Sunday, October 27, 2013

Okinawa's Secrets of Longevity (Part 1) - Not Just Living Longer, But Better

Ah Japan. I love the country. It's a running joke that I go to Japan more often than I go to Jurong (on the west side of Singapore). But one part of Japan has been extra special - the islands of Okinawa, and its wonderful people. Okinawa is special in the way it will change you, and leave an indelible mark. That's what travel should do. You come back with renewed insight and ideally greater wisdom for living.

During my first trip to Okinawa last year, I got first hand look at their diet and liked it very much - it was healthy food that was actually tasty. I started making changes at home to my family's diet too. More vegetables, less meat, more seaweed and tofu products.

Then this year, I got a chance to visit Okinawa again. I was very lucky the Okinawa Tourist Service invited me to join a trip specially tailored for a group of gerontology students from UniSIM who wanted to explore the longevity that Okinawans have become famous for. These students are such good souls, from all walks of life, who have dedicated their time or interest in helping the elderly live better lives.


Okinawa is designated as one of the Blue Zones, longevity hotspots identified and researched by journalist Dan Buettner in a partnership with National Geographic. Singapore is also one of the top 10 countries for life expectancy, so we are naturally interested in how other countries cope with similar elderly populations.

Dan has found that those who live long and healthy in the blue zones unanimously live low stress, happy lives enriched with strong family ties, a sense of purpose, and a healthy dose of spirituality, and plenty of sleep. He counts Okinawa as "ground zero" - the most impressive disability-free longevity in the world.

Okinawa has some of the highest number of centenarians in the world (about 50 per 100,000 population). Amazingly, dementia is rare, and other ailments like Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease are almost unheard of. Yes, sure, there are cases of stroke, heart attacks but these tend to happen very late in life. Like in their 90s.

The elderly folks there not only live long lives, but happy, active and fulfilling ones. They continue dancing well into their 80s and 90s.

Watch this endearing documentary about the active elders in Okinawa, and the factors contributing to their longevity.

Harvard researcher Dr Bradley Wilcox speaks at length about factors contributing Okinawan longevity, especially foodwise.

I've been reading up books and studies on the topic myself, and several things keep coming up:

Observations about Okinawa

Apart from the wonderful climate (subtropical island paradise?) that enable Okinawans to be active all year round, it's these lifestyle choices that keep them going well into the 100s.

1. Follow a healthy and largely plant-based diet
No surprise here. The Okinawan diet has gotten quite a lot of attention in the West recently. They eat grains, tubers, fresh vegetables (a lot of "goya" or bittergourd!) and herbs (many with health benefits), soy products, more tofu and seaweed than anyone else in the world. Citrus fruits (like "shikuwasa", akin to sweet limes) also figure strongly. Fish and pork are consumed but sparingly. Grandmothers still tend their own vegetable patches in the garden, growing food the organic way. They also don't overeat - they stop when they are 80 per cent full, following the "Hara hachi bu" adage.

2. Get quality sleep 
They do like to sleep, even in summer when daylight hours are long. Still, Okinawans don't necessarily sleep more than Japanese mainlanders, but they sleep better. There are less interruptions and sleep disorders. How do you get quality sleep? I guess that's where the rest of your life needs to be in order.

3. Be social involved
Okinawans have a social network or "moai", friends that you travel through life with. Often these are friends from neighbourhoods or primary school. They will take care of each other in times of trouble, and share in celebrations too. Like the Chinese, they also practice tontine. This support network allows a greater sense of security and less stress. Probably better than Facebook.

4. Keep strong family ties
Okinawa families remain tight-knit and close, even though they may not stay in the same home. The elders often stress that they want to be independent, and not rely on the youngsters. There is also a culture of respect for elderly, largely from Confucian influence brought over by the Chinese. This helps the elderly keep emotionally well as each advancing year is seen as gaining honour.

5. Stay active
Be continually involved in work that is meaningful. Many Okinawans choose to work til they are in their 60s and 70s. The word retirement does not exist in Okinawan language. When they do "retire", they continue being active in other forms like volunteerism or teaching. I checked with the NTUC what the situation is like for older workers in Singapore, as I know this is quite an issue here.

In Singapore, we can retire at 62, or be re-employed from 62 to 65 years of age. The Labour Movement through Mr. Heng Chee How is pushing this upper age limit to be extended to 67 years so that older staff can still remain active at work if they want to.

It’s also good that the unions are working closely with employers in Singapore to make workplaces age-friendly and jobs easier, smarter and safer. This allows older staff to continue performing their jobs in a safe and healthy environment, and if not, this is where the bargaining power of the union for its members comes in. Hmm, I wonder if I will still be writing at 65...I certainly hope so.

6. Stay active physically 
Interestingly, the Okinawans don't specifically exercise. But they do keep busy. There's minimal furniture at home, and they get up from the tatami mats many times a day - this builds lower body strength. Many of them keep a herb and vegetable garden, which gives them physical exercise and sunlight exposure for Vitamin D.

7. Have an "ikigai" 
That means the reason for waking up every morning. Yes, that critical sense of purpose that propels you in life.

8. Maintain a spiritual anchor 
Many Okinawans practice ancestor veneration. They lay their worries at the ancestor altars, and pray for guidance. It's not so much about religion but a healthy dose of spirituality.

9. Be psychologically resilient 
Life isn't about having it easy but how you respond to tough times. Okinawa is the site of many gruelling battles, and many of the elderly have been through the horrors of war. But the survivors not only are able to keep going despite an impoverished life, hardship and loss. On top of that, many have been able to practise forgiveness and look forward to peace instead.

10. Stay positive and relaxed! 
Okinawans embrace a positive outlook in life. They love the saying "Nan kuru nai sa" 難来る無いさ- no hardship will come. It will all be okay!

This sums up the cheerful outlook in Okinawa

Ultimately, it's about taking care of the body, mind and soul.

In part 2, I will explore the various places and facilities we visited on the trip.

Ogimi Village and Emi no Mise
Kariyushi Longevity University
Churayuntanza Nursing Home and Utopia
Prefectural Karate Museum
Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum

Many thanks to Dennis Tortona from the Okinawa Tourist Service for making this trip possible. If you are keen on including such special interest aspects in a tour, please feel free to contact them for assistance. Call +81 98-859-8887 or email  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

StarHub Hubalicious at Pasarbella (2-3 Nov 2013)

StarHub's annual foodie event Hubalicious is back for the fourth time. But unlike ticketed events in the previous years, this time members of the public can get free entry to the two-day event at PasarBella @ The Grandstand.

Come get up close with your favourite chefs and food personalities like Willin Low (Asian Food Channel), Eric Lanlard (BBC Lifestyle), The Fabulous Baker Brothers (TLC), George Young (DIVA Universal) and the chefs of Chef Corner Junior (now TV on Demand). Pick up some tips through interactive hands-on participation and ‘live’ demonstrations together with these culinary stars.

Hubalicious 2013 will be held at PasarBella, 2–3 November. Entry is free, from 10am to 6.30pm, so bring friends, bring family and tell your foodie friends!

The event schedules are here, and you can check how to get to PasarBella here. The Grandstand location may seem a bit out of the way, but hey, it's actually walkable from the main road.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

ToTT Taste Challenge

Blindfolded and ready for the ToTT Taste Challenge
ToTT just celebrated its third anniversary. Did you guys go to the ToTT Taste Challenge? Fifty people did! And yes, a few extra people like some food bloggers joined in the fun too. (Note: guy next to me here is a real participant though)

It was a blindfolded test where we were given 20 ingredients to taste and guess. I was stumped by some stuff like raw young avocado, tartar sauce and teriyaki sauce. Oh, and a very dry piece of basil, which tasted like a flower petal to me.

And a final round of five dishes (all of which are served at the ToTT Bistro), where we were to guess which ingredient (out of a list of four given) are not involved in the flavours in the tasting. Like laksa gravy - if I remember correctly, we had to pick from coconut, dried shrimp, chilies, coriander. Answer was coriander. Oh the gravy was very tasty, so it almost was distracting. I got the answer mostly by elimination. Haha.

Our tools - blindfold, whiteboard, marker and FIJI water!
Our equipment - blindfold, whiteboard, marker and water! That thick blindfold really blocks everything, and it was so cushy, I almost felt like sleeping. Ah, FIJI Water - always yummy (my favourite, in terms of bottled water). Was it hard to write blindfolded? No, surprisingly not at all. However, whether my handwriting was easy to probably another matter.

(photo of contest in session, courtesy of ToTT; must have been a Nikon camera)

Everyone blindfolded was given a spoon or cup of the mystery ingredient. Unlike at NOX, where it was fun guessing what we were tasting out loud, here we had to keep silent. There were some really hilarious answers though, like "Goodness, what I am eating?" or "Yuck" and "Unicorn tears!"

The prizes worth S$3333 from ToTT and S$200 from Jasons
It was all very fun, but the prizes were serious stuff. Imagine this entire haul worth S$3333 from ToTT plus a S$200 hamper from Jasons the Gourmet Grocer.

Jasons the Gourmet Grocer is also now at ToTT
Yes, Jasons is now here! So you can pick up things for dinner right along with your new cooking/baking utensils from ToTT!

Speaking of which, this is a great time to pick some stuff up, because the whole store is on 10 per cent off! Their 3rd anniversary sale sees items up to 50% per cent off! Watch out for weekly deals too. Check their Facebook page for details. This week there's a Cuisinart coffee grinder/maker I wanna pick up!

These girly gadgets are so cute!
And some really cute gadgets for little ones. Check out these mini doughnut / tea cake makers and ice cream makers. Faster than the oven.

These happy face pancake griddles will perk up breakfast time!
Look at these smiley face pancake griddles! These would make any mornings a cheery one.

Silpat silicone baking mats for macarons!
Hey, Silpat silicone baking mats specially for macarons!

Pizza peels!
And after buying one of these pizza peels, I will start wanting to build a woodfire oven in my kitchen.

I got a pizza baking stone!
OK, better not be so ambitious. I picked up a pizza baking stone instead. Only S$29 or so!

I also picked up some flatware
I also needed some very practical stuff like flatware. For some reasons my spoons go missing a lot. Hmm.

Oooh, aburi goodies and creme brulee? You'll need this torch...
Oh a blow torch for aburi goodies, melted cheese, and creme brulee! You not only get to play with food, but with fire as well! Well, for adults only, of course. But that won't stop the kid in us from clapping with glee.

Lots of activities for kids - balloon maker and face painting too
There are lots of activities for the children during the anniversary celebrations too. Balloons and face painting always make little ones happy.

Anyway, back to the contest...did you wonder who would win?

More than 50 people participated in the ToTT Taste Challenge
When I took this shot, I did not know that the winner would be right there.

The winner of the ToTT Taste Challenge (in peach) and the ToTT Director Grace Tan (in purple)
It was Ms Praise Naguit (in peach shirt), a preschool teacher. She had 20 out of 25 items correct. Here she is all aglow with her prizes, together with Grace Tan (in purple dress), Director, Tools of The Trade (ToTT).

Well after all that excitement, we were hungry! So we checked out ToTT Bistro, and I realise the menu has changed quite a bit since I last ate here!

So many new things look interesting, and it was hard to choose at first. Then we remembered the blindfold tastings and how the laksa and meesiam both were pretty yummy.

Laksa with Crayfish and Shredded Chicken
I definitely had to try the full Laksa with Crayfish and Shredded Chicken (S$13.90). Oh man, no wonder this is the bestseller here. It is glorious. Man, Gordon Ramsay should have taken tips from these guys while facing 328 Katong Laksa head on.

Pepper Crayfish Hor Fun
The Pepper Crayfish Hor Fun (S$12.90) looks good too, for hor fun fans. Next time I'm having this.

Fish and Chips
Fish and chips (S$10.90) - crispy battered fish, coleslaw, and fries.

Cold angel hair pasta with garlic prawns, sundried tomato and caviar
Jacob had the Cold angel hair pasta with garlic prawns, sundried tomato and caviar (S$10.90). Garlic, prawns and seaweed...sounds good to me!

Truffle Fries
They also have Truffle Fries (S$7.90) with two dips. These were laced generously with truffle oil, but would have been perfect if just a little more golden brown (but that's just me - I like burnt stuff).

So yes, many good things happening at ToTT, the kitchen wonderland. We were just saying it's impossible to walk in and come out empty handed.

ToTT has everything you need to cook, bake and host parties
Basically, like their tagline says, ToTT has everything you need to cook, bake, and host parties. There are lots of cooking classes too. Their demo kitchen is one of the busiest I've seen. This month, along with the sale, there are lots of demo classes at just S$28! Check out the link for more details.

And yes! Parking is free on weekends!

Stay updated for more ToTT events on Facebook.

896 Dunearn Road, #01-01A,
Singapore 589472
Tel: +65 6219-7077

Open daily
Mon - Fri: 11.00am - 9.00pm
Sat, Sun & PH: 10:00am - 9:00pm

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cafe Melba Halloween Menu and Movie Nights with FIJI Water

Oh what a lovely discovery so near where I stay.

Cafe Melba at the Goodman Arts Centre is a casually chic place with an industrial edge, but in a verdant setting. Natural light must be abundant here in the day with extra tall glass windows at this building with the roof slanting down. There's an open patio shaded by ancient Angsana trees, and a huge grass field where kids can run about and play. Yes, this place is kid-friendly, and pet-friendly too.

The Melba does not refer to the peach melba dessert (in fact, peach melba was not even on the menu until recently). Melba here is an amalgamation of the words Melbourne (MELB) and Asia (A). They serve interpretations of Australian cuisine, and it's all-day casual dining here with a laid-back vibe.

Pizza bread with three dips
Oooh, look, crispy pizza bread, with three kinds of dips.

Group Executive Chef Kacey Whaitiri-Roberts previously worked for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's and Emmanuel Stroobant's Saint Pierre group of restaurants. Now at Tadcaster Hospitality, the native Kiwi takes a very hands-on approach with the teams at all five of the eateries under it - The Exchange, Café Melba, BQ Bar, Molly Malone's and Bull and Bear.

Keropokman and I came here to check out the Halloween set dinner (S$45). This is available all throughout October, and there are even free outdoor movie screenings on Thursdays. Movie listing at the end of the post.

It's three courses with options for starter and mains. Oh, they all look so good, I would have had a hard time choosing. Well, the great thing about having foodie friends is - we will all pick one of each, and share! Many of these are also on the regular menu, so I'm glad we can come back for more, after the October promotion is done.

Wild Mushroom Soup with Truffle Oil
Wild Mushroom Soup with Truffle Oil
Chef uses four kinds of mushrooms for this - shiitake, ceps, button and portobello. It's beautifully balanced and tastes just right.

Saku Tuna Carpaccio with Guacamole and Bloody Mary
Saku Tuna Carpaccio with Guacamole and Bloody Mary
Oh this is not aesthetically arresting, but tastes amazing too. I love how it all came together - the tuna, creamy avocado, salty caviar and tomato. Oh please put this on the menu!

Oven Baked Sea Bass with Smoked Tomato and Fiji Water Consomme
Oven Baked Sea Bass with Smoked Tomato and FIJI Water Consomme
A lot of us liked this one, which kinda reminded me of the daurade at db. Yes, it's a good-sized slab of sea bass, but seared and salted just a tad too much on the skinside. Rest of it was still tender though.

The consomme is where it gets interesting. Apparently chefs are starting to cook with FIJI Water, because of its taste and mineral qualities. Here, they smoked the tomato and then used FIJI Water as the base for the consomme. It was light, smooth (FIJI Water always has that smoother mouthfeel thanks to the presence of silica), and had a distinct Japanese signature to it (konbu, dashi?) apart from the subtle smokiness.

Beef Rendang with Shoe-String Fries and Pizza Bread
Beef Rendang with Shoe-String Fries and Pizza Bread
This photo does not do the dish any justice. Wow, this rendang is actually pretty impressive. We learned that the Managing Director Tony Coughlan has an Indonesian mother-in-law, and he got her to teach his crew how to cook her fabulous rendang.

The funny thing is, instead of rice, he preferred to eat it with fries. So that's how it's served here too. You know what - I never thought of eating it this way, but it really works! Like steak and fries. Beef and potatoes just go together. And the fries are super crisp and addictive! There's also pizza bread for you to mop up the awesome rendang gravy.

Peach Melba
Peach Melba with vanilla ice cream, raspberry puree and toasted almonds for a sweet end to the meal.

The menu options appear quite balanced. Something light, something heavy. You can go all the way light or heavy, or a bit of both. So big eaters and small appetites can tailor their own meal.

Well, if you'd like to explore beyond the menu, here are some other dishes they have. We also got to try some of their signature pizzas and pastas.

Three Little Pigs Pizza
Three Little Pigs Pizza
What a cute name for a pizza featuring three pork ingredients - home-cured bacon, honey ham and pepperoni. Lovely thin crust and chewy mozzarella. Tastes as good as it looks.

Tandoori Chicken Pizza
Tandoori Chicken Pizza
Interesting rendition, with yoghurt as a sauce base. Tandoori chicken, onions, coriander make this come together well. I was half-worried it might taste dry, but it was not at all.

Crayfish Linguini
Crayfish Linguini with roasted crayfish, red peppers, rocket with crayfish bisque

This is one you'll be gulping down in savoury slurps. I really liked this one, although I wish they used a lighter hand with the oil for the pasta.

Tuna Tataki Salad
Seared Tuna Salad with fine beans, baby potatoes and kalamata olives

I did not get to eat much of this, but it sure looked good.

Mini doughnuts with chocolate sauce
Mini doughnuts with chocolate sauce
These are a bit more like dense doughballs. I like that they were not sweet (I suppose the chocolate sauce takes care of the sweet aspect).

Here's the movie listing. There are two movie slots at 7pm (kid-friendly movies) and 9pm (something more grown-up).

And you can opt to have a Gourmet Picnic Basket, which gives you a floormat, mini fish & chips or mini sliders, potato chips or nachos, popcorn or kachang puteh, and two bottles of FIJI Water or soft drinks. Please call (6440-6068) two days ahead to reserve your basket.

Your movie picnic basket!

Follow them on Facebook for more updates.

Meanwhile, I'm making plans to come for the weekend brunch. They have a bouncy castle for kids! Nadine and Jolie will go nuts for a few hours and perhaps let me eat in peace.

90 Goodman Road
Goodman Arts Centre
Block N #01-56
Singapore 439053

Tel: +65 6440-6068

Open daily
Weekdays - 10.00am - 10.00pm
Weekends & Public Holidays - 8:30am - 10:00pm


Monday, October 14, 2013

Whitley Road Big Prawn Noodles Near Boat Quay

Dry prawn noodles

It was the morning of the old school coffee training (I swear, the city looks very different at 7am in the mornings). TheHungryCow and I already had breakfast of eggs, kaya toast and coffee/tea at Good Morning Nanyang Cafe. But as we were walking to the MRT, this corner shop beckoned to us from across the road. Mmmh, Whitley Road big prawn noodles? Can we eat some more? Hey, we are food bloggers. Eating is what we live for! Plus the camera needs feeding.

So we plonked ourselves down at the tiny tables. It wasn't that crowded but we still had to wait a while.

Oh the dry noodles (S$5.50) were pretty good. I'd asked a mix of yellow noodles and coarse beehoon (rice vermicelli), which were done just right (good bite, not soggy). The spicy dry chili mix really perks things up.

Decently sweet prawns, although they're not really that big. You only get four halved pieces, essentially making up two prawns. Hmm, pricey.

Prawn Noodles in Soup

But sad to say, the soup version (also S$5.50) was lacklustre. The broth came across as pretty bland, which is puzzling given the Whitley Road prawn noodles reputation and popularity. I should have asked for the red chili powder that the Traveling Hungryboy mentioned here.

Well, I never had the chance to try the noodles while the stall was still under the Whitley Road flyover in the early days. All the soot and exhaust fumes would probably have Bourdain truly excited (he believes street food has to have all the atmospheric effects)!

I'd come back for the dry noodles, but not the soup one.

18 Lorong Telok
Singapore 049030
(two other outlets at Old Airport Food Centre & Thomson Road)

Tel: 6254-4258

Opening Hours:
Mon to Fri: 7am - 9pm
Sat: 7am - 5pm
Closed on Sundays

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The FIJI Water Expedition 2013 - Six Gourmet Restaurants Place Their Dishes on Permanent Menu

Last month, FIJI Water organised this helluva fun gourmet food trail all for the benefit of the Children's Cancer Foundation. The FIJI Water Signature Creations Expedition took 80 diners on a chauffeured tour of six excellent dining establishments. Each of these featured a dish singled out by key food critics in the media. And I'm very happy to learn that these dishes are now on the permanent menu.

Here's what the dishes were like. All photos taken with my iPhone 4S, as we were all busy Instagramming that day! (They amazingly gave away S$600 worth of dining vouchers to a winner with best photos)

Our first stop was Absinthe, which has moved to 72 Boat Quay. Chef Francois Mermilliod's Foie Gras Terrine with Warm Brioche (above) kicked off the journey with class. The generous slab of foie gras is luxuriously smooth! Dipped with the accompanying sea salt and spices, the terrine makes a fine companion for the soft warm brioche. Talk about a starter bread.

Each course was also paired with a wine - in this case, it was the Konrad Gewurztraminer 2010.

And then off we went to the next stop! 

Which was Hashi.

At 48 Bukit Pasoh Road.

Chef Tadashi Takahashi headed Nobu in London and Australia, but for Hashi, he's chosen to go back to his roots and offer traditional Kyoto-style kaiseki and sushi.

Fresh Live Prawn, Hokkaido Scallop and Mixed Vegetables with Japanese Jelly

The beautiful smoked dashi flavours in the cold jelly tie the seafood and vegetables together. The chef had grilled some eggplant over naked fire and peeled away the charred skin before serving it inside the dish. Paired with Evolución Chardonnay 2011.

The tour then brought us to the Tippling Club at 8D Dempsey Road.

Ryan Clift had something pretty special waiting for us.

Pigeon, Celery, Quinoa, Goats Curd
Oh my. This was almost too pretty to eat. But eat we did, and it's a party of flavours, with the goats curd lending a tangy hit to the rich gamey bird. I liked the fried bits of vegetables best though - something's really savoury and umami in them.

Served with Mount Fishtail Pinot Noir 2008

Next up - The Pelican at One Fullerton. It's a maritime themed seafood bar and grill, which manages to be fancy enough and yet cosily laidback at the same time.

Head Chef Isaac Tan was previously from Bedrock Bar and Grill.

Lobster Thermidor

The rich cream and Parmesan cheese in this sings along with the succulently sweet lobster. The Bomba rice is cooked slightly al dente but has soaked up all the seafood stock and brandy.

Served with Konrad Gruner Veltliner 2011.

The fifth stop was Fat Cow (1 Orchard Boulevard, #01-01 Camden Medical Centre). Oh, this wagyu specialist is one of my favourite places. See my previous review here. Oh the memories.

Here, Chef Dan Segall had prepared a Wagyu No Kakuni. Kakuni is normally prepared with pork, but here they've used wagyu instead. Does it work? Oh yeah.

The ginger, soy, dashi, mirin broth spiked with yuzu is intense, but I drank it all (slow sips). The beef has absorbed all the flavours in its simmer, but it retains a certain bite still. So as you chew, the meaty sweetness of the beef comes out and mingles with the savoury aspects.

Served with Chateau Timberlay Rouge 2008.

And it looks like they have started serving lunch (Mon-Sat, noon to 3pm)!
Click pic to see bigger version. Set lunches mostly sushi, sashimi and rice dishes.

And for our last stop, a great spot with a nice view of the Marina at Keppel Bay.

It's Privé Grill!

With a powerful Josper grill oven imported from Spain, Privé serves steaks, seafood and vegetables beautifully smoky from the intense charcoal heat.

Reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends!

It was nice to see Chef Robin Ho again.

Hokkaido Corn and Shrimp Fritter with Lime Aioli - the very addictive final dish on the phenomenal trail. The huge prawns were cooked in the Josper grill for that nicely smoky charcoal touch. Interestingly, the lime aioli really livened up the crisp tempura-like battered corn. And the presentation is cute - the round slices of radish and the dots of aioli added a touch of whimsy.

Our six hour epic journey ended with satisfied tastebuds, 
a few new friends made, and interesting new dining venues encountered. 
Thanks, FIJI Water, for doing this. 
All proceeds went to charity, with FIJI Water paying for the ingredients, 
and the restaurants donating time and expertise.  
So it wasn't just tummies that felt good, our hearts did too. 

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