Bedok Mian Fen Guo (Singapore): Perfect Peanut Pancakes

Bedok Mian Fen GuoMy mother rarely let us have sweets in the house when I was a child — something I have a great appreciation for now. (I realize I have her to thank for my lifelong aversion to soda and overly sugary pastries.)

There was one treat that she shared — rather, showered us with, however: Bee chian kueh.

Magically, this spongey Singaporean pancake — filled with crushed sweet peanuts — would appear in our kitchen, usually following a trip she’d made to the wet market for groceries. It’s typically eaten for breakfast, with strong coffee, or as a late morning snack. When done well, the pancake’s firm sponginess encased in a crispy crust, combined with the crunchy peanut filling, is just delicious. And if you bite into it while it’s still hot, it’s simply divine.

I hadn’t had this pancake in many years — it’s not something I’ve found in the Chinatown haunts of my adopted home, New York, and when I’ve visited Singapore, I’ve tended to focus on crossing off the meals I miss, not snacks I somewhat dimly remember.

In recent years, however, this pancake has started magically appearing in my Singapore kitchen again. One day, my mother took me to a nearby hawker center so I could see why …

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Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall (Singapore): New-School Hawker

Ah Sam Cold Drink StallI’m generally skeptical of “It” places. The more anyone tells me I simply must try this restaurant or that bar, the less inclined I am to make the journey.

Recently in Singapore, Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall has been the name on many lips. This speakeasy-style bar in touristy Boat Quay has been foisted on me in many a discussion when the topic of boîtes has arisen. So naturally, I’ve resisted.

That is, until I found myself in Boat Quay this week, thinking of where to go next for a drink and a bite. With Ah Sam just around the corner, I thought, why not …

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Singaporean Sardine Sandwiches: A Secret Food Love

Sardine Sandwich I recently found myself in a situation of looking at a small list of lunch sandwich choices and having a friend ask me what he should pick. The list featured the usual: Ham, cheese, tuna. And then: Sardine.

My very good-natured friend, the author Alek Popov (read his hilarious novel “Mission London” if you haven’t), listened to my advice — the sardine, of course. For Alek, this new sardine adventure turned out to be a lunch so horrid I wouldn’t hear the end of it at dinner that evening.

For those who didn’t grow up eating sardine sandwiches like I did, I suppose the experience could be a little jarring — it’s intensely fishy, mushy and well, those two sensory things may not be what many seek in a lunch. For me, however, sardines are heaven. I love eating them in sandwiches, in puff pastry buns, on their own. (Not that I broadcast this information — I’ve learned my lesson since my last public show of sardine love.)

So when my Let’s Lunch group decided on making a dish featuring a secret food love — an item you’re so ashamed of eating you don’t talk about it much — sardines came to mind. What to make with it? A Singaporean classic …

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Japanese Crisp Choco Bites: Guilty Pleasure Morsels

My mother discouraged snacking when I was a child. (A policy I’m hugely thankful for now that I know just how little willpower I have.)

However, among the few tidbits allowed during my Singaporean girlhood — as just an occasional treat — were Japanese cookies and chocolate snacks.

These bite-sized morsels were adorable — panda-shaped cookies filled with oozy strawberry filling, thimble-sized chocolate “hamburgers,” tasty biscuit sticks I’d pretend were cigarettes as I held them between two fingers, slowly nibbling them down to nubs. But my favorite was something very basic: Crisp Choco, a milk-chocolate pizza-like pie made with compacted chocolate cornflakes.

In the grand scheme of things, this snack doesn’t seem terribly sinful — it’s not a rich molten chocolate cake or mound of bacon, after all. But it was a treat that we looked forward to — one I count as a guilty pleasure I now allow myself just a few times a year.

So when my Let’s Lunch bunch decided on sharing a guilty pleasure for our virtual lunch date this month, Crisp Choco it was …

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Spam Fries with Key Lime Dip: A Perfect Munchies Hit

A little bit of excitement occurred recently — I just had my first piece of fiction published in an anthology!

It’s a short story titled “Ganja Ghosts” — about, well, smoking the you know what in Singapore. And it’s appeared in a lovely book called “The Marijuana Chronicles,” edited by the brilliant artist and bestselling mystery writer Jonathan Santlofer.

In addition to Jonathan, there are stories in there by Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child and more. To say I’ve been thrilled would barely even begin to describe it. And yes, all of you should absolutely run right out now and buy a copy!

So, it seemed like a celebration was in order — and thankfully, my Let’s Lunch mates were on board. For this month’s lunch date, we decided to share our ideas for perfect “munchies” …

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