As always, the invitation was casual and low-key. Come for lunch on Monday. I’m having some old friends.
So on Sep 1, I found myself in a penthouse about four times the size of a 5-rm HDB flat, on the top level of a 20-storey building in the heart of the Orchard Road area.
I’ve been to the place many times be4 but it was the first time I was invited to the new inner, or more precisely the uppermost, sanctum, where the presiding matriarch of this low-key but prestigious family rules the roost.
I won’t describe the ID because in line with the mega rich, the home is more comfortable than fashionable, more practical than luxurious, tho it goes without saying, everything costs an arm and a leg by my yardstick.
Instead I will zoom in onto what was served at the lunch for eight. Popiah and porridge. But not yr $1.80 per roll sold at the foodcourts or even the self-roll effort available at places such as Good Chance (is it still around, I wonder?)
And while the “skin” is quite ordinary, the items for the “stuffing” are impressive. The pix below gives an idea.
Note the large sliced prawns (not shrimps, ah!) — fresh and crunchy. Note too the crab meat, where whole deshelled pincers were included. Plus creamy crab roe. All exactly the way I like to eat my prawns and crabs.
The green mossy stuff in the center is dried fresh seaweed, from Fujian in China and presented to the hostess by a friend. I gather the stuff can’t be bought off the shelf or even in speciality shops in S’pore, since all the guests at the table said they didn’t know what it was. (I had initially thought it was springy daun kesom, or laksa leaf).
Onward to the condiments or garnishings, although I think either description doesn’t quite fit, the first because the stuff isn’t spices etc and the second because the stuff will form part of the popiah stuffing rather than enhance the presentation.
I gave the dessicated peanuts and the fried shallots (the two bowls nearest the camera) a miss, as I don’t like the taste of either, at least not in popiah.
I go mad however with the garlic, the chilli and the Chinese parsley and exercise a bit of retraint with the sweet sauce, mainly because from experience, too much of it leads to a burst popiah skin, spilling the delicious ingredients.
It didn’t matter too much (except perhaps aesthetically or display a lack of breeding for all to see) when eating in genteel surroundings when one is seated at table, with a plate and a knife and fork and a pair of chopsticks.
If eating standing up in a food court, holding the popiah roll between a sheet of paper and the skin gives way to spill the fillings, gravy and sauce: it could be a disaster whether the spill is on oneself or on a fellow diner, whether friend or stranger.
At the penthouse lunch, I was more relaxed with the sweet sauce than usual, as the hostess thoughtfully provided whole popiah skins and halves, so that there’ll be some insulation for guests like me who have a tendency to load up so that the final result was this:
I couldn’t make it to a second roll, though I did have a second helping sans skin: it was a medley of crab meat, braised bamboo shoot, lettuce, bean sprouts, lashes of sweet sauce, chilli and garlic; messy but a symphony to my taste buds.
Whenever I ignore the rules of how this or that should be eaten, I always have at the back of my mind a story I heard about Lee Kong Chian.
Apparently because of his packed schedule, he was frequently late for his pre-ordered lunch (usually a noodle dish). To revive the dried up mess, he would simply tip his could coffee over the food and then slurp it all down.
When remonstrated by his more fastidious bank colleagues, I am told he would say: Everything gets mixed once past the throat.
I’m not sure I would have revived a dried up bowl of noodles by pouring coffee or other liquid over it. But I do subscribe to the idea that everything does meet somewhere inside us so let’s not be too rigid about following practices such as popiah must always be eaten as a roll and not deconstructed and eaten salad style.
The popiah was followed by superior porridge, with the rice grains, dried scallops and other tasty ingredients cooked to a fine smooth gruel, that was gentle on the mouth and stomach.
And to round off the meal, we were offered five or six flavours of ice-cream and a groaning variety of fruits that included cantaloupe, Japanese musk melon, Hawaiian papaya, donut peach, pineapple, bananas, longan, oranges and pomelo. Everything was peeled and sliced (if necessary) and nicely laid out so there was no need to do more work than stretch out one’s hand and open one’s mouth.
This level of luxury reminds me of meals at another equally prestigious family’s sumptuous table: the only thing missing at my Sep 1 lunch was rambutans.
At those long ago and far away (in time and memory ) meals, rambutans were not only peeled but also had their seeds taken out, so that one ate the cool plump flesh without effort, only pure enjoyment. That had become and remains my constant measure of how the truly wealthy lives!