Braised Duck A L'Aunty Alice


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When I think of the family feasts of my Singapore girlhood, there’s always a duck in the picture.

To say that my people — that would be the Teochew ethnic group from Southern China — adore duck would be a major understatement. During a recent trip to Shantou, the area in China where my great-grandfather lived as a boy, duck and goose were inescapable at every dinner table.

So it’s more than slightly sacrilegious to say that I often avoid duck simply because it isn’t one of my favorites. (Hey, I’m a big hunk of red meat kind of gal — what can I say?)

I do make an exception for some versions, however — and Teochew-style braised duck is one of them.

While I’m really good at eating it, making it is another matter altogether. But this was something my Aunty Alice, the best cook among my mother and her sisters, was intent on fixing right away.

On a recent weekday, she arrived at my Singapore home armed with two ducks and a bag of ingredients and the tutorial began…

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Singapore: Grilling The Satay Man


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I’ve been on a hunt.

The object of my obsession has been a man who is one of the last of his kind in Singapore — the traveling Satay Man, a person of a breed so rare that, sadly, he’s not likely to be replaced when he finally he hangs up his tongs.

For the last 32 years, this particular satay man has plied his trade almost every day in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood in central Singapore. He spends hours pushing his little wooden cart along the narrow sidewalks near Tiong Bahru market, pausing occasionally to bellow, “Sa-TAAYYYYYY! Sa-TAAYYYYYY!”

Those who live there know to run down quickly when they hear him — you never know how long he’ll stop for. And, at 40 cents (about 28 U.S. cents) for a stick of satay, he often sells out pretty quickly.

I’m happy to report that I finally did catch him. And the news, I fear, is not good.

At 43 years old, he’s looking to quit. There’s a home in China he’s dreaming of retiring to, you see. As soon as he can comfortably close shop for good, he’s gone.

For now, however, he’s got a job to do. And what a job it is — after having tasted his satay, I rank this guy up there with Santa Claus in the “bringing joy (and calories) to folks” category.

Seriously, people, we’ve got to find a way to clone him.

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How to Wrap Bak-Zhang


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I have new-found respect for bak-zhang hawkers.

I’d never given the pyramid-shaped, glutinous-rice dumplings much thought — until I learned how to make them.

And boy, let me tell you, if you’re not naturally gifted in the ways of origami, you’re really in for it. (Unless you enjoy hearing the pitter-patter of rice beads skittering across the floor as clumps of braised pork pelt your toes.) 

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The Real Thing


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I’ve been thinking recently about the notion of “authentic” food.

There’s an interesting story in Singapore’s Straits Times today about foreign eateries trying to bring authentic takes on their native cuisines to Singapore. French boulangerie Le Grenier à Pain, for example, apparently stuck to its crusty baguettes even though Singaporeans typically favor softer versions that local bakeries serve up. Ditto for Quiznos and its authenticity. (Yes, this article actually cites the American food-court sandwich chain in its roundup.)

Nonetheless, there are some Singaporeans who disagree with this business strategy — one is quoted as saying that restaurants should take local preferences into account since “the customer picks what he likes most, whether or not it’s true to the original taste.”

The story made me think of the tale a friend recently told me of taking his Beijing girlfriend to Italy. There, she sniffed at the way Italians do Italian pasta dishes, finding them lacking when compared with the versions she’s had in China.

Sure, cuisines get altered all the time when they migrate from country to country — ingredients are added, steps are subtracted. But what happens when the tweaked, polyglot product ends up being what people believe to be authentic?

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