Sunday, December 20, 2015

Penang - peanut cake at Pulau Tikus market

There is just too much good food at the Pulau Tikus market. There were 2 street vendors there selling peanut cakes, one that prepares all kinds with additional ingredients such as sweet corn and bananas while the other prepares just 2 varieties. I love the peanut one that comes with brown sugar as it has a fragrant caramel taste. These stalls have their regular customers and one just casually drove up in his sports car and asked for his usual 5 that come with brown sugar ! 

Penang fried fritters - Pulau Tikus market

I love fritters - bananas, sweet potatoes, tapioca, cempedek but I've yet to see one that has niangao sandwiched between sweet potato and tapioca. What a brilliant idea ! Niangao is a glutinous rice steam cake mainly eaten during Chinese New Year and it is my favorite sweet item during this special time of the year. To be able to have my favorite niangao in December with two different types of fritters was really tempting. The eight fritters that were already sitting there were already reserved by a customer but the street vendor said he could make me a new batch. This also gave me a chance to see how it was done. A toothpick was used to hold the sweet potato, niangao and tapioca together so that it wouldn't fall apart when it is coated with batter. The toothpick is then removed before it is placed in the hot oil. The fritter is drained of its excess oil and then coated with batter one more time before it is fried again. Double crispy and triple delicious ! 

Penang putu mayam - Pulau Tikus Market

 Penang is like Singapore in the 70s where street food is delicious and ubiquitous ! The Pulau Tikus market had some interesting street vendors such as Uncle Joe whose wife makes putu mayam from an interesting contraption . It was fascinating to see oodles of rice flour oozing down onto the top of a bamboo basket placed above a steamer. A brilliant visual way of steaming that draws in the crowd. I am sure it wouldn't be the same if the putu mayam was placed in a typical steamer with the lid closed. Putu mayam originates from South India and the Indian immigrants that came to Singapore years ago brought this with them. It is mainly eaten for breakfast with grated coconut and brown sugar. These days, you can still get putu mayam in Singapore but most of them are commercially made in factories and wrapped in plastic. It is definitely not the same as freshly steamed putu mayam. Uncle Joe also serves putu piring, little steamed rice flour cakes which contains brown sugar or gula melaka and eaten with grated coconut. Personally I preferred their putu mayam as the best putu piring I've tasted is found in Geylang Serai in Singapore. It all comes down to the softness and fluffiness of the rice flour when it comes down to a good putu piring   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

National Gallery Singapore ( DBS Singapore Gallery 2 )

 The National Gallery Singapore opened on Nov 24, 2015 and in line with the opening celebrations, entry was free to all till Dec 6 (online registration needed). It boasts of an extensive South East Asian Collection but what I loved most is we now have a  home to house the most beautiful works of Singapore's pioneer artistes all under one roof. City Hall and the former Supreme Court - 2 great iconic buildings that borne witness to many historical events in Singapore are now creatively linked to form this architecture beauty, a project that took 10 years in the making. 

The DBS Singapore Galleries 1, 2 and 3 have fabulous art displays and for me, it was a great starting point for the first visit. Gallery 2 captured the way of life in the 50's and 60's in Singapore starting with Singapore 's iconic painting National Language Class by Chua Mia Tee in 1959.  On the blackboard of the artwork were the words "Siapa nama kamu ? " ( What is your name ?) and "Di mana awak tinggal ?" (Where do you live ?"). Malay was made the national language to help forge the identity of a nation pushing for full independence.  The first line mentioned above is used extensively in the marketing collateral of the National Gallery Singapore . Quite fitting as it was the starting point for a young nation grappling with issues of national identity. 

" Here they Come !" by Koeh Sia Yong 1965 showed how the illegal hawkers back in those days had to make a quick dash once the authorities came around. If they can't run in time, they would have to pay a fine and have their goods taken away.  We did start off as a very poor nation with a high level of illiteracy and hawking was a way of life for many in order to survive. One great thing that came out of that was the creation of many wonderful hawker food that lived on till this day but in sanitary conditions in hawker centers . 

Picking by Tay Kok Wee in 1955 is such a great conversation piece. The body language of the characters tell a very vivid story - from the loud talking  man to the inquisitive woman who ignores her little boy while listening attentively to a conversation which really didn't involved her. I was amused when a kid next to me pointed out that the baby boy in the picture had his little butt exposed. So besides the character of the school boy helping a man to pick up the fishes that have fallen on the ground, there were other ways of "Picking" - picking a fight, picking up pieces of a conversation and a little boy crying for his mum to pick him up. The characters in this artwork come alive and even till this day, we can see such colourful characters in the market place. 

Cannot Grow Vegetables Anymore by Joeh Sia reflects a time in Singapore when small farms in Singapore had to be cleared to make way for industrialization. It wasn't an easy thing for the farmers to accept but for progress in land scarce Singapore, there wasn't really much of a choice. 

And for the last picture , the dour expression and the weather beaten face of a Potong Pasir Dairy Farmer by Lee Boon Way in 1958 shows the hard life he has been through. 

There is so much more at the Gallery and I especially love the works of the pioneer generation of the Nanyang style of art which marries both Chinese and Western techniques and styles. My snaps of Gallery 1 had some issues but I love the works there so much that I am going back there again soon.  

National Language Class
Chua Mia Tee Singapore 1959 

Koeh Sia Yong
Here they Come ! Singapore 1965

 Tay Kok Wee , Singapore 1955 

Cannot Grow Vegetables  Anymore
Joeh Sia Yong Singapore 1968

Potong Pasir Dairy Farmer 
Lee Boon Way , Singapore 1958

Monday, November 9, 2015

Chicken rendang (ayam rendang)

I love to make beef rendang but today, I made a chicken one for a change. After all the WHO reports about  the risk of consuming too much red meats, I am actually thinking of cutting down on its consumption. 

It turned out well and even though I made a big pot, intending to freeze some of it for another day when I am too busy or lazy to cook, I couldn't. The chicken rendang casserole had to be refilled for the second time leaving my pot clean. The secret to a good chicken rendang - the rempah has to be gently cooked till the oil seeps out. Some things cannot be rushed. Secondly, the chicken pieces have to be browned sufficiently. Thirdly, kerisik (toasted coconut) gives rendang an unmistakable aroma. Fourthly, shredded kaffir lime leaves and daun kunyit (tumeric leaf) have to be added. Unlike kaffir lime leaves, daun kunyit is harder to find. I usually get mine from Geylang Serai market as it is not commonly found in Chinese wet markets or supermarkets. I liken it to the slivers of ginger torch flowers that are a must for Chinese rojak. Daun kunyit gives a wonderful subtle fragrance that completes the rendang. 

Roselle drink (hibiscus tea)

Went to the Kranji Countryside Farmer's Market recently and was introduced to a beautiful reddish pink drink by one of the stall vendors. Learnt that it was made from the roselle fruit which looked like a little red fireball. To make this refreshing drink, one had to remove the seed enclosed within the red sepals first. Then put a big handful of these red roselle sepals in a pot, add water and rock sugar and boil it on low fire for around 15-20 minutes. I love using the slow cooker for this purpose and after the mixture has cooled down, add ice for the perfect cool drink.  It has a tart and slightly sourish taste, quite similar to the cranberry but what 's great about it is its anti-hypertensive qualities (for lowering cholesterol levels) as well as its rich Vitamin C content. As it is quite acidic in nature, it is best not to drink it on an empty stomach. 

The roselle plant is a species of Hibiscus native to West Africa but around the world, different cultures use it for different purposes. The Senegalese and the Burmese use the leaves for their own vegetable dish while 
the Europeans use the sepals for food coloring. 

I couldn't find it at the supermarkets but thankfully, I found it at a wet market. Only one vegetable stall had it out of many so I suppose it is not that common. As Christmas is coming and there is a tendency to eat rich foods during this season, having a cool roselle tea to go along may be a good idea. The colour itself  will also be in keeping with the Christmas festivity, don't you think ? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fashion of the 1920s

A friend who is into fashion history and design gave me a beautiful Japanese book with drawings of  fashion of the 1920's, the era of flapper fashion. Until then, fashion was only for rich ladies of society but flapper fashion made it more accessible to the middle classes. Flapper ladies were  characterized by short sleek hair, make-up and long shiftless dresses that were easier to sew than the high fashion of previous years. It was the period of the Jazz Age, the time of the Great Gatsby where women enjoyed a level of liberation and even recklessness. It was also during this period that Coco Chanel revolutionized the way women wore clothes. 

Love the detailing on each dress and the quality of the prints. I may even frame some for my walls. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Revealed - Fine Art and Photography Exhibition - featuring works by seniors in our community (Singapore)

 It may be a bad knee, a nagging cough or you are just trying to remember what you are supposed to remember. For people in their twilight years, dreams and aspiration are few and far between. For most, living means taking each day as it comes, with some even requiring to manage the pain, mentally and physically to get through the day, 

Love and passion is what drives people to stay young and live with a purpose. For some pioneers of Singapore, the lack of education opportunities during the early years of nation building often mean that old age is a massive struggle. Depending on one 's circumstance, the lack of money and family can lead to isolation and depression. Hopefully, aging would be a gentler process for baby boomers who grew up in the 60s. Singapore has more safeguards in place now such as CPF (Central Provident Fund) which gives some social security and with better education, the "younger" seniors now have more options of exploring their passions and engaging themselves mentally beyond retirement. 

I happen to chance upon a very interesting exhibition at Central Mall on the 25 Oct 2015 featuring the art works of some seniors at the Toa Payoh Care Corner Senior Activity Centre. In their 70s and 80s, they had the courage to pick up painting under the guidance of a trainer and after 3 years of training,  some interesting works of nature and even self portraits have come up.  Love the stories behind the paintings - of how an 80 year old soft spoken housewife with no formal education had to be gently persuaded to join and how that led to her transformation into an enthusiastic student whom teachers love. Or even how a 70 year old part time cleaner with an independent streak now loves to paint. Most of these works have already been sold to the public with proceeds to go to charity. ( I actually captured more works at the exhibition which included beautiful photography but unfortunately, some of the shots  are irretrievable due to a technical problem with my camera.)  

These seniors must be thrilled. Not only are their works featured in an exhibition but are actually good enough for the public to want to buy them. I love the picture of the bird by Fong Wai Khuan but it was already sold. Shows we should never stop learning at any age. Engaging the mind and keeping the passion alive keeps the momentum of growing young going. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The National Museum of Singapore - Modern Colony

The Modern Colony gallery shows the progressive world of women in the late 1920s and 30s. Clothes were less prohibitive as shown by the display of mannequins in beautiful dresses with creative interpretations of the traditional Chinese qipao made this era particularly romantic.  Girls were progressively given education and women could become financially independent.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my old school Singapore Chinese Girls' School featured in the exhibits. SCGS was started in 1899 and was the first school initiated by a local  education reform movement to educate ladies ( in contrast to foreign/missionary effort ) headed by Song Ong Siang and Dr Lim Boon Keng, two gentlemen of the Straits Chinese community. Both gentlemen were Queen's scholars and Song Ong Siang was the first Chinese in Malaya to be knighted in Britain for his contribution to society.

National Museum of Singapore 
93 Stamford Road
10-7 pm daily
Admission : Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents (SG50 year)
$10 adults and $5 students and seniors aged 60 and above 

Before 1929, the girls at the Singapore Chinese Girls' School wore sarong kebaya or baju panjang to school ( as seen in the picture in the background ) .The first uniform was introduced in 1929 but the SCGS girls were teased by girls at other schools who called them  "amahs"  (domestic servants)  and rickshaw pullers as the uniform resembled the working attire of these people.  

Mr and Mrs Song Ong Siang 

          The glamorous side of society back in the 1920s and 30s when Singapore was a British crown colony

Grooming accessories of a bygone era

The evolution of women's shoes. From little shoes made for bounded feet (middle) to luxurious ones in gold and silver threads

Shoes made for elegant dancing parties in the 1930s

National Museum of Singapore - Mergers and Separations

The issue of merger in post independent Singapore created cracks within PAP as the pro-communist faction opposed merger for fear of suppression by the Federal Government. Led by Lim Chin Siong, this group broke away to form the Barisan 1961. Thus began the battle for the hearts and minds of the people with Lee Kuan Yew delivering a series of radio talks that exposed the motives of the Communists. In Sept 1962, a referendum was held on the issue of merger with the Federation. 71% of the electorate voted for it and on 16 September 1963, Singapore was officially part of Malaysia . Then conditions changed and separation with Malaysia became inevitable in 1965.

A diorama depicting the people discussing the issue of merger with the Federation in 1962

A compilation of Lee Kuan Yew's radio talks in 1961 which exposed the goals, methods and organisation of the Communist. With the PAP hanging on by just one  seat in the legislative  assembly, these talks helped to turn the tide against the Communist. 

This headline made me do a double take. Actually this was how Singapore celebrated  the merger, with floats, lights and carnivals. 

Till today, I have never seen anyone who speaks with such vigor and conviction even on the international stage.