TLC Book Tours: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials



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.

Ovidia Yu

Connect with her through Facebook or follow her on Twitter.


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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

TLC Book Tours: Aunty Lee’s Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu


Salim took a tentative bite of the fried batter puff. If it was good enough for Commissioner Raja, it was good enough for him. Then he forgot all about the commissioner as the hot savoury mix of chili, onion, sardine, and – was it lime? – burst out of its crisp casing in his mouth. This was possibly the most sensational epok-epok he had tasted since his late grandmother’s death. Unlike the usual Chinese version, the pastry was thick and rich, and the savoury mix of seasoned fish, potato, and hard-boiled egg inside almost made him swoon. He looked across at Aunty Lee with something like devotion in his eyes.

Aunty Lee’s Delights in Binjai Park is known for its sweet and savoury kueh and fried tidbits. And her bottles of “Aunty Lee’s Shiok Sambal and Aunty Lee’s Amazing Achar and Krunchy Kropok”. But on this night it is the venue for a wine dinner, hosted by her stepson Mark, who fancies himself a bit of a wine connoisseur, pairing wines with local foods, more specifically Peranakan food.

Let’s meet the dinner guests, shall we?

The Cunninghams, Frank and Lucy, an old Australian couple, who “looked like retirees who were travelling to see the world and had chosen SIngapore as their first stop because of its clean, safe, English-speaking reputation”. But Aunty Lee’s nose sniffs out a secret that they are reluctant to share.

Harry Sullivan, a repeat diner, also an Australian, who loves being a white man in Singapore (he claims to be a hit with local women, for instance). He’s quite full of himself.

Mark Lee and his wife Selina (or Silly-nah as Aunty Lee likes to call her), the organisers of the event. Rather at odds with each other. Mark, the son of an old money family, had “grown up with that comfortable nonchalance toward money that a financially privileged childhood confers”. Selina, though, was an aspiring Tai-tai, or a wealthy woman who doesn’t have to work, and is thus resentful that her late father-in-law left all the money to his second wife, Aunty Lee. She’s bossy, he’s henpecked.

Rosie Lee, owner and chef at Aunty Lee’s Delights. Like her outfit of turquoise kebaya top, matching flared pants and sneakers with bright yellow laces, she is a mix of traditional and modern, experimenting and reverse engineering dishes of all sorts. She has two passions: food and news. She is best at being kaypoh (busybody). [I should add that “Aunty” or “Auntie” is often used in Singapore as a polite way of calling an older female, who might not necessarily be related to you. For instance, if I were to meet a friend and her mother, I would call her “Auntie”. Likewise for the term “Uncle”.]

Nina Balignasay is Aunty Lee’s domestic helper and sous chef in an unofficial capacity (as a maid, she isn’t supposed to be working outside of the home). She’s Aunty Lee’s eyes and ears and extra pair of hands.

Cherril Lim-Peters, a former flight attendant now the wife of a high-flying wealthy lawyer, is probably the only one there really interested in wining and dining. She is there without her husband Mycroft this time, and is quite delighted. Her sister-in-law Marianne was also expected but didn’t turn up either.

Laura Kwee who is supposed to help organize the dinner is conspicuously absent.

And Aunty Lee has the feeling that this has something to do with the dead body washed up on a beach.

As we – and police Senior Staff Sergeant Salim – soon find out, Aunty Lee’s nosy nose and connections everywhere (some are really Nina’s domestic helper connections) means that she is often the first to piece together the clues, all while cooking up a storm.

Aunty Lee is quite the character. She reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but with a greater focus on food. Of course she has her handy sidekick Nina to help with the snooping and cooking.

And oh, the food! Bubor cha cha (a hot coconut-y dessert soup with sweet potatoes, yam and more). Nasi Lemak (coconut rice served with fried fish, sambal chili). Epok-epok (spicy sardine puffs). All the good stuff that made me salivate a little, and think of home, while reading this book. So despite its not very exciting mystery, Aunty Lee’s Delights was quite a, er, delightful little read for me, full of the tastes and flavours of Singapore.

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I received this book for review from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins

Check out the other tour stops:

Tuesday, September 17th: Olduvai Reads

Wednesday, September 18th: Lavish Bookshelf

Thursday, September 19th: Wordsmithonia

Monday, September 23rd: Helen’s Book Blog

Tuesday, September 24th: guiltless reading

Wednesday, September 25th: Bibliophilia, Please!

Thursday, September 26th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, October 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, October 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, October 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Ovidia YuOvidia 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 that have been published in Singapore and India.

Connect with Ovidia on Facebook and Twitter.