I have had my vengeance upon the oven/microwave that has vexed me for 7 months now. Our appliance is a wee thing, fitting only our smallest baking sheets, and being more of a microwave than anything else. There is a convection setting, the operation of which is that you set a temperature and a time, and if you don’t pad the time enough, the oven never gets to the desired temperature. Rotten, rotten thing. Well I ran it ragged the other day, making my fall favorite, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, running the oven for nearly an hour straight just to maintain the desired temperature.
And they were delicious, so there. Take that, oven.
Are you amused? Good, after last weekend’s debacle with the pulled pork, during which I discovered that the silly thing can only handle time in hour-and-a-half chunks, I was happy to have accomplished baking, even if it were a simple formula that I’ve made a hundred times over.
Such is life in the tiny kitchen I have, where I realize the privilege that having a country, a city, a house, with a lot of space affords you. When in Portland, Bev and I had often bemoaned our lack of a second oven, especially during Thanksgiving time, when we’d have stuffing, turkey and pies to bake on a constant basis. Now, I realize that single old oven, oh man, it was a joy to have compared to our current appliance.
Such is life.
Thankfully, though, we live in a city where getting food on the go, either delivered to our door or getting “take-away” is remarkably, ridiculously, easy. The Lion City is of course famous for its street food culture, as is the entire Southeast Asia region. Singapore sits on the confluence of so many gastronomical traditions, that it becomes a natural melting pot for Asian cuisine, personified within the numberless hordes of “hawkers”, established ‘street’ food vendors that often ply their craft in permanent stalls within large “hawker centers”, a cafeteria-like arrangement of food and drink stalls that make up the beating heart of Singapore’s food scene. Of course, there are restaurants aplenty – Singaporeans, more than anything else, love food – but the real heart of the city’s never-full stomach is the hawker.
Ive made frequent mention to some of the hawkers I’ve tried. My first trip to Singapore took me to Maxwell Food Center, a popular downtown hawker center famous for housing Tian Tian Chicken Rice, considered to be the best chicken rice in town. Last week, I made mention of “khao man ghai”, Thai chicken and rice. That dish is a variation of the Haiwanese “chicken rice” that ubiquitous Singaporean staple. Roasted or broiled chicken breast is served sliced with skin on a bed of rice cooked in the chicken broth. That’s it. Simple, easily made at home1indeed, my go-to cheap at-home meal, and frequently garnished with steamed veggies, sliced cucumber, or a chicken soup with tofu, green onions or spinach.
Of course, as I mentioned some 8 months ago, Tian Tian is not open on Mondays, so facing a dizzying array of food choices, I decided to walk the path less travelled towards “Lor Mee”, a noodle dish served with a starchy and rather dull sauce2thanks, Frost, you fucking jackass.. American individualism be damned – when you see a hawker with a long queue, do yourself a favor and stand in it. Leave Robert Frost for high school graduates to endlessly – and ironically – quote.
Singapore has a number of “national” dishes, iconic cuisine imported from its Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Indian neighbors and immigrants. Laksa, a spicy seafood gravy dish is a favorite, and is found all over the island. Fish-head curry, which I have yet to have owing towards wanting to ensure I do it right, has yet to be found within Holland Village by yours truly. Satay and char kway teow, two Malaysian imports are also often found and adopted by Singaporeans, the former famously represented near Gardens By The Bay, adorably named “Satay By the Bay”. Satay I think most Americans are familiar with – strips of thinly sliced chicken, beef or shrimp skewered, marinated and grilled, often served with a dipping sauce. I think its most often found at Thai restaurants in the States, but do not be confused – satay is a Malaysian thing and they do it right.
I’ve also discussed char kway teow as well, an early favorite from February that’s taken a bit of a backseat in my preferences. The dish is noodles stir fried in lard, which, tastes awesome but is not exactly the healthiest thing for you. Plus, after having it in Georgetown, I find myself agreeing with my blushing bride – Malaysia ruined char kway teow for me, and nothing in Singapore can match it.
Indeed, I’ve found folks from the various countries of Southeast Asia to have an incredible sense of pride in their food. Though I’ve not really seen anyone come to blows over whose cuisine reigns supreme, I wouldn’t be surprised. Singaporeans are not unique in their love for food, and every country here has traditions of amazing sauces, grilled meats and amazing noodle and rice dishes. Or maybe everyone has just long ago agreed – the country with the best food isn’t Malaysia, or Thailand, or France, or Italy.
It’s Vietnam3The North American in me is still holding out for a late Mexican win. If Vietnamese cuisine has borrowed heavily from the French, so has Mexican from the Spanish and French. But it’s a pipe dream. It might not stop me from making a bracket though..
Americans – at least those of us lucky enough to have lived on the West Coast – are well familiar with Vietnamese cuisine. After the war, a number of Vietnamese-Americans brought the secrets of phở, spring rolls and banh mi to American shores, but beyond those Viet-American restaurant staples lies an entire, amazing selection of grilled meats, spicy and flavorful soups that are not phở, and even the grilled frog leg or two. Strangely, here in Singapore, the most common Vietnamese dishes I’ve found are the same that I would find in the US. Perhaps I need more exposure. Research, research, research. Work, work, work.
I’ve written about chili crab, perhaps the most iconic of Singaporean foods, and honestly, I haven’t had it since February. It’s one of those dishes that I think requires a large group to enjoy, and a commitment to get your hands really messy. It’s been easier and cheaper simply to go to the local hawkers and get chicken rice, or to the Korean grill and get grilled meat and rice, or dumpling noodles, a dish I watch being made with fascination. Allow me;
The place I get “dry”4aka, not in a soup dumpling noodles from will toss a handful of noodles into their large boiler. While those cook, the chef will mix oil5sesame?, chili and sauce6fish or oyster? in a bowl and let it sit. When the noodles are done, my man expertly stirs the noodles into the oil/sauce mixture by using chopsticks to take noodles from the strainer, mix into the bowl and back again. A few steamed dumplings will be added, sometimes in a soup on the side as well, and the dish is garnished with steamed veggies. Simple, easily put together, cheap7$3-4 SGD and freaking amazing. Though I could cook this at home, why would I want to, when the real deal costs half as much as it would cost me, and I can watch a maestro do his thing.
I might just have to get his recipe later when I move back. Maybe I can open something next to the Dump Truck.