It's so rare when we hear of younger folks upholding the time-honoured ways of handcrafting things. And it's extra precious when it's not old school for old school's sake, but for better artisanal quality over mass production and profits.
That edge in perfection is what Gavan Sing is championing at Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery at Block 84 Bedok North Street 4, #01-21. They have been around since the 1960s, and is now run by the third generation.
Gavan and his wife are only thirty-something, but they quit their jobs to help the parents with the family business, and are thinking of creative ways to enhance business. But they aren't compromising on the handmade quality of their goods. Awesomely commendable!
They made a name for themselves with ang ku kueh in the 1980s, but tastes are changing, so they added Nonya kuehs back to their line of goods, and later on things like soon kueh and ku chye kueh.
Ang ku kueh is often given out at babies' first month celebrations. I learnt there used to be different ang ku kuehs for boys and girls. If I remember correctly, I think this one is for boys. Then I read somewhere that it's pointy ones for boys, and flat ones for girls. Ah, sounds similar to the speculation when it comes to analysing the pregnancy bump too!
I had a chance at making ang ku kueh - it's actually quite fun. Like Play-doh that you get to eat eventually.
There really is an art to gauging what the right amount of dough vs filling is, and to see if it's the right texture and consistency. Even the amount of pressure has to be just right.
The kuehs are steamed for about 20 minutes after moulding. Oh, they taste so good when freshly made!
Look at the spread that they have - Nonya kuehs, ang ku kuehs, ku chye kueh, soon kueh, peng kueh, and (more recently) fried items like curry puffs, yam cake, and spring rolls.
My favourites - the ku chye kueh with its delicious savoury filling and smooth skin. You can also taste the handmade goodness in the soon kueh. The turnip filling is not mushy unlike what you get with some machine made ones. The curry puff is richly spiced and comes with chicken and a section of boiled egg. The yam cake is yummy too. The Nonya kuehs are not too sweet.
Oh, they are also halal-certified, by the way!
They've got Chinese New Year cookies out too - mostly handmade by relatives, and the 90-year-old Nonya sifu who taught Gavan's grandparents (she's still making kuehs at this age - amazing!). These really do taste like they came from some aunt's kitchen, with that comforting rustic feel.
I like the round peanut cookies (see centre yellow ones); they are full of chunky crunch inside! And the love letters have this rugged heft which I ironically prefer over the flimsy delicate type. They've also got green bean cookies in cute Chinese fu-lu-shou figurines, peaches and turtle shapes (left).
These are available for order two weeks ahead of the lunar new year. You can view the entire product catalogue and make orders online as well.
By now everyone would have heard of or maybe tried the "Kopi Crab" at Majestic Bay Restaurant at Gardens by the Bay. What do you think of it?
I got to interview Chef Yong Bing Ngen for a story in Makanation last year. The Kopi Crab is his invention to add some buzz to his new seafood restaurant. The classic dishes and crowd favourites are all there (chili crab, pepper crab, etc) but you need to have something innovative to stand out from the many seafood restaurants that compete on this little island.
Coffee and seafood aren't natural bedfellows, so it is quite interesting to see how the combination can work. Chef Yong said the inspiration came to him as he was sipping his morning coffee at a kopitiam, looking at the zi char signboards all offering the same old things. He wanted something unusual, and it was right under his nose.
Of course there were objections. But Chef Yong experimented with coffee for a few months and finally perfected the recipe using three kinds of coffee beans (Arabica, Brazil and white coffee), fruit juices, spices, apple jam and coffee liqueur.
Well, I do think it's a dramatic dish that engages all your senses. The Kopi Crab (market price) is flambéed at your table, so you get the aroma and sizzle before you tuck into the warm and sweetly savoury blend. In general, I've heard that people really enjoy the concept. Many have likened the caramelised flavour to that of popcorn.
Chef Yong has always wanted to open a seafood restaurant. His favourite food is fish, and freshwater fish in particular. This restaurant is different from his fine-dining outlets Majestic and Jing; here it's more casual and communal, very suited for family dining.
The outlet itself is cheerfully chic with nautical elements, sea-green turquoise and warm woods. You'll find it down the escalators, below the Flower Dome (no entrance fee required). It seats 110 comfortably and has a private dining room as well.
No Chinese seafood restaurant would be complete without a showcase of live fish. But what really impressed me here is the clear labelling of what each tank contained, complete with photos and fish names in both English and Chinese. Well, it turns out that lots of tourists ask, "What's this? What's that?" and the labels save the wait staff a lot of explanation time.
Steamed live prawns with minced garlic (market price)
Live seafood is indeed done well here. Garlic and good soy sauce enhance the natural sweetness of fresh seafood, although sometimes they can get a bit overpowering.
Majestic Bay also has dim sum, and I'm happy to say it's good dim sum. Har gau, siew mai, xiao long bao...oh, I must come back for lunch!
Seared chili crab meat bun (S$4.50 for three pieces)
Chili crab in a bun?
The soft bun seems to have soaked up the liquid part of the filling. Yes, this won raves around the table. While I agree this may be an easier way to eat chili crab, I still miss dunking the fried mantou and picking up loads of wet gravy with it.
Baked BBQ pork bun (S$4.20 for three pieces)
Oh have you ever seen such perfectly round and shiny buns? These were marvellous.
Soup of the day (S$18 small for 2-4 pax; S$27 medium for 5-8 pax)
Here it's pork ribs boiled til tender, plus a lot of goodies. The rich, warm broth just feels so good going down the gullet. Extremely fortifying, as a good soup should be.
Sauteed wild mushrooms, asparagus, minced garlic (S$18 small for 2-4 pax; S$27 medium for 5-8 pax)
Oh I really liked this one, even though it's just vegetables. So lusciously umami. This is going on my must-order list.
The other specialty that Chef Yong created for the new restaurant is the Portuguese-inspired Baked Rice with assorted seafood and a special sauce (S$68 for 4-6 pax; S$88 for 7-12 pax). This comfort dish tastes a little bit like Japanese curry rice! The local spices in the cream and baby abalones give it the Asian touch. Assorted seafood you certainly get - plump scallops, prawns, mussels - and it's all topped with mozzarella for a luxurious finish. Very filling, yes.
So there's lots more at Majestic Bay beyond Kopi Crab. I'm glad Chef Yong has finally realized his dream of having a seafood restaurant. One more place to bring your family and visiting friends for a nice seafood dinner or dim sum lunch!
MAJESTIC BAY RESTAURANT
Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-10
Tel: +65 6604 6604
Lunch (Mon-Fri) 11:45 am – 2:30pm
Lunch (Sat, Sun & PH) 11:30 am – 2:30pm
Dinner 5:45pm – 9:30pm
Oh my god, this is so sedaaap! Durian kaya toast. It's really more of a durian custard though, and one that's so smooth and fine, with just the right amount of sweetness and real durian fragrance. You won't be able to stop dipping the toast into it and licking whatever spills onto your fingers. Quite frankly, it'll be hard to resist dipping your fingers in directly!
This was my friend Eunice's recommendation, and it's at Sedap Corner, a little cafe/restaurant at Simpang Bedok.
We asked the boss, Chef Bob, what goes into the making of this tasty treat. It's a mix of D24 and Mao Shan Wang durians, combined into a delicious kaya custard base. They make it fresh every day, and so are able to use less sugar and no preservatives. This means shelf life is really short, but that's no worry, as the whole batch sells out every day.
Chef Bob tells us they did a successful trial run of 2,000 bottles of durian kaya (as wedding favours - he recently got married). So looks like we might be able to one day take home some of this yummy stuff. But I think nothing beats freshly made kaya.
You can enjoy it some some drinks. They have Vietnamese coffee, among many other drinks.
And the biggest Chococcino I have seen!
Check them out at Simpang Bedok. It's a simple but pleasantly decorated cafe offering Asian dishes and Western grill specialties. This is a nice place to chill out too. Very relaxed vibe. Interestingly, they began life in Johor Bahru (where they have many outlets) but started this outlet five years ago. I should come back to try the mains. But the durian kaya toast is definitely a winner in my books.
Street food - oh, how it's fed and fascinated people from all over the world.
You've got Jolly Jeeps in the Philippines, tacos stands in Mexico, food alleys in China, food trucks in America, stalls in Bangkok, and kaki limas in Indonesia. Street food is the biggest, most loved and yet most unstructured culinary culture in the world.
But this much beloved cuisine is also one that's most under threat. Street food is often borne out of hardship in developing countries. Cheap, fast and filling food for the poor by the poor - deliciously so! It is honed by people willing to put in long, tedious hours often for not very much in return. In Singapore itself, the continuity of the our hawker food is often greatly debated as the older generation that made it great passes on, and the younger ones pick a more comfortable career.
Finally though, something's happening to pull all the fractured energies together to address continuity, open up fresh ideas and inspire thought leadership for new opportunities.
The World Street Food Congress is happening 31 May to 9 June this year in Singapore at the F1 Pit Building and Paddock (1 Republic Boulevard). It's spearheaded by KF Seetoh, street food champion, founder of food consultancy and street food guide publisher Makansutra, and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). There's a whole lot of people actively throwing their lot into this as well, including:
- TV host and street food aficionado Anthony Bourdain
- chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who loves creating dishes inspired by the street foods of Asia
- editor-in-chief of US food publication Saveur, James Oseland
- China's top TV food host and winemaker Johnny Chan
The World Street Food Congress comprises three main prongs:
1. World Street Food Dialogue (3 and 4 June): aka the heavy-duty stuff. Big names and prominent minds will meet and present ideas, plans and opportunities for the industry ahead. If you're in the trade, you'll be keen to take a look. The line-up of speakers will be revealed at a later date.
2. The World Street Food Jamboree (31 May to 9 June): the part where consumers are probably most interested in! This is where 35 of the world's best street food masters gather and present an amazing feast! Well, it's also to generate leads and opportunities for the public to be part of the industry.
3. The World Street Food Awards: the world's first awards of its kind to build awareness and recognition, not just for the street food masters, but for their culture and country as well.
So mark your calendars. This very exciting global initiative is kicking off in Asia because we have the richest and widest array of street food, which thoroughly deserves to continue and flourish. And for it to do so, we need to encourage the jobs, skills and opportunities with the tripartite help of government, private sector and the people. Seriously, this could not have come at a better time. Here's to celebrating street food worldwide for more years to come!
Bosch came back bigger and better for its second original recipe contest for users last month. Six contestants vied for the top prize of two plane tickets to Germany plus S$1,000 spending money. It was held at the Bosch Culinary Studio at ToTT (Tools of the Trade), and I was happy to return as a judge.
Owners of Bosch food processors and kitchen machines to submit recipes using apples as the main ingredient. These are all home cooks, but what they crafted in that kitchen blew us away! We were all very impressed with their culinary skill, creativity and presentation flair. Well, OK, one of them (the second prize winner) did study bread-making in Paris, so these are serious enthusiasts.
The previous and inaugural competition saw the only guy winning the top prize of the sleek retro Bosch fridge. This year, we also had only one male contestant. We didn't think history would repeat itself but oh yes, it did. Not by sheer chance, but pure merit. Mr Phua Kok Wee's creation, the Savoury Apple Chicken Tart, also the only savoury creation of the lot, won unanimous approval in all aspects - taste, presentation, and innovation.
Here are the recipes for the top three winning entries, and one consolation prize entry which I feel deserves mention because it was really tasty even though it was easy to make (that's a plus in my books, actually).
The Lunar New Year celebrations are coming soon, and many of us are already planning reunion dinners. A little bit of cash sure would be welcome for those feasts! And that's what Dian Xiao Er (店小二) is giving out! The Grand Reunion (大团圆) Contest on their Facebook page is a fun and easy game where you can host virtual tables and invite friends to join them.
Here's how it works:
1. You can start and host as many tables as you want, inviting 9 people to each table.
2. You can join as many tables as you like, provided they are by different hosts.
Each filled table (all 10 seats filled) qualifies the host for the S$888 Grand Prize, and the members for the S$88 cash prize. Everyone also gets a chance to win weekly prizes. Double win!
3. And yes, gotta "Like" the Dian Xiao Er Facebook page to qualify too.
There are three kinds of tables:
- Public: anyone can join
- Friends: any of your Facebook friends can join
- Invitation only: only those specifically invited can join
One lucky qualified table will be randomly selected at the end of the contest.
1 x $888 Cash for the host
9 x $88 Cash for each person who joined the table
Most Popular Host:
The host who has the most number of qualified tables wins.
1 x $388 Cash for the host
Weekly Lucky Prizes:
Each week five lucky fans who joined the contest will be randomly picked.
5 x $68 Dian Xiao Er vouchers each week, runs for 3 weeks
This contest ends 9 February 2013 at 11:59 pm (Singapore time). Entries shall be deemed to be received at the time of receipt by Dian Xiao Er and not at the time of transmission by the participant.
We received a nice surprise hamper yesterday (thanks to Tai Sun!) - a lovely traditional Chinese woven basket filled to the brim with glorious nuts, cookies and goodies. Yes, Chinese New Year will be here before you know it!
It looks like there are some new varieties out for the festive season - Macadamia and Cashew Mix (luxurious!), Baked Cashews and Cranberries (nice!).
So my friends told me last week. It was a "On The Red Dot" segment on Singaporeans and their love for hawker food. They interviewed me, and the kids were the "ke le fe" or extras for the eating shots. I missed the first airing on Channel 5, but saw it on Channel News Asia (CNA) last Saturday. Our part is about a quarter into the show. This episode discusses what makes us uniquely Singaporean and they also featured Catherine Lim talking about Singlish!
Our love of food seems to be one defining characteristic of Singaporeans. It's not just food bloggers who take photos of food; almost every other person these days will whip out their phone to take and upload a shot of their meal before they tuck in. We take pride in knowing where to find good food, and we keep hunting for new gems.
Someone cynically said that our obsession with food is one reason why we don't do well in sports. I disagree. I mean, look at China. They love food too, but churn out so many athletes! Hahaha. But do you think the Singapore's obsession verges on the unhealthy? We didn't discuss this on the program but it would be interesting to see what people think.
On The Red Dot is a series on trends, issues and policies that matter to Singaporeans. It is telecast every Wednesday, at 9pm on Channel 5 and on Saturday, at 10.30pm on Channel NewsAsia.
Anyway, I should really do better at collecting my own press coverage and mentions. Usually someone else or a reader points out to me that they saw me in the papers or some magazine. And I still don't clip it. Ah well, all is transient in life.
There's another food documentary on CNA coming up though, also with "guest appearances" by Nadine and Jolie. Probably next month. I'll try and keep a lookout for it.
Hi guys, how's 2013 treating you so far? I'm liking it already! Lots of change and new routines. While there were many wonderful memories and experiences in 2012, it was also a year of upheaval and I really wanted to see it go.
So this new year, I have many things I want to make happen - including trying more new dishes and recipes at home. I may not have nice photos, but I'll plonk them down here anyway.
We started new year's day with a gumbo (that rain-filled eve made me feel like a warm stew). I remember the simple one at Ruth's Chris, and I also wanted to use my new Dutch oven for braising.
So I picked out Paula Deen's recipe; actually I think this might be the first recipe I've tried from her (although have glanced at her southern fried chicken recipe some years back). I have to say it's a pretty good one; everyone liked it from adults to kids. A keeper!
Here's the recipe with my own changes/comments in brackets.
3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves (I only used two as my pot was not big enough)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I had to make do with garlic sausage, but works fine)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons margarine (no way, it's butter or bust!)
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
4 cups hot water
5 beef bouillon cubes
1 (14-ounce can) stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra (I used fresh)
4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of margarine and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.
Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons margarine. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp and chopped parsley.