Friday, November 13, 2015

Peranakan Arts Festival 2015

I was intending to make a trip down to Malacca this year end but for various reasons (largely scheduling) it did not work out.  But in the end, I didn't mind too much because I got to go to the Peranakan Arts Festival instead!

Programme booklet - inside cover
The Peranakan Arts Festival was held from 4-8 Nov 2015 and comprised numerous components:
- The Ba-bazaar!  One of my fave events, not just the stalls but the accompanying talks, cooking demonstrations, etc.
- The Baba-Nonya Convention 2015
- Two plays, Pintu Pagar and Bibiks behind Bars, Kena Again
- An art exhibition
- A Tok Panjang wedding dinner to round off the event

Typically, there is an annual Convention and Ba-bazaar but I believe that this year, the intent was to broaden the event into a full-blown festival, celebrating the Baba-Nonya culture.  Thus the inclusion of the plays and the art exhibition too.  

My friend and I picked up tickets for "Pintu Pagar" - the Friday matinee.  We had made a pact to dress up in our sarong kebaya and met accordingly at the Ba-bazaar 2 hours before the show started, to wander around the shops and attend the cooking demonstration.  We had thought that there would be tonnes of people there all dressed up in sarong kebaya.... shall we say that maybe they were planning to come dressed for the evening shows or the dinner instead.  And then at last we spotted at a distance one lady making her way to the big tent, dressed up in her kebaya.... ... and lugging some big bags as well.  She was one of the stall holders!  

The shops themselves had a good variety of makan, jewellery, some kitchenware and curios (including a few shops from Malacca as well).  There was also a books stall, with recipe books and heritage related books.  I restrained myself from buying more cookbooks and bought just one book  - 'Being Baba", a compilation of articles from "The Peranakan", the magazine of the Peranakan Association Singapore.

Baba Philip Chia demonstrating his signature laksa

The cooking demonstration was hosted by Baba Philip Chia, who was making his signature laksa for the audience.  Baba Chia explained that he picked up his cooking from his various aunties, each of whom had her own special dish.  He discussed the herbs and rempah which go into the traditional Singapore/Malacca laksa recipe and the audience got to play with the various herbs as well.  Of course, the highlight of the event was sampling his yummy, super-lemak laksa. His other cooking demonstrations include mee siam and peranakan canapes (paired with wine).  His cookbooks were also on sale at the little bookshop.  More about him in this article

After the cooking demo, it was time for the play.  The theatre was not full - I guess most people were more attracted by "Bibiks behind Bars".  But "Pintu Pagar" was something a little different.  It was not in the Baba Malay patois but in English, with occasional words here and there (but not many).  It had just four actors, two of whom played dual roles as the parents of the star-crossed lovers who were the focus of the play.  "Pintu Pagar" refers to the half-door entry to a Peranakan home.  The typical home has a full door, which is open during the day and only the half door is closed, providing privacy whilst allowing for some ventilation into the house.  The analogy to our loving duo?  That the two doors swing together side by side, but never meet...

Anyway, our two lovers are star crossed indeed.  Our 14-year old nonya meets her 17-year old (non-baba) neighbour but the families don't get along.  So they marry other people and whilst their paths cross occasionally, they live their lives apart.  I liked the premise of the play, but did feel that it was a little too dramatic for me - arranged marriage to older husband, sickly child, wife with mental condition etc etc.  And of course by the time they get together, it is (almost) too late.  Could it have been equally effective without such drama?  I think so, personally.  I was also not sure whether the dialogue reflected accurately the phrases in use at the times (eg in the 1960s) - sometimes it sounded just too "2000s" to me.  Nonetheless the two leads delivered competent performances.  The star performer, however, was definitely Nora Samosir's performance as the mothers of both our nonya and her beau.  Her elegantly slim kebaya-clad figure (and outrageous hairdo) and nonya "accent" contrasted completely with the simple clothing and gentle tones of the young man's mother.  Her husband(s) too was able to show an effective contrast in performance as he played his dual roles.  

In short, I had a thoroughly enjoyable festival, reconnecting with my nonya self.  Looking forward to putting on my kebaya again for CNY....     

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Singapore food heritage - Shashlik

Shashlik's interior.  That's our empty table.
Fans of Singapore's food heritage were saddened when Shashlik restaurant announced its closure, at the end of the year. (ST, 17 Jul 2015).  To be honest, I'd never gone to Shashlik before - it was always one of those things I would get to at some point in time.

But with the restaurant's impending closure, I had run out of time.  My kind cousin kindly took me there for my birthday treat, so I trotted down to Far East Shopping Centre (on a day which recorded one of the highest PSI readings of the year) to sample the food.  Indeed, despite the hazy conditions, many people had the same idea because there was a queue!  The restaurant was packed and we were told that we may need to wait for our food. Typical Singaporeans - nothing can keep us from our makan.

Lamb and vegetables
In a way going to Shashlik was stepping back in time.  It had an old fashioned charm - no fancy plating here -  but with good, simply presented food.  We ordered (obviously) the food that made the restaurant famous - the borscht (that was me) and the shashlik meat skewers.  I ordered lamb, which came with the vegetables and chips on the side.  My cousin had a beef skewer which came with a Russian salad on the side (looked to me like a normal garden salad though).
Baked Alaska
For dessert, we shared a Baked Alaska.  Now that's one dessert I've not had for years!  I used to enjoy this as a child - watching the flames lick the meringue and then breaking it open to get to the ice cream within.  And I must admit that the thrill hasn't completely disappeared, all these years. Unfortunately I couldn't quite capture the Baked Alaska when the flames were licking around the sides.

Hmm.... I wonder if there is time to squeeze in another visit before the closure (braving the queues?).  But then, Shashlik's owners say that they are prepared to sell the business, recipes and all, to interested parties.  So is there the chance that the restaurant will stay after all ....


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