Monday, January 28, 2013

Chinese paper cuttings

The Chinese (PRC) have a long tradition of paper cutting and during Chinese New Year, auspicious words of prosperity in paper cut forms are extremely popular. Singapore imports mainly the machine cut ones which  are sold at street bazaars and are relatively inexpensive. Fishes are a popular motiff in Chinese paper cuttings as the  word fish in Chinese sounds like "abundance" which is a good thing to have during the New Year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Magnolia Snack Bar and Gluttons Square

This stretch of old Orchard Road holds such good memories for me. The split level Magnolia snack bar where an ice cream sundae treat was only for truly special occasions. And right opposite was Gluttons Square which comes alive at night with hawkers on push carts. Based on the Setron colour TV billboard, this picture was probably taken in the early 70's when colour TV was one of the biggest thing to happen. I was then studying at Singapore Chinese Girls' School close by at Emerald Hill Road and this area was my frequent little haunt.

Gluttons Square just opposite Cold Storage( where Centrepoint is today)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Community Garden

a discarded bed is recycled and made into a nursery for seedlings, protected from the harsh sun and rain

The leaves of the winter melon plant 

A water melon plant 

With such care and dedication, even strawberries can be grown in Singapore

The Ribena plant

The community garden at our block is lovingly taken care by the residents, at least a few who are blessed with green fingers. Each plot, stone walkway, seedling bed, overhead vine and fruit tree is lavished with care. Best of all, most of the wooden structures including a little shed is painstakingly built from scratch from discarded pieces of wood, including a little bed. 

This garden brings back alot of the kampong spirit in the estate and has won a number of community garden awards. Over the past few years, I've seen pak choy, butterhead lettuce, kangkong, passion fruit, guava, lime, ciku, watermelon, corn, papayas, winter melon, loofah and more growing on this plot of land. What surprised me most were little strawberries. I never knew it was possible to grow them in Singapore. The fruits of their labour provide such a refreshing sight in our dense urban jungle.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chinese New Year festive food

Freshly made nian gao 

Rows and rows of Chinese sausages 

Waxed duck amidst the Chinese sausages

Chinatown in Singapore now looks resplendent in red as rows of street vendors display their traditional festive wares. Two types of Chinese New Year food that are seen only at this time of the year are new year cakes (nian gao) made from glutinous rice flour as well as waxed duck. Mum told me the quirky little story behind the sticky new year cakes when I was a little girl.

Each year, the Kitchen God makes a heavenly report on who has been been spreading gossips and lies. In order to circumvent this, offerings of the sticky nian gao are made to the Kitchen God. Hopefully, his mouth gets sticky after consuming the nian gao that he is unable to make that report. That is why many Taoists have an altar in the kitchen dedicated to the Kitchen God with nian gao as food offering. While at Chinatown yesterday, I saw trolleys of  nian gao at Tai Chong Kok, a shop that is famous for its moon cakes during the Mid Autumn Festival. Quirky story aside, these nian gao are really delicious when steamed with coconut or pan fried with a beaten egg. You don't really have to be a Taoist to eat this as it is a traditional festive food to be enjoyed by all Chinese.

Also at Chinatown were rows of Chinese sausages and waxed duck, all displayed neatly and beautifully. These really taste wonderful with rice when cooked in Chinese clay pots. The oil from the sausages and waxed duck will coat each grain of rice during the cooking process, giving it a wonderful fragrance and taste. Not healthy to say the least but most Chinese brush that aside as it is a exceptional treat during this time of the year !

Singapore coffee grind and sold the traditional way

Choose your blend of roasted coffee beans 

Weighing the beans

Heavy traditional machinery for grounding coffee  

Nicely grounded coffee 

Long before Starbucks and Coffee Bean made their presence in Singapore, we had shops that sold roasted coffee beans from tins. Most of these roasted beans make their way to Singapore from Indonesia in large gunny sacks of 50kg. The beans are grind into a fine powder using very traditional machines. Was at the Pek Kio market one afternoon for lunch and a very traditional shop that still sells and ground coffee the old  way caught my eye. My friend who drinks coffee ordered half a kilo of roasted beans ($17 a kilo) and we watched as the uncle puts it through the process. It is good to see some of these old shops still thriving in the older estates.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Flea market and Salvation army finds of 2013

A sweet faced soft to the touch little squirrel

Wooden oriental dolls from the Salvation army

A porcelain piece of art by Nancy Gan

I've always love the serendipity moment of flea hunting and pride myself on being able to spot something beautiful in a pile of disarray. Bought a beautiful porcelain tile of 2 sparrows and on the back it says "Exclusively painted for SIA in 1987 by Nancy Gan, a Singaporean artist who specializes in porcelain painting." Apparently there are 8 in the series of birds which were given out to first class and business class SIA passengers in the 80s. I will definitely keep a lookout to see if there are more so that I start my own wall collection. Beginning to appreciate birds a little more these days as I live near Bishan park and migratory birds of very unusual feathers seem to take a liking to the newly landscaped park and its surroundings lately.

Another charming find for 2013 is a sweet face squirrel that is just lovely to the touch. A nice elderly man sold it to me at the flea market for $5. Love the little acorn in its hands. Yet another $5 find were 2 Oriental wooden dolls found at the Salvation army outlet in Woodleigh. My husband who knows me too well by now actually made a stop there that day without me prompting. Perhaps he is beginning to love the idea of buying second hand treasures. He actually picked up a cricket bat there for my daughter who has just learned the sport at school. She went "batty" over the bat and we played cricket last Sunday at the park, the only ones doing so amidst others playing football, skating, jogging and cycling. I know nothing of the game initially but I am getting there. Recycling lost treasures and simplifying my needs for new material things in life are just some of my goals for 2013. I just hope I don't lose sight as the year progresses.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vintage Singapore rose syrup

A truly authentic Singapore creation and brand that has never changed over the years in terms of packaging is this rose syrup by T.G. Kiat and Co. Its flavour comes from rose petals and is a favourite among Singaporeans for making bandung, a drink that mixes rose syrup with evaporated milk. This drink has no association whatsoever with Bandung city in Indonesia though many people make that assumption due to its name. The bandung drink is especially popular with the Malay community in Singapore as it goes well with spicy food. It is also a favourite drink on special occasions such as Malay weddings, breaking fast during Ramadan and Hari Raya. Its packaging has not changed since I was a little girl and I 've even come across old black and white archive pictures of hawkers preparing the drink with the same traditional packaging. Saw it on the shelves of NTUC recently and couldn't resist this shot. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Morning nasi lemak at Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur

Start the day with nasi lemak at a roadside stall in Jalan Alor

Cuttlefish and rendang are my personal favourites  
Curry puffsdonuts, fried spring rolls and kuehs

Some stalls in Jalan Alor are opened for breakfast

Mamak stalls at Jalan Alor
Was in Kuala Lumpur just before Christmas last year and as my hotel internet booking did not come with breakfast, my husband and I decided to look around for breakfast options while the kids were still sleeping.

As my hotel was in the Bukit Bintang area, we came across Jalan Alor, a street with food stalls on both sides. Heard about the bustling night life of dinners and suppers at a street near BB before and I guessed that this might be the place. It was reminiscent of the streets of Singapore in the 70's and 80's before hawker centres and food courts were the norm. Hygiene can be an issue but food was good and authentic. Just remember not to look too closely. At 8am, the Mamak stalls were tossing their pratas and serving tea tarik while the Chinese eateries were serving morning breakfast fare of porridge, dim sum and more.

My husband spotted a Nasi Lemak stall which had a good selection of spicy food like mutton and chicken rendang, cuttlefish and begedil. They had them wrapped in plastic and then with a newspaper and I found that pretty unusual. The nasi lemak was quite different in terms of the chilli but what I enjoyed most was the cuttlefish which was soft and chewy. My kampong boy husband loved it so much that he went there again the very next morning. 


Love local fruits and a fruit which seems to have been overshadowed by durians is the humble cempedak. Though commercially not as successful, I do feel that the cempedak has a fragrance and taste that can rival that of the durian. Once it is opened, the little golden fleshy fruits have to be pulled away from its sticky interior of numerous folds. I always loved digging in to dislodge those golden treasures though it makes my hand sticky from the fruit sap and I've got to go looking for a little oil just to get rid of it. Nevertheless, it doesn't stop me.

The cempedak is only available when in season but there's no escaping its wonderful fragrance when a stall is nearby. Think I ate the best cempedak just recently from a little stall in Whampoa. The fruits were big and juicy with the smallest seeds. If cempadak seeds are of the right size, they can actually be washed, steamed and eaten.

Bye to Christmas 2012 and welcome 2013

Sad to take down the Christmas tree and I actually waited till the 13th day of Christmas ! Well, another air of festivity is coming up. Time to splash another round of red which symbolises luck and prosperity. should I dress my dinosaur this time ?

Christmas and New Year bakes and celebration

Mini fruit cake bakes for the season

Swirls of chocolate in a cheese brownie cake

Homemade brownies and ice cream 

Begedil, a Malay style potato patties - a specialty of my husband's

A casual dinner fare of salad,begedil, paper wrap chicken, rendang and sambal
Haven't updated my blog for such a long time but it feels good once again to be here. Work for the last few months of 2012 has been such a whirl and twirl that it is therapeutic to enjoy some vacation time with family as well as catch up with old friends through home parties. Old friends whom I started work with years back have a special place in my heart and it is good to know how each and everyone is doing in their respective work and lives.