Saturday, July 31, 2010

Food Festival in Chinatown

On 24 July 2010, there was a Cantonese Food Festival in Kreta Ayer Square, as part of the bigger Singapore Food Festival. A modest setup it did get a crowd going for their favourite food. The most popular queue was the roast meat, as one would expect.

Alas, I was looking forward to the lesser-filling food that one could take as Tim Sum (Dim Sum) for breakfast or anytime (it is said that in Asia, notably in Singapore? we eat only one meal, one long meal that is). And so, after looking at the displays of the stalls and peering into what was being bought (There was a Ramli Burger too! A rare sight in Singapore other than at the KTM Tanjong Pagar Railway Station), we decided to go to the food centre to check out for my favourites.

Since we were in the mood, we decided to take the Chee-Cheong-Fun (literally names as Pig Intestine as it looks like one but actually it is rice flour roll) and Wu Tau Koh (Yam Cake) with the typical chilli and Tim-jeong (sauce). I preferred the dark red sauce that seems to be less popular these days. And I tried the Chow-mei-fun (fried Beehoon or vermicelli) (I wanted the chow mien - fried noodles - but it was sold out - well, they replenished it later) and then, the Tao-Chung (bean dumpling) with custard sugar, my childhood favourite. Somehow, the taste was never the same, compared to the young days when we had it. Most of these food these days are factory-produced and not home-cooked.

My favourite stall in the Chinatown Complex food centre is still the Vegetarian BeeHoon, which I have been taking for decades. Other than the stall owners, I have seen how many hands had taken over the wok. Now, it is in the hands of the mainland Chinese. Ordering the beehoon has also been changed from Cantonese to Mandarin, unless the locals are around. (^^) In many Chinatowns around the world, Cantonese is the franca lingua. In Singapore, it might be diminishing .. fast.

I hope in the next Cantonese Food Fest, more typical Cantonese dishes, from the humble home-cooked ones to the banquet, could be on show, and of course, for tasting and purchase too. Maybe, we can ask the Grandma to share their recipes too. How about a cookbook by the Cantonese Ah Mah and Ah Por.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Singapore Food Festival: Chinatown offers Cantonese food on 24-25 July 2010

In this year's Singapore Food Festival, Chinatown is going to throw up the best Canto food that you can find in Singapore. At least the traditional ones. It would be fun checking out what's in store. So, if you are a foodie, a Canto food diehard, bookmark the dates - 24 & 25 July, 2010.

Cantonese Cuisine Food Expo 

Enter the world of Cantonese Cuisine, as you explore and rediscover the many
reasons why Singaporeans love Cantonese Food so deeply!

Date: 24th & 25th July 2010, Saturday & Sunday
Time: 11.00 am to 9.00pm
Venue: Kreta Ayer Square
Fee: Free Entry 

Family’s Cantonese Recipe Cooking Competition

Chinatown invites all food-loving families to take part in this year’s inaugural Cantonese Recipe Cooking Competition.
Whip up any Cantonese dish in the given 45mins to impress our chef judges!
The winning family can win up to the 1st prize of $1000 worth of Cash and Hampers!
Experience and enjoy the fun-filled, adrenaline pumping cooking competition and be crowned the
King of Family Recipe Cooking Competition in this year’s Singapore Food Festival!

Date: 24th July 2010, Saturday
Time: 12.00pm to 2.30pm
Venue: Kreta Ayer Square
Registration Fee : $10

Singapore’s LONGEST ‘Chee Cheong Fun’ Record 

150 Chefs from Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs (Singapore) will gather at Chinatown to challenge this amazing feat for charity!
The targeted 80m long Chee Cheong Fun will write history as it gets recorded in the Singapore Book of Records! 

The completed Chee Cheong Fun will be pan-fried immediately on site to be sold at a nominal price to the public in efforts to raise funds for charity.

Date: 25th July 2010, Sunday
Time: 3.00 pm
Venue: Kreta Ayer Square
Fee : Free Entry

For more details:
6474 7909 or 
 ack: CBA

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lor Mai Kai

Last weekend, with wife and daughter, we decided to retrace one of our favourite food in Gau Che Shui (Bullockcartwater in Cantonese). Alas, the original stalls were no longer there. But new generations stalls or restaurants have taken their place, albeit with cleaner facilities and even air-conditioning, but alas, somehow not with the same taste. At least for this old man.

Along Smith Street, at the corner of the shophouse with the lane, there used to be a very busy tim-sum stall with its for-kei (waiters) shouting orders from all over the lane. Menus were long strips of coloured papers with beautifully calligraphed dishes (one has to understand Chinese and how Chinese food is named, not necessarily directly related to the contents of the dish) pasted in a slanted form on the walls at the lane and in the shop.

To compensate the dirtiness of the environment (which was oblivious to us), when we had a place to sit down, the for-kei would come along with a towel over his shoulder and a kettle of boiling water in one hand and a small enamel basin containing chopsticks and tea cups. He would place them on the table and pour the boiling water into the small basin (size of a soup bowl). With the steam coming out of the sprout as the water went into the basin, one could be sure the germs will be dead in no time. Chinese tea was taken for granted. Then, at least at this place, we were not sophisticated enough to have a selection of tea. I remember when I first went to HongKong in 1976, the waiter and I were shocked about the selections of Chinese Tea. The waiter must have thought me a dumb, and I was dumbfounded with such a wide selection of tea! When he first asked me "Oi yum mi ye cha", my answer was "zhong kok cha". I have learnt since then.

Ah and so when we went to this restaurant the last weekend, we were wiser and indeed, they asked what tea we would want. In the old days in Singapore, probably the Poh-Lei and Lok-Poh would be the popular Cantonese tea. These days, Huong-Pin (Xiang Pian) is also popular. We had Poh-Lei. We had quite an assortment of Har-Gau (Prawn Dumplings), Hor Yip Fun (Lotus Leaf Glutinous Rice), Chee Cheong Fun (Rice Rolls) with prawns and Char Siew (grilled pork strips), and Wu Tao Koh (Yam Cake). And of course my favourite Lor Mai Kai (glutinous rice with chicken).

In my childhood days - 1960s - with my friend, we would try to save up to 30 cents before we would then venture into the heart of Chinatown, yes, to this lane to have a plate of Lor Mai Kai. With hot steaming tea and just one Lor Mai Kai, we would savour every grain, and enjoy the din of the for-kei shouting out the orders in codes. I always remember that for "7", they would call "lei-pai", meaning Sunday, but in reality seven. In this way, it was easier for the backend to hear clearly versus the word "chak", the Cantonese for seven.

When it comes to identifying the customer, the for-kei can be very creative and certainly colourful in their descriptions.

In those days, it was business like and very brisk. The moment you leave the table, someone would come up to clean up almost immediately, and someone would take over the place. And the next cycle of business began. I moan when I think of the current hawker centers these days. There was this old lady waitress serving up last week. It was pure down to earth Cantonese warmth as she spoke between Mandarin and Cantonese (because we preferred to speak Cantonese .. imagine ordering Lor Mai Kai in any language other than Cantonese!) advising us of the dishes to pick and serving us. Ah, the granny warmth! Next table had three young children (3 years old) and she went to advise and help to put a sweater for them lest they caught the chill from the drafts of the air-conditioning. Something that we did not encounter in the old days and found it so refreshing that it is there today.

Could anyone recommend the best Lor Mai Kai in Singapore? It would certainly no longer be 30 cents. (^^)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Historian Painter Marcus Lim & the Chinatown Connection

Ever heard of historians? Plenty. Ever heard of Historian Painter? Huh? Got such person meh? Ah, as Marcus Lim would passionately and patiently explain to you. "ya got!". A historian writes about history, a historian painter paints about history. Ask Marcus about history, and he will paint you a picture!

Said to be the only Historian Painter in Singapore, or for that matter, in Asia, Marcus looks set to strike out a new path. He is already recognised by the Asian Geographic.

copyright: Marcus Lim

Somehow, our paths crossed (how, I am still wondering) and of course, I asked him if he or his relatives were once residents of Chinatown, the inner or the greater. Indeed he has. And chances are most Chinese in Singapore would have the Chinatown connection.

" I guess my main connection with Chinatown would be with my granduncle and his family who used to live around Chin Swee Road area. I can still remember the smells of sea-salt beaten boats, stinking river and mouldy wood, the faded peeling paints on the 5-foot way buildings. My granduncle stayed on the third floor, and so whenever we go visit him we had to climb dangerously up the creaky old wooden staircase, that felt like giving way whenever my little foot climbed the stairs. It was nerve-recking but exciting; I dared not climb back down when I was about to go home.
The juxtaposition of old and new buildings in that area is etched in my mind; seeing the buildings nearby being demolished was had my memory branded.

Let's not forget the people from traditional trades. The affable old man who used to hawk the big-head paper masks. The soy sauce seller who goes around with his rattan bag with bottles of 头抽...that strong sweet smell of the freshly made soy sauce mixed with the rattan smell creates an interesting combination.

These are the little affinity that tied me to Chinatown."

And what has our Historian Painter captured from Chinatown. Like most artists, he did also roam the streets of Chinatown. He tried to capture the essence of Chinatown with a historical perspective. One day down the road, when photos fade, his paintings will be around to tell our descendants more about the Chinatown we know.

copyright: Marcus Lim

I hope that he will continue to capture the life of Chinatown, absorbing the atmosphere and the way of life, before they also become history. Hopefully, if he could recapture from the memories of the old folks of Chinatown, we would have further depth into the history of Chinatown Singapore.