Sunday, December 25, 2011


I wish I could hitch a ride on Santa's sledge and arrive at your doorstep, there to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and shake you by the hand.

Alas, still covered with paints from the house painting job I have been avoiding for the whole year until last week, I must content myself with writting to you. First of all, I want to say it has been a great pleasure writting this blog over the past year. I fully realise full well how your visits and comments have kept this blog going and want you to know how greatly I appreciate it.

I hope the Christmas holiday will find you happy and safe with your family and that the New Year brings you new success and greater prosperity.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hot Buboh Cha Cha for a Cold Sydney Summer!

If you are visiting Sydney this summer, you are likely to need your brolly or poncho when the weathermen expect the unseasonably cold and wet weather to continue throughout this season. You think its bothersome, wait until you have to unpack your woollies that you have put away and thinking summer is done. Amid the coldest start to a Sydney summer in almost 50 years, my wife reluctantly unpacked the winter clothes she had just put away for storage. We need the winter clothes again as it was reported that Sydney had its lowest December minimum for 16 years with the morning temperature hovering around 10 degree and Katoomba in the Blue Mountain almost froze at 2.5 degree, experienced its lowest December on record. It is the coldest first week of summer since 1960.
We had hot buboh cha cha for dessert last night. No, that was not a typo mistake. I know, many Singaporeans are used to eat buboh cha cha with ice shavings, but with the temperature dropping outside, there is nothing more appropriate than to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of buboh cha cha. I just have to post this recipe as an appreciation for my missus, who had spent the whole afternoon to prepare this dessert. Firstly, she cut the sweet potatoes and taro before steaming them individually. Instead of adding sago, she also made my favourite tiny tapioca dumpling to go with it. Besides, she added black-eye beans to give another unfamiliar twist to the buhoh cha cha that we know.

Buboh Cha Cha Recipe:


500g sweet potatoes
500g taro
150g black-eye beans
200g tapioca flour
1 cup sugar
5 Tsp water
¼ cup hot water.
2 can (380ml) coconut milk
2 pandan leaves, if unavailable use ½ tsp pandan essence
2 cup water.
½ green food colouring
Soak black eye beans in water overnight. Place beans in a pot and bring to boil for about 30 minutes or until soft. Peel sweet potatoes and taro, cut into 2 cm cubes. Steam sweet potatoes and yam separately for 15 mins or until cooked.
To make tapioca dumplings:
Mix tapioca flour with cold water and stir well. Pour in ¼ hot water or enough to make a soft dough. Add food colour and knead, add more tapioca if necessary. Roll the soft dough into ½ cm strips and cut into cubes or triangles. Sprinkle with more tapioca flour to keep it separate. Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a pot, put in the tapioca cubes. It floats to the surface once it is cooked. Drain and run under a cold water tap.
Bring 2 cup water with sugar to boil in a saucepan and add coconut milk. Put in the sweet potatoes and taro cubes black eye beans and add the tapioca dumplings. Add the pandan essence and serve hot or cold.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Summer time is Party Time in OZ! Lets agar-agar...

Summer time in Australia is party time. It starts with the endless lunches and cocktail parties in the office for end of the year parties until the start of another and together with the traditional Yuletide festivities highlighted in its midst, there is no excuse not to join in the fun. There is no better way to celebrate its joys than to sit down at a table with family and friends and share all the complements of the season. Of course, for many Overseas Singaporeans, every festive season is also synonymous with fine food. And over the holidays, why not try to cook some of our traditional dishes? Besides bringing a dish of home cooked food makes a wonderful gift to bring along for any get-together or party with friends. What better motivation to spend these hazy lazy days of summer and to share some of our time honoured finger-food recipes– perfect with any party or makan session.

Agar -Agar with Coconut Milk Topping:


30g agar-agar powder
1 ½ cup sugar
1 can (350ml) coconut milk
4 pandan leaves or 1 Tsp pandan essence
½ tsp green colouring
5 cup water

Stir and dissolve 20g agar-agar powder with 4 ½ cup of water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and add sugar and pandan leaves or pandan essence. Keep stirring while boiling for 20 minutes. Add green colouring and pour into a mould to set for about twenty minutes or until it is about to set but still wobbly.
Coconut Topping:
Stir and dissolve 10g agar –agar powder with water in a sauce pan. Bring to boil. Add coconut milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat once it started to boil.
Gently ladle coconut topping over green agar-agar and leave to set. When it is cooled keep in refrigerator to serve agar –agar cold.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Kimchi got to do with K-pop in Singapore?

During my recent visit to Singapore, I have noticed that Korean food have taken a firm foothold in the local eatery scene. Korean food is available even in the local food courts and moving towards a popularity status, similar to that enjoyed by Japanese food, up until the 1990s. I can’t help but suspect the Korean TV series or K-pop culture is driving a paradigm shift in the exposure and popularity of the Korean food in Singapore. But recent influx of enquires and requests to by blog for kimchi recipes from fellow Singaporeans can only add to my long held suspicion.
Just like sambal belachan which is an integral side dish for Nonya and Malay families, kimchi is typically served at every meal in Korean homes and restaurants. To many Koreans, a meal without kimchi is unthinkable! Kimchi has always being synonymous to Korea long before K-pop and Korean TV soap operas have grown into a popular pastime among young and many not so young followers in Singapore, resulting in widespread interest from food to the fashion and style of Korean idol groups and actors.
Ironically, I have learned kimchi making not from a Korean but a Japanese friend Naoko, who has been making kimchi according to a home recipe she inherited from her grandmother. It has been her family’s pride; there is nothing like homemade kimchi! Each family’s kimchi has its own unique flavour, but the basic process is still the same. According to Naoko, the basic step is to salt the vegetable, firming it up by extracting its liquid in order to give crunchiness to its final product. A mixture of spices is than added and the vegetable is left to ferment, creating its distinctive character of homemade kimchi.

2 kg Chinese cabbage.
11/2 cup coarse sea salt
500g Chinese radish cut into matchsticks
3 fresh large chillies seeded and cut into strips.
3 large white onions sliced
150g Chinese chive (ku chai)
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp grated ginger
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup Korean Chilli powder (kochu karu) or coarse chilli powder
2 tsp salted Shrimp (saeu chot) or chinchaluk (Malaysian preserved shrimp)
2 tsp flour.

Wash cabbage and cut lengthwise into quarters. Place the cabbages into a large steel or plastic bowl with the cut sides up and sprinkle salt between the leaves. Dissolve ¼ cup of slat with 1 cup of warm water and pour over the cabbage. Let stand the cabbage for at least 3 hours, shifting the cabbages every hour to evenly salt the pieces. During the last hour, test the cabbage for crunchiness. If you happy with the crunch, rinse the cabbage several time and drain on a colander. Make the stuffing paste while the cabbage is salting. To make the stuffing paste, dissolve the flour in 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Stirring gently until it becomes a paste. Let it cool before adding the chilli powder and preserved shrimp. Mix well into a deep red paste and add all remaining ingredients and mix well. Place the salted cabbages in a bowl and insert the stuffing paste between the leaves. Place the cabbage into a screw-top jar and press down firmly to pack well and remove trapped air bubbles. Add a little water to mix with the remaining bits and pieces of stuffing and pour over the cabbages. Add more water if needed to immersed kimchi completely in liquid but be sure to leave at least 50mm of space at the top of the jar.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bully Beef But We Were Not Conned...

As a member of the Commonwealth, modern Singapore is still steep in some past legacies of the old British Empire such as the Internal Security Act (which authorizes detention without trial in certain circumstances) and the Societies Act (which regulates the formation of associations) that were enacted during the colonial days, I am surprised that Singaporeans have not been conned in eating bully beef like many of Britain’s former colonies. Unlike time- honoured Brands Essence of Chicken or Jacobs Cracker Biscuits which hold much high esteem and have the stamp of approval from our grandparents and parents since British colonial days, the bully beef has failed to leave its mark on our Imperial past. But it had definitely played an important role in the British military history as it was the main field rations for their soldiers fighting in the field from the Boer War to World War II.

Bully beef is also known as canned corned beef and is sold in distinctive oblong-shaped cans, or in Australia , it is typically sold in uncooked round or silverside of beef, cured or pickled in a seasoned brine from supermarkets. It is difficult to point out the differences in consumption of corned beef in various countries but it is often associated with culture and taste. I can simply put it this way, bully beef to the British is like luncheon meat to the Singaporean Chinese.

I could not remember eating canned corned beef in my younger days, until I went to work in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. I was staggered by the popularity and high consumption of canned corned beef in these former British colonies in the Pacific. To this day, it is not unusual to find corned beef being served at communal feast, family gatherings and everyday’s meals. Since then, I have included corned beef in our family cooking as a boiled dinner served with cabbage, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes.



• 1.5kg uncooked corned beef (silverside)
• 1 onion, quartered
• 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
• 2 medium carrot
• 5 cloves of garlic, smashed
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 Tbsp sugar
• ½ cup brown vinegar
• 8 whole cloves
• 1 tsp black peppercorns
• 1 Tbsp vinegar


• 1 Tbsp butter/margarine
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 1 Tbsp plain flour
• 3/4 cup (190ml) milk
• 1½ cup stock reserved juices from the pot.

Preparation method

Rinse the meat with cold water and place in a large saucepan and fill with water to cover the corned beef Add in your sugar, vinegar, garlic, carrot celery, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves.
Bring the pot to the boil and cover and simmer for 2 hours or until meat is tender.
Once cooked, take the meat out and let it rest and cool.
To make the sauce;
1. Melt the margarine or butter in a pan over low-medium heat and then add the flour to make a thick paste. Stir in the mustard and keep adding milk to get the consistency of a smooth paste. Add the stock from the pan, to get a nice thin sauce. Serve cooked corned beef with cabbage and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips and potatoes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

First, catch your hare...

First, catch your hare” is the immortal first line commonly thought to originate in the recipe for hare soup by Hannah Glasse an author of the most influential English cookbook of the eighteenth-century. Although the familiar words, ‘First catch your hare,’ were never to be found in Mrs. Glasse's famous volume, I think in terms of culinary merit it is still being true today. Nothing is closer to the truth for many Overseas Singaporeans who want to cook a familiar dish in a foreign country where the main ingredient is unavailable. Unless the main ingredient can be substituted to accomplish a good end result, it is like cooking beef rendang without coconut or eating chui kueh without the chaipoh(preserved raddish).
I have been delaying my attempt to cook tagine until I have made the preserved lemon which is an essential ingredient in most Middle Eastern cookings. Now, that my homemade preserved lemons are ready in the pantry, I could not wait to cook the long awaited Moroccan Chicken Tagine.


1.5kg Chicken pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
½ cup green peas
1 small carrot, chopped
4 tomatoes, sliced
3 onions, sliced
150g of pitted olives
4 preserved lemons, cut rind only into strips
2 bay leaves.

Chermoula Paste

4 cloves garlic
4cm ginger, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 preserved lemons, cut rind only into strips
1tsp chili flakes
1tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
1Tsp coriander
3 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 bunch fresh coriander coarsely chopped
½ cup flat leaf parsley coarsely chopped.
½ cup oil


To make chermoula paste, process ingredients in a blender to a paste. Set aside 2 tablespoon of chermouila paste and pour the remaining paste over chicken, mix to coat. Mix potatoes and reserved chermouila paste in a bowl.

Pour 2 tablespoon of oil into tagine, and placed sliced tomatoes and onions on the base of tagine. Add chicken pieces in the centre and pile the potatoes and carrot in order to fit into the tagine. Scatter with olives and preserved lemons and bay leaves. Cook covered on low heat for 45 minutes. Add peas and cook for a further 15 minute. Serve hot with couscous.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kiwi is of Chinese Origin...

I have always loved Kiwi and even more so now that I have come to know of its origin. With its brown velvety skin on the outside and sweet and juicy flesh inside, honestly who could ever resist it? Yes, I am talking about the kiwifruit which owes its origin to China until a clever marketing strategy in the 1950s changes its nationality ever since. This fruit had a long history in its original motherland before it was commercialized as kiwifruit, and therefore had many other older names such as Chinese gooseberry and Macaque peach or míhóu táo (獼猴桃) in Chinese.

Incidentally, I still think that I have also fallen into the same marketing ploy when I bought a pair of kiwi plants from the nursery. The plants was presented as a boy plant in a blue pot and girl plant in pink pot, packed together in a carry box with a delicious kiwi fruit-tart print. The nurseryman did not try to sell me more than one plant. It is all about the birds and the bees, that you must plant a male and a female plant in order to produce fruits. It is dioecious by nature, which refers to a plant population having separate male and female plants.

I have told myself not to add another plant in my overcrowded backyard but I have prepared the bed next to the pergola to accommodate my newly purchased kiwifruit plants. How can you not find room for a long lost cousin?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's the difference between the Greek's Pasteli and Teochew's Muar Tng?

What is the common factor between Greek’s Pasteli and the Teochew’s Muar Tng (sesame candy)? Both cultures consider it as a traditional confection, using sesame as its main ingredient. But unlike the Teochew’s muar tng the Greeks use honey in their pasteli instead of maltose. The Greek’s pasteli is often served during Easter and the Teochew’s muar tng besides being offered amongst other sweetmeats at Chinese New Year, it is wrapped in red papers and distributed to friends and relatives in traditional Chinese engagement ceremony to announce the happy event of the newly betrothed. This popular candy treats need not to be confined and designated to festivity or ceremony; it is a favorite treat any time of the year! This recipe is simple and easy to make at home.

Pasteli and Muar Tng Recipe:


• Cooking oil, for greasing the baking sheet
• 3 cups sesame seeds
• 1 cup honey/maltose
• 1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Grease a baking sheet with cooking oil and put aside.
2. Heat a non- stick wok or pan over medium flame.
3. Pour three cups sesame seeds into the hot wok and stir continuously with wooden spoon until they’re well-toasted and light golden-brown in color. It only takes a couple of minutes please take care not to burnt the sesame seeds.
4. Stir honey/maltose and a ½ teaspoon of sea salt into the toasted sesame seeds until they become well-coated and the mixture stiffens.
5. Pour the mixture of honey/maltose and sesame seeds onto the greased baking sheet and Use a oiled spatula to pat down and smooth out the mixture into a rectangle about 12mm thick. Allow to cool
6. Turn the block onto a cutting board, and cut into 12 mm strips with an oiled knife. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Old School Revisited

‘I must be getting old’ I said to an old schoolmate from my primary school days. ‘And sentimental and grumpy” he retorted. ‘Next you’ll be complaining that the sky was always blue, the hawker food tasted different and children plenty’. And so it was. Well I mean to say, we had less distraction in those days. Look at the lorongs now, not a child in it. I remember when every lorong would have been swamped black with children. ‘Even towards the last day of school holiday! The kids are at tuition centre or enrichment classes ‘he interrupted me scornfully as I gazed forlornly into a deserted lorong. ‘Maybe you are right’, I admitted reluctantly but rather than trying to pacify a proud Singaporean and to avoid another debate later. And as if I do not know the pressure the parents put on their offspring to perform well and all that goes with it. I was deeply concerned by the thought of the children’s inflicted inability to allow them to participate in simple pleasures associated with childhood.

‘There’s our old primary school if we turn left’ he said, as we walked along Sims Avenue. I turned into Lorong 23. I stopped and stared as I entered the old school gate of Geylang Primary School. The old school building with the grey asbestos roof still stood the test of time. On my right, behind the security fencing, a new warehouse structure was rising on the school field, where many ‘hantam bola’ games or rounders were played during recess time and being chased and fleeing gleefully with a torn shirt after avoiding being caught in a police and robber game. I noticed the century old Angsana tree at the corner was gone. It had a trunk which was partly blown by a bomb when the school was bombarded to the ground by the Japanese during the World War Two. Occasionally, a makeshift altar would appear at the base of its huge buttressed trunk to commemorate the tree not as a war survivor but most likely as a shrine by some illegal 4-D or chap gi kee winners to appease the spirit that many believed was living there. Ghost stories told at school lavatory and re-enacted in classroom with nightmarish result especially little did we know that Angsana tree bled a blood coloured resin when the bark was bruised or slashed.

But what have they done to my old school? Since then, of course, it has now become a centre of various welfare and charity organisations for housing the aged to rehabilitation of ex-prisoners. Well, at least it has been temporary reprieved and remained as an occasional remnant of the past for many an exile like me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Geylang sipaku Geylang

Geylang, sipaku Geylang, Geylang, si rama rama.
Pulang, marilah pulang, marilah pulang bersama-sama.
Mari pulang, marilah pulang, marilah pulang bersama-sama.

Lyrics from a Malay Folk Song.


Geylang, sipaku Geylang, Geylang, si rama rama.
Home, come home, come home together.
Come home, come home, come home together.

Every balek kampung or home coming trip I have taken since I left Singapore nearly four decades ago, has always being a nostalgic journey to my past. My recent visit to my island home was no different except it was a double whammy. I was back to attend the 135th Anniversary of my alma mater and visited the house where I was born. Although my old house is insignificant and beyond any comparison to my former school, which holds a rightful claim of having three past presidents of Singapore as its former students, I could hardly hide my thrill to learn that it is under the preservation and heritage listing like my old school building. In this ever changing and land hungry city, not many Singaporeans can boast about of having their old house and old school to be protected from the demolishing hands of the city planners.
Early one hazy morning, last month I took a crowded MRT train packed with workers and students which stopped at every station to allow more passengers to join the morning rush. I travelled along the East- West line, passing stations with familiar sounding names like Bedok, Eunos and Paya Lebar in the direction of the city. As the train passed Joo Chiat and heading towards Aljunied, I had not been along this way in a good while but now on impulse, I decided to venture into the area, curious to see for myself, how much the district had changed at hands of planners as well as the influx of new migrants and residents, especially from China. So instead of continuing my journey to the city, I alighted from the train at Aljunied Station and I strolled towards Geylang Road.
I stopped and stared at the now empty space in front of the Aljunied Station. Just an empty space, but memories came flooding back. Gone was the Lorong 25 Market. It was a hub of the open air and wet market era, where the housewives, hawkers, fruits and vegetables sellers came to congregate, hustle and bustle every morning.
Here’s Geylang, I used to live, spending an uneventful childhood playing marbles, flying layangs(kites), fighting spiders and Siamese fish, sprinkled with occasional forays against the Lorong 27 kids who were foolhardly enough to venture into our territory. It appeared to me at that time our street gang had a fearsome reputation, though I suppose that by today’s standards we were not really at all fearsome. At the very most, we only had to explain or lied to our teachers or mother what caused the black eye or the tear at the back of our shirt was due to a game of catching at the school yard.
Bear with me, if I am rumbling like an old uncle for the next few postings but I promise to share some of the signature street hawkers recipes that I have collected during this balek kampong trip.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Topsy Turvy Tomatoes

The Hanging Tomato Planters on the clearance counter in a shop at the local mall caught my eyes and instantly reminded me of a special Planter advertisement I have seen on TV that allows you to grow a tomato plant upside down. Upside-down gardening has become quite popular in the last few years with upside-down planters and its concept is nothing new, but it is totally new to me. Thanks for the topsy turvy reminder; this is exactly what I am planning to do this spring.

Although the advertisements for products that grew vegetables upside down have had me convinced that they would be a great idea for my garden, I wondered how successful this would be in my frugal way of doing things. Instead of buying the commercial product, I have planted some tomato seedlings with cheap plastic buckets that I have bought for 85 cents each at the local shop.
To start my upside-down tomato garden, I simply cut a 50mm hole at the bottom of the pail and I filled it with planting mix, added organic fertilizer, planted a tomato seedling in the opening on the bottom and hung it in a sunny spot.
I am looking forward to growing tomatoes and chillies hanging up in the air in our pergola and veranda. Not only it saves space and adds decorative interest to my backyard, but it also eliminates the hassles of weeding, pests and digging.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Springtime Downunder...

Springtime! Beloved of many, especially the home gardeners, when the mild weather is here and sky is blue; and when everywhere around us is the sweetness and fragrance of flowering plants and trees. Even our potted wisteria in the veranda just couldn’t wait to show off its mauve and white flowers and throws its perfume around. Today, as if on cue, it has burst open many of its flowering buds to welcome the first day of spring in Australia.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This old fashioned bread pudding recipe to make at home.

As I watched the final stages of a popular cooking show which attracted a large following across the country, competitors were plating up dishes with the help of mentors from fine dining restaurants not only to impress the judges but bringing their collective culinary skills to a different level. The competitors were no longer satisfied of cooking a simple dessert, they conjured up more exotic creations using all manner of fancy ingredients and all generously laced with a variety of spices and liqueur.
For a lot of us watching the show, it's far beyond our means to duplicate the dish at home. I do not mind fine dining whereas food portions are smaller but more visually appealing and unless it rises to its occasion, I would rather eat simply. Instead I have a yearning for a simpler time when dessert was made from a few common kitchen ingredients. This bread pudding recipe, from an old English neighbour is absolutely incredible and simple to make.

Bread Pudding

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups stale bread, torn into small pieces (Brioche works best)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)


1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, heat milk just until film forms over top. Combine butter and milk, stirring until butter is melted. Cool to lukewarm.
2. Combine sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat mixture for 3 minute. Slowly add milk mixture.
3. Place bread in a lightly greased 1 1/2 quart casserole.
4. Sprinkle with raisins if desired. Pour batter on top of bread.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set. Serve warm.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What have the Welsh Leek and the Chinese Leek held in common?

The answer is leek has played a symbolic significant in their respective cultures. More so with the Welsh, since the middle of the 16th century, leek had been recognised as the emblem of Wales. Its association with Wales can in fact be traced back to the battle of Heathfield in 633 AD, when St. David, the principal patron of Wales persuaded his countrymen to distinguish themselves from their Saxon foes by wearing a leek in their caps. Thereafter it became the national symbol of Wales, and it is still worn by Welshmen on this day. As for the Chinese, leek is included in the traditional Chinese New Year food where each and every food in the list is a symbol of prosperity, good luck, health and long life for everyone at the table, either by its appearance or the pronunciation of its name. Don’t ask me why it is included in the list but I have held a long suspicion that it has gained its position through a language pun, the word for leek having the same sound as "count" in Chinese. Together with other good food to begin a new year, what is most appropriate than lets the counting of good blessing begins.

Although I am unable to buy Chinese leeks which have thicker leaves with a milder flavour and sweeten when cooked, I often replace it with Welsh leeks which are easily available in the supermarkets or stalls. Leeks are delicious in soups, quiche, pies, stir fries and pasta sauces. Always wash them before using them taking care to rinse any soil that may be lodged near the leaves.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Homemade Preserved Lemons love Thick Skinned...

Now that I have acquired my first tagine, I could hardly wait for my homemade preserved lemons to mature and soften enough to be used for the many Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes that call for preserved lemons, lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices. Although it’s possible to buy preserved lemons at Middle Eastern shops here in Sydney making preserved lemons couldn't be easier and they taste far fresher than anything you can buy. It's quite easy to do, though it takes at least one and a half month for the maturation process before the lemons are ready to use.


Sea Salt, 1 dessertspoon of salt per lemon, plus one for the jar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Scrub the lemons clean with a kitchen brush and dry with paper towel. Cut into quarters but do not cut all the way in order to keep the lemon attached at the base. Pry open the lemons, and sprinkling each quarter with salt as you add and pack the lemons to the jar. Press right down on the lemons to squeeze as much juice out. If the lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until they are fully immersed. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.I have placed a porcelain Chinese tea cup on top of the lemons to press and keep them under the lemon juice when the lid is put on the jar. Leave at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 6 to 8 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What the Moroccan Tagine and the Cantonese Ceremic Pot have in common?

I am always asking my wife Jo not to add anymore new kitchen utensil or garget to the overcrowded storage cupboard until this Moroccan cookware is irresistible to be missed for a bargain. This latest addition is called “tagine” in Moroccan which refers both the conical shaped cooking pot, and also to the food prepared in it. It is definitely not going to disappear amongst the other utensils in the storage and I can see that it will be put in good use not only as a slow cooking pot but also to be used as a serving dish to present a stunning meal at a dinner party. I think that cooking in a Moroccan tagine is similar to the Chinese ceramic pot (sah pol) that somehow gives the dishes an indescribable ''extra' flavour. I can’t wait to use this tagine and try my hands in cooking Moroccan dishes that usually feature meat or poultry gently simmered with vegetables, olives, preserved lemons, garlic and wonderful spice blends like charmoula as a marinade for my family and friends.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The New American Shopping Experience is here in Sydney

Despite the heavy rain and traffic jams caused by the huge crowds, my wife and I joined the thousands of shoppers to shop at Costco's first Sydney store yesterday. Our new American way of shopping experience started long before we arrived at the store. We were stuck in an one and a half kilometre traffic jam leading to the 14,000-square-metre warehouse store in Auburn; the second to be opened in Australia by the US chain that sells discounted products in bulk to customers who pay a $60 membership fee.
We had read in the papers that their first Melbourne store received a rapturous response from shoppers on their grand opening and we were sort of preparing ourselves for a big turnout at the first Sydney outlet when it opened its doors yesterday. But nothing could have prepared us to this entirely new shopping experience. It was beyond our expectation! Customers had arrived two hours earlier before the opening time at the Sydney store and quickly filled up the 800-capacity car park. When we finally inched our car to our destination, we had to park at the designated overflow car park opposite the store.

We were soon ushered to join the long queue of customers pushing oversized shopping trolleys towards the entrance of the store. Inside this well-lit warehouse, we were taken aback by the pallets stacked three high of variety of products ranging from TV sets to household goods and fresh produces.
Soon I was overwhelmed not by the special opening offers that the crowds were piling into their trolleys but the congestion at the checkouts told me it was time for me to get of there.

Unfortunately, I had to cut short my new shopping experience and decided to head home early and come back another time only if their prices are attractive enough to entice me to shop with them again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homemade Noodles with its Political Ingredients...

I sat down intending to enjoy my bowl of homemade noodles and was about to give myself a pat on my shoulder in front of my family for cooking this rustic noodles dish on a cold winter day. But I suddenly realised the credit should go to my late mother who had taught me how to make these noodles. I do not know from whom she had learnt how to make these noodles. If my memory serves me right, she started to incorporate it into our staple food during one of the campaigns where the Singapore government was encouraging its populace to eat more flour when there was a shortage of rice in the regions. I am pretty sure that many Singaporeans of my generation can still remember some of the numerous campaigns that were continuously churned up in the 60s and 70s. Whatever Parliament decided to do, a national conversation about the campaign would last until it was replaced by another new another campaign.
Although my late mother was not a politically savvy person, she had always been a staunch supporter of the People Action Party in her lifetime. She openly supported her Prime Minister and his political party to a fault. She would chide anyone in the family or her neighbours,who dared to be indifferent from her political conviction in her presence. To her, the PAP can do no wrong. Maybe she was right. My family and I still love these homemade noodles regardless of it political origin.

Homemade Noodles Recipe

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tsp oil
2 cup flour (for dusting)

Combine 2 ½ cup of flour and salt and mix in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add water and oil a little at a time. Mix into soft dough with both hands and knead on a floured surface for about 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a cling wrap and set aside for about 1 hour to improve on its texture.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface with a rolling pin into 3mm thick sheets. Dust the rolled sheets with flour to prevent sticking. Using a sharp knife cut the floured sheets into strands and dust with plenty of flour. Do not worry if the stands are irregular in its size; that is the trademark of homemade noodles.
Fresh noodles can be used for most noodles recipes and will stay fresh for a week in the refrigerator and can also be frozen for future use.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Where have all the Toasted Salt and Sichuan Peppers (Huajiaoyan) gone?

It is regrettable that the traditional dip for Chinese style deep fried chicken is fast vanishing and has been replaced with sweet chilli sauce in most restaurants in the last couple of years. This dip commonly known as “Huajiaoyan” (Toasted Salt and Szechuan pepper) or simply called “Pepper and Salt “ is served with deep fried chicken and to eat it in the traditional fashion, pick a piece of the chicken with a pair of chopsticks and dip each piece into the huajiaoyan before eating. I am pretty sure you have tasted Sichuan peppercorns before. It has an array of aliases, such as pricky ash,fagara, sansho and huajiao. It makes an excellent dip for a variety of dishes especially crispy-fried chicken.

Although not botanically related to the black or white pepper, Sichuan pepper is certainly its culinary cousin. Unlike its cousin, Szechuan pepper lends to its own characteristic flavour which produces more of a numbing pungency that gives the tongue and lips a tingling effect than the spicy heat that lingers in the mouth which is normally akin to the after-effect of eating a chilly. Well, before it vanishes into the horizon and joins the forgotten list of traditional food, here is a recipe for keepsake.

Huajiaoyan (Toasted Salt and Sichuan Pepper)

4 tbsp salt.
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
½ tbsp black peppercorns.
Heat wok over moderate heat and pour in the Sichuan peppercorns and the black peppercorns. Stir about 1 minute or until the peppercorns release its fragrance. Pour the peppercorn into a mortar and grind them into a fine powder. Reheat the wok and pour in the salt. Stir until the salt just begins to turn golden brown. Pour it into a bowl to cool. Mix the ground peppercorns with the salt. Store in an air tight container and it will keep indefinitely if kept dry.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It’s a delightful sensual culinary world of chilli...

It has never ceased to amaze our friends from Hong Kong whenever we asked for a second helping of cut chillies or hot chilli sauce at the yum cha lunches together. “How can you enjoy the delicate taste of those dim sums when you have numbed your taste buds with chillies!” they exclaimed. Just as it is difficult for them to convince us to give up on the chilli with every mouthful of dim sum and enjoy the delightful morsel as it is presented, it is even more difficult for us to eat without chilli. Well, unless you are true blue Singaporean, the likelihood of you to understand this spiritual experience or otherwise is out of the window. There is simply nothing quite likes it – it’s a delightful sensual culinary world of chilli. This usually begins with a tingling wave when the chilli first comes into the contact with the tongue. It gradually gives way to a warm heat but soon passes into a numbing, almost anaesthetic feeling on the tongue. For those who are not accustomed to this eating habit, it can be a burning sensation but to many Singaporeans it is peculiarly addictive because it is purported to give them a spiritual lift to go with that sensual experience.
Buying chilli can be expensive, yet the plants are perfectly easy to grow even in the cool temperate regions of Sydney. You can grow plants from seed but it is easier to buy seedlings from the local nursery or Asian stores and it no time you’ll have all those wonderful chilli to harvest and eat. There are several different varieties of chillies, which lends their own characteristic flavour to their spiciness of their particular regions’ dish. The Thai and Korean cuisines usually demand mainly hot chillies, whereas we prefer the medium to hot chillies for the simple cut chilli to go with most Singaporean dishes such as kuih teow soup or beef noodle soup.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Would you like to have Chinese or English tea?

As a direct descendant from a less sophisticated early immigrant stock of Singapore for whom a cup of tea was a cup of tea, obviously without knowing Lu Yu, a Chinese writer at the time of Tang Dynasty in his “Classic of Tea” wrote tea was more than just a drink , it was a symbol and a ceremony. I didn’t know much about this all important drink until I started travelling in my early twenties to Eastern Asian countries. Like many Singaporeans from the same era, tea was either Chinese tea or English tea. We didn’t have a choice over the type of tea in the restaurants at that time, where tea was normally served freely on the house as a complimentary welcome drink and topped up endlessly throughout the meal. Imagine the faux pas written all over me when I committed a cardinal sin of not knowing what type of tea to order with my yum cha at a Hong Kong restaurant when I first visited many years ago. Even until today, it is difficult for me to taste the difference between the astringent pale yellow Dragon Well tea from Hangzhou to the Oolong (Black Dragon) tea that includes such brand as the Iron Goddess of Mercy from Jiangxi which when pressed into bars is said to be as hard as iron. The only exception is the tell-tale smell of the Jasmine tea which remains my favourite and fool-proof tea beverage when I am ordering in the Chinese restaurant.
The preparation and sipping of tea are part of the tea ceremony of a kimono clad Japanese who have given a quasi- religious elevation of this ancient ritual from China and the daily life of a manual worker in Hong Kong. But in Singapore tea drinking has never reach such esoteric heights. However, in modern Singapore, the Chinese tea comes with the Bak Kut Teh. It is served with the tea cups and tea pot immersed in a basin of hot water for hygienic purposes rather than ceremonial. After all, many of us come from the coolie stock and like tea should be left to brew and steep in our heritage.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Camellia is related to my mug of tea...

Cupping a warm mug of tea in my hands on a cold winter morning, I was out in the garden admiring the showy flowers of our seventy odd years old camellia tree that had bloomed for us at this time of the year. “These teh hwa are beautiful, aren’t they?” said my wife as she picked a dewy flower for display indoor. “Have you just given a new name for the camellia?” I asked as I raised my mug of tea for a sip, without realising that teh hwa (茶花tea flower) was a name given for camellia in her Hokkien dialect. Before she could reply, I answered my own question to myself, “silly of me, of course the tea plant is related to the Camellia family” and also realised that the mug of tea I was sipping came from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis which is the source of commercially grown tea).

We have yet to identify this magnificent evergreen flowering camellia of ours but we believe it belongs to the species Camellia japonica which is the remote ancestor of many of our garden varieties. Our camellia has flourished in our front garden almost without attention and grows into a three metres tree since we first lived here. We have another different camellia in the back garden. It produces many fragile, dainty flowers which have a sweet peaty fragrance. But the petals fall quickly to the ground and when fresh form an attractive carpet before turning unsightly with spent blooms on the ground. Therefore I would recommend choosing a variety that flower freely and hold well on the tree and do not fall. Camellias are long lived. Often, the older they are, the better they are. Thus they make excellent commemoration trees as house warming gift for friends and relatives.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Today is Rice Dumpling (Dragon Boat) Festival.

Although bak chung (rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves) is one of my favourite snacks which is available throughout the year in most Asian stores in Sydney, but I do not normally buy this traditional rice dumpling to eat except during the Dragon Boat festival which is celebrated today in many Asian countries like China, Hong Kong and South East Asian countries with a large Chinese community. Strange as it may seem, eating bak chung on any other day is likened to eating Christmas pudding at any other times of the year.
Growing up in Singapore as a child, I can vividly remember, each year, as the month of Fifth month of the Lunar calendar approaches, every traditional Chinese household became busier than usual , thrown into a frenzy activity in the kitchen by the bak chung making season. It was customary to exchange dumplings among friends, neighbours and relatives as early as one week before the festival. My mother would make it a point to have the dumplings on the day itself and also offered the dumplings to the dearly departed ancestors. This traditional culinary event falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar to commemorate a Chinese patriot and poet Qu Yuan who committed suicide by throwing himself into the Mi Luo River on the fifth day of the lunar month. The legend goes that when the villagers heard of the suicide, they immediately raced in their boat to search for him. Thus began the tradition of having dragon boat races until today. It is also told that when the poet’s body could not be found, the villagers started throwing dumplings into the river to divert the fish from eating the patriot. Another explanation is that the rice dumpling was thrown as an offering for Qu Yuan. Whatever the reason, eating bak chung have become an integral part of the Dragon boat festival just like Christmas pudding is to the Yuletide festival.

My wife and I have just finished wrapping three dozen of bak chung and they are now boiling in a big pot in the kitchen to be ready for afternoon tea and tonight’s dinner. For the recipe and how to wrap a bak chung, please click on my previous posting on the right hand side of this page.

Photos of today’s bak chung will be posted once they are cooked.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chinese Meatloaf Roasted with Honey and Hoisin Sauce.

Today is officially the first day of winter in Australia. I do not know why it does not wait for another three weeks to coincide with the Winter Solstice on the 21st of June when it has the shortest day in South Hemisphere. The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year; and for many of us, it does not matter really, since it lasts only a moment in time. But as the temperatures outside drop it is time to cook those hot winter favourites such as this Meatloaf Roast for the family again.

Chinese Meatloaf with Honey and Hoisin Sauce.

500g lamb mince
250g pork mince
1 onion finely chopped
150g water-chestnut (optional) chopped or 1 carrot chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped coriander leaves
1 egg lightly beaten
½ tsp 5-spice powder
Salt and pepper
¼ cup water
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 175 C. Line a loaf pan with baking paper. Combine the mince, breadcrumbs, onion, water- chestnut, coriander, egg and 5-spice powder with salt and pepper to taste in a bowl and mix well with your hand. Press the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth the surface. Cover with a foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. To make the glaze, heat ¼ cup water with hoisin sauce and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil and simmer until thickened and glossy. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and drain away the liquid from the pan. Spread the top with the hoisin and honey glaze and bake for another 15 minute until cooked through. Rest in the pan for 5 minute before removing and serve hot with rice or potato.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Easy Roast Beef Recipe for Autumn Cooking

What better time of the year to get out the steamboat or slow cooker from the cupboard to prepare for the colder months than autumn with its crisp mornings, cool days and the striking display of autumn colours as trees outside my kitchen make their finale before going to sleep in the winter months ahead. This is also a good time to use the full advantages of the oven for roasting or baking and still enjoy the warmth it radiates to the kitchen while it is being used.
To heat up the kitchen yesterday, I cooked an easy roast beef recipe that I have inherited from Mrs. Otley, who taught me how to cook western dishes when I first came to stay in Brisbane. I could not think of too many more slow food recipes when the cold winter days arrive and appetites swell, some hot favourites still beckon more than others. But I am sure that there’ll be encore for this one.

Easy Roast Beef

1.5 kg silverside beef
1 tbsp flour
1 knob butter
2 tbsp cream
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup red wine
Salt and pepper

Rub the beef with seasoning to taste. Put all the marinade ingredients in a large roasting pan and marinade the beef and leave in the refrigerator overnight, turning occasionally.
Preheat oven to 220 C. Put the beef into the oven and braise for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180 C and roast the beef for a further 2 1/4 hours. Transfer the beef to serving dish and keep warm.
To make the gravy sauce, strain the cooking juices into a saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Mix the flour and butter to make a paste and add to the sauce in small pieces. Cook and stir until thickened. Stir in the cream. Cut the beef into slices and serve with sauce.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Strange as it may seem, it was not the sight of cleverly displayed gifts in the shops, from cards to chocolates bidding everyone to buy for Mother’s Day that brought back fond memories of my late mother, but it was the scorched rice at the bottom of the paella pan while I was doing the dishes after dinner, last night. Like many older Singaporeans, growing up in post war period of World War Two, we saw many parents facing high unemployment, and putting food on the table to feed their families was a daily struggle.

I can still remember our mother scooping out the steaming white rice from the soot-laden aluminium pot on top of the firewood stove to feed her ever hungry mob which often included some extra mouths from the children in the neighbourhood who always seemed to appear on cue at meal time. After she would then add water to the scorched brown sheet of rice that was left to make gruel porridge for her. There were occasions when the rice ration was low to be shared among us; the crust was intentionally left there for us. There was always a mad scramble among us children over the last piece of rice crust.
Together with the flowers we have collected from our garden, we will place a bowl of fluffy white rice for you, Mum.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to make Aussie Hot Cross Bun

I do not know what a hot cross bun is until I came to Australia to live. Before that, it had never occurred to me, it was referring to the spiced English bun associated with Good Friday known as a Hot Cross Bun. But I can still vaguely remember reciting it in a nursery rhyme. Like many older Singaporeans, we were taught British nursery rhymes in primary school in those days when Singapore was a British colony, but do not know about the significant of this delicious bun.
Although these popular hot cross bun began to appear in major supermarket chains almost at the same time as the post-Christmas sales were in their final discount, offering two items for the price of one to entice their customers to buy their unsold Christmas decorations, cards and puddings, it is not until Good Friday, the traditional day in which Lent ends and the buns are served eaten at Easter but now it seems they are now sold all year round.
Hot cross buns are sweet yeast-leavened bread, made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits and marked with a cross on the top eaten at Easter time. In Australia, the major supermarkets produce variations on the traditional recipe such as toffee, orange and cranberry, and apple and cinnamon.
The Aussies even have a yummy chocolate version of the bun which has become popular lately. It generally contains the same mixture of spices but chocolate chips are used instead of currants.

Aussie Hot Cross Bun Recipe:

Makes 12


• 4 cups plain flour
• 2 x 7g sachets dried yeast
• 1/4 cup caster sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
• pinch of salt
• 1 cup chocolate chips
• 40g butter
• 300ml milk
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten

• Flour paste
• 1/2 cup plain flour
• 4 to 5 tablespoons water


• 1/3 cup water
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar


1. Combine flour, yeast, sugar, mixed spice, salt and chocolate chips in a large bowl. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add milk. Heat until lukewarm. Add warm milk mixture and eggs to mixture. Mix until dough almost comes together to form soft dough.
2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth. Place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.
3. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Punch dough down to its original size. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 12 even portions. Shape each portion into a ball. Place balls onto lined tray, about 1cm apart. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until buns double in size. Preheat oven to 190°C.
4. Make flour paste: Mix flour and water together in a small bowl to form smooth a paste. Spoon into a small piping bag. Pipe flour paste over tops of buns to form crosses. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until buns are cooked through.
5. To make glaze: Pour water and sugar into a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes. Brush warm glaze over warm hot cross buns. Serve warm or at room temperature. These buns are best eaten on the day they are made. Otherwise, freeze for up to a week.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to cross a street in Saigon City

As I was driven from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport into the CBD of Ho Chi Min City by a Vietnamese driver, one image stood fixed in my mind - an unfamiliar urban streetscape of staggering number of motorbikes, constantly beeping and weaving their way through the crowded streets only to be stopped by the pedestrians crossing in a haphazard manner.

The nightmare of crossing the road didn’t begin until the next morning, when I decided to take a short walk to the Ben Thanh market from the hotel where I was staying. I soon found out adherences to traffic signals in Saigon were not always followed; every street user tends to use their "best judgment and discretion". Just remember though that vehicles can always turn right at any time (regardless of traffic lights or signage). Motorbikes often drive in the wrong direction in the least unexpected places and running red lights or even driving on the sidewalks. The streets, sidewalks and outdoor markets are literally taken over by motorbikes, and not yet geared towards pedestrian traffic. Crossing roads and streets in Vietnam therefore can be a real challenge for newcomers who are used to traffic laws and traffic lights.

Believe me, the first time crossing the street may be a little hair-raising after that you will get used to it quite quickly. If ever in doubt, simply jump into the shadow of a local and follow the lead while crossing the street and just bear in mind of not making any sudden lurches forwards, backwards, or stop for that matter!
It is no doubt a terrifying nightmare for many of us, but after a couple of crossings, you soon learned to walk safely and find them easy to negotiate as long as you keep your wits around you for speeding motorbikes. However walking along the edge of a busy road is easy enough. Any motorbikes behind you will generally beep at you to let you know they're there or telling you to keep moving. During my stay in Saigon and just walking around the city brought back memories of what Singapore used to be not long ago. Seeing people cooked on the side of the street and streets hawkers turned a busy street into eat street of local food stalls every evening in a matter of 30 minutes flat-out, left me in awe and reminisced on how exactly Singaporeans of a bygone era transformed a daytime car park in Orchard Road into a popular open air food court at night in the 1960s.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pickled Vinegar Green Chillies in a Jiffy

I was pleasantly surprised to find pickled green chillies had been thoughtfully included and served as a condiment with the chicken noodles on board a SQ flight from Singapore to Ho Chi Min City. Sight of pickle green chillies always evokes memories of my childhood. I can see the wanton mee seller piling a spoonful of prickled green chillies to side of the freshly cooked noodle with char siew (Chinese BBQ pork) and succulent wanton as a takeaway from the stall. We knew the pickled green chillies were so crunchy and appetising with the noodle that we usually asked for an extra spoonful from him. As usual, wanton mee uncle obliged without fail but not before reminding us how the price of green chillies was going up in the market. These delicious pickles are not only delicious but so simple to make especially when they only take a jiffy to be ready and served with your wanton mee or sar hor fun.

Pickled Vinegar Green Chillies

300g green chillies
2-3 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
250ml vinegar

Wash the green chillies and cut diagonally into 1/2cm thick slices. Transfer cut chillies to a mixing bowl and sprinkles with sea salt, and let stand for 1 hour. Boil vinegar and sugar to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool before using. Wash, drain and discard chillies seeds before put them in a sterilised jar with a screw-top lid. Add vinegar and leave to pickle at least 2 days before serving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Political Earthquake and Tsunami struck New South Wales.

A political earthquake struck the state of New South Wales in Australia at 6 pm yesterday after the close of the state election. It was soon followed by a tsunami which none of the residents in NSW have seen in the last one and the half decade. The toll of many defeated Labor politician kept rising as ballot boxes were counted and electorate results televised throughout the evening. The final toll might not be known for sometimes until the search and rescue team of the Labor party go through the election wreckage to determine just who has survived the carnage of yesterday election.

Aftershocks continued through the evening and were felt across the state after Barry O’Farrell led his Coalition Party to a historic wipeout of Labor. As the state’s 43rd Premier, Barry O’Farrell promised his victory speech to “rebuild NSW” once the dust had settled. But if O’ Farrell lives up to his promise, it will be month – not years, before the residents start to see a difference in public transports, traffic congestion and hospital waiting list.

The tsunami caused by Coalition snatched away as many as 29 seats from the Labor and was heading for a statewide swing of about 17 per cent, although the Labor hoped to retain as many as 21 seats – eight more than the worst prediction, Luke Foley, the Labor’s campaign director conceded: “The heartland is gone.”

The outgoing Premier Kristina Keneally survived the earthquake in her electorate but struggled in her seat, suffering a swing of at least 10 percent. She quit as labor leader last night as she admitted in her concession speech Labor had deserted voters.
“The truth is the people of NSW who entrusted us with government for 16 years, did not leave us,” she said. “We left them.” My mind is still preoccupied with her conceding statement while I blog, but at the same time begin to wonder about the coming general election back home. What can we learn from this political earthquake and tsunami?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Adios Summer and Hola Autumn ...

Today is the first day of autumn in Australia, we can’t wait sooner for cooler nights to proclaim the summer done and gone. We just had a bewildering summer of natural disasters brought upon us by the 2nd strongest La Nina weather pattern in Australia since record began. It had brought unprecedented floods and cyclones in northern Australia to the bushfires in Western Australia. In fact the whole country was affected by it. The rain which fell in Queensland flowed into New South Wales and South Australia; inundated and devastated many farmlands and houses along its path. The current La Nina will go down in history as one of the most expensive for Australia, with billions of dollars of flood and cyclone damage and billions more in lost crops and productivity. But Mother Nature has wreaked havoc before. Scientists have identified more than a dozen events since 1950, lasting from several months to more than two years. The Brisbane floods in 1974 which killed 14 people and cyclone Tracy, which struck Darwin that year killing 71 people, both occurred during a La Nina weather event. In any events, the recent Australian summer will be remembered for its extreme wet weather, influenced a La Nina weather pattern in our region that contributed to the establishment of a tax levy and a political debate over carbon tax in the Australian Parliament.

Although it is autumn as of today, the late summery weather still continues and remains the same according to the week-long weather forecast. But as late summer turns into autumn, my summer vegies will be coming to an end of their season. This morning I have harvested some green chillies to use them as vinegar-pickled chillies for my hokkien mee or fried bee hoon. I will post the recipe for the pickled green chillies once I get them from my sister in law.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earthquake destroys Christchurch's icon...

The city of Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a fatal earthquake at 12.51 pm (10.51am Sydney time). It has since been shaken by frequent aftershocks as many as 65 in the last 24 hours that hamper the rescue team’s effort to bring out people still trapped in rubbles of collapsed buildings. The death tolls stood at 65 and John Key, the Prime Minster of New Zealand, warned the toll may exceed 200 with many people still trapped in demolished buildings across the stricken city.

Live TV broadcasters described the city as a war zone, with dead bodies lying on the streets, buildings collapsed, cars and vehicles flattened like pancakes, water, sewer and gas lines ruptured and earthquake liquefaction swamping the central city in live coverage across the Tasman Sea to Australia since yesterday.

I am deeply shocked and saddened by the human toll and devastation of an historical city I last visited in 1989. I can still remember that I have had taken a few photos in front of the Christchurch Cathedral on a cold winter day with a young Singaporean family who was travelling in a caravan across New Zealand together with me. To see the iconic cathedral’s spire collapsed to the ground is a terrible symbol of the earthquake’s impact to the city. This Anglican cathedral, a 130 year old with its neo Gothic architecture is one of New Zealand’s popular tourist drawcards, as much a symbol to Christchurch as the Merlion is to Singapore.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Past and Present Chinatown of Singapore

Each year, in present Singapore, as the Chinese New Year approaches, bustling night market stalls in Chinatown become even busier than usual, thrown into a frenzy of activity by the annual street light-up of colourful fairy lights and temporary street archway lit up with traditional Chinese red lanterns along the key streets in Chinatown - Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road, Pagoda Street and Garden Bridge. Hundreds of stalls selling traditional foods such as sweetmeats, waxed duck, and cookies, flowers, Chinese handicrafts, and customary New Year decorations compete with each other for business and patronage in a noisy but orderly manner. Although this annual happening is as old as Chinatown itself, I still think it is quite different from my memory, growing up in Singapore when it was a British colony. Chinatown was lined with wholesale produce shophouses together with families living in crowded quarters in the side-streets and alleyways. From a pigeon's eye view (I have long suspected that pigeons were commonly kept not as pets but as a food supplement instead), the old Chinatown with its orange brown terracotta roofs and people milled around,disappearing then reappearing among the stalls was a gigantic pasar. Beside the terraced shophouses, the streets were lined with stalls selling fruits, fish and meat and other household sundries and goods. Countless small lorries and private-chauffeur driven Austin cars with tai tai and their black and white uniformed amahs doing their rounds of daily marketing were there too. Here and everywhere, trishaws, push-carts, baskets slung on bamboo poles summoned into the important task to load and unload their wares and produce were tangled into a chaotic scramble. People were shouting and bickering and vehicles were honking, demanding to pass, everything either moved at a snail's pace or was stuck in a total knot. Amid those noises and activities crescendoed towards the Chinese New Year, the typical daily greetings between between my mother and other housewives at that time were "Are you getting ready for the New Year?' or Are you done with your tee kueh (nian kuo) ?''
Gee, the Chinese New Year is upon us again soon. We haven't prepared any traditional goodies yet, but my wife is going to prepare kueh bulu this weekend for the makan session we are having for the New Year celebration with friends and relatives from home. I'll keep you posted with the recipe when it is done.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Home and Away...

We have been inundated with emails from Singaporean parents, enquiring about the types student accommodation and concern of living safety for their child who is coming to study and live in Sydney for the first time. Before I continue, let me thank those for writing to me and treating me as if I am one of their uncles in their extended families. As a parent, I can understand their deep concern especially when their child is leaving home for the first time and starting university in another country can be a daunting prospect. To many students, finding a place to call home, for the duration of their overseas studies is one of the most important steps in the initial part of this process of leaving home and away. And finding just the right place for you can make your experience as an overseas student much more enjoyable and beside sparing your parents from worrying from the start.

To be honest, I am better at dishing out recipes than to advice on the type of accommodation for your child. But since I have gone back to uni as a full-time student and graduated in 2008, I have had a good understanding of the student living environment in and off the campus. There is a variety of accommodation options available to students and they range from accommodation dorms or units owned by the universities to private rental accommodation offered by landlords and leasing in Sydney. I am pretty sure that every university has a housing office to assist students to find accommodation while they are studying at the university. There are two sides of the proverbial coin debate between these two type of accommodations. The University Accommodation / Student Accommodation Houses are basically self contained dorms or units rented to students, so that you have your own bathroom and kitchen or share bathroom and kitchen facilities. These can be pretty lively and social, but students will need to adhere to any University policies for behaviour and social events. While university knows very well that every 18 years old student is probably not going to obey any strict behaviour codes, these places will probably expect a level of maturity and consideration. On the other side of the coin, students may decide to rent a house or unit from a private landlord, maybe as part of a group with other students. You are usually responsible for all of their own meals, or as part of a share agreement with their housemates. These share houses can often be noisy places, with lots going on, depending on your housemates. Most suited to independent, social and lively students. But keep in mind that you will be liable for part of any expenses involved in damage to the property... and may be evicted if you are a nuisance!
My final advice is to make use of the internet to find out what possibilities are available, long before you bid farewell to mama and papa at the Changi airport!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chinese New Year is not a public holiday...

If you are planning to escape from the crowded Chinese New Year festivities in Singapore and come to enjoy the peace and quiet of Sydney during the festive break, you will be disappointed. Likewise if you are a newly arrived student leaving home for the first time and nursing the lonely prospect of eating the New Year Eve's dinner on your own, do not despair. Although Chinese New Year is not observed as a public holiday in Australia, Sydney with its significant Chinese migrants populations claims to have the largest Chinese New Year Celebrations outside of Asia with more than 600,000 people attend the festival annually, making it one of the most popular events on Sydney’s annual calendar. This annual festival has events that span over three weeks including the launch celebration, outdoor markets, evening street food stalls, Chinese top opera performances, dragon boat races, a film festival and multiple parades.

This year's festival will run from Friday 28 January to Sunday 13 February 2011, with the Twilight Parade and fireworks on Sunday 6 February expected to attract more than 100,000 people to the city streets. Well, to our new and lonely Singaporean students, why not joined holiday crowd to see the martial art experts and entertainers from Hubei who will be joining more than 2000 local performers to present a dazzling street spectacular with colourful costumes, floats and music. And if you still miss home and desperately homesick and want to join and share our makan, we can probably accommodate another five people at our dinner table in our home.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sydney is cleaning up for the Year of the Rabbit?

Kerbside cleanup collection is a common sight at this time of the year in many Sydney's suburbs, where local councils normally organise two bulk household collections per year, and that householders are issued with a brochure two weeks before collection is due. General household clean-ups are limited to 2 cubic metres to 3 cubic metres depending on where you live. Accepted collection items such as unwanted furniture, old mattresses, household appliances and bric-a-brac for collection are placed on the nature strip at the front of your property no earlier than the weekend before the cleanup date. But these days, teams of professional kadung guning men go through your thrown-out items and salvage anything that has a recycle value before the council's contractor comes. In case you are a new arrival in Sydney, please check with your local council on what is acceptable or not to be included in the cleanup collection as Council’s contractor has the right to refuse any unsuitable items such as, car tyres and parts, household hazardous waste, renovation and building material and garbage and food straps. And if you have unwanted items which are still in good condition, consider donating them to charitable organisations. Not only it'll benefit the less fortunate but you are also doing a good deed to the environment too.

I am not sure anyone beside me have noticed that the cleanup collections in my neighbouring suburb of Eastwood, where a large Chinese community resides are getting bigger than usual. But I am pretty sure that it is not a collaboration between the council and the many Chinese families performing their annual clean up together . But rather a coincident that in a fortnight from now, we will be bidding farewell to the tiger as it passes the baton to the rabbit to start a new zodiac sign in the Chinese Zodiac cycle. The start of a new zodiac is also celebrated on Chinese New Year which falls on the 3rd of February this year along with many other customs. One of the customs for many Singaporean Chinese is to have the annual House Cleaning before the new year begins. I can still vividly remember my mother took this annual task rather seriously. On the designated day, beginning early in the morning, all of the furniture in the family's house was covered with sheets of old newspaper serving as a drop sheet before the walls and ceilings are swept down with brooms made from the ribs from coconut leaves in which a bamboo pole was attached so that the cobwebs on the eaves can be reached. Then the entire house was scrubbed clean from the floor to the window sills. Furniture was moved about to make sure each corner of the house was thoroughly cleaned. The older children were assigned to polish the pair of candle sticks and the big brass josstick urn with brasso and the red ribbons and tinsels on the tablets and urns were replaced with new ones. Even the family ancestor's altar had a makeover for the coming new year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Can we survive as Singaporean...

It was reported in AsiaOne that when Singaporean Leong Ming En, was told to flee his house in the West End suburb of Brisbane on Tuesday, he headed to a supermarket nearby, only to find the food items almost sold out He managed to buy only a pack of unflavoured biscuits. On that Tuesday night, he headed to a friend's hilltop home - he took with him only his laptop, camera and passport, and he has been wearing the same T-shirt since Tuesday. He had, it seems, do not grasp the imminent danger and under estimate the fury of Mother Nature that had taken at least 20 lives and suburbs were filled with water, apartment blocks stood like islands in a brown sea and left everyone waiting for the water to go down .Only then will the worst of the damage be know. Nevertheless, he is now safe in a friend's home, I can't help but ponder over the importance of his laptop, camera and passport in an emergency evacuation like this. Having gone through the aftermaths of two big earthquakes in the Solomon Islands(1978) and Rabaul (1994), I always have an emergency kit in my house ever since. Believe me, those three items carried by Ming En in the news report are not in my emergency kit, instead I have the following items:

1. First aid kit and essential medications.
2. Canned food and can opener
3. At least 10 litres of water per person
4. Protective clothing, raincoat, and bedding or sleeping bags
5. Battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.

For most Overseas Singaporeans, who are living in places where natural disaster can occur anytime, I am pretty sure that you have already prepared one at home.But just remember to replace or check the batteries. To those who are complacent (boh chap) or new arrivals, please start one today.Remember this is only our basic emergency for my own family and but if you have young ones or elderly as family members, please include special items such as diapers, toys, etc to cater for their needs in the event of an emergency.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flood of the Century in Brisbane We share Together

At the most direct level, the explanation for the inflationary impact or the shortage of any fruit and vegetables in the pasar (marketplace), that lies in the mind of most Singaporeans, is to put the blame on Mother nature for causing the flood or drought in our neighbouring countries in the first place. There is no doubt, there is a strong correlation between the weather and those making a living off the ground but how aware are we city dwelling Singaporeans when face with the fury of Mother Nature? Not unless you are one of the few Overseas Singaporeans living in Brisbane right now.
Brisbane has been bracing for the worst flood in 100 years since Monday when Toowoomba was battered by a torrent of rain that caused an "inland tsunami" of water to cascade cars and other vehicles down the high street. Since then, It has turned into a creeping flood towards the city of Brisbane and infiltrated and inundated farms and houses along its path. Land and livelihoods are ruined, as are the countless kilometres of rail, road and bridge.
As I write, heartbreaking images of residents on their rooftops and their homes inundated in a sea of brown water, are being televised throughout the morning. The breaking news is 12 people have been killed and 45 are still missing in the Queensland flood. For now, as the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard and the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh have warned, there are grim days ahead, as the death toll is likely to climb.
Like many Singaporeans, our thoughts are with the flood stricken and hope they can return and rebuild their homes soon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black rice aka Pulut Hitam is the new blueberry.

Printed in bold "Black rice tops the superfood hit list" briefly caught my attention while I was nonchalantly flicking the pages of a magazine in the cafe at the mall. I earmarked it so that I could show it to my wife, an avid follower of the "multi-grains" cooking regime, when she returned from her shopping. What was the big deal, you may ask. Just like the hits parade in the music scene, superfood is constantly being replaced by another new hit with the same old tune of promoting benefits such as anti-aging, detoxification, energy enhancement and immunity boosts. There is no definitive Top Ten hits list of superfood and I have long suspected that new food is regularly put forward, usually backed by persuasive advertising. However, there are still classical like apples and oranges but less likely to revive and spark a worldwide following to sing their praises.
Well, what actually interested me was the report that Black rice had joined and top the hits parade of superfood with salmon and blueberries as a nutrient and antioxidant-packed superfood, but at a fraction of the cost. Of course, it is comparatively much cheaper than blueberries; a small punnet of blueberries cost between $3.50 to $5.00 at our local fruit shop even at the height of its season.
Black Rice (Pulut Hitam) is as old as a folksong and has been sung and featured in many dessert dishes as black "sticky" rice especially among the South East Asian countries, but scientists at the 240th annual National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, in Boston, had only recently revealed it could actually be the greatest superfood. It also reported that researchers from Louisiana State University looked at samples of bran from black rice, discovering high levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants, which are responsible for the dark colours in many fruits and vegetables including blueberries.
Anthocyanin antioxidants have been found to help fight heart disease and cancer, as they help protect arteries and clear out harmful free radicals, Science Daily reported.
"Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health-promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants," food scientist and lead researcher, Dr Zhimin Xu said in a media statement.
"If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants."
I do not know how long it will remain number one, so here is one of the old classical recipes for your collection. Please stay tune for the next number one in the hits parade.

Black Rice Porridge(Bubur Hitam) with Coconut Cream Recipe:


300g black glutinous rice (washed & drained)
7 cups water
2 pandan leaves (tied into knots)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon tapioca flour or cornflour
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
a pinch of salt

Put black glutinous rice in pot with water and pandan leaves. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, remove pandan leaves then simmer for 45 minutes till rice is soften and porridge like. Add sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt.
Mix cornflour flour with 1 tablespoon of water. Stir mixture into pot to thicken.
Remove black glutinous rice porridge from heat and transfer into bowls. Drizzle with thick coconut milk on top before serving.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Going to the Great Wall and Becoming a True Man (不到长城,非好汉)

From the top of a hillock about 70 km northwest of Beijing, my family and I gazed westwards across an undulating Great Wall of China winding itself like a dragon along the ridges of the Jundu Mountain on a cold and windy morning; as it was 10 below zero with the chill wind factor. I stood there dumbfounded at its size, the setting and the spectacle of its history that made me and everyone fell silent as we approached and joined other tourists at the entrance of the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Stepping onto the Wall for the first time was awe inspiring. Nothing can compare with the immense human labour and arduous hardship that history tells us, which seemed compressed over a period of many centuries into the construction and almost constant renovation and expansion of that monuments as a symbol of Chinese civilization, and one of the wonders that the Chinese people have had created.

After travelling two hours from Beijing, we arrived at the entrance of Badaling Section of the Great Wall. We walked past the hawkers selling beanies and woolen scarves and the bears in a sunken enclosure huddling together at the foot of the Badaling section to board a "roller coaster" to get to the top. The views here were astounding. Vast mountain scenery extended in all directions, Stretching before us was the the Great Wall, which was constructed almost entirely of bricks and stones.. Some of the stones had a height of two metres and I reckoned they could weigh over a thousand kilograms. My son, who has always had an interest in ancient history, pointed to us how the parapets were crenellated and the lower section of the walls had loopholes for defensive fire by the archers.

According to our guide, Badaling was probably the most popular tourist spot on the Wall. Made famous by a visit from Chairman Mao, Richard Nixon and a host of other visiting dignitaries, Badaling now sees more tourists each year than any other part of the wall. As for me, this part of the wall was more a tourist attraction. The incline was much steeper than I thought and the stone beneath me was worn smooth by the vast numbers of tourists who came here to "become a real man" as visitors were inclined to feel a sense of accomplishment when they reached the top.
We had come here to begin a two weeks tour of China that would take us through ancient Forbidden City of Beijing and the modern Shanghai and hoping to see the rich history and varied food and lifestyle of each city with our own eyes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hoisin "海鮮", is not seafood?

Hoisin sauce is a popular Chinese dipping sauce in most places, but it is not commonly used amongst Singaporeans. Our favourite dipping sauces range from "die die must have cut chillies in soya sauce" to vinegared chillies, chopped garlic and grated ginger instead. Besides, many Singaporeans will be puzzled by the word Hoisin "海鮮", which is a romanization of the Cantonese word for seafood and despite the literal meaning of "seafood", it does not contain anything from the sea.
Hoisin sauce is sometime called Chinese barbeque sauce is a fragrant, pungent sauce used frequently in stir-fries and marinades. It is made from a combination of fermented soy, garlic, vinegar, and usually chilies and sweetener, hoisin is dark in color and thick in consistency. It has a very strong salty and slightly sweet flavor and has a distinct taste, which some may find objectionable. It is common for people to either love the taste of hoisin sauce or hate it. My family and I have come to acquire a taste for it and frequently used as a substitute for " tee cheo"(sweet sauce) as a dressing for "chee cheong fun" (steamed rice rolled noodle). Here is a great homemade marinade for beef or chicken we have concocted in our kitchen with Hoisin suace.


1/2 cup cooking sherry
1 cup Hoisin sauce
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tsp Sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
Combine all ingredients in saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes or until it begins to thicken. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.