction from Mrs Handy and an additional background note about her life.

Where the original only contained the written recipes, this version includes photos, additional mouthwatering incentive to try out the recipes. The recipes include not just the imperial measurements (the complaint of an earlier post) but handy conversions to metric measurements (pun intended).

I am looking forward to trying out my first recipe from this new cookbook :-)

(Mrs Handy's "My Favourite Recipes" is available from major bookstores.  Or you can, as suggested in a comment on my blog, write to to place an order.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Penang Roots

I had the pleasure recently of returning to Penang together with my extended family, to visit relativees there.  I had  earlier written about my previous visit to Penang.  This time around, our extended family trip made it easier for my cousin and I to get in touch with our Penang relatives.

My great-great grandparents
and my great-grandfather (on the right)
It was also a good opportunity for me to find out more about my paternal  grandmother and her family. According to family lore, it was my great-great-great grandfather who came to Penang.  His portrait hangs in the family home, dressed in the robes of a Mandarin.  His son, my great-great-grandfather, had a few children.  How many, I am not sure - but this photo (on the left) shows my great-great-grandparents with two of their sons - one of whom was my great-grandfather.  His  daughter would become my grandmother.  (Incidentally, the photo in the picture is actually a replica of the original - why it is relatively unfaded still.  The original, much  faded, is displayed opposite to this replica.) My great-great grandparents also had (at least) one daughter.  She would become my paternal grandfather's mother - as mentioned previously, my paternal grandparents were first cousins.

Front door
My great-grandfather married a KL girl.  She had three children, one boy and two girls.  But sadly, he died young, leaving his wife to bring up the children.  Two of them would stay in Penang, but my grandmother moved down to Singapore after her marriage to my grandfather.  But whilst she may have left physically, she would retain her Penang nonya upbringing all her life - always wearing her sarong kebaya.  And of course, according to her children, she was an excellent cook!

It was thus a nostalgic journey back to Penang, to revisit our family home, with its portraits on the wall of my ancestors.  It is not a magnificent mansion like the Pinang Peranakan mansion, just the home of a more humble Baba merchant and his family.  It is a traditional home, with the carved wooden doors opening into the reception room, containing the family altar, and ornate peranakan furniture, some of which are still there today.  (Supplemented by the desktop computer and printer in one corner of course).

Behind the reception room, the house opens up into the family areas, lit up by the airwell which lit up the interior of the home.  The plants and water feature bring the outdoors indoors, a quiet oasis in busy Georgetown.

My great-grandmother's pillow
My Penang uncle has spent quite a lot of time and effort restoring his home and also in supplementing his collection of antiques and curios - many displayed in his cabinets and on his shelves.  Some have sentimental value - in particular this little leather pillow, which was used by my great-grandmother for many years.  Hmmm... I must say give me my nice soft fluffy pillow anytime!  Note also the little pair of slippers on the right.

I venture to think, that if my great-grandfather were to come back today, he would still feel that he was in familiar surroundings.  A homecoming indeed.

More photos together with others of my Penang visit(s) here.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Chicken Curry Kapitan

Chicken Curry Kapitan by Taking5
Chicken Curry Kapitan, a photo by Taking5 on Flickr
After my visit to Penang, I felt inspired to post up this yummy recipe for Curry Kapitan. 

This chicken dish is a Nonya/Eurasian favourite. According to tradition, the dish got its name when the British/Baba towkay (whichever it was is lost in the mists of time) was asking what was for dinner and the cook replied, "Curry, Capitan".  "Capitan" of course is a sort of derivation from "Captain" and the title was not confined just to military captains, or ship captains, but to the representatives of the trading companies and wealthy Chinese merchants.

I particularly like the recipe in my Penang recipe book, "Nonya Flavours".  So does my extended family - my aunt was even so kind as to liken it to her mother's (ie my grandmother's) version, the highest praise I could hope for.


1 kg chicken
1 tbsp turmeric powder.

Spice paste:
10-15 shallots
2 cloves garlic
2cm ginger
2cm galangal
2 stalks lemongrass (use the white portion of the stem)
3 candle nuts
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2-3 fresh red chillis (as desired)
5-6 dried chillis (as desired)
1 tbsp belacan, toasted

1 200ml packet of coconut cream
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp shredded lime leaf
2 tbsp lime juice

Fried shallots or more shredded lime leaves to garnish

1. Marinate the chicken with turmeric powder and salt.  Leave overnight (or for a few hours, which is what I do).  Fry till nicely browned.  Set aside.
2.  Blend spice paste ingredients, fry till fragrant.  Add some of the coconut and fry till it cracks.  Add the chicken and fry together for 5-10 minutes.
3.  Add the remaining coconut milk, water, sugar, lime leaf and cook till chicken is tender.  Add lime leaf, check the seasoning.
4.  Serve garnished with fried shallots or shredded lime leaf or both!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Penang Food Trails - Five Years on

My extended family decided to make a group visit to Penang - to meet up with relatives there, and of course to fill up on gorgeous hawker food!  Since the last time I went down was some five years ago, thought it was high time for me to join in.  Indeed, there have been changes in Penang since my last visit.  New shopping malls (First Avenue), nice new pavements down Penang Road, that sort of thing.  But thankfully, the variety and quality of the street food is as memorable as ever.

The good thing about meeting up with Penang natives is that they always know where the best food is and can take you there. I had a really good time during my last visit to Penang but most of the eateries were near or off Penang Road, with one trip down to Guerney Drive (see my previous post).  This time round, we really were able to explore more parts of the island...  Read on for the yummy details:

1.  New Lane coffee shop, off MacAlister Street

Batu Maung Satay
- no peanut sauce required
Our first stop, after we got out of the hotel.  We had a real feast, with traditional favourites like Penang Kway Teow, Poh Piah, Dumpling soup etc. And more familiar dishes, but with a twist only seen in Penang - like Batu Maung Satay (the meat has been really steeped in a tangy marinade and beautifully grillled so that it retains the moisture  and flavour inside) and Char Kuay Kak (Chai Tow Kuay with prawns and squid).  I also had a nourishing bowlful  of itek mee sua - duck meat in a herbal soup and mee sua.  For the first time, I also had a ambola or kedongdong drink with a little sim boay floating in it.  The sharp sour flavour really complemented the savoury food well. 

2. Lorong Kucing coffee shop

Sinful goodness - Roti Babi
My cousin, after her last family trip to Penang, came back raving about the Roti Babi here.  For the uninitiated, Roti Babi is indeed a mouthful of sinful (cholesterol and fat-laden) goodness.  But heck, it's once every few years!  Take two thick pieces of bread, stuff the minced pork filling in between, cover in breadcrumbs and deep fry.  Since we had about 10 people, we ordered something like 5 plates of the roti babi and much more besides, including appom telor, curry mee, more char kway teow and poh piah, wan tan mee etc etc.  We probably over-ordered and over-ate.  But again, who is counting the calories! 

3. Batu Lancang Hawker Centre

We made another stop at Batu Lancang Hawker centre, near my aunties' home.  Here, the dish to try is the pasembur,  an Indian rojak prepared Chinese-style.  Confusing?  It's just Asian fusion food.  Crispy crackers, potatoes, fritters, tau kwa and cucumber, topped with a sauce made of sweet potato and strips of cuttle fish. This large hawker centre is also apparently where another cousin's favourite Penang Kway Teow is (he eats three plates at one sitting).  And yes, I did have a plateful of this tasty dish.  Whilst it's not durian season, we also bought a few trays' worth from the nearby market.

4. Malay Street Coffee Shop 

Mee Sua Kor
This coffee shop, at the corner of Malay Street and Carnavaron Road has a whole range of yummy goodies. For the first time, I tried mee sua kor, mee sua in a thick gravy with strips of crab meat and other meats.  I'd never heard of it before but I really hope to be able to find its like in Singapore.  It was here also that I had my first serving of prawn mee soup on this trip - somehow, a good prawn mee is harder to find than the ubiquitous Penang Kway Teow.  Lots of Oommph.  My Penang uncle said that there was a better prawn mee down the street.  But I really was not complaining.  We slurped it down in double-quick time. Another great dish to try here is the Ngor Hiang/Lor Bak - succulent, flavourful meats.

5.  Penang Road (again)

Keng Pin's Ngor Hiang 
Well, back to Penang Road.  Old favourites such as the Penang Laksa and chendol at Lebuh Keng Kwee, and the Ngor Hiang and prawn fritters (my personal fave) at Keng Pin coffee shop up the street were still there.  My family savoured a pig organ soup in Ho Ping coffee shop too.  It's not for nothing that our hotel was on this street!

What was my total food tally?  Bear in mind that this list covers only what I personally ate/sampled (over the course of about three days), and figures in brackets refer to the stalls I went to:

Penang Kway teow (4)
Roti Babi (1)
Itek with mee sua (1)
Chendol (2)
Durian (1)
Lor bak/ngor hiang(3)
Yam/split green bean fritters (1); 
Dumpling soup (1)
Kuen kosui (1)
Mee Sua Kor (1)
Satay - Normal (1)
Satay - Batu Maung (1)
Offal Soup (1)
Porridge (offal) (1)
Zi char veggies (1)
Assam laksa (1) 
Prawn Mee (1)
Char Kuay Kak (1)
Smoked Chicken Waffle (1)
Nasi lemak (1) - at airport!

Will put up more photos on Flickr page when ready.  In the meantime, drool away...

(Update: Photos up here!)   

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Penang Peranakan Mansion - the Splendour of Days Gone By

I visited Penang two weeks ago and for the first time, visited the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.  Now, I have visited old Peranakan house museums before, but these were the traditional  courtyard houses.  Never before have I visited a true Peranakan mansion.  And I must say, it was indeed magnificent!

The Entrance Courtyard
The Penang Peranakan Mansion is the former home, it is said, of Chung Keng Kwee, a wealthy merchant or "Kapitan". Whilst not a Baba himself, he decorated his home in the lavish style of the wealthy Babas and Nonyas of the time.  Whilst the house fell at one point into disuse, it has now been restored and turned into a beautiful museum.  I don't intend to go into detail on the history of the mansion - for that, this website has quite a comprehensive write-up.  rather, I will just give some highlights of my own visit there.

We entered the mansion into a large, bright courtyard.  To the left, the main reception room; to the right, the dining room.  The grand staircase to the upper floors was right in front.  In the corners, there were a number of reception rooms, some probably for family use and others for formal receptions.  Many had family portraits staring down from the walls.  Beautiful statues, elaborate ornaments decorated the rooms - many European in origin, all the better to display the wealth of the homeowner.

The Long Table
I loved the dining area, with the long tok panjang running the length of the room.  Mirrors on the left and right walls of the dining room would allow someone sitting at the head of the table a view of the front door, and also staircase - a powerful position indeed. My aunt whispered to me that in the old days, the old Baba or Nonya would sit there to keep an eye on the family - to see if they could catch anyone doing anything funny!  On festive occasions, the table would be laden with dish after dish of yummy nonya goodies. Family members, starting with the oldest and most senior, would take turns to eat.  Whenever the food ran low, someone from the kitchen would come and top it up.  Such meals would be called "tok panjang", after the long table where the family comes together to eat.

[There is a kitchen at the back of the house,  but it was apparently closed  during the time of our visit for some function.  A pity - I like looking at old cooking implements!]

Kasut Manek tops
Around the house, there are a number of rooms housing collections of Peranakan items - beaded shoes and bags, kebayas, porcelain, jewellery and glass epergnes (there is one in the middle of the table above - it consists of a long vase, with smaller vases suspended from it, and baskets at the bottom to contain fruit.  As an aspiring kasut manek maker, I was of course very happy to see the many beaded shoes in the museum.  Despite their age, these shoes retain their vivid colours and intricate patterns.

The upper floor of the mansion is reserved for the family- their bedrooms, sewing room, etc.  Here, the decorations were simpler, and included (besides the collections) items which reflect the family's daily life.

Peranakan Wedding Bed
Of course, one of the exhibits which I paid extra attention to was the beautifully carved wedding bed, with its embroidered, brightly coloured hangings.  After all, was not family pride at stake?  Of course, it helped tremendously that I could look at this bed up close, without some perspex barrier keeping me away.  Having said that, my memory of my great-grandmother's bed was not that clear.  We had to flip through a book in the little souvenir shop downstairs to pick up the key difference -that my great-grandmother's bed had more open sides whilst this bed was more enclosed.

The glory days of the Peranakans are long over, living only in the memories of the older generations of Babas and Nonyas.  But in this glorious old mansion, with its store of antiques, we can catch a glimpse of those days gone by.

Additional photos here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Celebrate with Sugee cake

I like setting myself little cooking "goals" - targets of what dishes to make and master.  For example, last year, I told myself I'd make some cheesecakes - which I did.  This year, I set my  sights on that Eurasian classic, sugee cake, the must-have dish at every Eurasian celebration.

Sugee cake has been featured on this blog before.  In fact for such an insignificant post (featuring a little picture of a half eaten cake), there have been a startling number of hits.  So I thought, that now I've got my cake-making experience to boast about, it was time to do an update.

Making a sugee cake is not easy.  First of all, the recipe.  Everyone  says their grandmother's/ mother's/ auntie's is the best.  I would never argue with any of them.  But what's important is to get the recipe for the sugee cake you like. Preferrably, one that doesn't use too many eggs (yes, it imparts richness to the cake but think of the cholesterol too!).  Second, this is not an easy cake to bake.  It is heavy and rich, and inclined to fall, as my first attempt did.  Technique and practice is important.

Fortunately for me, my cousin (the baker in my previous post) has a yummy cake recipe. She has also perfected her technique over time.  So I got her recipe.  And I got her to tutor me (this was after one previous round of doing it on my own ended with sunken sugee "brownies" rather than cakes). We chatted and baked one lazy Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to her help, I got beautifully light, golden cakes topped with almond flakes, which I brought for my granny's birthday party.  Lovely with a glass of sherry, in the true Eurasian style..

I spent some time also reading various sugee cake recipes online.  Whilst it is easy enough to search for them, I found two blogs which didn't just give the recipe, but also the story behind the recipe or a little more about Eurasian culture and heritage.  Here they are: 
- Cheryl's grandmother's recipe 
- Denise's recipe - she has beautiful step by step photos and also  a great background on sugee cake. 

Happy reading, baking and eating!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Following the Portuguese - to Macau

I visited Macau a few weeks ago.  Partly to see what a casino looks like (no, I did not gamble) and partly to also explore the shared heritage of Macau and South East Asia.  Colonised for many years by the Portuguese, I was curious to see whether there were similar cultural elements to be found between these two parts of Asia.

Senado Square
Indeed, there were cultural similarities aplenty.  Much reconstruction has taken place in the old city centre, and new buildings sprout up beside the old colonial buildings (or in some cases, a tall modern structure towers behind an older facade).  But walking through the streets around Senado Square, the distinctive look of the colonial style buildings were strangely familiar.  Marked by the arched doorways and deep verandas, the buildings would not have been out of place here in Singapore.

Interior of the Lou Kau Mansion
In the streets around the square,  still remain older buildings, with graceful columns holding up  small balconies with cast-iron railings - good vantage points to take in whatever was going on in the street below.  We also visited an old mansion,  the former residence of the family of Lou Kau, a Chinese businessman.  Whilst the facade was unremarkable, the courtyard-filled interior (see right) was very similar to the traditional peranakan houses here in South east Asia.

Drinking glasses, just like Grandma's!
 Away from the city centre, we also visited the five colonial houses which make up the Taipa Houses Museum.  The first house was supposed to represent a typical Macanese family home.  Indeed, it did have that distinctive look and feel of a Eurasian home here in Singapore, with its blend of eastern and western furnishings (and a little family altar in the living room).  In a similar room in the Macau museum, I found drinking glasses just like those my grandmother has!  (I've been drinking in glasses like these since I was a little child!)

St Dominic's Church
Then we have the churches - Macau has plenty of beautiful old Catholic churches about.  The Jesuits came here many years ago, and built a church and seminary, St Paul's, up on a hill.  Originally built in 1602, this Macau church was destroyed by fire in 1835 and stands in ruins today, with only a magnificent facade left to show just how majestic this church must have been in its original state.  Pilgrims and tourists still come to this spot today, climbing the many steps to the top of the church and then visiting the little Museum of Macau behind.   Coincidentally, Malacca's St Paul's church too was built on a hill, and it too, now lies in ruins (see my earlier post on Malacca for more details). I also visited St Dominic's church - at the other end of Senado Square, the church was built in 1587 by the Dominicans - apparently, the first church to be built in China.

Then, there is the food. Whoever would have thought that the Portuguese liked their sambal belacan so much that they took it to Macau with them?  And yet, here it is, unmistakable, selling in the tourist food shops of Taipa and Macau.  I must admit I could not resist and bought a little bottle to try at home.

We tried quite a few Macanese restaurants.   The dishes are not that similar to Eurasian dishes in Singapore - you do not get curry devil or Feng, for example.  But the oxtail stew sold in the food court in the Venetian - who would ever have thought that it would taste remarkably similar (although not nearly so good) as my mother's? And the chicken curry noodles - removing the rather alien taste of the curry, the base of onions, tomatoes, tumeric and spices could be the base of a good chicken stew back in Singapore.

We also tried out the famous Portuguese egg tart.  Yes, we tried those at Lord Stowe's bakery, which had a handily located branch at The Venetian, where we were staying.  A crisp, flaky pastry, beautifully smooth custard under a caramelised top - yes, this has indeed become the definitive egg tart, at least for me.

Macau-style Pineapple pastries 
Last but not least, I have to mention the pineapple tarts.  Naturally, they are nowhere - nowhere! - as good as the pineapple tarts you get here in Singapore.  And they have started making it in neat pineapple filled pastry squares.  But nonetheless, just one more link tying Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia .... and yet another hint that the pineapple tart is a true blue Eurasian invention.

Naturally, Macau is not Malacca, nor Singapore.  It retains its own distinctive culture, and is obviously more "Chinese" than either Malacca nor Singapore.  But just like the Macau Museum seeks to illustrate, it is one more point on this planet when East and West met, merged, and created a new and distinctively different culture and way of life. 

For more photos of Macau (including some which are definitely not linked to its colonial heritage) click here.  For more about Macau and its heritage, check out this website.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Two Shoes

It has been six months since my last update on my kasut manek project. Well, I would have been happier if I had managed to do a bit more, but it is what it is!  But, I am pleased that it is beginning to look like a pair of shoes!

A pair of shoes emerges

Right shoe, in progress

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Threads of a Pattern

This is my 100th post on this blog, a milestone indeed.  I have learnt so much when writing this blog, a pleasure and privilege which I treasure very much.  Learnt about my traditions and culture, learnt about this small corner of Singapore I live in, and above all, I have learnt about my family - by talking to other family members, and by searching through the wonderful Straits Times on-line archive.  

From my father's family members, I learnt that my great-great-grandfather actually came to Singapore, something I never knew before.  An earlier post recounts how his son, my great-grandfather settled in Singapore and brought the rest of the  family over from China.  My great-grandfather  went into business with his cousin and other relatives, but politics would intervene to drive them apart. He was an ardent Republican, but his cousin  harboured communist leanings and eventually went back (or was deported) to China.  Slowly, my great-grandfather  became a more prominent member of the business community.   The Great Depression drove him to the brink of bankruptcy, but he built his business up again. The Straits Times quotes him as voicing opposition to the taxes on rice imposed by the British.   

World War II came to Singapore, and my great-grandfather took his family to Johore where his brother lived.  Alas, one of his brothers lost his life during the war, leaving his widow and young children behind.

I've told stories before about how my great-grandfather met his wife, my great-grandmother. On my mother's side, I have told the tale of her grandfather, the ang mo lang who came from Britain to make his fortune in the Far East.  His son, my  grandfather, would become a teacher and principal of a boy's school here, leaving his stamp on the next generation of young people - who would turn out to be the first generation of Singaporeans who grew up and brought up their families in an independent Singapore.  

Sharing these stories with other people led them to share their own. An aunt on my mother's side told me about her father.  Orphaned at an early age, he left his home in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for a distant island called Singapore.  He did not tell his mother - just left her a note to inform her of his intentions, or so the story goes.  He came to Singapore, met my grand-aunt and married her during WWII when they were both in Bahau (the Eurasian settlement created by the Japanese in Malaysia).  Another story, about my mother's mother's brother, who sailed away many years ago to a distant land called America.  Today, his son returns to the country where his father was born, to meet the relatives he has never known. 

So many stories, so many stories yet unheard and untold.  And other people have their stories too, of their families, their grandfathers and great-grandfathers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  They grew up and grew old, contributing to the society around them even as their lives were rocked by the turbulent times in which they lived.  Collectively,  their lives are like threads in a pattern, woven in and into the fabric of the history of a country called Singapore.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Peramakan: Back in the East

I've always been a fan of PeraMakan, as readers of this blog would be aware (see previous posts here and here.  We were rather disappointed when it moved to Keppel Club, making regular visits more difficult but still we persisted.  It was therefore a good day when we learnt that it was back in the east, in the Santa Grand Hotel on East Coast  Road.

Of course, we wasted no time in paying a visit. In fact we went there twice in two weeks, so much did we miss it.  So how was the food?

To be honest, it was tasty as ever but somehow it seemed that the cooking was a little rougher and the presentation less pretty than it was in the Keppel Club.  But where PeraMakan truly continues to provide something extra is that they cook more unusual dishes which you just can't do at home, or can't get the ingredients easily. Here are two:

 Babi Toh Hay - Toh Hay refers to a wine in which tiny little shrimp have been fermented. The pork (babi) is then marinated in the wine, and cooked with lemongrass and other ingredients.  It's a tasty dish, something like har chiong kai (prawn paste chicken) only this is a wet dish and it's pork not chicken.

The other dish was Nangka Masak Lemak.  Now many people will know that the nangka is a tropical fruit, a little like a jackfruit.  It is large, and there are many seeds inside each covered with succulent goldenflesh.  Once you scoop all the seeds out, there is a bed of flesh which the seeds rest on.  This flesh can be scooped out and made into a tasty vegetable curry, made from coconut milk and prawns (fresh prawn stock or hae bee).

Plus, many old favourites are here like the jantung pisang or banana bud salad, their tender rendang, cincalok omelette and many more.  So do come down to the restaurant and give it a try.  You'll see many a true blue Baba and Nonya here, eating happily and talking noisily.

Update: Sadly, this branch of Peranakan has closed down.  But, the Keppel Club branch is still open and the food is as yummy as always.  Do go and keep it in business!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Irish Eyes

I wrote a few years back about the Katong Convent School building, and a little about my school days. This post prompted the most comments from readers who took the time to reminesce about their school days, too.  Indeed, there was something special about our school days.  Maybe it was the fun and laughter we shared with our friends, in the process of growing up together.  Maybe it was the warmth and wit of our teachers.  And for some, maybe it was the lilt of the Irish brogue coming from the Irish nuns, in particular Sister Josephine Healy.

I should say that I did not go to Katong Convent Primary and so did not interact with Sister Jo as many others did.  But, her presence was still so prevalent even in the secondary school.  We sang hymns once a week led by Sister.  We would assemble in the hall, and Sister would be on stage leading us in song.  "From the Rising of the Sun", "Fill my Cup", "Give me Oil in my Lamp", and many more.   Her energy, and her infectious joie de vie (if I've spelt that correctly) were inspiring.  When I was in Sec 4, my principal Mrs Marie Bong decided to stage "The Merchant of Venice" and got Sister Jo and Sister Dolores (her sister) to help out.  They had a fine time indeed, correcting our phrasing, diction and emphasis as we stumbled through our lines.

Sadly, both Sisters Josephine and Dolores have passed away, Sister Dolores a year or two ago and Sister Josephine, in December last year. The IJ sisters held a memorial service for her in Holy Family church on 17 March, St Patrick's Day.  Father Michael Arro, who was at  Holy Family and Perpetual Succour for many years, was the celebrant.  Father shared his many memories of Sister Jo, remembering her compassion and kindness, but also how her Irish eyes could become fire-ry and how his French temper and her Irish temper went head to head.  Other speakers - her students - gave eulogies.  One speaker (my former teacher) told of how Sister inspired her to be a teacher too.  Others read poems.  The characteristic crisp, clear diction of the KC girl characterised each speaker.  That, too, is indeed Sister's legacy.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Kim Choo story

Ayam Buah Keluak by Taking5
Ayam Buah Keluak, a photo by Taking5 on Flickr.
There was a rather nice story in today's Sunday Times about Mdm Lee Kim Choo, of Kim Choo Kueh Chang fame.  Mdm Lee is a true pioneer of Singapore, who struggled to bring up her family by making and selling Bak Chang.  Today, her small little stall is a two-unit shop house on East Coast Road, selling an expanded range of nonya delicacies, a restaurant, and a small heritage centre cum shop selling nonya wares and clothing.  Mdm Lee has retired, and her family members are running the business today.

My family frequently go to the restaurant, Rumah Kim Choo - in fact we bring our visitors to Singapore here.  Rumah is Malay for house, so it's translated as Kim Choo's House.  The food is nonya homecooking, so that means it is pretty tasty, unpretentious and generally good value.

The ayam buah keluak here is one of our favourites.  For those who do not know, buah keluak is a nut with a dark, oily slightly bitter meat within. This is a tough dish to make as the nuts must be cut open so that the flavour of the buah keluak flavours the gravy and the spices of the gravy flavour the buah keluak. This dish is truly a Singapore peranakan classic.

The next-door shop sells sauces, pastes, and other peranakan cooking essentials. Their ready-made belacan is firey - so be warned!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our Darkest Hour Begins

This year, we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. I thought, therefore, it would be only appropriate for me to dig into my grandfather's oral history interview transcripts and feature some extracts of his interview on this blog (slightly edited by me).  By  way of background, my grandfather would have been in his mid-thirties at the time of the Occupation.  He had married a few years earlier, and had two children with a third on the way.  Sadly, he passed away a number of years ago, and so I no longer have the opportunity to ask him more about his experiences during the war.

To start off with, here is his impression of the Japanese bombing of Singapore, on 8th December 1941.

"Early that morning, at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I was then living in Jalan Eunos at the corner of Jalan Yasin and Jalan Eunos.  I heard booming of guns, rattling of windows and, I normally would have slept through it all because I was very, very tired.  When I heard all these guns and the rattling, I felt something unusual was happening and I came out and went out to the verandah there, and I saw search lights.  And all these gun firings seemed to have come from anti-aircraft gun-posts down near in Geylang Serai, at the corner of Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Road... ...We didn't hear the fall of bombs as I know them to sound but I said, "could it be that bombs are being dropped on Singapore?" ... Alright, I'll get into my MAS uniform, that is the Medical Auxiliary, and stand by the radio and see what we hear at six o'clock when the y start broadcasting.  And true enough the news came that Japanese planes had flown over Singapore...  so what I did straightaway was to get into my car and went straight to the Yock Eng Depot in Katong Road where I reported for duty."

Subsequently, my grandfather (a first-generation Eurasian) was interned by the Japanese.  His account of how this came about:

"Now, after the Japanese took over from the 15th of February, they brought out the Syonan Shimbun, which was printed I think in the Straits Times Office ...   ....I knew that all the Europeans had already much earlier assembled on the Padang to be brought in  for internment, we Eurasians didn't know whether we were ever going to be interned or not...  ... One day, we got news somehow, that we had to go to the Padang to report, and the Eurasians were to go to the SRC, where all our particulars would be taken... ... We had a long walk to get to this SRC from Jalan Eunos.  It's about five or six miles.  The eldest son was only two years old.   I carried him from the house until I reached the end of Grove Road, which is now Mountbatten road.  Tess, my wife  was going to have a baby, our third child.  And someone else carried our second child.  At Grove Road a certain Mr Ess, a friend of mine, came along in his car, took Tess and the children and all into the car.We went there we got all registered and then we walked back all the way again.

Then some days later now my name appeared in the Syonan Shimbun in thick block letters and so did many others, and we were told to report to the Toyo Hotel, just told to report to the Toyo Hotel which was in Queen Street.  And there, I had gone down that day, thinking, well, it need not be internment.  I brought about $66 or something down meaning to buy a new tyre for my wife's lady bicycle.  But when my name was called by Shinozak in the Toyo Hotel, he just rapped the table with his finger, and he said, "By order of the High Command you are to be interned." I said, "But I've only come down just as I am now." "Oh don't you worry," he said,when we take you to the place of internment, on the way we will drop at the houses and pick up things.  I had about, as I said $66 with me, I gave $60 to my brother in law  and I said, "Give this to Tess".   And I kept just six for myself because I felt, my good gracious, she needs money.

We were there up to about 12 or half-past twelve, and then all these registration of those that they intended to intern were ready... ... Well, we got into the truck and it must have come along Geylang road, and when it came to the head of Jalan Eunos, well of course we were all quiet, silent in the truck, wondering where we were going. That's the main thing.  We didn't know where we were going."

My grandfather would spend the rest of the war in Changi Prison.  My grandmother would subsequently be put in a camp together with her three young children.  Happily, the family was reunited after the war, all intact.

Monday, January 30, 2012

At the two year mark

At the two year mark by Taking5
At the two year mark, a photo by Taking5 on Flickr.
Well, it has been two years and in the interest of complete transparency I guess I should share the current status of my beaded shoe project.

As you can see, progress has not been the greatest.

On the plus side, I have started on the second shoe... on the down side, have not finished the first!

Reason is that I'm running a little low on one colour of the beads and it is proving difficult to top up as the shops don't stock this type any more. So am making sure that the shoes are going to match by using the remainder of the beads to complete the other side to the same level and then I'll just have to work out how to complete the bottom part of both shoes. Or hopefully by then the new stock will be in!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beef Rendang for beginners

Everyone has a list of things to do; I have a list of things to cook.  For a long time, beef rendang was on that list.  Rendang is actually a classic Indonesian dish, but as my last post indicates, nonyas and babas learnt quite a lot from Indonesia - and it goes well beyond using sarongs.  At last I got started - and I have not stopped since.

I've played around with a few rendang recipes - including by Wendy Hutton (Singapore Food), James Oseland (Cradle of Flavour) and of course one by the doyen of nonya cooking, Mrs Lee Chin Koon (of Mrs Lee's Recipes fame).  The basic ingredients are of course the same, but there are differences in the mixture of spices - my own combination is given below.  But what was interesting is the new technique which I learnt for the first time whilst making rendang

It is quite common practice for some coconut sauce based dishes, to fry the rempah (or spice mix), and then add thick coconut milk.  The coconut milk is then cooked until it begins to "crack", in other words the oil begins to separate out of the milk.  The food is then cooked in the rempah and coconut milk, for a nice smooth gravy.  But for rendang, the food is cooked first in the coconut milk and only at the end, does the residual coconut milk "crack" and the beef "fries" in the oily gravy, and that's how you get that beautiful, rich reddish-brown colour of the rendang gravy.  I find it so interesting to see how the dish transforms along the way, from what looks like an ordinary beef curry in a rather pale bath of soup, to these chunks of meat covered in a very thick, smooth, oh so yummy gravy.

It is not for nothing that beef rendang can be found in all good nonya restaurants.  The tender beef, well flavoured with all these lovely spices goes down a treat with white rice and vegetables. 

So here's the recipe for the rendang:


1 kg shin beef (or other stewing beef)
1 medium size onion (or 5-6 shallots)
500 ml coconut milk (about 250ml packet of thick coconut milk/cream, dilute with 250ml water)
1 stick cinnamon (approx 5 cm or so)
2-3 cloves (optional)
30-40g kerisik (this is essentially grated coconut which has been dry-fried/toasted- gorgeous if you are prepared to put in this extra work, but I buy mine in a packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt

For the rempah (all ingredients should be pounded/processed together)

4 slices galangal (also called lengkwas)
4 slices ginger
3-4 cloves garlic
14-18 dried red chillies, soaked
1 tbsp tumeric powder
2 stalks of lemongrass (white portion only, chopped fine) - note: I've swapped this with lime leaves before, when I couldn't get hold of any lemongrass

Garnishing: lime leaves, cut into thin strips

Cooking method:
1.  Fry the rempah in a little bit of oil, together with the onion, cinnamon and cloves.  Add in the kerisik and fry till fragrant.
2.  Add the meat, and cook till the meat has changed colour.  Add in the coconut milk, sugar and salt.  Bring to the boil, then simmer till the meat is tender (depending on the meat - I do it for about two hours).  Add a little more water if need be.
3.  When meat is nice and tender, reduce the liquid and cook on low heat until the coconut oil "cracks" as described above.  

Serve garnished with the lime leaves. 

Unsurprisingly, this dish is nicer the next day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Art of the Sarong Kebaya

 I finally managed some time last December to take in the Sarong Kebaya exhibition at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, which had recently been "refreshed" with new exhibits.

Many of us, when we think about the sarong kebaya, tend to focus on the beautifully embroidered, colourful kebaya tops, complemented by the sarong below.  In fact, this is a rather "modern" interpretation of the sarong kebaya.

The sarong kebaya exhibition reminds us that the sarong kebaya has changed considerably since its early days.  The first series of exhibits displayed were of these early "kebayas".  The typical kebaya then was composed of a long jacket reaching well past the knees, and the sarong was typically dark blue or dark red - this was because they were dyed with natural dyes, and these were the only two colours available.

Subsequently, white became the colour of choice for kebaya tops- beautifully trimmed with exquisite lace. The batik prints on the sarongs became more elaborate, with use of different motiffs and patterns.  Because the sarong kebaya was also used by the Dutch women in Indonesia, they even had Christian motiffs like a cross, an anchor and a heart to represent faith, hope and charity.  Some batik designers even took inspiration from fairy tales - the sarong on the right shows the magic mirror scene from the "Sleeping Beauty"!

Eventually, the sarong kebaya evolved to include the more colourful embroidered kebaya tops, made of cotton rubbia or swiss voile  (I must admit that I personally  would find it strange wearing one with a prawn design - see left - or featuring flamenco dancers).  Of course, these would be for special occasions.  Many older nonyas would have grown up wearing simple cottong kebaya tops and sarongs -  I recall my grandmother always wearing more muted kebayas with simple patterns and designs on them.

The sarong kebaya exhibition ends on 8 Apr 2012, for those who are interested to see these beautiful, delicate garments.  For those who've not been to the Peranakan Museum before, I highly recommend it for those who want to know more about the wonderful world of Babas and Nonyas (you can read all my previous posts on the museum here).   

As for me, I look forward to the next time I don my sarong kebaya,with a new appreciation of its past, evolution and its beauty :-)


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