Mum’s Pork & Chinese Yam Soup: Rejuvenating the Soul

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In 1993, Straits Times editor Felix Soh gave a teenage news intern a tip that an illegal puppy mill might be operating in Singapore and said, “Check it out.”

After some digging and a little undercover work, a story ran that drew swift justice — authorities instantly shut down the mill, which had been keeping dozens of dogs in the most deplorable conditions. And I’ve been hooked on journalism ever since.

Felix, the man who walked and talked faster than anyone I know and had an infectious child-like glee whenever he smelled a good story, was the best first editor, teacher, mentor and friend that anyone could have — he taught me how to write a news story, never to be afraid to ask the tough question and pushed me to always, always be both curious and skeptical. I would not be where I am today without him.

It was with great shock and sadness that I learned Felix had suddenly passed away last week. I had just arrived back in Singapore for a visit and had been thinking of checking in. Although it’s been over 20 years since I was his intern, Felix has always been something of a journalism father figure to me and I greatly treasured the catchup lunches he’d managed to squeeze into his busy schedule.

Felix and I shared many things in common — a big passion for newspapering, the same birthday and most of all, a love for good food. During our lunches, he was always trying to teach me something about food, whether it was taking me to a new terrific Hainanese chicken rice joint or savoring foie gras chawanmushi at the Shangri-La’s Nadaman, an upscale Japanese restaurant he knew I likely wouldn’t have tried as as a college student because I simply could not have afforded it.

While I can’t make either of those dishes, I did want to share a recipe for the memorial-themed Let’s Lunch that my online cooking club was doing this month. This Chinese soup is not a tribute to Felix in the sense that we never enjoyed this dish together. Rather, it’s what my mother whips up whenever she thinks I’ve had a trying time and need a little pick me up.

And so after returning from paying our last respects to my old boss, this ensued …

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Dark Sauce Pork Noodles: A Touch of “Singapore Noir”

Dark Sauce Pork Noodles

In the twenty years that I’ve lived in the U.S., whenever I mention I’m from Singapore, all too often I’ll hear one of the following words: Caning. Fines. Chewing gum.

It’s always frustrated me that Americans tend to think of my native country as this sterile, boring place with strict rules where no adventures happen. Anyone who’s ever been so Singapore, of course, knows that this isn’t true — we have a seamy, dark side just like any other country!

So I was especially thrilled to have the opportunity to put together “Singapore Noir,” an anthology of dark fiction set in this little city-state perched on an island near the equator.

The book, which launched in the U.S. this month, has run me ragged so far, taking me from New York to Washington, D.C., to far-flung Los Angeles and San Francisco. (Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Miami and New York are still up — swing by a book signing if you’re in one of those cities!)

So when the intrepid Let’s Lunch crew settled on a Noir-themed lunch this month to toast the book, a certain Singaporean comfort food immediately came to mind: Dark sauce pork noodles

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Kasseler Mit Puree Und Kraut: German Smoked Pork Bliss

I used to think there was nothing better than waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

And then I woke up one afternoon from a deliciously languorous nap, having fallen asleep with a book on my chest, to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

The bacon was just the first sign of a terrific meal ahead. What was on the menu? Kasseler mit puree und kraut — smoked cured pork neck with sweet buttery mashed potatoes and bacon-inflected sauerkraut …

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Pork Giniling: A Home-Spun Fix

One thing invariably happens when I find myself wading through illness — yes, it’s a cliche, but visions of the home cooking of my girlhood start invading my few conscious thoughts.

My mother’s watercress soup, the fish congees she would set out for breakfast, even her turmeric fried chicken wings, inappropriate as they are for the bedridden — these all start to haunt me.

So when I found myself mired in a rather sad state recently, it was no surprise that all I suddenly could think about was a dish of pork slices and potatoes — sometimes with peas tossed in — swimming in a sweet and tangy tomato gravy.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, I had taken this one for granted and never observed its execution. How it had come to be or what it was called, I had never known — it simply appeared about once a week, part of the regular rotation at Chateau Tan.

In my dismal state, I latched onto this dish as something I simply had to have. I believed it would cure me. And after some browsing, I finally learned its name — a Filipino staple called pork giniling …

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Sweet Tomato-Egg Stir-Fry: Just Like Mom Made

On a spring afternoon 16 years ago, my dear friend Kelly invited me into her kitchen.

This might not seem particularly noteworthy, given all you read about fearless kitchen action on this blog — except that at the time, I was a tepid (and rather terrified) culinary novice whose oeuvre basically spanned charred fried rice and idiot-proof instant noodles. As interns at the Oregonian, however, we didn’t have much money to eat out at the time, so Kelly invited me over one day to sample a stir-fry that her mom always made in their Indiana home. At Kelly’s small stove in Portland, I watched intently as she heated up oil, stir-fried tomatoes with some sugar, poured in some beaten eggs and in a matter of minutes, the dish was done.

I’ve thought about that meal often — not just because the dish itself was delicious. The diced tomatoes, softened and watery from sloshing about the wok, mingled with hearty eggs and laced with sweetness, made for a combination that was heavenly scooped over hot rice.

Mainly, however, I remember how simple Kelly made it look — and how adult it seemed to be cooking an actual meal that didn’t involve ramen powder packets or crusty burned bits. I remember that I wanted to be Kelly.

Although we stayed in sporadic touch over the years, I never thought to bring up this meal to Kelly — until we caught up at my “A Tiger in the Kitchen” reading at Powell’s in Beaverton, Ore., last month. Over spicy Korean hand-pulled noodles and dumplings after, I finally asked. “Do you remember that tomato and egg dish you made?”

And oh yes, of course she did.

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