Ice Kachang: Savoring The Old


Icekachang 

This is what inevitably happens when I get together with the Fairways Kids, a bunch of friends I’ve known since I was 11, back when my family moved into a Singapore condominium building named (naturally) Fairways.

Sure, we’ll catch up on jobs, lives, kids, significant others. But somehow the conversation always wends its way back to one thing: ice kachang, a sugary dessert featuring a bowl of sweet corn, red beans, palm seeds and jelly topped with a minor hill of shaved ice that’s been doused in syrup so sweet you can practically feel a toothache coming on as you shovel spoonfuls into your mouth.

We were a rambunctious lot — still are, some might say. Rough soccer games, fearless, kickboxing fights in the swimming pool, endless games of volleyball in the tennis court — this was how our youths were misspent. But the highlight of those idyllic days often was a trip over the fence (the shortcut before the condo association built a back gate) to the hawker center in the back. 

What lay at the end was an ice-cold mountain, festive and pink. 

Back behind the fence, we had homework, exams and, later, boy or girl problems to consume us. But at Telok Blangah Food Centre, things were simple. All we had to worry about was whether we had enough coins that day for a bowl of ice kachang.

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Mooncakes: The Taste of Sweet Rebellion


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You know you’re walking into a hardcore kitchen when the first thing you see is stacks upon stacks of boxes filled with gorgeous home-made mooncakes.

The women on my Dad’s side of the family in Singapore — they’re fearless cooks.

Pineapple tarts, bak-zhang (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves), black vinegar-braised pig’s trotters? They could whip those together with their eyes closed.

Recently, however, the task at hand was Chinese mooncakes, eaten to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls this Saturday.

Now, there are a few old stories that explain the reason for eating these little cakes, which usually are filled with sweet lotus-seed paste and come either with a thin, baked crust or a soft, pliant dough skin that’s scented with pandan, a vanilla-like flavoring used in many Southeast Asian desserts. My favorite is the one of Ming revolutionaries planning to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China during the Yuan dynasty and spreading word via letters baked into mooncakes. (Julia Child would’ve been so proud!)

During my Singaporean girlhood, I’d known the stories, I’d eaten the cakes. As for making them? That seemed so laughably difficult it never once crossed my mind.

It turns out, however, they’re incredibly easy to make — you just need the right teachers.

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Lime-Coconut Cake: Conjuring Summer


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Yes, I realize with great sadness that summer is no longer with us.

But having grown up in Singapore, where it’s generally about 90 degrees all year round, I’ve always chosen to regard this little “four seasons” concept as more of a state of mind.

And my state of mind all year round tends to veer toward clear blue skies, suncreen and sand-between-my-toes kind of weather.

Which is how I found myself thinking about tropical lime-coconut cake all morning.

And, just when I thought I was being silly and a little too wistful about bygone pie-filled, scorching-hot days these sage words popped up courtesy of Gwen, a chef who blogs at Pen & Fork: “Ignore the calendar. Proceed full speed ahead with ‘put the lime in the coconut’ cake and eat it all up.”

Sound words indeed.

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Pluck: Super Easy Sweets


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I’m getting tired of being asked a certain question: Where did you buy that dress?

Recently, I’ve been asked that a fair bit. And recently, my answer has tended to be the same: Pluck, a little boutique along Singapore’s tiny Haji Lane that sells both new and vintage dresses and accessories.

It’s an answer I hate to give because most of the people asking have been my American friends. And with Pluck, well, it isn’t exactly close enough for them to pop in for a quick browse. (As an immediate gratification kind of person, this kind of thing just will not do for me.)

I recently discovered a bit of good news, however — Pluck just started selling online and yes, it delivers overseas as well. So I’m writing about this here so that a) people can stop asking me where I buy my dresses and b) well … a) pretty much covered it.

How does this relate to food? Not as tangentially as you’d think.

Pluck also sells ice-cream and dessert. While I heartily recommend the pear riesling and lychee martini ice-creams, it’s been the little crunchy and sweet nibbly bits that co-owner Aisah sends out with tea and coffee that have piqued my interest.

When I bit into one recently, I immediately thought of the little cookies that mums would set out as snacks for visitors or after-school treats when I was a child. 

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Chilled Soup: Those Healing Green Beans


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The Chinese in Singapore are big believers in the healing properties of soups — specifically, “heaty” and “cooling” soups, which either add fire to your body or cool it down, getting just the right balance of Yin and Yang. 

I know it’s sacrilege to say this — and I can already hear the clucking of my Mum and aunts who might actually read this — but I don’t give two hoots about heaty or cooling.

The most important question for me always is, “Does it taste good?”

And with green bean soup, the answer is: Yes, oh yes.

Despite my love for this sweet soup, I’ve never known how to make it. So, when my Let’s Lunch friends, a group of intrepid cooks spread across two continents who’ve been staging virtual lunchdates, suggested that we make a chilled soup for our next meal, I jumped at the excuse to learn my mother’s recipe.

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