Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chinese New Year in Chinatown Singapore

It has been raining continuously for the past three days, dampening the spirits of those who want to make use of the last weekend to buy all their festive goods before Chinese New Year.
It didn’t stop me and I was lucky enough to get a little respite from the bad weather when I reached there yesterday. The rain stopped just in time and business was just starting to pick up for the stall keepers. As expected , there was red everywhere, a sure sign of Chinese New Year with stalls selling candies, melon seeds, cookies, decorations, plum blossoms and more.
Food that takes on the sounds of Chinese words of luck, prosperity, abundance, fortune are the kinds of food favored by the Chinese during this time. Eg tangerines have the same sound as “gold” which is associated with wealth and they are exchanged between families during house visits. Another favourite - pineapple tarts. In Chinese, they are called “wang lie” conveying the sound of the words “fortune is coming”.

There were many stalls selling Taiwanese mo-chi and jelly sweets, favourites of little kids who can never seem to get enough of a sugar overload. Candied fruit and melon seed of all kinds too are popular for the Chinese New Year platter, called the “tray of togetherness”. Traditionally, this tray is made up of eight compartments, each of which is filled with a special food item of significance to the New Year season. The candied melon symbolizes growth and good health; red melon seed are dyed red to symbolize joy and happiness, coconut means togetherness and peanuts present the wish of long life.

And something that is very popular with Singaporeans especially at this time of the year is “bak kwa”. These are barbequed meat pieces that have been marinated to give a sweet and salty flavour. Some popular brands have people queuing up for hours just to get hold of these juicy, delectable morsels.

And just as I was leaving, drops of rain began coming down. I felt lucky for that afternoon though I do empathize with the Chinese stall holders here who do need to sell off their wares soon within this short time, just before Chinese New Year.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Singapore Girl

We may just be a little tiny country in Asia but we are big in a lot of ways. I remember a conversation I had with an American years back in Los Angeles. When he asked me where I was from, I mentioned Singapore and he said "Oh, Singapore as in Singapore Girl ?"

"Yup!", I responded.
"That 's a very good airline but where is Singapore exactly, is it in China ?" he asked earnestly.

I do hope people from different parts of the world know where Singapore is today. The brand image of Singapore Girl is one of the first few we had after independence. Launched in 1972, she was one of the most iconic symbols in the world and today, she makes the news once again as SIA announced its plans to roll out its new fleet of advertisements , thrusting her back into the spotlight. She was languishing a little over the past few years, with her image taking a back seat to the gadgets and gizmos that have given SIA a competitive age. Yes, the seats are great and the in flight entertainment superb but it is nice to balance it with the soul of the company. Nothing endures better than one strong image. I do remember those great advertisements of the earlier days where she treads the world in her iconic sarong kebaya with the theme song playing gently in the background. In the late 80's, these ads would play almost every night after the news on Ch 5 and I actually looked forward to the country she visits each time.
Singapore Girl, you're a great way to fly !

Monday, January 24, 2011

Diana, Princess of Wales

Sometimes, one does come across a gem of a find when least expected. Stumbled upon a stamp fair and exhibition one Sunday afternoon and while browsing through some vintage first day covers at a stall, I came across a portrait collection of stamps commemorating Princess Diana's 21st birthday way back in 1982. I was a little amused by a chubby kid who was manning the stall. He was oblivious to my interest as he was concentrating on his playstation game. A gentleman came over and said " That collection is one of my favourites but I am letting it go." I asked him why, as he could pass it on to his kids. We both looked at the kid and he said , " All he cares about are video games. He has no interest whatsoever in my stamps ! "

It was obvious. Kids these days are all into gadgets and gizmos. So should I buy it ?

The Princess Diana era has passed and looking back, it was one of the most dramatic and riveting modern real life soap opera story that held the world's attention for almost two decades. From her days as a nursery school teacher to the most lavish wedding televised live throughout the world, from her two pregnancies and royal world tours to her very much publicised rift with the firm (royal family). These included marriage breakdown, divorce, community work, wealthy suitors and tragic death. And now, the world awaits for the wedding of her son Prince Harry and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011.

He asked for a very reasonable price and I agreed. Looking at the collection, I am amazed at the number of states linked to Britain, all of which I believe now comes under the Commonwealth. Ascension, British Virgin Islands, The Gambia, Lesoto, Bahamas, Barbados, British Antarctic Territory, Cayman Islands, Mauritius, Pitcairn Islands, Swaziland, Soloman Islands, Tristan Da Cunha and Falkland Island Dependencies. Stamps give a sense of history and geography. If only the younger generation could appreciate it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ayam Masak Merah ( Spicy Red Chicken )

Chicken meat takes on flavours of strong spices and condiments best. Beef and mutton on the other hand have strong flavours of their own and light seasoning is all that is needed. Here's a chicken receipe that is spicy and sourish and awakens the taste buds. One chicken cut into pieces A handful of dry chillies (12-15 ) 2 big onions 2 bulbs of garlic Add salt to the chicken (mix it well) and lightly fry the pieces till golden. The chicken pieces do not have to be throughly cooked at this stage. Remove from oil. Meanwhile, soak the dry chillies in hot water and remove the seeds if you like it less spicy. Blend it with the onions and garlic, adding a little water to make the process easier. Fry the blended chilly paste till you get a nice aroma. Then mix this fried chilli paste with the chicken pieces and fry altogether. Add two tablespoons of good quality tomato ketchup as well as sugar and salt to taste.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spicy Meals

I seem to be cooking a lot of Malay dishes lately such as beef rendang, sayur lodeh, achar and crispy prawn chilli. Even when I cook Chinese dishes for my family, there must be at least one spicy dish to make it complete. If ever we have to move abroad, at least we'll never miss Singapore at meal times. Cooking is a skill worth acquiring and I never realised that till a few years back. Better late than never.

Vintage Rocking Horse

I have always loved looking at images of antique rocking horses but never would I imagine buying or even finding one in Singapore. Moreover, my place was getting quite crammed with flea market finds. It is one thing to buy an old pot or ornament but a rocking horse...oh what the heck ! It was the first Sunday of 2011 and the owner who has been collecting vintage over the years probably decided to do some spring cleaning of his own. He brought along some of his collection to a friend's shop including a beautiful orange typewriter, an antique calculating machine (before the invention of the small and compact calculator) and this rocking horse. And like a hound dog unleased on a hunting trip, I could smell this horse a mile off. Getting him home in a nonchalent, discreet manner was the next part of my scheme. Though my long suffering husband has been most patient with me so far, I was quite sure he would say something about it and the space it would take up. I would if we had reversed our roles. But before he could even open his mouth (which I could tell he was on the verge of), I changed the subject and told him about this wonderful confectionary that I had bought for him.
Meet Pal, my new friend sitting in the corner.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mini-Bar Miniature

Haven't been collecting miniatures for some time as I haven't really seen anything that I like.... until this 70's velvet retro mini-bar with the cutest telephone came along. The telephone functions as a light switch and looks like it came from the set of a spy movie ! I also love the litte detailing on the mirror with the word mini bar. Only thing missing is the light tube beneath the canopy and I will probably check out some light shops for it if I have the time.
It is ironic that I had just done some major decluttering of the house and was determined not to buy anything at all. But there it was ! Hidden beneath a collection of dolls, vases etc but I could see the beautiful canopy peering from behind the clutter as well as glimpses of velvet maroon chairs. So much for self-resolve. Good thing about spring cleaning in 2011 is that I now have more space for things that I love.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Apple Crumble

I love moments of serendipity when one makes a little surprising discovery. And Chinatown is one of the last places where I would expect to find a wonderful little kiosk that bakes muffins and apple crumble amongst the stalls selling cookie cutter tourist souvenirs. It is run by a lady named Serene and her little bakery is aptly named Serenditpity.

Though I am not a fan of apple in pies, I love the combination of the crumble and the apple. The apple is made just right, not too sweet nor sour and the buttery crumble just melts in your mouth. The muffins taste great too especially the chocolate ones but I absolutely love the apple crumble which they bake only during weekends.

Serendipity Patisserie
Kiosk no 6 Trengganu Street (near Sago Street)

A flush of colour for 2011

I've celebrated the merry season with glee and feasting and today, with a tinge of sadness, I 've taken down the Christmas tree. But just around the corner, in a month's time is Chinese New Year.
So, I'm making a cultural gear shift to Chinese and done up one of the corners of my house in bright colours, something that is not typical of me.
Bought a piece of art of a colourful Chinese opera performer, after which came a bright fushia, vintage inspired lamp shade and then a vase of Chinese chrysanthemums. Must say I'm not looking forward to the loud Chinese New Year music blasting at most public places but I am to the traditional festivities such as reunion dinners, ang pows and Chinese candies.