Aunty Lee, restaurant owner and busybody extraordinaire, is catering a lunch at a wealthy and prominent lawyer’s home in Singapore when two bodies are found – the lawyer and her ill son. Fingers point to Aunty Lee’s Ayam buah keluak, a dish made from the seeds of the Pangium edule, a plant which grows in mangrove swamps in Southeast Asia. If not processed properly, which requires being boiled, scrubbed, soaked for days, it could make someone ill – dizziness, coma, shortness of breath! Yikes.
Aunty Lee knows it has nothing to do with her food and that it is far more than what the police think. Plus this is all too much, in the way that it is affecting her livelihood, her passion. And that it might have something to do with the organ donor scandal that involves some rather prominent locals. So of course Aunty Lee, with her “kiasu, kaypoh, em zai see approach to food and all life”* takes matters into her own hands and begins poking around with the help of her trusty sidekick, her domestic helper Nina. Commissioner Raja and Inspector Salim are not please, but then again, they’re not really surprised either.
For me, this series is not about the mystery, but its setting – Singapore. I have to admit that I was a bit bogged down by parts of the crime and the mystery, and wasn’t all that interested in figuring out whodunnit.
Because there are not very many books set in Singapore or written by Singaporeans that make their way to the US, I lapped this one up like a bowl full of sweet sticky orhnee, a popular dessert in Singapore, and one of my absolute favourite desserts ever, a pudding of sorts made with mashed yam/taro and coconut milk, sometimes with ginkgo nuts and mashed pumpkin added in.
Because sometimes there is a need to read about books set in a place you truly know well. Sure I’ve been in the US for five years now but I still feel like an outsider (as Sting once put it, “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien”). To hear bits of Singlish, to read of characters like busybody Aunty Lee, to recognise places like Binjai Park and Bukit Timah Plaza, it means so much to me. It has been nearly a year since my last visit to Singapore. And Singapore being the fast-paced society that it is, every visit springs up something new (roads, buildings, skyscrapers, foodie trends), the disappearance of something old (sadly too common), and the realisation and understanding of the word ‘home’.
Aunty Lee’s cooking and love for food is a huge attraction. The mere mention of Nasi lemak, herbal chicken soup, pineapple tarts, bubur terigu, oh ku kueh, made me drool, made me miss Singapore and all its gastronomic delights.
“Aunty Lee learned as much about people from watching them eat as from listening to them talk. It was not only a matter of what they ate but how they ate that revealed the most about them. This had less to do with table manners then their relationship with food. Because their relationship with the food that nourished them grounded their relationship with themselves and everyone else.”
Yu also includes some recipes, such as a chicken candlenut curry, as well as a guide to food spots in Singapore, for that complete experience.
Read Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights for some Singaporean-style flavour, both in terms of the food and setting.
* kiasu = afraid of losing out
kaypoh = busybody
em zai see = not afraid of dying
Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.
I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours
Check out the other stops on the book tour
Tuesday, September 30th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, October 1st: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Monday, October 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, October 7th: Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, October 8th: Book Dilettante
Thursday, October 9th: guiltless reading
Monday, October 13th: Olduvai Reads
Tuesday, October 14th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, October 16th: Tutu’s Two Cents
Wednesday, October 22nd: My Bookshelf
Friday, October 24th: Jorie Loves a Story