Category Archives: Singaporean Food

Confessions of a Country-Turned-City Mouse

Sometimes, I use this space to talk about weird, annoying, or frustrating things I’ve discovered about living in Singapore.  But the truth is, I love living here.  And I love it for many, many reasons.  But tonight, as I actually work on a serious (and probably controversial) blog post (not this one, another one), here is one of those reasons:

At 7:04, I tossed my wallet into my purse and stepped out the door.

I put on my shoes, took the elevator downstairs, walked three blocks, and had this made up fresh for me in about 3 minutes (no, I did not call ahead), and for $5 SGD ($4 USD):

Chicken Rice (a local favorite), and Kai-Lan (veggie)

Chicken Rice, a local favorite dish. Although usually, the chicken is served on the rice, and the veggies are separate. This is a very deceiving presentation of this dish. Still: Plenty of delicious and moderately healthy local food to fill my belly!

Then, I walked a block and stopped at one of the local supermarkets.  I picked up some necessities, and some soda water (for diluting my lime juice – which is practically a necessity):

Mostly, things that are too bulky or heavy to buy on my "regular" weekly shopping trip.

Mostly, things that are too bulky or heavy to buy on my “regular” weekly shopping trip.

With groceries in tow, I walked home.  I took the elevator upstairs, removed my shoes, let myself into the apartment, set down my bags, and checked the clock.  It was 7:22.

I was born and raised in a relatively rural area (that is now, sadly, nearly suburbanized) – and I love the solitude of life in the country.  But I do appreciate the convenience, efficiency, and eco-friendliness of being able to get dinner and groceries, without ever setting foot in a vehicle, in a mere 18 minutes.  [Where I grew up, 18 minutes would get us very close to pulling into the parking lot at the nearest grocery store.]

Furthermore, there are 4 gourmet ice cream parlors within a 5 minute walk from our front door.  Shh…Do you hear it?  You do, right?  One of them is calling my name, right?  That’s what I thought!   Catch ya’ll later, dudes! 🙂

We keep open boxes of tissues in four rooms of our apartment.  How did they all manage to end up empty in the last 24 hours?
[Apparently, we distribute our tissue usage very equally, over both time and place.]

Can you do any errands by walking (or cycling) where you live?  Do you?

What’s your dinner plan for tonight?

Let’s Talk About Food: Chinese New Year Goodies!

Finally: It’s time to talk about Chinese New Year treats!

Previously, I described a bit about our schedule and habits for Chinese New Year visiting, which inevitably includes the consumption of plenty of Chinese New Year goodies.  These treats start popping up everywhere: in supermarkets, in retail stores, and at kiosks in malls and hawker centers, just after Christmas.  Although there are only 10-15 different kinds of treats, there are many different producers/bakeries, and everyone has a favorite brand of their favorite treat.

On the second day of the new year, we did some familial visiting in the morning, then invited some of KMN’s non-Chinese co-workers over for a little party/pseudo-CNY-visit.  Many of them ended up being called in to work – but we enjoyed a small gathering anyway, and had fun sharing these treats, talking about CNY culture/traditions (and plenty of other things), and relaxing.  So, what kind of treats did we have? Let’s start with the savories:

This is bakkwa - a salty, sweet preserved meat (usually pork, but can be made with other meat).  The meat is seasoned, then dried on big racks at 50-60 C.  It is sold in sheets (~6" square).  We cut these pieces a bit smaller.

This is bakkwa – a salty, sweet preserved meat (usually pork, but can be made with other meat). The meat is seasoned, then dried on big racks at 50-60 C. It is sold in sheets (~6″ square). We cut these pieces a bit smaller.

See, I TOLD you that bakkwa was made out of all sorts of meat...  (Beef and mutton are more popular alternatives than Crocodile, though!)

See, I TOLD you that bakkwa was made out of all sorts of meat… (Beef and mutton are more popular alternatives than Crocodile, though!)

Honestly, the Crocodile tasted mostly…like bakkwa.  To me, the meat doesn’t matter much – it all pretty much tastes like the salty/sweet seasoning, and a little bit chewy.

Prawn rolls!  These actually look like miniature egg rolls (~1.5" long), and are filled with dried shrimp product, and probably lots of preservatives.

Prawn rolls! These actually look like miniature egg rolls (~1.5″ long), and are filled with dried shrimp, chili, and spices.

In my opinion, these are the most popular salty snacks.  Shrimp crackers are also popular – think of the big, flat white/yellow-ish crackers you sometimes get at a Chinese restaurant.  The ones that, if you stick your tongue out, and press the cracker to your tongue, it will stick.  [Nah, I never did this.  Especially not in a random Chinese restaurant in the Spanish seaside town of Cádiz, in January, with a few other Drewid ladies…]  *ahem*

Anyway…on to the sweets!

Love Letters are very thin, crispy treats that are imprinted with a design before being rolled.  They are crispy, light, and hard not to like!

Love Letters are very thin, crispy treats that are imprinted with a design before being rolled. They are crispy, light, and hard not to like!

The trickiest thing with Love Letters?  Keeping the, crispy, once the container is first opened.  This is the standard package size for Love Letters...

The trickiest thing with Love Letters? Keeping them crispy in a humid climate, once the container is first opened. This is the standard package size for Love Letters…

Small cookies made of tapioca flour mixed with coconut milk.  They are sweet, and have a crumbly/powdery texture that's unlike anything else I've ever eaten.

Small cookies made of tapioca flour mixed with coconut milk. They are sweet, and have a crumbly/powdery texture that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten.

And last, but not least…

Pineapple tarts!  These are my favorite Chinese New Year treats - sweetened, partially dehydrated pineapple mixture is set atop (or within) a crumbly, slightly-salty, flaky pastry.

Pineapple tarts! These are my favorite Chinese New Year treats – sweetened, partially dehydrated pineapple mixture is set atop (or within) a crumbly, slightly-salty, flaky pastry.

And there you have it, folks!  This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but some of the most popular treats, and the ones that we had (and served) over this Chinese New Year.

8 Pineapple Tart Box

Which one would you like me to send you to try?  🙂

-or, if you’re in Singapore –

What’s your favorite CNY treat?  Did I leave out anything important??

 

Chinese New Year, Day -1

Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!

[Pronounced approximately*: gong see fah tseye]
[Disclaimer: Phonics was my very worst subject in school, folks.]

As promised, it’s time for some Chinese New Year posts! Chinese New Year started on Sunday, Feb. 10, but let’s start by going back to Saturday, Feb. 9, to talk about Reunion Dinner.

Reunion Dinner is the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, when close family gather to celebrate the start of the holiday season, before all the visiting begins in earnest.  Obviously, Singapore locals don’t have very far to travel on such a tiny island – but Chinese/Taiwanese/Singaporeans living overseas may make an effort to return home to visit their family for the holiday.  [Unfortunately, the timing of Chinese New Year in relation to the Christmas holidays and start of school semesters often makes this impossible.  Blog readers outside of Asia, be sure to wish your celebrating friends/co-workers a Happy New Year, and be extra nice to them, as they’re probably homesick.]

Although all of KMN’s immediate family lives in Singapore, we still gather for Reunion Dinner – or, in our case, Reunion Lunch.  So after our run on Saturday morning, we got cleaned up and headed over for lunch with his parents, sister, and Mom’s siblings.

My mother-in-law spent the previous week preparing the feast we enjoyed, which included macaroni soup (American chicken noodle soup), satay (skewered, grilled meat), and popiah.  Popiah is a local signature dish that requires lots of love (and time!) to prepare, and can be best described as a Singaporean burrito.  I actually wrote a whole post about popiah last year, for our travel blog, so I suggest you pop over here to ready about all the delicious details.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  🙂

The last dish that we enjoyed is called Yusheng (pronounce this one just like it looks), also called Lo Hei (pronouced low hay).  This is also a local (Singaporean/Malaysian) dish that is very specific to Chinese New Year celebrations.  Yusheng is basically a salad made of shredded carrot and jicama with lots of toppings.  The vegetables are shredded on the long axis, because there is a Chinese belief that eating such long things will bring you long life (for the same reason, they eat noodles on birthdays).

The salad is topped with candied orange peel, pickled ginger, cilantro, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, honey, sesame oil, vinegar, raw fish, and little crispy fried crackers (and probably a few more things that I missed).    Each ingredient is symbolic.

Traditional Yusheng, before mixing.

Traditional Yusheng, before mixing.

The Chinese language is full of homophones, and the word play that results from so many similar-sounding words is an integral part of Chinese culture.  This is probably best explained with an example: The word “yusheng” actually means raw fish – but sounds very similar to the Mandarin word for “abundance”.  Thus, Yusheng is prepared and eaten at gatherings over the Chinese New Year period, to help ensure a year of good fortune and abundance for all.

The other ingredients are symbolic in the same way.  Part of the word “carrot” sounds like the phrase “good luck” in Mandarin.  Similarly, the jicama is to bring prosperity and promotion in business, the oil is to encourage money to flow in all directions, and the peanuts represent a house full of gold and silver.  Yes, indeed – there is a slight fixation on wishes for material wealth around the New Year.  When all of the ingredients have been added, it’s time to mix.  Everyone gets a set of chopsticks, and off we go:

Everyone participates by tossing or lifting the ingredients high in the air while saying wishes for good fortune and prosperity in the new year.  Allegedly, the higher you toss, the more good will come your way!

Everyone participates by tossing or lifting the ingredients high in the air while saying wishes for good fortune and prosperity in the new year. Allegedly, the higher you toss, the more good will come your way!

Finally, the Yusheng is portioned out – and everyone must eat until it’s gone, or risk having bad luck in the new year.  This was our first ‘Lo Hei’ of the Year of the Snake – but it certainly won’t be our last!!

After a filling meal and and some family time, and knowing Sunday would be a very full day, we hopped on a bus and headed home.  We rode the strangest bus ever.  I thought it was just a normal 167, but nooooo….I’m pretty sure that someone mounted the seats in this bus too high:

But I was also too tall!!!  I was sitting in a seat, but this strap knocked me in the noggin for the whole ride home.

But I was also too tall!!! I was sitting in a seat, but this strap knocked me in the noggin for the whole ride home.

 

Even I was too short - my feet didn't touch the ground!!!!

Even I was too short – my feet didn’t touch the ground!!!!

And that pretty much brought our Reunion Afternoon to an end. KMN and I did a little work, chatted with my family in the US, relaxed, and headed to bed to rest up for the first day of the New Year!  More on that to come…

Did you have to go look up the word “homophone”??  😉
[“homo” = same, “phone” = sound]

Do you “pre-workout” in anticipation of a big eating event/holiday?

And just in case you skipped the link about popiah, here it is again. You’re welcome!!

Meeting! Friendly! Trail! Runners!!!!

I still have some posts pending from last week, but I can’t wait another minute to tell you about the run we did on Saturday morning.  Seriously, I can’t.  I’ve been nudging KMN all afternoon saying, “We found some new running friends!  We went on a trail run today!  This morning was awesome!!!”  He’d probably like to be left alone for 10 seconds.

So you all are my temporary substitute (I love having a blog).  You know what?  We found some new running friends!  We went on a trail run today!!!  *ahem*  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s take a step back, because this story actually started a few weeks ago, when I decided that 4 months was long enough (too long, actually) to be without a running community.  Being a typical Type A personality, I established and embarked upon mission Find Running Community with vigor and determination.

My trail sneakers want to make some friends!!!

My trail sneakers want to make some friends!!!

But as anyone who has ever done this knows, finding a new sporting group of any kind can be a tricky and intimidating task.  Runners are generally pretty friendly, but no amount of research will tell you what a group’s dynamic will be when you actually show up for the first time: What if they go too fast? What if I get lost?  What if no one talks to me?  What if they’re actually aliens??? [Spoiler Alert: We did not get abducted.  I offer up this post as proof.  I doubt there’s WiFi in outer space.  Probably not even any dial-up connection…]

One of the groups I found was the Trail Running Singapore Facebook group.  This looked like it had good potential.  First of all, I love trail running (in case there was any doubt about that).  Second, I’m a little biased towards trail runners (no offense to road runners, you all are generally awesome as well) – I think their group dynamic tends to be slightly more flexible and relaxed than (some) road running groups.  I also think trail running helps fill the awkward “getting to know you” silence – you can pretend to concentrate on a really rocky section, or a pretty birdsong, or the glory of nature – when, in truth, you have just temporarily run out of things to say.  (Yes, this actually happens to me. Believe it or not, I’m really an introvert.)  To me, these silences seem less uncomfortable on the trails than on the roads.

The Trail Running Singapore group seemed pretty straight-forward and no-strings-attached: no shirt to buy, no fee to pay, no nothing.  Just show up, have a brief route meeting, then get out there and have fun on the trails.  So a week ago, when they announced that February’s group trail run would be starting at MacRitchie Reservoir (right next to our apartment) on Feb. 2, it was a no-brainer.  Of course I was going!!!

I jabbered to KMN about it all week long.  Frankly, after the awesome Green Corridor Run, and with my IT bands behaving themselves, and with the prospect of a new group to run with on Saturday – I was pumped.  I must have gotten him excited about it, too, because when the alarm rang at 6 AM on Saturday, he was the first one out of bed.  We gathered our water bottles, public transport cards, and a few dollars, and headed out.

We walked about a mile to the meeting point and easily found the group.  After a short briefing and head count (~26 trail runners!), we got started.  The first part of the run was through MacRitchie Reservoir, on the trails KMN and I run every week.  We settled in to an easy pace, and chatted briefly with one of the run leaders.

5 Holly in Shadow

An “ooops!” photo actually ends up being a cool play on perspective and lighting…

Although the run was casually organized, the leaders were careful to keep track of all group members.  There was a lead runner and a SAG (caboose), and they managed to span quite a wide range of paces.  We also stopped approximately every 3 miles to regroup and refill water bottles.  Major kudos to Leader Kelly for keeping tabs on everyone!!!

This was a false alarm.  We actually didn't take this trail.  But what fun would a trail run be without some uncertainty/negotiation over the route?

This was a false alarm. We actually didn’t take this trail. But what fun would a trail run be without some uncertainty/negotiation over the route?

Shortly after our first stop, we veered out of MacRitchie and onto the “new to us” portion of the run.   We ran through some awesome rolling, rocky sections and a strong stream crossing (although we took the bridge 🙁  ), and popped out on Rifle Range Road.  After a mile or so, it was back onto the trails in Bukit Timah.

We wound through Durian Loop (no durians, though) and to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Visitor’s Center.  I chatted on and off with some other runners, getting to know a few people and just soaking in the nature.  Again, kudos to the organizers and runners, who all watched out for each other and ensured that no one missed any of the turns.  At a smidge over 6 miles, we took our second break to regroup.

I must confess, all the sweat out here is nuts.  Overall, I’m adjusting pretty well to the weather, and never once really thought “Man! It’s HOT!” (although temps were in the low 80s + humidity).  But the high humidity really retards evaporation, so as soon as I stop (and lose the breeze my running generates), I am absolutely soaked.  Excuse me for being gross, but sweat was running into my CWX capris, and back out the bottom, streaming down my calves and into my socks.  By the bucket load.  My hands get so sweaty that it makes my fingers turn prune-y.  Crazy.  But the human body is amazing – this kind of weather would have wilted me in Rochester, but after 4 months out here, I’m quite accustomed to it.

KMN & I at the 6 mile mark.

KMN & I at the 6 mile mark.

We were feeling too good to quit just yet, so we continued with the group onto the old railroad trail (a continuation of where the Green Corridor Run was held last weekend) and off to the old Dairy Farm (not a dairy farm any more, unfortunately).  At the 9 mile mark, we had a planned meet-up with some other members of the group, who’d started earlier and added some distance to hit 51 km for their 51st birthdays.  Another friend (of theirs, not ours, but heck, that’s how trail running works) had brought cake, so there was a mid-run photo and refueling stop.

I really, really adore how trail runners just adopt newcomers into their fold without question or hesitation.  I never actually met Francis (Frank?  Ferdinand?  Philip?  Heck, I’m not even sure of his name!), but I sang him Happy Birthday and wasn’t even allowed to refuse a few bites of his cake.  There was a lone runner we met up with during our run, who adopted us (or vice verse), and just joined in the group.  The more the merrier!

Another awesome thing about Singapore:  The abundant public transportation options mean that you can run as long/far as you want, then head out to the nearest main road and hop on a bus.  And that’s exactly what we did.  The group was continuing for another 6 miles or so, but that was a bit far for us at this point.  So we reluctantly turned back, but were able to enjoy a short walk/jog out to a convenient bus stop.  Now that we were on our own, I forced KMN to make several “nature observation stops”:

A lot of the leaves in Singapore are MASSIVE.  And I'm not sure why they're changing color.  There's no such thing as "Fall" here...

A lot of the leaves in Singapore are MASSIVE. And I’m not sure why they’re changing color. There’s no such thing as “Fall” here…

Looks like some insects of some sort found this leaf to be a good spot for their eggs.  Holy cow!

Looks like an insect of some sort found this leaf to be a good spot for their eggs. Holy cow!

 

After ~20 minute bus ride, we were home.  10 minutes after that, we were enjoying this:

Roti prata, "carrot cake", and iced Milos.

Roti prata, “carrot cake”, and iced Milos.

Total run distance: 10 miles
Total time: ~1:45
Total New Trail Running Friendships Seeded: Hopefully, a lot!
Will We Be Back: Abso-stinkin’-lutely!!!

Thanks, Trail Running Singapore, we’ll see you all again soon!  [Hopefully, we’ll be able to cover the full distance, and join you for post-run chicken rice, too!]

Ever had an “oops” picture turn out to be awesome?

How have you gone about finding running friends in a new city?

Eating My Way Through Saturday

Well, we’ve already spent time this week on introspection and motivation.  But come on, Holly – what we really want to talk about is FOOD.  Fair enough.  Let’s do it.

We actually had a really excellent eating weekend – especially Saturday.  After our run, I enjoyed a great big bowl of oatmeal:

I'm an oatmeal snob.  I only like oatmeal has real, whole pieces of oats - none of this chopped up stuff, and nothing with flavoring already added.  I want to my own selection of dried fruit & nuts, a drop of honey, and then top the whole thing with lots of milk.

I’m an oatmeal snob. I only like oatmeal that is real, whole pieces of oats – none of this chopped up stuff, and nothing with flavoring already added. I want to add my own selection of dried fruit & nuts, a drop of honey, and lots of milk.

In the afternoon, some friends came over for “tea” (definitely a linguistic throwback to Singapore’s colonial times), and we enjoyed muffins, fruit, and coffee.  I also enjoyed introducing their 2+ year-old-son to the joy of climbing a ladder.  [Ooops!  Bad auntie!  Sorry, K &A – hope he didn’t proceed to climb everything in sight when you all got home…]

I forgot to take a picture of any part of this.  And anyway, I’m still too shy to ask our guests about whether they’d mind if I posted a photo of them on the blog.  Ergo, no photos from tea.

Nibbles and Sauces

Nibbles and Sauces

On Saturday evening, we went out to dinner with some of KMN’s extended family, who are visiting Singapore from Australia.  We went to Jing Long Seafood Restaurant [412 Bedok North Avenue 2].  I love going out to eat with KMN’s family.  Like most Singaporeans, they unabashedly love food and love to eat.  We always order plenty, including some restaurant-specific specialties that someone in our group recommends.  It’s a small country, so someone in the group has usually been there before (or at least read an article about it!).  Here’s some of the dinner spread:

Clockwise from top: Tofu with Crispy Turnips, Mushrooms with Veggie, Coffee Pork Ribs, and Crispy Duck Crepe

Clockwise from top: Tofu with Crispy Turnips, Mushrooms with Veggie, Coffee Pork Ribs, and Crispy Duck Crepe

I found the first three dishes to be the best of the evening.  The tofu in Singapore is usually quite tasty, and this was no exception.  The dish included large chunks of soft tofu, lightly fried, and topped with a brown sauce and crispy turnips (US-based friends: Singaporeans say ‘turnip’, we say ‘daikon’).  Honestly, I could have eaten a whole plate of the tofu alone – I didn’t even need the turnip.  Have I mentioned that I love the tofu here?  [A slight variation is beancurd, and I’ve already shared my love for Mr. Bean and Rochor Beancurd House.]

The veggies were also delicious.  The greens (mostly kai lan, I think) were cooked perfectly, still slightly crunchy in the stalk.  If I had to lodge a complaint, it would be that the dish was more like “Veggies with Mushrooms” – I’d like more mushrooms, please!  But I’m a mushroom fanatic, so what can I say? 🙂

Now, I’m not a big meat eater, and I was suspicious of coffee seasoning my meat.  But the Coffee Pork Ribs were awesome!  The ribs were tender and meaty, and not too fatty – and the coffee flavor was an awesome complement to the meat.  I never would have imagined this combo, but it was extremely tasty.  If we returned to Jing Long, I’d request this dish – and I don’t usually request meat, especially of the 4-legged variety!

While the duck crepe was good, I thought the duck got lost among the other ingredients.  If I’m eating duck, I prefer the duck flavor to shine through, so I was a little disappointed in this particular dish.

Hellooooo there!

Hellooooo there!

We also ordered steamed prawns.  In Singapore, these will virtually always come whole – shell, legs, head, everything.  People here love them, but frankly, I find them pesky.  I don’t mind getting my hands dirty when the whole meal is “hands-on” (like, BBQ), but when I’m eating 90% of my food with chopsticks, I really dislike getting my hands all messy to peel one.measly.prawn.  However, I happily make it more worth KMN’s while to get his hands dirty, by letting him peel a prawn or two for me.  Although to be honest, I haven’t figured out why Singaporeans love these big ‘ole prawns so much.  I find them tough and dry, while smaller ones (used in other dishes, rather than eaten alone) are more tender and moist.  I used to think the tough texture came from being over-cooked; but if that’s the case, then all the larger prawns I eat in Singapore are overcooked.

KMN’s sister recommended the oddest dish of the evening: Scallop & Banana with Bak Gua Roll

Sliced pieces of scallop, banana, and shrimp are perched  atop a piece of cured beef (bak gua), then the whole thing is deep fried.

Slices of scallop, banana, and shrimp are perched atop a piece of cured beef (bak gua), then the whole thing is deep fried.

I generally don’t like fruit in my dinner (I think my Mom abandoned a perfectly good sweet-and-sour stir fry dish 20 years ago because of my steadfast refusal to touch dinner that contained oranges), but I’ve become more liberal in my old age, and the combination of sweet and salty in this dish somehow just…worked.  The scallops and shrimp were fresh (little shrimp: tender and juicy!), and there was a perfect amount of bak gau to infuse some salty, smoky flavor without overpowering the other ingredients.  And of course, how could you refuse a crispy battered crust?  Not exactly the pinnacle of healthy eating, but that’s why there’s enough for each person to have just a piece or two.

Jing Long (Herbal Jelly)

Some members of the group finished out their meal with “dessert”.  But any self-respecting Westerner is going to find that Chinese dessert is a poor excuse for dessert.  I won’t share the less photogenic of the dishes (yam paste), but I will show you KMN’s herbal jelly.  Let’s take a moment to discuss why I don’t consider herbal jelly a dessert: First, it has the consistency of jello.  Second, it’s bitter.  Like, so bitter that it’s served with honey drizzled on top.  Third, it is supposed to be very healthy.  Sorry herbal jelly, three strikes and you’re out.  Yes, I have tried it.  No, I don’t feel compelled to try it again.  I really think it’s a Chinese (Asian?) thing.  Please note that this is not a negative review of Jing Long’s herbal jelly – it’s just a negative review of all herbal jelly (my personal, Caucasian opinion).  🙂

So when we got home, I enjoyed a real dessert: Tim Tams.  These are a very recent discovery of mine, and are almost an acceptable substitute for the chocolate Vienna Fingers (chocolate wafers + chocolate filling) I fell in love with in the mid ’90s.  Yeah, don’t bother Googling “chocolate Vienna Fingers”, they’ve been out of production for at least 15 years now.  Which is a shame, because they were the best cookie, EVER, to dip in a glass of milk.  Tim Tams aren’t nearly as dippable, but their overall deliciousness helps compensate for that:

Light and crispy chocolate wafers, with a thin layer of chocolate cream in the middle - all dipped in dark chocolate

Light and crispy chocolate wafers, with a thin layer of chocolate cream in the middle – all dipped in dark chocolate

Wow.  Thank you, Australia, for this chocolatey goodness.  You go a long way to filling the chocolate-Vienna-Finger-sized hole in my heart.

Ever had a Tim Tam?
Which of our dinner dishes would you be most excited to try?

Pau! Pau!

You thought I was teasing about bringing Ellie & Rhino on the Night Safari.  Nope.  Photographic evidence:

KMN and Ellie, in front of a wood carved elephant, at Night Safari

That bright white thing in Kee-Min’s hand? That’s Ellie. We tried taking this photo several ways, but the lighting was just very weird.

Rhino (the more excitable of the two) wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a single picture.  I think they had fun. 🙂

Our friends left Thursday morning.  While they were packing up, I snuck out for a quick run:

On my way out the door.  This cap, by the way, is awesome.  The material is so light and wicking, I don't even notice it. And the thick sweatband inside helps keep my eye sweat-free.

This cap, by the way, is awesome (REI brand). The material is so light and wicking, I don’t even notice it. And the thick sweatband inside means that my eyes need only contend with sweat that is generated from the middle of my forehead and below.

For the first time since we’ve lived here, I clocked a trail run at under 10 min/mile – and I wasn’t really even trying.  I’m a pretty diligent Garmin-checker, but I didn’t even notice my average pace until I was back home, cooling down.  Nice little bonus right there!

I wanted to share one last bit of local food with our friends before they left, so I stopped into the Sin Kim Hua Pau Shop [Sin Ming Plaza, 6 Sin Ming Road, #01-20], just down the street from our apartment

Three different kinds of pau in the steamer

Keeping pau warm in the steamer. Char siew (barbequed pork, red dot) pau, chicken (yellow dot) pau, and red bean (no dot) pau.

Pau (pronounced ‘bow’, and also called baozi, bao, pow, et al.…) are small stuffed Chinese buns made of tender white dough.  Common fillings are either savory – seasoned pork, chicken, and/or veggies; or sweet – red bean or lotus paste.  Most Singaporeans seem to prefer the savory variety, even for breakfast.  Personally, I like my breakfasts a bit sweet, and the red bean pau are my favorite, any time of the day.

We walk past this shop every day on our way to the MRT (subway) station, and every time I think, “We really should try those pau!”  So finally, we did.  I got three varieties of fresh pao: char siew, chicken, and red bean ($5 SGD for 9 pau).  Pau, like many other Chinese bread products, are steamed, rather than baked.  This preserves their super soft, tender texture.  So when you want to reheat/keep them warm, you must steam them:

Steamer and a high five in shadow

While the pau steamed, I played with the backlight and my camera.

I’m a biologist, and I like to dissect things, so here’s a pau cross-section:

Chicken pau

Chicken pau

Red bean pau

Red bean pau

Overall, I thought that the bread-to-filling ratio was rather high. I like a bit of filling with each bite of pau, but these didn’t have quite enough filling to go around.  And the red bean filling was exceptionally creamy, while I’m accustomed to (and prefer) a thicker red bean paste, with some small chunks of bean left intact.  (I think I like to delude myself into thinking that I’m actually eating beans, and a thicker, grainier texture helps!)  But I can see how some might prefer a more creamy filling.  The chicken pau filling was quite flavorful, with lots of bamboo – but again, I like a bit more filling in each pau.  I didn’t try the char siew, and our friends evaluated all the pau as simply “good”.  [I’m not sure if they were giving their honest opinion, or their be-nice-to-the-hosts opinion, though!]

Overall, I really like the idea of fresh pau, and would probably give the shop another try, particularly for savory pau – but I haven’t yet fallen head-over-heels for this spot.  The jury is still out….

Our friends headed to the airport (thanks for the visit, W & S!), and we returned to regular life.  I worked through the afternoon, then hit the gym in the evening.  On Thursday nights, I try to double up on classes: Body Pump first, then Hot Yoga.

I was psyched about Body Pump, since I think that, for the first time ever, I got my weights perfectly loaded for every single track: I could finish to the end of each set, but was shaking by the end of every song (muscle group).  I’ve done the Body Pump/yoga combo for the last few Thursdays, and I imagine that the Hot Yoga instructor thinks I’m a complete wuss: After a minutes or two of downward dog, or 20 seconds of warrior, my arms and legs are shaking, thanks to my Body Pump warm up.

But I really don’t care.  The instructor for this particular class is awesome – she’s not very “Om-y”, and she is very funny. I think this is the first yoga class I’ve been to where it’s socially acceptable to laugh in the middle of a pose.  She’s also very knowledgeable, and watches to make sure everyone is performed the postures correctly (rather than just calling the postures and ignoring the class).  I always leave exhausted, stretched, and chuckling.

Kee-Min was working late and I also had a pile of things to do, so I snagged a chicken satay burger from RS Deli, a modern Indonesian-fusion restaurant.  They serve both traditional favorites, like nasi lemak, and modern twists on those favorites, like a beef rendang burger and nasi lemak burger.  There are quite a few items I’d like to try – but having had (and enjoyed!) the chicken satay burger on a previous visit, I really wanted it again.  As a bonus, their fries are also very good.  The peanut sauce isn’t bad, either.  🙂   I won’t lie, I gobbled this down:

Burger, fries, salad

Food photographer failed to offset the bun so you could see the burger. Learning curve, folks, learning curve!

Already washed and ready to go. So easy!!

Already washed and ready to go. So easy!!

Do you like how I added my own salad to increase the healthy quotient? By the way, here’s my healthy eating tip for the day: When you buy lettuce, wash it all, and throw it in the salad spinner (if you don’t have one, get one).  Then, you’ll always have salad-ready lettuce hanging around (for considerably less than the cost of pre-washed lettuce, which isn’t really common here anyway).  This dramatically reduces the energy required to make a salad, and you will therefore be more inclined to make and eat a salad.  True story.

Pau: sweet or savory?

Salad: What do you do so there’s no excuse not to make it?

 

Night Safari

After addressing the post swim hungries, it was time to introduce our guests to the Night Safari!!!

Holly holding a small stuffed elephant and rhinoceros.

Meet Ellie & Rhino (original, right?). They joined the four humans at the Night Safari. They were SO EXCITED.

KMN and I on the tram

KMN and I on the tram

Night Safari is a popular Singapore attraction – basically, it’s a nighttime zoo.  Many of the animals there are nocturnal, and the rest have had their internal clocks flipped by being fed at night instead of during the day, to keep them up and active in the evenings.  I’m not totally sure how I feel about this, but on the scale of “indignities to animals in captivity”, it seems pretty low.  And the animals seem generally well tended otherwise.  They don’t have an enormous amount of space, but many are smallish animals, and there is considerably effort made to avoid caging.

You can take a tram ride around the perimeter of the park to see some of the highlights and the larger animals, but my favorite part is wandering the footpaths.  I love going on a less-crowded evening, when I can really appreciate the surreal feeling of walking through the jungle (albeit on paved paths) at night.  There is a bit of light, but I still get the sense that I’m walking through the “forest” after dark.

Blackness.

Unfortunately, most photos at Night Safari come out something like this.

Black background, two glowing white scorpions.

I did manage to snap this pic of two Asian Black Forest Scorpions. They glow under a blacklight!

I love to find a less-popular area, where I can stand quietly and observe the animals for awhile.  As any naturalist knows, several minutes of quiet watching often reveals much more than a quick cruise past, and I greedily hoard these observations all for myself.  At least, I hoard them until KMN (or some other unsuspecting member of our group) walks past, then I gleefully pull them over, share my little nugget of observation, and force my victim to watch with me.   My friends and husband are infinitely patient. 🙂

On this particular trip, my favorite critters were the brush-tailed possum and the Asian otters.  Otters are stinky, but I don’t ever get tired of watching their fluid, speedy bodies zip over, around, and through the water.

I also learned that there is an animal called a wallaroo. (!!!!)  It looks like a kangaroo (which is large) and a wallaby (which is small), but is an intermediate size.  Who knew?  Wallaroo is my word for today, by the way.  I’ve been saying it in my head all day long.  [Shhh. I’m totally normal.  Shh…]

Info board from the zoo - A joey attaches itself to the mothers teat, and doesn't let go for THREE MONTHS.

On the topic of marsupials…a shout to all the mommas out there who are reading this while nursing in the middle of the night!

We pretty much closed out the park, around midnight.  KMN and I would have be negligent hosts if we didn’t bring our guests out for another Singaporean tradition: supper.  Singapore tends to be a late night kind of place, and supper is the fourth meal of the day, eaten sometime after 10 PM.  We weren’t up for a full-on meal (often big bowls of noodles), so we went for a lighter snack.  This spot is pretty famous for their beancurd, and is just a block from our apartment:

Sign for Rochor Beancurd House

This is my current favorite spot for bean curd, unless I have a breakfast craving.  This spot is “only” open from noon until 3 AM.

Beancurd again!  Plain on the left, and topped with grass jelly on the right.

Beancurd again! Plain on the left, and topped with grass jelly on the right.

Portuguese Egg Tarts: a layered, flaky crust, with a creamy, slightly sweet filling.  Delicious!

Portuguese Egg Tarts: a layered, flaky crust, with a creamy, slightly sweet filling. Delicious!

 


 

 

Yes, I had beancurd twice on Wednesday.
Except not really, because by the time we had supper, it was already Thursday. Whooo!

How do you think it was discovered that scorpions glow under blacklight?
[I’m imagining them walking into a rave…  “Hey man, what’s up with your exoskeleton??”]

Ever get a word stuck in your head?
[PS There’s always a first time.  *wallaroo…*]

Swimming & Soya Bean Curd

Yesterday was a swim day for me.  [Look, I know you’re a runner, and you might even think swimming is phooey, but don’t click away just yet!  Stick around, and maybe I can change your mind?  Or at least make you laugh?  And besides, there will be *plenty* of running talk here.]

My running mileage is still greatly reduced (although it’s moving in the right direction), so swimming is a great way for me to stay in shape and burn some of my extra exercise-energy.  Why do I swim?

1. I love to swim. I was a swimmer long before I was a runner.  In fact, according to legend in my house, I was a swimmer before I was a walker.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen me navigate a doorway. Man, if I could swim through that sucker, I’d be golden.

2. I can do it outdoors, in Singapore, without losing gallons of sweat.  Maybe a few quarts, but certainly not gallons.  In fact, the rooftop pool at our gym is the one place in Singapore where I can get goosebumps.  Plus, rooftop pool?  Heck yes!

The awesome goggle lines are just a bonus!

The awesome goggle lines are just a bonus!

3. Swimming exhausts every muscle in my body.  I certainly experience “hard workout hurt” during some fast intervals, but when I’m done,  I don’t feel achy, old, or creaky – I just feel tired.  And since swimming works both my upper- and lower-body, I feel tired everywhere.  After a hard swim, I can be sitting (or lying) perfectly still, and my muscles feel heavy, spent, and just totally drained.  I’ve never achieved such a perfect “nothing hurts but every single muscle is just utterly exhausted” feeling doing any other activity.

4. Swimming reminds me that breathing while running should be no big deal.

5. Swimming makes me very, very hungry.  At the end of a long run, particularly in the heat, my conversation with KMN goes something like this:

KMN (chomping down on a big ‘ole burger and french fries): “Oh, man.  This is SO GOOD.  What could possibly taste better than this after a long, hard run??”
Me (stepping back from burger-smell): “Erm…Two sips of chocolate milk and 300 slices of cold watermelon?  ‘Cause that’s all that sounds good right about now.”

But I can eat pretty much anything the minute I get out of the water, even after the hardest of swims.  In fact, this was yesterday’s workout:

500 warm-up
500 freestyle drill
1000 swim
1000 mixed IMs (4×100, 3×200)
500 easy

A decent workout for me, these days, but not show-stoppingly difficult.  Still, after a quick shower (Another bonus! Who needs a long shower when you spent over an hour steeping in chlorinated water?), I decided that I needed a snack to fortify myself for the trip home.  Hey, 25 minutes is a long way!!!!

Mr. Bean sign and bean curd

Folks, this is soya bean curd. Bean curd is like pudding made from soybeans, served in a light, slightly sweet syrup. I love the stuff. Mr. Bean is one of several chains that sells soybean products (bean curd, soymilk, etc).  I’m a bit of a bean curd connoisseur, and as far as chains go, Mr. Bean wins.

Bonus points for this particular Mr. Bean, because it’s located between my gym and the MRT station.  I swear to you, it calls my name after every workout.  Plus, their soya beans are getting ready for Chinese New Year:

Soybean cut-outs in little red outfits at Mr. Bean

“Ah! So cute one!” <—Some Singlish for your Thursday

And with that, I felt sufficiently fueled to head back home, where I proceeded to devour a whole bunch of leftovers.  Chomp!

What workout makes you super hungry?

Ever seen a soybean dressed up for Chinese New Year before?

How My Monday Improved: From ‘Facepalm’ to ‘Foodie Friends’.

My Monday Morning Moment:

Me:Whyyyyyy isn’t my iPhone appearing in my iTunes on the computer? I want to transfer the photos on my phone to the computer, and the phone is plugged in, but this program isn’t detecting my iPhone!! WHYYY???”
KMN: “Uhh..hon?  That’s Windows Media Player you have open.”
Me: *facepalm*

In my defense, I was using a computer that didn’t yet have iTunes installed (ooops), and had never been connected to my phone.  And after that, the rest of Monday was a breeze!  I did some coaching, blogged, and worked a bit on the rest of this website (not yet unveiled).  I don’t want it to be so stark/boring forever.

I also took some time to get our place ready for our very first guests!!  A friend from LA and her husband are on a mini-tour of Southeast Asia and have stopped in Singapore for a few days.  KMN and I were so excited to welcome our first visitors from the US!!

Items displayed on a table.

Singapore Necessaries: tissues, guidebook, food guidebook, subway passes & map, air conditioner controller (although that last one doesn’t work outside, unfortunately)

Photo of guest bedroom, tweaked to look like a pencil drawing.

In my spare time, I do pencil drawings. Obviously.

I’d planned to make a small curtain to cover some open storage space in our guest bathroom. But I was busy talking and writing about running – and I ran out of time.  So I cheated, and took the fabric I’d purchased to make the curtain, tossed it over the curtain rod, and called it good. In fact, it’s so good that I’m considering leaving it that way permanently.  Who needs a tidy little curtain rod pocket, after all??  Clearly, my Mom passed her crafty gene on to my sister, but somehow, the dang thing missed me.  [On the plus side, I don’t have to find a place to store crafting supplies, like they do.  Instead, I can use all that space to store…my sneakers!]

Shoe rack full of sneakers

Yep, those are mine. All mine…

Speaking of running sneakers, yesterday was a rest day for me.  That wasn’t such a bad thing, because the day flewl by, and all of a sudden, it was 7 PM!  Our friends arrived shortly thereafter, and we took a little time to chat, relax, and talk about Singapore.  I’m definitely no local, but it’s almost funny to hear myself talking to them, and feel surprised over how much I’ve already internalized about living in Singapore.  It’s empowering to realize that you feel comfortable with the cultural nuances, and you know the tastiest eateries, and you can confidently give directions – in a place that used to feel unfamiliar and foreign.

When KMN got home from work, we introduced them to the hawker center dining experience.  Hawker centers are like open air foodcourts, where all the stalls are individually owned/operated, usually by a family.  There are hawker centers on almost every street in Singapore (I can see two from where I’m seated at our kitchen table right now), and offer lots of local delights.  We sampled a bit of everything.  Thankfully, our friends love food as much as we do, so sharing some of our favorite dishes was so much fun.

The only bad thing?  I was so eager to eat that I neglected to take photos.  Ah, well… I guess you’ll just have to come visit, so you can see all the delicious food for yourself!

Inviting picture of our dining room.

Our door is always open.

Tuesday is a swim and short run day for me – I’m headed for the gym right now!!  Don’t forget to pack your workout gear today…!

Are you a craft supply collector, a running shoe collector, or both?

Pool or pavement?  

Do-It-Yourself Porridge: A Work In Progress

Yesterday, I popped out for a short run on one of the trails near our apartment:

Holly on a trail at MacRitchie Reservoir

This is just a gratuitous photo, to whet your appetite for more trail pictures. I promise to show you this trail several times a week.  No lie, I will.

Speaking of appetites, let’s get back to the porridge, shall we?   [If you’re confused, check out the first part of the porridge discussion in my last post, What Happens When the Colonizers Don’t Discuss Porridge?]

The Chinese equivalent of America’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook is probably Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking [ref. My Mother-In-Law, et al.].

Irene Kuo, Key to Chinese Cooking, Porridge

In all its shiny glory!

The title is a bit misleading, though, because the book is 532 pages long.  Clearly, there must be more than one key.  Or else, it’s an incredibly long key.  I don’t know what that lock would look like…but I digress.  This tome is actually out-of-print, but KMN managed to secure me a like-new copy this summer.  I’ve only dabbled in it so far, and I’m sure that Mdm. Kuo and I have a long and adventure-full future ahead of us.

But one of the recipes that I have tried is the one for Rice Porridge.  I have long known that porridge is one of KMN’s comfort foods – and let’s be honest – even a progressive, modern feminist wants to be able to cook her husband’s comfort food, right?  Well, this one does, at least. So when the book arrived, I immediately flipped to the index to hunt down the porridge details.  This is taken from the Rice Porridge introduction:

“Known as hsi-fan, ‘thin rice,’ rice porridge is the basis of breakfast for most Chinese…Made by simmering a small quantity of rice with a large amount of water, the resulting rice is a creamy gruel.  The porridge is served in individual bowls with an accompanying assortment of tasty and highly seasoned cold dishes, such as salted and preserved eggs, vegetables, or fish and leftover red-cooked or stir-fried meats and poultry.” [The Key to Chinese Cooking, Irene Kuo]

The recipe looks straightforward:  1/3 cup rice + 4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let rice “bounce gently in the bubbling liquid” for 5 minutes to loosen the starch.  Stir.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Serve with whatever garnishes/toppings you choose.

Seems simple enough, right?  Or not.  I’ve tried it three times so far, with varied degrees of (but never complete) success:

Attempt #1: We were still living in the US, and I had just gotten the book.  I was anxious to try the recipe.  I asked KMN what would make good porridge topping.  His reply?  “Anything!”  I took him at his word.  I made a passable but porridge (it only boiled over on the stove once), and topped it with things we already had in the fridge, including chicken sausage and a leftover asparagus saute.   The porridge itself was pretty bland, and the toppings…well, they weren’t especially Chinese.  And the “fusion” concept didn’t translate so well where porridge was concerned.

Porridge with asaparagas sautee and sausage

Even KMN conceded, “OK, maybe ‘anything’ was a bit too broad…”

Attempt #2: After this uninspiring result, I went on a bit of a porridge hiatus.  [OK, we also moved our entire life to Singapore during this time.]  But once we were settled in Singapore, with our pots and pans unpacked, I decided to try again.  Somehow, though, I misread the recipe as 1 cup of rice + 4 cups of water.  Obviously, this didn’t get too soupy, and I essentially ended up making regular rice.  It wasn’t even good steamed rice, though.  For that, I highly recommend a rice cooker.  I’m a total convert and won’t make regular steamed rice any other way anymore.  Also, the rice cooker never boils over.

Attempt #3: I thought that using some chicken stock in place of water might liven up the flavor a bit.  I’d made some stock earlier this week, so decided to use that to try the porridge thing again.  In case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, here is the status update that accompanied this third pot o’ porridge:

Rice boils over on gas stove

I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable toward the porridge, after it boiled over onto the stove three times…

Starchy boil-over burned onto stove and pot

Burned starch. My fave.

These shenanigans resulted in a stove and pot that looked something like this —>

I mostly blame the stove, and my inexperience with it – even after 2 months.  The flame *does* conspire to either completely halt or dramatically expedite my cooking, I swear.  [Of course, the fact that I was trying to type blog posts, edit photos, and reply to email while cooking dinner was totally unrelated to the boil-overs.]

With much trial and error, and a vented lid, I was able to achieve some semblance of a simmer.  But despite an extra half hour of cooking, I never really achieved “doneness”, as defined be Mdm. Kuo:

My liquid and rice continued to separate.

“The porridge is ready when there is no separation of liquid and rice.”  Never quite got there last night…

Furthermore, my rice grains were still pretty well intact.  They didn’t get as broken apart as I’d hoped, and the mixture wasn’t *quite* as creamy and starchy as the really good porridges I’ve had here.  But, inspired by some porridge I’d had (out) over the weekend, I added a bit of cooked ground pork, then topped the whole thing with scallions and sliced fishcake.  Halfway through slicing the fishcake, I realized I’d cut it along the non-standard axis.  Duh.  Well, I was feeling creative, so I had fishcake circles instead of strips/ovals.  The finished product actually looked pretty good, when served with some sauteed Chinese veggies

Veggie and congee

So really, I can’t complain too much about this third attempt.  The chicken broth gave the porridge a good flavor, and I finally managed to get the “right” kind of Chinese toppings.  I do wish my rice had gotten a bit more creamy, though.  Maybe my problem was the boil overs, or the extra fat in the broth (vs. water), or perhaps the kind of rice I was using.  I think maybe next time, I’ll bring my laptop out into the kitchen while the porridge simmers, to keep an eye on the boiling-over situation…

In conclusion – Thanks, Mdm. Kuo. I promise to practice until I get this right!

Holly & The Key to Chinese Cooking

I will admit, though, given the trouble I’ve had perfecting this recipe, I’m a little nervous nervous about trying anything more complicated than “boil rice and water”!

Do you make rice porridge? What’s your secret?

Any tricks for cleaning burned starch off the stove…?