Monday, December 30, 2013

What the Devil

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

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

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

Here we go:


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

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

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Short stories from long ago

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Little Bookshop at the Corner

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

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

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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pineapple and Apple Crumble

Or, what to do with leftover pineapple jam when you get tired of making pineapple tarts.

I was inspired to make this rather delicious crumble by a visit to Cafe Brio at the Grand Copthorne Hotel.  Their buffet lunch happened that day to serve a pineapple and banana crumble.  As I didn't have bananas handy, I decided to try it with apples instead.

It is a very easy crumble to make.  Peel and cut apples into segments, then layer it with the pineapple jam in the baking tray.  Top with the crumble.  Bake.  Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream..

Smooth, velvety ice cream contrasts with the deep rich caramel-ly pineapple jam and the crunch of the crumble.  A perfect pairing.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Par

At last!  My right shoe has caught up with my left shoe!  I thought that reaching this milestone warranted two kasut manek posts in quick succession :-)

Now, to actually finish a shoe...

Thursday, August 08, 2013

More precious than rubies

Grandma and Grandpa by Taking5
My grandparents, soon after they were married.
Cut out of a larger photo.
My Grandmother (who I last wrote about here) passed away on 1 May 2013, some five months ago. Had she lived, today would have been her 92nd birthday.

My grandmother did not have an easy life at the beginning. She was born in a large Peranakan family, one with perhaps too many children and definitely too many girls. So her mother's sister adopted her and raised her as her own - one of a family of six (including one other adopted daughter who was no blood relative). She was a clever girl, and completed her Form 5 at Victoria Street Convent.

Upon leaving school, she married my grandfather, a good 14 years older than herself. She had her first child soon after - she's likely in early stages of pregnancy in this photo. She would have two more children before she was 21 years old. My mother was her third child, born during the first few months of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. By that time, my grandfather had been interred in Changi Prison. My grandmother was left to look after her three children throughout the war, alone. Fortunately, the family was reunited after the war, all intact.

The family's troubles were not over. During the Maria Hertogh riots, my grandfather (being a Eurasian) was in danger and had to go into hiding. My grandmother, again pregnant with her fifth and last child, was again left to look after her children, the fourth child not even a year old, and her oldest son ill in bed and unable to be moved. That evening, men came looking for my grandfather. My grandmother met them at the door and firmly told them that my grandfather was not there, and asked them to go away.

My grandmother was as fierce as a lioness, a true Leo defending her children. Capable and practical, she managed the household well, and ensured her children were properly fed and appropriately clad. My mother remembers her searching for white ties for my uncles (then young boys of around 7-8 years) to wear at their First Communion, and when she could not find suitable ties, sewing them herself.

She was a supportive wife. My grandfather ran for election in 1959, and she was his election agent. In his old age, she nursed him devotedly until he passed away many years ago.

My grandmother was a good cook. Brought up in the true "agak-agak" school of cooking, she had a well-trained palette and was able to distinguish flavours of dishes and reproduce them in her own kitchen.

She was also a warm and loving grandmother. I remember many happy occasions in her home, at Christmas (when she played Mrs Claus) and at family celebrations. I remember afternoons running around the garden with my brother and cousins, coming only when she announced that it was time for tea. There was always something good to eat, at my grandmother's house.

Grandma had a long and happy life, with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all continuing to visit her to the end of her days. Happy Birthday, Grandma, and God Bless.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baba vs the Minions

So, apparently the "Minions" from Despicable Me are the latest in-thing, as is their rendition of the Beach Boys' hit, "Barbara Ann". 

But the Peranakans have their own version!  Check out "Baba Nyonya" by Alvin Oon:

Of course, this song is not just made up of meaningless syllables like the Minions', as it is actually in Baba Malay.  Aside from repeating "Baba Nyonya" many times, it weaves in references to clothing ("sarong kebaya") and food ("otak otak" and "buah keluak").  Yes, we are all indeed happy eating yummy nyonya cuisine!

For photos on Peranakan houses, you can check out my Katong photo set on Flickr.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Three More Lines ...

... till my right shoe catches up with my left shoe!  Now I have two half complete shoes!

Progress this last six months has been reasonably good (for me that is).  I have been diligently going at it every weekend, trying to at least finish off the better part of a row.  

I showed a photo of the work in progress to a friend of mine who doesn't have much experience with shoe beading/embroidery.   She thought I had finished one side already - At least someone was impressed!  (Photo taken using my iPad camera).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Restoring Peranakan Heritage Piece by Piece

I regularly check out the Peranakan Association website (see my links on the side).  They have a fascinating article, Restoring Peranakan Heritage Piece by Piece, featuring Victor Lim, a Peranakan and a tile collector who collects and restores Peranakan tiles. I'm a big fan of these tiles - am always delighted by their variety and beauty, as anyone who looks at my blog header can see.

There was a talk in April this year, which sadly I missed. But hopefully there'll be more...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Under the Big Tree: Notes from Ipoh

As anyone from Ipoh will tell you, the "Big Tree" in Ipoh is not just any big tree... it is a well known hawker joint!  I just made my first trip to Ipoh, to visit my uncle and cousin, together with two other family members. As usual, my family members indulge in eating and shopping on holiday. So although there is nothing about Peranakan or Eurasian culture in this post, I thought I'd put it up as a sort of companion post to my earlier, gluttonous, (in)famous celebration of food in Penang.

Braised fish head
We reached Ipoh on the Friday afternoon, and after checking into our hotel (Ipoh Downtown - clean, reasonably priced and very well located) we were off! After a short shopping excursion, we went for dinner at "Best Restaurant" on Jalan Yang Kalsom. The food was well-cooked, with the standouts being the soft tauhu with fish paste on top, and the braised fish head (chopped in pieces, battered, and beautifully fried, then served with tauhu, vegetables and a savoury gravy). A good meal indeed.

But today was the day when we did our worst. The tally for me :

- Curry mee, with smooth, translucent thick bee hoon noodles.
- Chee Cheong fan (CCF), with pork and mushrooms. A light gravy, sprinkled over with sesame seeds and fried shallots.

We then crossed the road, only to find Canning Gardens CCF there. Of course, we had to eat it. The sauce is much thicker and sweeter, but the noodles are also soft and went down as smooth as silk.

Dim Sum selection
Ming Court Dim Sum is supposed to be one of the best dim sums in Ipoh. Somehow, all the restaurants of the same type congregate in the same place. Dim Sum restaurants together, Tauge Chicken together, etc etc. Fortunately for us, our hotel was on the street just parallel to the dim sum restaurants (walking around the corner in the other direction, we would hit the tauge chicken restaurants).

I really enjoyed the yummy dim sum, with nice yu mai (sort of a steamed fishball), fried fishballs (no nasty factory fishballs here); dumplings with pork and peanut filling; mua chee with a soft, gooey exterior complemented with sweet-salty peanut filling within. Also a soft and fluffy cha siu pao and a smooth black sesame cream dessert.

I'm surprised that after all this we still had room for Funny Mountain tau huey (or toufu fa) for a second dessert!

Post-lunch snack
YTF at Big Tree
Yong Tau Foo under the Big Tree. Despite our extremely substantial lunch, we went here because we had heard of the famous Big Tree and wanted to at least see the place.  Big Tree itself was crowded, with lots of people either having a late lunch (or their own after-lunch snack).  We went to the next door "New Big Tree" for the YTF (a branch of the original which is in the original Big Tree) - cleaner, newer, shorter queue for YTF.  A place I'd want to go back to again, given the opportunity, because I was so full after the precious rounds that I had only space for a few pieces of YTF and a sweet sour lemon lime drink.

Apparently people from all over Malaysia, Singapore and even Hongkong come for JJ Swiss Rolls.  These rolls come in many flavours, big ones, and mini ones  We had a half of chempadak and half of durian.  I liked the fruity filling, and the roll itself was nice, but somehow maybe we should have tried the minis with their interesting flavours of spinach, pumpkin, and so on.

Ipoh Tauge - shorter, fatter, crunchier
Tauge chicken at Lou Wong. The chicken is probably the same as what you get in Singapore. The tauge on the other hand was definitely different- Ipoh tauge is shorter, fatter, crispier than its Singapore cousin.  And it was blanched just right so that it remained crunchy. The hor fan in the very tasty chicken stock soup was also very good - thin, transluscent and smooth.

It's probably best for my weight that we're leaving at 7.30am tomorrow.

With thanks to family members on this eating binge, it's great to be able to share food with you!  Especial thanks to aunt and cousin, who helped come up with the title to this post.


A Happy Send-off
Obviously, we managed to get in one last breakfast (Ipoh Central Cafe opens before 6.30am, which is when we got there!). Another plateful of CCF to share, and a yummy breakfast of wan tan mee, with 5 small, perfect little wan tans in transluscent wan tan wrappers.

We also had a good lunch of KFC at the airport.  Juicy chicken, fried just right.  Somehow even KFC is better in M'sia!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Truly blue kueh

I've been following sweetrosie's "delectable gastronomy" blog for a while now.  She's just shared a post on the use of blue colouring in food. 

Sweetrosie writes:

"Nyonya kueh, or cakes are a wonderful example of this attention to detail. These little darlings are made into shapes and parcels that say “EAT ME!” . A kueh platter is a kaleidoscope of delicious texture, shape and colour – pink, red, green, yellow and yes! Blue!"

Sweetrosie tells you more about "pulot tai tai", that yummy blue and white rice cake eaten  with kaya.  The blue colouring comes from the butterfly pea flower, although people have been known to use artificial colouring :-)  A very similar kueh, "pulot inti", is described in my own post on Sunday Morning Snacks.

Sweetrosie's  full blog post can be found here.  Thanks so much Sweetrosie for helping promote one of the most yummy and unique cuisines of Southeast Asia!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Corner Coffeeshop to Gourmet Gastrobar

Katong is slowly becoming gentrified.  Humble coffeeshops are giving way to gastrobars, restaurants, cafes, all-day breakfasts - the eating scene is changing slowly.  Interesting new ideas and concepts are starting to evolve. The new AliBabar is one good example of this slow evolution.

Once upon a time, at the corner of East Coast Road and Joo Chiat Rd, was a humble little corner coffeeshop, called AliBaba, famous for selling tau kwa pau. But there was something special about this humble little corner shop. Over time, it gained a reputation for incubating new restaurants. Aston's started out here.  Casa Bon Vento (Eurasian-Peranakan food) took up residence when it wanted to return to the East. A little French stall (Saveur) also had its start here before gaining popularity and moving off to the CBD. As such, one entrepreneur felt that it was timely to do up the place a little and introduce a new concept marrying the tradition of the old coffee shop with its reputation of being a place where one could get good food at hawker prices. Enter AliBabar, coffee shop by day, bar at night!

A longer review is available here, so I'll just give a brief run down of what's available. Just like a normal coffeeshop, there are a few stalls serving their fare- Le Petit Paradis, the new French stall, a   Filipino stall and a fried noodle stall (my uncle swears by the fried mee sua).  The first two are open for both dinner and lunch, but the fried noodles are only available during the day. At the time I visited, there was one more stall which was not opened yet..And, of course the bar.

I had dinner at Petit Paradise, a really nice pork collar with sauerkraut on the side.   The pork was nicely cooked - moist, savoury and tender.  It went really well with a glass of Silly Saison - did I mention that the bar sells specialty Belgian brews?

Variety, choice, new types of eateries are indeed very nice to have.  But I do hope that some of the traditional corner coffeeshops stick around for a long time to come.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Betel Box Bistro

Katong is, of course, the place where all the good food is.  And in particular, where good nonya food has its home.  One of the newer eateries, is Betel Box Bistro. Does the name sound familiar?  It is part of the backpacker hostel, Betel Box.  Betel Box Bistro serves homely Nonya fare, cooked by Uncle Ben.

Laksa Goreng - House Special
My family had dinner at BBB some time back.  It was a comfortable meal - we tried out the tasty, tender rendang; spicy and sour kacang botol salad; ayam panggang; and laksa goreng, among other things.  Laksa goreng is (I suppose) the "less guilty" way of eating laksa because it lacks the soup, and hence, maybe those extra calories.  Or at least that's what one tells oneself. 

Ayam Buah Keluak
Anyway, the good food, warm and friendly service and pleasant surroundings were enough to prompt a return visit.  This time, we brought along my extended family - my dad's brothers/sisters/my cousins.  i.e. the true blue nonya/baba fraternity.  We ate dish after dish (see here for a few more photos) - ayam buah keluak (lots of the buah keluak meat in the gravy); belimbing pork (sourish belimbing fruit contrasts with the richness of the pork) the yong tau foo in a lemak pineapple gravy (very tasty-lemak/ sweet/ tangy all at the same time); the otak in cabbage rolls in laksa gravy (slurp); sambal prawns; chap chye (not one of my favourites); kacang botol salad (now this I like); many other dishes.  By and large, the food is wholesome, tasty and substantial perankan fare.  You need lots of rice, to soak up the rich, flavourful gravy.  We managed to finish most of the food up and topped it off with dessert (sago gula melaka; pulot hitam; chendol).
The chef came out to ask my sister (who made the reservations) how the food was.  She replied that her family was "picky", but they weren't complaining too much, so must be ok.  "Picky!" exclaimed my aunt, obviously insulted.  Discerning diners, more like. 

Betel Box Bistro is at 200 Joo Chiat Road, #01-01, Singapore 427471.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lucky Ducky

Duck with Chestnuts
After making pot roast for Christmas, was it any surprise that when I looked through my lovely new Mrs Handy, that I was immediately drawn to this Duck Pot Roast recipe?

I had a special occasion coming up, too. Some friends and I take turns hosting dinner. We each bring a dish, but it's not quite pot luck since we assign the dishes to be made in advance. Anyway, it was my turn to play host. What better to bring to a “pot luck”, I reasoned, than a pot roast? And I'd been dying to try my hand at cooking a whole duck.

I'm delighted to say that it went rather well. The duck was moist, juicy and the chestnuts were soft and tasty.  I'm pleased to say that the chestnuts were  my addition to the recipe.  They do add to the labour of making the dish though.  Whilst partially shelled, removing the rest of the shell and the outer skin of what must have been around 30 chestnuts took me about an hour. So feel free to drop the chestnuts if you wish.

1 whole duck (mine was approx 2.7kg and cost me $22)
2 tablespoons roasted coriander, finely pounded
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, finely pounded
1 dessertspoon sugar
Salt (to taste)
2-4 tablespoons thick soy sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 shallots
2 teacups water
1 stick cinnamon
3-4 cloves

(Could add star anise as well, but I stuck to the recipe and didn't try this out).

300g chestnuts (boil  for about 20min or so, remove shell and skin)

1.  Rub the ground ingredients over the duck, together with the sugar, salt and soy sauce.

2.  Use a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Fry the onions in the oil till soft.  Add the duck, and fry till browned.  Add the spices, chestnuts and the water.  Cover the pot and cook.  Check the duck and turn over in the course of cooking.

3.  The duck should be cooked after about 1-1.5 hours. Remove duck and chestnuts, pour gravy in separate jug. Skim off the fat, and add the remaining gravy to the duck and chestnuts. (Be sure to keep the fat though. To use for cooking other dishes).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Propping me up for the past three years

My Ikea shelf brackets hold up my beading frame
When I visited the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, one thing that caught my eye was the beading stand which young nonyas used to prop their beading frames on. Alas, such beautiful antique pieces are not easily found and in any case, are pretty pricey. So when I wanted to find something to prop up myown beading frame, I had to find an alternative. Ikea to the rescue! Two wall shelf brackets (the same colour as my beading frame) did the trick nicely and have been serving me well ever since. With a light shining right on the frame, it is quite an ideal beading set-up (see left).  By the way, the reason why the surroundings look a little dark is probably  due to the camera exposure.  It is actually taken in the light of day.

After 3 years....
 Anyway, six months have rolled around again and it's time for my regular update. It's my third year on this single pair of shoes and I am happy to say that the top halves of both shoes are complete now, and the right shoe is slowly catching up with the left. The cloud pattern is showing up quite nicely, I think.

On hindsight, maybe I should not have made such large shoes. I'd be that much closer to finishing them off, more encouraging for a beginner like myself.

Three year beading history here.


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