Tag Archive | food

Two questions I hate

Every time I read a copy of the Sunday Times from the SPH stable, there are two questions posed in their regular interviews that make me see red.

And I’m constantly amazed that all but one interview subject (that I can remember anyway) actually objected to the question asked.

For those who don’t read the Sunday Times or its Lifestyle section which carries these featured interviews, let me elaborate.

One standard interview for the Book Page in the section is to talk to a “newsworthy” personality — usually book related — who happens to be visiting Singapore, about the books he or she has been reading or had read some time in their life.

The other standard interview is in the Food pages with a food personality.

And each interview is “spiced” up — or so the editors think — with an inane and offensive “kicker” question. It is these questions that make me squirm, every time I read them.

The book interviewee gets asked “What books would you save if your house is burning down” while for the food interviewee the question is even worse: “What would your last meal be?”

Would anyone sane, however much a book-lover, look to saving his or her book collection when their home is being reduced to cinders?

As for last meals, it’s a question that’s completely over the top.

Who could say for sure what his or her last meal is going to be, except for those about to be executed in prison?

Those interviewees who gamely answered these asinine questions must have been desperate for publicity to want to humour the journalists to this extent!


Short lives of food outlets in S’pore

Years ago, an old mentor who has since gone to another place used to say, “Let’s go eat at such and such a place again, before it closes down.”

His secretary would frown at him with some displeasure and muttered to us younger staff that the restaurant owner won’t be pleased with such a reason for a re-visit.

Yet the old man was spot-on.

Eating outlets in Singapore aren’t known for their longevity, especially in today’s climate when diners crave for new places, faces and dishes.

Old style restaurants like Beng Thin Hoon Kee Restaurant which like Johnny Walker continue to keep going strong are a little short of miraculous, considering that their menu range is so ho-hum (to me anyway). Ditto Hans Cafe!

Nowhere is the sakura-like lives of our cafes and restaurants brought back more firmly to me than a short stroll around Velocity (the Novena Square extension) following yesterday’s traumatic visit to Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s A & E department, documented here and password protected to shield the guilty.

One well-known cafe and one Johnny Come Lately which I had written about here in July 2008 had both disappeared and in their place are My Mum’s Cuisine and Professor Brawn Cafe respectively.

Personally, I’m not surprised that the well-known Delifrance outlet had packed up. The wonder is that it lasted as long as it did, considering the almost empty state I had almost always found it in whenever I walked by.

As for the disappearance of Mingles Cafe, I’m not surprised either considering the mostly bad reviews that it had received on the Internet.

I tried to give it support once, for the sake of the yummy supe who had moved there from managing the Ichiban Boshi outlet in Great World City.

But as I noted in a post, “Mingles serves food that leaves much to be desired with service that’s erratic, tho I say this from only one experience more than a year ago. It was so trying that I’ve never been there to eat again, not even when one of its supes is scrumptous to look at. Well, I can’t eat him, can I?”

Given the short lives of food establishments, I wish the two newcomers to Velocity the best of luck, especially Professor Brawn Cafe — owned by Member of Parliament Denise Phua and her husband — which has replaced Mingles since last October.

This is because Prof Brawn, like Joan Bowen Cafe at Jalan Wangi which opened earlier last year, aims to give kids with special needs a chance to lead meaningful lives through work.

Only trouble is that while food has a low barrier to entry it has a very high attrition rate, especially in Singapore!

Down n out in Toa Payoh?

Was going to go for the nyonya buiffet lunch at Chilli Padi in North Bridge Rd with mum n maid, to give both a treat since I’ve been away for a few days in Penang and they didn’t give me any unnecessary excitement eg fone calls abt not functioning aircon and/or washing machine…

Alas, as with all good intentions. Ran into neighbour PP from Hongkong who has been spoiling us with her slow boiled soups and she wanted to go to Toa Payoh to pay her tontine money. Gave her a lecture abt the danger of such investments and also gave her a lift to TPY. Having hit TPY and it was almost 1pm made it silly to try to go into town so settled for HDB hub.

And voila! Discovered that slumming in the B1 foodcourt could be quite tasty and easy on the purse. For the three of us the total bill came to $12!! A sum that could be spent easily on one person alone, even in a food court and most definitely at places like Ajisen.

Mum and I had wonton noodles with char siew; $5 for two persons. Siti had Ipoh kway teow with steamed chicken: $3.

$2.50 n good to last strand

$2.50 n good to last strand

 We shared a dessert of peanut soup with sweet dumplings (tang yuan): $2. Then I got adventurous and decided to take home some rojak, not because I was still hungry but because it was the only stall (number 25) in the whole food court with a queue number system.

It said “68” and I was curious. Since its prices seemed reasonable enough, starting from $2, I decided to have a go and asked Siti to go take a queue number plus the instruction to tell the uncle not to put crushed peanuts on top of the rojak.

Mum and I waited for a good 5 minutes + another 5 minutes wandering around the foodcourt checking out the food and drink offerings be4 I panicked that the maid might have got lost, as surely the queue couldn’t be that long!

We headed back to Stall 25 only to discover the board showing 90 and Siti with a disk that showed 7. What the heck did that mean? I marched up to the stall for clarification to be told that once the system reached 100, it would start from 1 again.

I must give the rojak uncle and his assistant top marks for politeness. Bceause despite being so busy, they entertained my repeated reminders: “hey, I don’t want crushed peanuts”; “hey I want bungkus (takeaway)”, after having already explained their numbering system.

I watched the uncle shave the cucumber freshly into each portion he tossed, and gave him another plus.

Sure enough, when my turn came, my rojak was neatly packed, with two bamboo skewers thrown in to be used in lieu of forks.

When we got home, the rojak’s ingredients were as fresh as any I’ve eaten, including the self-made kind at buffets. Although I’m not fond of “you tiao” (Chinese crullers/fried dough sticks), the really crispy yet unoily version in the Soon Heng rojak well marinaded in the black prawn paste was so lip-smacking tasty that I ate several pieces. The rojak’s even got a few slivers of “jiu hu” or rubbery cuttle fish.

take the cue!

take the cue!

I’ve never heard of Soon Heng so after the tasty rojak decided to google to see if it’s been written about be4. Seems like Camemberu is there be4 me with better pix to boot. And seems like Soon Heng is a place many people know about, except moi!

While the basement 1 food court at HDB Hub isn’t the most salubrious dining place in S’pore, it’s great value for money, the food actually edible, and no more crowded than at Great World City or Bugis Junction. Parking costs just $1.22! Better still, the loos at the hub are remarkably clean (despite the presumably huge traffic) and large.

There are soap and self-service toilet rolls outside the stalls a la the loos lining both sides of the North-South Highway. The quality of the loos at the hub puts some of those at our so called premier shopping centres to shame.

Well, if being down n out in S’pore means making the hub your personal dining room, then I can’t think of a better place to be down n out in than S’pore!

Dying to live!

You may think me macabre when I say I find the Straits Times heading for an interview on euthanasia in the Nov 5 edition well, rather amusing!

dying to live

dying to live

Perhaps amusing ain’t the appropriate word. What I’m trying to say is I find the headine — Helping the dying with living — and the whole current thrust and rush to make euthanasia a part of our lives wryly ironic.

Ironic because most have forgotten that all of us are dying, in various degrees, depending on our age, our genes, our circumstances — from the day we were born.

Shouldn’t the efforts of humanity be focused on all who are dying to live, and that must surely be everyone? We all die to live, like in we “die” to have a Rolls Royce, Madonna’s success, to carry a Coach hand-bag and to eat in three-star Michelin restaurants like they are Kopitiam food courts.

It’s true that some of us take a heck sight longer to die than others — even when we suffer from multiple ailments — and so we weigh on the lives of those for whom death is someone else’s affair, not theirs.

So for this group who unashamedly takes such a long time to die, some bright sparks have been arguing, alarmingly ever louder, that euthanasia is designed for them, so that they can go with “dignity and without distress”.

Note however, as the good Dr Rosalie Shaw in the ST interview states categorically, euthanasia “is an act with the intention to kill”, no more, no less, so let’s not glorify this greatest cruelty of man to man, made worse because it’s dressed up as for the good of the victim.

The grounds on which Dr Shaw opposes euthanasia are both professional and personal, she says. As a doctor taught to heal or cure, the ‘intent to kill’ is anathema.

She believes most terminally ill people — just like all of us born to die, even if we don’t acknowledge it (to die, I mean)–don’t really want to die. I agree. That’s a no-brainer, really. As Shakespeare said 500 years ago:

“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world.”

Even those who have faith in another world still cling tenaciously to this one that we know — or there won’t be Lourdes and the continuous chase for medicines and miracles to prolong life, rather than cut it short.

 Dr Shaw’s parting shot in the interview is that ‘a society that allows euthanasia devalues life’.

To which I must add: “a society that allows euthanasia also devalues its medical profession” because which decent doctor would want to prescribe death as the ultimate cure for his patients?

Certainly not among the dozen or so doctors I know. Certainly I believe not among all the doctors who have taken the Hippcratic Oath.

Meanwhile for those of us who can, let us eat and drink.. “for you don’t know when you can’t,” as one wise old man once said to me when he saw me picking over my food because I don’t eat things that are too gamey, boney, fat, lean, sweet, salty, oily, hard, soft, overdone, underdone, yucky to look at.. u get the drift.

While I’m still as picky over my food, I’ve learned to appreciate more deeply what I can eat, as the truth and wisdom of the old man’s words dawned on me when I watched a friend fight every mm of her way against death.

Although she cldn’t keep down her food in the last weeks of her life, she nevertheless asked for all her fav foods and drinks. She ate and drank everything with gusto, never mind if every morsel and every drop came back up within minutes, as she gagged and gasped for breath.

Yet never once did she say she wanted to die or turned away the food and drinks. Euthanasia wasn’t for her. Neither is it for me or anyone I love. Thank you very much.

Cold Storage’s nemesis? C’est moi!

I’m beginning to suspect I’ve become something of a nemesis to the cashiers at Cold Storage Supermarket at Great World City. 

You see, I once again discovered a price discrepancy for one item, between what was posted on the shelf and what the cashier charged at the check-out when he scanned the item.

I never imagined I would once again find such mis-pricing, at least not so soon, at least not at the same supermarket, for heavens’ sake!

On two occasions in September I found that I was charged more than what was shown on the shelves and had blogged about that:

So, you could have knocked me down with a feather last Saturday when on a hurried sortie to pick up some items for the larder, I was again over-charged, this time for a litre of Pacific Natural Foods’ All Natural Hazelnut Milk.

Occasionally, as a change from Oatley oat milk, I treat myself to hazelnut milk, as much for a change as to stop my body from getting immune to one type of food.

Altho I buy the hazelnut milk infrequently I know the price very well as I have always thought it a bit odd that hazelnut milk should sell for less than oat milk, as I would imagine gm for gm, hazelnuts should cost more than oat.

But mine isn’t to reason why; mine is to buy.

At the check out I glanced at my receipt and was surprised to see that my litre of Oatley and the Hazelnut were priced exactly the same: $5.95. I queried the cashier and his reply was the standard:”The price has been increased.”

Tho the price difference was small I decided to march back, desite the weight of my two laden bags of grocery, to the shelves where other packs of Pacific Natural Foods stood and, using my trusty Nokia 6500, took a pix of the price on the shelf.

One part of me kept telling myself to let go; after all, it isn’t a lot of money. Another part of me was self-righteously indignant. It’s ridiculous. It’s the 3rd time. What are the odds of that happening 3 times to the same person at the same supermarket outlet?

All right, I’m not as brave as MK to tell pple on the MRT to give up their seats. I don’t as a rule make a fuss in a restaurant over the food or the service. But I think I can do something to make sure, whenever I’m aware, that a big supermarket chain like Cold Storage, a unit of MNC Dairy Farm, doesn’t get away with overcharging me.

And ta da! The pix showed the price as $5.65 but I was charged $5.95!

listed $5.65 but charged at $5.95

listed $5.65 but charged at $5.95

Triumphantly I went back to the cashier to “prove” that I was right but he was busy serving another customer who was buying two trolleys’ worth of goods. The woman looked familiar. I thought she might be a neighbour in my condo or someone I’ve seen be4 at the GWC food court where we go about twice a month.

Cold Storage cashiers probably have a system to summon help with “troublesome” customers because be4 I could go into a song and dance with the one who insisted that the hazelnut milk’s price had been increased, a strappy girl staff appeared, looked at my camera fone pix rather impatiently and then went off to check for herself.

She returned with a pack of hazelnut milk in her hand and mumbling about suppliers and prices, put the pack into one of my Cold Storage plastic bags which I had put in the space behind the cashier, as their weight was killing me.

It then dawned on me she was giving me an extra pack.

“Eh,” I said, “I’m embarrassed. I just wanted the price adjusted.”

“It’s our policy,” she said and in a tic was gone, so much so that as I was gathering my bags to leave, the cashier who had served me earlier turned round — he was done with the familiar looking woman who filled two shopping trolleys — and asked, “What did the supervisor say?”

“She’s giving me the box for free,” I replied and when he still looked uncertain, I added, perhaps a little (needlessly) defensively, “check with her if you don’t believe me.”

I went off a bit annoyed to have been put on the defensive. Though I don’t mind being given an extra pack to make up for the pricing mistake, I think it is too much to encounter not one but three errors within about six weeks.

If I were a Dairy Farm shareholder, I would be worried. Sure, supermarkets sell thousands of items but shouldn’t a greater effort be made to synchronise prices on the shelves and at the check outs?

Or do they rely on customers not to notice and “trouble makers” are fobbed off with a “reward”? 

Well, it looks like Cold Storage isn’t alone — in mis-pricing, I mean. A told me it happened to her at Watson’s — and at different outlets while S wrote more lengthily about her experience at Suntec’s Carrefour where her purchase of yellow capsicums was charged at more than twice the posted price.

The moral is: keep a close eye on prices when you are shopping, especially in supermarkets where because of the long check out queues, cashiers could make genuine mistakes while their employers are tardy with price updatings.

Yes, it’s a pain to double check, especially when the wait has been long, the trolley is full and some fellow customers may give you, at kindest, quizzical looks, as if to say “aiyoh y so ngeow”?

I think that’s probably what the lady who shopped till she filled up two trolleys thought about the exchange I had with the cashier serving her. Incidentally when writing this post, I suddenly recalled that she is none other than Dr Gillian Koh, an academic often appearing on TV programs to give her five cents worth.

Afterword:I think this wrong pricing business is going from absurd to ridiculous; Cold Storage is either raising prices so fast that they don’t have time to adjust or their floor staff are so short-handed or damned lazy, at least at GWC.

KISS-style cooking

Considering that when I first went to the UK to study, I barely knew how to boil water, it seemed something of a miracle that the first paid work in my life was to cook for an aristocratic family who hired me for six weeks as a “mother’s help” while their real one went on summer holiday.

Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner were all under my single-handed charge. Perhaps everyone was kind but I don’t think anyone would be so kind, even if they have the best of British stiff upper lips, as to eat the meals I dished out for all of six weeks, if they were indeed inedible.

Armed with this cooking experience, I know I can — and indeed have made — make a good meal out of all the ingredients — that can be eaten or drunk — which life throws at me. 

If you’ve a certificate that says you can cook, good for you. If not, I’ll show you that you can cook just as well. Just have confidence and “keep it simple, sweetheart” style.

I’ll start with mee siam, the dry version or kerabu beehoon (as some would call it), because it’s one of my favourite dishes, as I’ve written before.

Look at the pix below which shows a full-blooded version, all done in less than 15 minutes of leisurely cooking over a low fire. And everyone at the table pronounced it great… even tho I must confess, I’ve never cooked this dish be4 this attempt, as I shall explain.

kerabu or mee siam tastes equally good

kerabu or mee siam tastes equally good

I make my love for dry mee siam so well known that once at N’s home, one fellow guest turned to me and whispered: “Easy, make it with tong yam paste”, when she heard me lamenting the nth time I didn’t know how to make the dish.

That tip set me to put in an order for the paste with the small kedai below where I live and the proprietess promptly ordered a jar and I was in business.

open sesame to mee siam

open sesame to mee siam

First, I soaked enough bee hoon (to satisfy six diners) in cold water for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, I poured hot water into a kwali and brought it quickly to a boil. Then I added two large tablespoonfuls of the tong yam paste to the water.

Siti, my picky maid, was set to chop a handful of bawang merah (small onions or shallots; a rose by any name etc)

As I was afraid that there might not be enough nutritional value in the paste and hot water, I added a bottle of Brand’s essence of chicken (part of a large haul that came the family’s way when my mum was hospitalised in July — almost every visitor brought chicken essence, a stuff that isn’t normally appreciated in our home but which somehow had become traditional for invalids to receive during convalescence).

The softened bee hoon was put into the chicken essence-tong yam gravy and cooked slowly and tossed gently till every drop of liquid was soaked dry. As the gravy was being soaked, the chopped bawang merah was added and tossed with the bee hoon.

My short-cut mee siam was eaten with my 1-2-3-4-5 pork ribs (recipe given here in an earlier post) and plenty of cucumber and tomato wedges. (Picky Siti ate hers with her self-cooked chicken curry).

doing it by numbers

doing it by numbers

A good meal was had by all, if I might say so. And all cooked without a drop of oil, except what was already in the tong yam paste and the pork ribs au naturel.

China no longer alone…

and now there are 2..

Oct 2, 2008
NZ milk products tainted too…

SEOUL – SOUTH Korea’s food safety agency said on Thursday it has banned the import of milk products from New Zealand used in baby formula after discovering traces of the harmful chemical melamine.

Government officials said it was the first case of melamine-tainted food from a country other than China.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration said two of nine shipments of lactoferrin from New Zealand’s Tatua Cooperative Dairy were found to contain 1.9 to 3.3 parts per million of melamine.

It said it had found no traces of melamine in 19 local baby formula brands which used lactoferrin as of Wednesday, presumably because the additive makes up less than 0.1 per cent of the final product, the agency said. Tests on more products were underway.

The agency had previously banned the import of all products containing Chinese powdered milk due to fears of melamine contamination.

No comment was immediately available from Tauta, which on Monday had suspended exports of lactoferrin because of the melamine find. The company was also checking where its product had been exported to and trying to trace the source of the melamine contamination.

‘There’s quite a lot of sensitivity around melamine even at low levels,’ chief executive Paul McGilvary told the NZ Press Association at the time.

He said the New Zealand Food Safety Authority had found fewer than four parts per million of melamine in the Tatua product, and found there was no contamination of the company’s milk supply.

South Korea has banned the imports of Chinese milk powder and rice cookies produced in China. It has also recalled tainted products from store shelves.

A growing list of Chinese milk and milk-related products have been taken off shelves around the world in recent weeks after they have been found to be contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, sickening tens of thousands and killing four children. — REUTERS, AFP


Meanwhile here in Singapore, I’m delighted to learn that our AVA has been testing milk and milk-related products from places other than China and so far, only China’s came out smelling of melamine!

Meanwhile2, World Health Organisation food safety expert Peter Ben Embarek said earlier this week that many countries had only recently fixed limits for melamine in food as ‘melamine has nothing to do with the food chain’.

MNCs caught with made-in-China melamine contaminated food products claim that “minute traces of melamine are commonly found throughout the global food chain and melamine levels below 2.5 ppm are not deemed to indicate adulteration with melamine”.

Anyone bite that?