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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Teochew Mooncakes: A Big Tease


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This time last year, I was in Singapore, learning how to make mooncakes, learning about my family.

The lessons in the kitchen were both informative and intense. Along with their braised duck recipes, the women in my family imparted their tales, their advice. I won't go into detail — you'll just have to buy the book when it comes out in February.

But I found myself thinking about my aunties and their life lessons as the Mid-Autumn Festival (which falls today) approached and mooncakes began appearing in Chinatown stores. The celebration, also known as the Mooncake festival, marks the day that the moon is supposedly the brightest during the year. In Singapore, we also call it the lantern festival because it's the night that children wielding lanterns in the shape of dragons, dogs, even Hello Kitty, take to parks and playgrounds to create a river of bobbing lights. 

In China, the celebration also commemorates the 14th Century rebellion against the reigning Mongols. Members of the resistance spread word about their planned uprising via notes tucked into cakes, which they smuggled to sympathizers.

While I learned to make traditional mooncakes in Singapore — filled with lotus seed paste and salted egg yolks — my aunties also taught me a version that's indigenous to my Chinese ethnic group, the Teochews. Filled with sweet mashed yam and wrapped in a decorative rippled fried dough, these "mooncakes" were simpler, less cloying — and just lovely with a hot cup of Oolong. 

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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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