Sunday, June 26, 2011


Close-up of green little worms, I mean cendol

A big bag of cendol for $2

Gula Melaka, an aromatic coconut sugar

As far as I can remember, cendol in Singapore is not what it used to be. Back in my childhood days, the drink was rich due to the fresh coconut milk, the cendol was smooth and the gula melaka syrup was aromatic. Each spoonful of the dessert can be described as heavenly, a real treat on a very hot day. In contrast, the cendol commonly available at food courts and hawker centres in Singapore is diluted in taste, made worse by the use of packet or frozen coconut milk with a brown sugar syrup that substitutes for the gula melaka. This is what happens when things gets commercialised and hawkers get their dessert supplies from a few major suppliers. Everything taste the same, bland and generic with no passion and soul. Stalls are mere franchises run by employees.

The cendol in Malacca is much better but one must be careful about being too enthusiastic about the gula melaka. It doesn't help when a separate squeeze bottle of Gula Melaka is placed on every table. Just remember that less is more and too much of it can overpower the balance of the cendol. That is what happened to me the first time I tried cendol in Malacca. My mum told me the first cendol sellers in Singapore were the Indian street hawkers of the 50's and 60's. Till today, I still see the cendol drink sold by Indian stalls at the Tekka market though it looked more like a drink. The Chinese took it a step furthur and added extra little ingredients such as red bean, grass jelly (cincau), sweet corn, atap chee (fruit of the palm tree) together with the cendol.

Today, I bought a big packet of cendol at one of the market stalls in Tekka. The cendol looks more authentic than some of the ones I see at the supermarkets which usually has an intense bright green colour. Cendol is actually made with mung bean flour with green colouring from Pandan leaves added. The mixture is then passed through a sieve (just like the Playdol accessories my kids used to have back then). Tried putting together a home made cendol and it did taste better than the ones at food courts in Singapore though not as rich as the ones in Malacca. Well, at least the green little cendol worms weren't tasteless. In fact, it had a slight, smokey taste which was different. I also ensured that I used fresh coconut milk and real gula melaka. But it would have been much better if I had a ice shaver at home.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Decorative tiles in Malacca

Art noveau tiles were used to decorate many Peranakan homes in Malacca back then. Till today, replicas are still made and houses and buildings still use them for little lovely touches.

Here's a example of how pretty they look when these tiles are used as highlights on a flight of steps.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Malacca - a quick little getaway

Besides food, there are stalls selling all kinds of goods including this one that sells decorative lights

Never leave Jonker Street without a box of durian puffs

Pineapple tarts are popular here though I find them a little too dry for my liking.

Home made ice popsicles in all kinds of flavours

Kueh balu (sponge cakes) freshly made with an oven outdoors

It is fun to eat at roadstalls as the atmosphere is truly casual and spontaneous not to mention that the food is great and cheap

A sign that says Nyonya cendol though it was actually selling prawn mee

Penang fried kway teow in Melaka

Steaming hot bamboo trays of tim sum

The Chinese interpretation of pancake in this advert - laughing mouth cake

Melaka fruit tea packaged in a very modern, Westernised way

An assortment of kuehs but my usual favourites, odeh odeh and rempah udang were unavailable

The start of Jonker Street also known as Jalan Hang Jebat

My family always make time for a little get away to Malacca, even if it is for 2-3 days. We love the fact that life is quite simple here and the food is great ! I can never get my kids or husband to shop for their clothes in Singapore as they dislike shopping immensely. So I do so with them only once a year in either Malacca or Kuala Lumpur before we make our way for lunch or dinner. Food is cheap and good and though the choice of shopping isn't as wide as in Singapore, you can often get genuine sales of up to 70% in department stores in Malacca. And of course, finish off the stay with a visit to the night market in Malacca on a Friday night.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Japanese cookbooks in English

The Japanese are renowned for their quest for excellence and have always pursued their passion in their respective fields with vigour and pride. From high tech breakthoughs to their strive for beauty in everyday life, Japanese culture is amazing with the juxtapose of complexity and simplicity, tradition and edgy. And I am always amazed by the range of Japanese do it yourself books. If only they were available in English.

Fortunately, two excellent Japanese cookbooks which are in English are Harumi's Japanese Cooking and Keiko Ishida's Okashi - Sweet Treats made with Love. Harumi Kurihara is the Martha Stewart of Japan with a huge Japanese fanbase. Though not a professionally trained cook , she has elevated the art of everyday cooking with receipes that are elegant yet simple and delicious. Being a housewife herself, she understood the time constraints they have in taking care of the family. Harumi's Japanese Cooking was awarded the best cookbook of the year in 2004 at the 10th Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, an amazing feat considering that hers was chosen from a pool of 5000 cookbooks from 67 countries.
What is unique about her book is that she breaks down the mystery of Japanese cooking even right from the basic step of making dashi - a fish based stock which is the heart of many Japanese dishes.Some of her receipes that I've tried include the simple somen noodle salad made from tinned tuna, somen, cucumber, mayonnaise and onion. Simple as it sounds , it is a real delicious treat.

Keiko Ishida on the other hand is a pastry chef trained in Paris who specialises in French deserts with a Japanese twist. She has taught in both Japan and Singapore and it is lovely to know that her English book was published here in Singapore. What makes her cookbook stand out among the many baking books out there is her use of Japanese ingredients such as green tea, red bean, black sesame etc with the French style of baking. I've never been able to make a really light and rich chocolate cake till I saw her receipe recommending that the egg white meringue be folded into the beaten butter, chocolate and sugar mixture using a whisk. All along, I've been folding in the egg white using a wooden spoon which I supposed has taken away some of the air in the mixture. This air is needed to make the cake light. It's just that simple and her chocolate cake receipe is my absolute favourite which I bake very often as treats for my family. I get great pleasure from the whiff of baked cakes and cookies in the comfort of my own home and the sight of my husband and daughters waiting anxiously for their tea time treats. Some wonderful receipes in this book include green tea chiffon cake, green tea tiramisu, almond snow balls, Keiko style mango puddings and of course my favourite chocolate cake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crabs - Singapore style

The final dish, fried crabs stir fried with black pepper till it is fragrant and peppery

The crabs are dipped in tapioca flour before the deep fry process

Singapore is famous for its crab dishes, mainly chilli crabs and black pepper crabs. Chili crab was created in 1950 by Singapore chef, Cher Yam Tian who ran the Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant with her husband in Upper East Coast Road. Since then, this dish is widely found in restuarants and tze char places all over Singapore. Black pepper crabs on the other hand was created by Long Beach Seafood Restaurant in 1959.

When I first got married, chilli crab was the first dish I learnt from a famous Singapore cookbook, followed by paper wrap chicken. I still make paper wrap chicken during occassions when friends visit but less of chilli crabs which is a huge favourite of my husband. As he is not Chinese, the only crabs he ever tasted before we met were flower crabs in a curry sauce. He now loves chilli crabs and subsequently pepper crabs which we learnt to make without a receipe but by trial and error. In fact, there was a period of time when we ate crabs so very often. I was carrying my second kid at that time and according to some old wives' tale, eating too much crabs will cause the kid to pinch alot. I laughed it off , ignored it and continued eating it very regularly. Not sure if it was a coincidence but that kid actually grew up to be hell of a pincher. My elder daughter was a victim of the pinches.The old wives' tale could be true but it could also be due to her stubborn, naughty nature. It has been a long while since we indulged in some home cooked crabs but just last week, we bought some mud crabs and made a black pepper version of it. My kids relished it and they were really quiet at dinner time trying to concentrate on getting the meat out of those hard to reach places. It is really messy to eat crabs and the best place is really home where you don't have to worry that much about looking less elegant.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bollywood Veggies

You can tell if the bananas of a particular tree are edible from the way the flower hangs

Above: Pisang Seribu also known as a thousand fingers.

Above: I once grew a papaya tree in my mum's backyard and it was fruitless for years. Turned out it was a male papaya tree !

Above: Consuming too much laksa leaves actually curbs one's sexual drive. Apparently, monks grow a lot of these when they can (according to the tour guide on the farm)

Above: The colouring of the blue pea flower is commonly used in Peranakan kuehs

Great thing about having a blog is knowing how it reflects one's state of mind, how inspired or uninspired you are. Well, the latter describes the state I'm in. Maybe the best way is to get back to basics. To the grounded reality of a a city. Bollywood Veggies is a 10 hectare farm in Kranji owned by a Singaporean couple who yearn for a paradise lost in Singapore and wanted to demonstrate the viability of land sustainability. From growing around 90% of its own food in the 1960's to less than 10% today, Singapore is almost completely reliant on imported food. With most people living in high rise flats, house plants are the closest most Singaporeans have to growing something green, much less vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Bollywood Veggies is like a sanctuary for stressed out urbanites to explore the unappreciated countryside. This is great for a Taurean like me who relishes parks, open spaces and nature. Was there for an office retreat, not exactly what you call destressing but it is good to get away. We were given a farm tour and I felt just like a school kid on an excursion again. There is a wide variety available from long beans, sweet potatoes, papayas, yams to more exotic ones that are hardly heard of these days as well as a large variety of banana species, even inedible ones distinguished from the edible ones by flowers that grow upwards.

Also on site was a quaint, air-con cafe called Poison Ivy, named after the owner which serves food from the supplies of the farm. And what was also fun was a little culinary adventure we had in the kitchen where we learnt to make masala egg sandwiches, sweet potato leaves omelette and green papaya salad. My favourite was the masala egg sandwich which was made using mayonnise, curry powder and chopped up laksa leaves, all mixed together with a little salt and poured over cut hard boiled eggs on a slice of bread. Toast the bread and voila, an exotic sandwich that is simply yummy.

Bollywood Veggies, somewhere a little different for Singaporeans , away from the ubiquitous malls in the city. Address : 100 Neo Tiew Road, Singapore 719026 Open Wed-Sun 9am-6pm