Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bohemian Singapore

Pockets of bohemian areas have been sprouting up in Singapore. Perhaps "sprouting up" is not exactly accurate since these areas are carefully thought out and developed/created by the authorities, thus throwing up that eternal debate about whether one can create a Bohemia or do these areas naturally evolve. If a bohemian area is man-made especially one carefully constructed by urban planners, can it truly be bohemian since it seems to contradict the essence of what "Bohemia" is?

I think in Singapore, it is not so much as creating a Bohemia out of nothing, but that once such an area shows signs of evolving into one, the authorities take over and try to put some structure around it instead of letting it continue to evolve in its own course. This post is not a paper to debate the merits and demerits of such a process, perhaps if I were to write another thesis for another Masters in Art course, I might pick this as my research topic seeing as it has my favourite elements for research - creativity, arts and the law, but that is for another time and place.

Back to food (but of course). One of our last meals in Singapore was at the Barracks at Dempsey Village, so named because this was the former site of the Ministry of Defence and the new restaurants, cafes, art galleries, spas and various shops are housed in old barracks and other Defence offices.

The Barracks is a delightfully-converted building, housing a cafe-restaurant, bar and a spa. It has a "greenhouse" area for larger groups and the restaurant overlooks the forest, a rare sight in urban Singapore. Here, a vast expanse of green meets the eye as you tuck into yummy dishes such as the salmon stew I had and the pumpkin salad we shared. Even the teas were special house concoction, I had the "muah-muah" tea which sounded quite exotic as I perused the menu but I now forget what went into the brew, while G had the vanilla something chai tea.
The ambience was just right. The decor was stylish and with that right touch of Bohemia, created by a stylist instead of the authorities. But it felt right. We think that if/when we relocate to Singapore, this might be one of our favourite places to have a weekend brunch. We just need to find more Bohemia to replace the ones we have in our backyard right now.

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Food Of Love

For the first family dinner where G met everyone at the same table for the first time, we went to "Mum's Cuisine". The dishes were all good, my favourite was this assam pomfret. It's been a long time since I've had assam anything. And pomfret is not one fish that is common in Sydney either. So it was extra yummy.

Another first was G's meeting with my friends, the first one being Y. We went to Sushi Tei, which has somehow gone upmarket in the last 3 years. This version was no conveyor belt restaurant but with stylish decor and ambient lighting. I particularly enjoyed my Japanese style pasta, which had a sesame sauce base and the main highlight was a soft-shell crab. I wish they did pasta this way here, even though we do get some great Italian pasta at some of our favourite restaurants in Surry Hills.

Our foray into Little India was to search out the famous Komala Villas, the first South Indian restaurant a classmate took me to in Little India, in our first year of Law School. Looking back, that was some 20 years ago, the dhosai meal cost something ridiculous like S$0.60. Another memory that has stuck in my mind apart from the cheapness of that meal, was the cockroach leg that I found in my half-eaten dhosai, the waiter hurriedly swiping the entire plate away from me, while vehemently denying there was anything "foreign" in the dhosai. In due course, he brought me a brand-new dhosai, hot from the kitchen, while I tried hard to not think about what I might have unwittingly eaten until I came upon that solo limb.

I revisited one of my cherished childhood memories, that of going to the Islamic restaurant with dad when he was still around. I distinctly remember mum sucking off the sambal from the prawns to remove as much of the spiciness as possible before letting me eat them. The famous restaurant had moved from its original location to about 15 doors down. The decor has gone slightly more upmarket, but it still had old photographs of the restaurant in the 1920s, family portraits, old Singapore scenes on the wall. It still felt nostalgic in a way. The briyani was fantastic, we were so hungry we missed the set lunches advertised and went for the ala carte. We need to order the briyani set lunch the next time.

On one of our jaunts, we ended up in Ann Siang Hill quite by chance and found this charming little bar to rest our tired soles and get some respite from the humidity. I had a Pink Pussycat mocktail while G experienced paying S$12 for a beer.

As I had worked up my expectations regarding showing G a French chef who had worked in a 2-Michelin star restaurant in France and now operating a French kopitiam in Singapore, this visit to the French Stall turned out to be a little disappointing. I guess upon recollecting, the escargots were nothing to rave about, but I remember the mains and the to die-for chocolate cake were quite good, especially the chocolate cake which was really unforgettable, such that when I tasted another one in Sydney recently, it triggered off some taste memory sensors deep in the recesses of my mind and I could identify the taste with this fabulous cake. The chocolate souffle turned out to be even better than the cake and so the desserts saved the meal.

And so this trip has been filled with eating, eating and more eating. But then again, eating means meeting up with friends and family and sharing a meal or 2. Meals are not just a means of sustenance, but a time for everyone to set aside time from their busy schedules to get together, especially when we are currently based somewhere else. So the weight that we have packed on this trip, and which we are now trying hard to lose, is evidence of the love and friendship that we share with those who care for us and whom we care about in turn. Food is much more. Just like this box of konnyaku jelly that mum had specially made for us.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Singapura - The Lion City

After the false start, we finally made it to Singapore. What a relief when we got there, into the company of family, friends and good food.

We trudged through the heat and humidity, fully prepared in our flimsiest summer wear of thin cotton shirts, bermudas and thongs and made many pit-stops at air-conditioned malls and shops whenever we felt a fainting spell coming on.

Familiar sights, new encounters. Experiences with the old and comfortable but seen through new eyes and from a fresh perspective. We did lots of eating, exploring and getting acquainted with the new and the old.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Leaving On A Jet Plane (Not)

So here we are. Saturday night. In Surry Hills. Sydney.

We should already be in Singapore. Having a nice local Singapore meal. In the sweltering humidity.

But we are not. Thanks to a lousy cracked windscreen on the Singapore Airlines plane we were supposed to board this morning at 8. It was still dark and really cold (finally felt like winter the first time this year) when we arrived at the airport at 6.15 am. Subsequently the fateful news was broadcasted over the PA system and there was a delay while they made plans to transfer us to other flights. Finally close to 12 noon, we left the airport, upset and disgruntled that we were unable to be transferred to any earlier flight than an 8.30 pm one which would get us into Singapore at the ungodly hour of 1.30 am. After being up at 5 am, the thought of being kept awake till at least 2.30 am when we estimate to arrive at mum's, was not enticing at all. So we chose to take the same flight, but 24 hours later and made our way back home to Surry Hills. More grumping around when the taxi vouchers which were promised did not materialise, and no official communication came until we asked them about it. No phone cards (also promised) to ring friends and family who were waiting for us to arrive, either.

When I get back from this holiday, I am going to write SIA a nice letter. Thanks for ruining my holiday before it had even really begun, reducing my precious week by a day, with little to make up for my disappointment and upset feelings to start off this long-awaited trip with G back to my hometown. Even passengers on cattle class have rights. Warsaw Convention - I read the fine print of practically everything, it's an occupational hazard.

So as a source of comfort, what else do we turn to? Food of course. We trotted off to Fifi Foveaux for the herbed mushroom risotto and the fried calamari warm salad for lunch. That helped calm feelings a little.

For dinner tonight, G made sardine and anchovy pasta in tomato sauce, tossed with broccoli, carrots and artichoke hearts. It was very good. It was warm and comforting, just what I need after this very long day, and to prepare myself for yet another long travel day ahead.

Foot (food) note: This was a chocolate cake which Sue from work got me for my birthday the day before. We topped off my birthday celebratory dinner at Tabou with the cake and a dollop of chocolate ice-cream for dessert.

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Monday, June 09, 2008


This is a tamarillo. It is a fruit from New Zealand, and is also known as a tree tomato. We are having it with vanilla ice-cream tonight for dessert.

Dinner tonight was crepes with freshly-made pesto, tuna, tomato and avocado. I managed to do the flick of the pan to turn the crepe over, however the weird thing was the first crepe I made was the best-looking of the lot and they got progressively uglier. I am not sure if it's because the flicking arm got tired or practice just doesn't make perfect in this case.
The tamarillo had an unusual taste, the seeds reminded me of pomegranate although they were crunchy and tough the way pomegranate seeds aren't. The seeds were a little like passionfruit but harder, the flesh wasn't very sweet probably because this one wasn't fully ripened. I guess it tasted a cross between a vegetable and a fruit. I think I won't be in a hurry to pay almost $2 for another tamarillo. Oh and speaking of exotic fruits, we do have another dessert of glutinous rice and durian in the fridge.

Let's just counter a strange fruit with another. They might cancel each other out!

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Currying F(l)avour

Curries are a good idea on a cold winter's night although Sydney's winter is usually not that cold. Furthermore, we are just at the start of winter and the worst is yet to be. But still, curries are a good idea. G likes the Indian curry while I am faithful to the Malaysian/Singaporean-style curry. He mentioned having curry for dinner tonight after our most unsatisfactory Indian curry meals 2 nights ago, so I agreed to make some, remembering the Singapore Curry Mix that Deb brought me some time back.

I made a vegetable and fish (mushroom) tofu curry tonight. We both love this tofu, fondly referred to as mushroom tofu. It had been out of stock at the usual Asian supermarket I patronise, for months. I was afraid the manufacturer had discontinued the product, until last week, at another Asian supermarket, where I found the long yearned for tofu. This is one thing which tastes as good in real life as in memory. The curry was a resounding success, G who doesn't usually eat carbs at dinner, had 2 helpings of rice with the curry.

Dessert was from Bourke Street Bakery - a pretty-looking, scalloped edged plum and almond tart and a beautifully-caramelised strawberry vanilla creme brulee. The creme brulee was a hit, and although the tart was not bad, it wasn't quite good enough to be worth $4 we felt.

And since we were at the Bakery, we planned ahead and also bought tomorrow's bread today - a raisin and hazelnut sourdough for breakfast. The bread there has never disappointed us before and we are all set for Sunday morning.

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