Friday, July 24, 2009

Internal Affairs of the Heart

Probably only the French can understand and match the Chinese in terms of passion for food. Both enjoy a good meal and will be (apart from me) more than willing to spend time preparing a good meal .

For a Chinese, the importance of food surpasses everything. There is an ancient Chinese saying "Men deem food as God". That was as early as the 1st century and the "men" in that phrase were presumably the Han Chinese. Chinese back then already knew how to worship/treasure/value the food they eat. This "tradition" and "characteristic" continued long and deep to this day.

When you travel through different Chinese regions, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore, one thing that you can't miss are the scores of eateries practically everywhere and many stay opened up till late into the nights or even into mornings.

Therefore, this passion for food might explain the presence of chinatowns across the world. Where the Chinese (irregardless of region) are, there must be a place where they can find Chinese ingredients/food/drinks to satisfy their hunger pang.

Singaporeans love to eat and that is one of the two past times we have apart from shopping. The body weight of many Chinese Singaporeans is a good evidence of that love for food and therefore with this solid evidence, I strongly dispute the myth that one's body weight is closely related to genes. Look at our sizes and you will know that dietary habits play a VERY significant role.

I remember clearly when YR was offered an overseas position and he was given a choice working either in the US and France, he went for France without further consideration and that surprised alot of people. Obviously, to work in France, one has to go through the hassle of learning a new language. For YR, the choice was obvious and simple : what's there to offer in the American cuisine? This epitomizes our passion for food.

Thanks to Singapore's immigrant population in the last century, different ethnic groups that came to settle brought with them their provincial culinary. Therefore, even within the Chinese community, there is a culinary difference among different clans and the same goes to the Northern and Southern Indians. In addition to that, different ethnic groups influence one another in their culinary skills, coupled with the colonnial tastebuds, we do have a large number of dishes which are uniquely Singapore.

I am going to share some of the food that I have had since I came back though I must say that some of them are not local dishes.

Traditional (and some with a twist)

Stewed pork with salted vegetables

I must admit that there are still alot of local dishes that I have never tried or have never heard of.
For instance, I discovered this stewed pork with salted vegetables served in cute little bamboo pot. It comes with a soup (although it was as blend as water) and all that for SGD$4. I like this dish apart from the fats.

Typhoon Potato chips
This is not local to Singapore but to an island off Hong Kong. I saw a lot of street hawkers selling this in Cheung Chau. It's deep fried potato but sliced potato in a single piece. The physical appearance is eye-catching but taste-wise, I will say it's just so-so. Nothing special.

Soya beancurd (almond flavour)
My all-time favourite! It's just curd served with syrup. But I saw mainland Chinese serving it very differently from us. They have salty and sweet soya beancurd and apparently, the salty ones are more popular, which are served with soya sauce and spring onions. I tried to hide my shock (to be exact, it was disgust) when I first saw the hawker pouring soya sauce over the beancurd but this goes to show how geographical difference contributes to differences even within the same ethnic group. Therefore, there is always a genuine need for open-mindedness once we stepped out of our hometown.

Soya beans are so commonly used in Chinese food products--soya sauce, soups, milk.....Soya beancurd and soya bean milk have come a long way. They are served traditionally with syrup, either hot or cold.

We have now a few franchise specialising in soya bean milk and bean curd with a modern twist. You can now have a large variety of soya bean milk with flavour like mango. I fell in love with the almond soya beancurd.

Crushed ice with (canned) longans
When C first saw locals eating a mountain of colourful crushed ice, he was wide-eyed. He couldn't understand why in the world would people be eating ice. In his perception, ice is not meant to be eaten.

Well, this is definitely not the case in our climate. I remember from our history lessons, in the early days before our independence, street hawkers sold crushed ice in balls. They first crushed the ice and then compressed them into a ball. It was then served with syrup sprinkled over the ice ball and it was a good way to cool down from the heat. It is no longer served in a ball but in a bowl and we have all kinds of crushed ice--the most famous one has to be ice kachang which is crushed ice piled up over a mixture of jellies, atap seeds and red beans and with colourful syrup poured all over it. Nowadays, there are all kinds of crushed ice desserts as it is all up to the hawker's imagination.

C went for crushed ice longans of course as he prefers canned longan to fresh ones.

Biscuit Piring
This is a snack from childhood and I never know its proper name nor of its ingredients (who cares what it is made of as long as it tastes good?). It is made out of eggs, flour, coconut milk, sugar, corn flour, water and food colouring (I am reading this from the package information). It is a kind of snack that I enjoyed when I was a kid and I do still enjoy them to this day.

International and fusion
Japanese Charcoal grilled

The skewers are not in the photo on the right but charcoal grilled food appears to be the signature of this restaurant. I wouldn't say that all the skewers were excellent but the subtle taste of charcoal blended with the food which was nice, I thought. We were distracted by our rice--C had garlic rice sprinkled with spring onion while I had rice in fish broth. Yummy! The teriyaki chicken was superb and so was my beancurd swimming in the company of four different types of mushroom.

The Japanese cuisine really amazed me because of their ability to create tonnes of different dishes using a very limited range of ingredients and sauces. Each Japanese restaurant that I went to has their own different dishes.

Lavande Cake
It is my all-time favourite as well. The taste of lavender (very subtle) blends perfectly with the dark chocolate that is not too sweet. You can easily finish the whole piece without feeling sick of the taste or with the feeling of an overdose of sugar.

I couldn't forget my experience of lavender cake I had on a farm shop when I was in Taipei. I never knew how fragrant and refreshing lavender taste was. A few years after, someone finally, has the imagination to introduce our very own version of lavender cake that finally puts an end to my long years of yearning.

C had this dessert thrice over a span of 16 days and is still in love with it.

Green Tea Latte Float

Green Tea Egg Tarts
The egg tart must be the influence of the Portugese. We came upon a food festival (although I have no idea what was the theme about) and discovered a stall selling all kinds of egg tarts, including double chocolate, chicken, chilli crab and green tea. What an innovation! The Portuguese definitely can't beat us in terms of flavours can they?!

My resolution for the next few months will be to put on weight.