Seafood high tea at The Westin Singapore

My mum was the one who suggested this high tea at the lobby lounge of the Westin hotel in Singapore’s financial district. I hadn’t even known that the Westin had a new hotel and that it was located in the CBD! There was quite a bit of construction around the hotel and to be honest walking around the financial district is always confusing for me – the tall buildings all kind of look the same and the GPS doesn’t work accurately because of said tall buildings.

But I finally found it.

The lobby lounge is on the 32nd floor and has a view of the port and part of Sentosa.

This is the first course. Each person gets a plate of assorted seafood bites including mussels, prawns, seared tuna and more. I quite liked the lobster and mushroom torchon, the addition of the chili on the seared tuna, and that poached prawn open-faced sandwich. The mussels, with the fruity dressing, was a bit sweet for me.

The top tier held crab sandwiches on pumpernickel bread – we got two each.

A closer look at the plate.

I loved how the soy sauce was in a pipette

Second course was lobster thermidor and an oyster each. The oysters came with three dressings – champagne, lychee bourbon and lime, shallot vinaigrette. To be honest, I prefer eating my oysters as is, with just a squeeze of lemon, but I tasted each dressing and though that the lychee one was quite fun.

And finally dessert.

There was pistachio and cherry cheesecake (I’m not a fan of cheesecake and this one didn’t change my mind about that).

There was a yummy mango and lime tart

From a different angle. The whipped cream was meant to be eaten with the chocolate chip cookies and I must say that those cookies were divine!

The little cups hold tiramisu which were really delicious and full of coffee flavour.

I’m not usually a fan of chocolate-dipped strawberries (or white chocolate) but I must say that these strawberries dipped in white chocolate and lemon were quite refreshing because of that very zesty lemon dip!

For all three of us, we barely touched the Truffle Cupcake. It was a very strange taste. Every part of the cupcake, from white chocolate shard, to the frosting, to the cupcake batter itself was infused with truffle. I believe this is the first time I’ve had a truffle-flavored dessert. I’ve had truffles on pasta, truffle fries etc, but definitely nothing sweet. And truffle is such an overpowering taste that even the fork I used had a faint truffle-y taste afterwards. Maybe if they had just put truffle in the frosting, it would have been better? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure I would eat a truffle dessert ever again.

Truffle cupcakes aside, this was a lovely high tea at The Westin Singapore. Attentive and pleasant service, a very nice and quiet lobby lounge (sometimes lobby lounges can be very noisy but this whole hotel was quite pleasant and calm), some very delicious savoury moments and nice sweet flavours, this seafood high tea gets the thumbs up from me.


#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.



I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.


This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.



And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.



A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Back from Singapore

It has been four days since we arrived back in California. And finally there was some semblance of sleep last night. I gave up and slept with the 4yo in his single bed (my neck! my back! – luckily I am a back sleeper who doesn’t move much, but still I was wedged between a small being and the wall). And finally, he slept. He did get up before midnight, and he did get up when I got up to put the blanket on his big brother who had sneezed. He did stir and ask “is it morning time?” when I tried to adjust my sleeping position around 4 something. But at least today, at least there was sleep. There was not the wide-awake from 2 something to 4 something that I had been for the past few nights, woken perhaps by my own un-reset body clock, or perhaps from the boys talking in their room.

There is adjustment to be made. There is routine to get back to. There is the quiet quiet quiet of the night to return to again. No more whirr of the AC going full blast. Far less traffic noise. No more mynahs screeching outside in the morning. No more wrapped-in-your-own-personal-sauna heat-and-humidity the moment the door opens.

There is just me and the kids for almost the whole day until the husband gets back (he leaves the house before 630am). And it has been especially hard when the 4yo starts crying for his grandparents. Luckily he has been great at returning to preschool. There are meals to cook. There are dishes to wash. There are chores to do. But there are also sweet yellow cherry tomatoes. There are wonderful seasonal fruits at the farmers market. There will be hikes to walk. A recital to attend. And time to just sit back and enjoy the last few weeks of summer holiday.

There will be more blog posts to write. But for now, I am just trying to adjust.

Weekend Cooking: What I ate at Singapore Day

The day we had been waiting for finally arrived! It was the first ever Singapore Day to be held on the west coast!

Singapore Day has been held once a year in a different city since 2007. It’s been held in the US twice but always in New York City (it’s also been in Australia, China, London). So we’ve never had the chance to go to one. It’s organized by the Overseas Singaporean Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Singapore consulate does organize a yearly event but nothing on this scale. And scale it was. They flew in not just entertainers, hosts, singers, musical acts but also hawkers who are known for their Singapore food. Oh boy what a treat!!! And even the Deputy Prime Minister and some other ministers joined in the fun.

It was held at Pier 70 in San Francisco, and it was such an odd place for an event celebrating Singapore, a country known for its strict rules,  well-manicured landscapes and clean streets. This place was an old warehouse with a big outdoor area where the hawkers were set up.

And wow the variety they provided! Laksa, nasi lemak, chicken rice, carrot cake, Hokkien mee, satay, roti prata, BBQ sambal stingray, desserts like pulot hitam and cheng tng and even Singapore-style coffee!

My kids loved the satay and the chicken rice. What we call “carrot cake” is actual a steamed white radish ‘cake’ then chopped up and fried with eggs and preserved radish. This is the ‘white’ version. The ‘black’ version has sweet black soy sauce added so it is sweet and salty.

The two desserts – pulot hitam or black glutinous rice cooked down and served with coconut milk on the left; cheng tng or a ‘cooling soup’ on the right with dried longan, gingko and barley inside.

Singapore-style coffee. There are lots of ways to order coffee in Singapore, here’s an infographic! Essentially if you order ‘Kopi’ you get condensed milk in it. ‘kopi o’ is black coffee and ‘kopi si’ is with evaporated milk instead of condensed. If you want tea, you order ‘teh’ with the same ending sounds as below.



The uncle making the roti prata looked like he was having fun. When it was almost my turn he said, “where’s the cameras? You ready?” Then started flipping his prata!

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Of course there was entertainment and they were very fun, although naturally the jokes were very Singapore-centric. It was just a fun weekend hanging out with other Singaporeans in the Bay Area (and beyond – some even flew in from Canada, Seattle, Texas etc). And it made everyone think of home. Which is obviously the point that the Overseas Singaporean Unit is trying to put across. So mission accomplished!


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: A two Michelin-starred meal in Singapore

I keep meaning to write a post about what we ate in Singapore. I mean to talk about all my favourite local foods that I gobbled up, but I think I will write that in another post. Instead, here’s a post about some fine dining dinners that I enjoyed when we were there for two weeks in July.

We happened to be in Singapore during the launch of the country’s first ever Michelin guide. Two hawker stalls, one selling soy sauce chicken rice and noodles, the other selling pork noodles (bah chor mee), received one Michelin star each! Of course these days one has to queue for several hours just to get a plate of Michelin-starred noodles. But hey, I guess nowhere else can you say that you had a Michelin-starred meal for less than US$5!

The Husband and I had planned a little couple time, a long-awaited get away at a local hotel in Singapore. One of his relatives is the general manager there, so he upgraded us to a lovely suite with its own private hot tub outside on the balcony. It was good to get away from the kids, with the added plus of free babysitting from both sets of grandparents!

Before we flew to Singapore, the Husband said, pick a restaurant! I had mulled over the choices. Singapore is full of good places to eat at. Should I pick that hot new restaurant in the National Gallery, Odette? Or was that just too trendy for me? In the end, that was decided as it was impossible to get a table! Even for weekday lunch.

So we went to Les Amis, which has been around since 1994, and supposedly the first independent fine-dining establishment in Singapore.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening, and we were the first table to be seated on the ground floor. A private function seemed to be going upstairs as the hostess brought quite a few people up, some dressed surprisingly casual, then again, this is Singapore. And this fine dining establishment didn’t require a jacket – the Husband had made sure to ask when he called to reserve a table.

The maître d’ was very pleasant and explained the menu to us. The sommelier was surprisingly young (the legal drinking age in Singapore is 18 and part of me wanted to ask if he was that!), and so was one of the waitresses, who brought us some light bites to savor while we perused the menu.

There were several prix-fixe menus to choose from, but we went for the six course menu. I was enticed by the lamb chops and the husband by the steak (which was the only course in which there were choices). So that was that. We decided to share a half-bottle of pinot noir, as we aren’t big drinkers.

I wish I had taken a photo of the bread basket. They had a lovely teeny tiny baguette, a really delicious tomato bread and some others that I cannot remember now, but oh, that French butter!

Hmm can’t remember exactly what this was. A cold delicate jelly-like dish with some thing sliced asparagus and some roe on top.

An intriguing dish of lobster puree, topped with what was kinda like spaghetti on top. And oh, those truffle slices!


The husband wasn’t fond of this, but I liked it. A kind of artichoke salad

But he really was impressed by this one, salmon done two ways. He said that he was stunned by how soft and moist the cooked salmon was. Before tasting the dish, I had assumed that we both would prefer the raw version of the salmon as we are both sashimi lovers, but I think the delicate cooked version won us over.

And those lamb chops! They were just finger-licking good. The waiter thoughtfully placed a wet towel by my side and I gleefully picked up the chops. Perhaps the best lamb chops I’ve ever had!

A lovely palate cleanser sitting in some fortified wine. 

I am a chocolate person. I am the kind of person who immediately steers towards the chocolate desert. So I was just thoroughly surprised and pleased by this upside down apricot souffle, which, had I been given a choice, I would never have picked. It was light, refreshing, and had several different textures, from the crispy noodle-like nest at the bottom, the grilled apricot, the souffle and the cake that it was sitting on.

It was the perfect end to the meal. But then came the mignardises, a lovely pineapple tart, canele and chocolate.

And more cookies to bring home.

The maître d’ stopped by to ask how our dinner was and asked if we would like to have a look at their wine cellar. The sommelier was happy to have us look around this pebbled cellar (as in, pebbles instead of a floor, apparently to have it feel like a vineyard!) and showed us some of their really expensive (and I mean six figure-expensive) wines, as well as some of their regulars’ private shelves of wines and wine menus. As he ushered us to the door, he remarked that we were smart to come in and eat there before the Michelin announcement (and I’m presuming, crowds and possible price increase!).

And of course, a few days later, it was announced that Les Amis received two Michelin stars. I think it was well deserved. It was an expensive meal but we were treated so very well, the food was exceptional and just delightful. And we had a wonderful time!

Les Amis Singapore
1 Scotts Road,
#01-16 Shaw Centre,
Singapore 228208
(65) 6733-2225

If you’re interested in the rest of the restaurants that made the rest of the Michelin Guide Singapore, check it out here

And here is what the food critic of Singapore’s main newspaper had to say about it

As well as some alternatives for places to eat in Singapore



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: kueh kueh from Singapore


My parents arrived from Singapore on Wednesday. SFO was, as always, full of delays so we waited over an hour for them to arrive. But it was wonderful to see them, especially my Dad, whom I had not seen since last summer (my Mum was here earlier in the year for the kids’ birthdays).

As usual, my parents brought plenty of things from Singapore, lots of books and some toys, even some T-shirts to mark Singapore’s 50th National Day, which is happening this Sunday August 9.

SG50 stickers!

Among the edible items were kaya or coconut jam. This is less jammy than custard-y as it is made with pandan leaves, eggs, sugar and of course, coconut milk. Here’s a recipe from iamafoodblog. The key to this is not just the coconut but the pandan leaves. Sadly I’ve yet to find fresh pandan leaves here, although I do always grab the frozen kinds to stash in my freezer. Pandan leaves add a lovely fragrance to plenty of Singapore and Southeast Asian foods, from chicken rice to pandan chiffon cake to agar agar or jelly.

The best way to eat kaya is on toasted bread that has been slathered with butter. In some ‘kaya toast’ eateries in Singapore, the butter is not spread on the toast, instead they place a thin slice of butter on the toast then the kaya. Plenty of calories but so worth it. These ‘kaya toast’ eateries like Ya Kun are also known for their teas and coffees, and a set often comes with soft-boiled eggs which you crack into a small saucer, top with soy sauce and white pepper and slurp up. Or at least that’s how I like it.

And then there were the Nonya kuehs. Three different types.

They don’t keep very well so we made sure to attack them as soon as possible. You know, like at teatime, at breakfast, second breakfast, after lunch, that kind of thing.

Kueh ambon (bottom of photo) is a coconut sponge cake of sorts, sometimes known as a ‘honeycomb’ cake because its structure within looks like a honeycomb, probably because the yeasted batter requires some rising. Here’s a recipe from Peng’s Kitchen. 

Kueh Lapis is a layered colourful steamed kueh that has an almost jelly-like texture thanks to the tapioca and rice flours its made with. ‘Lapis‘ means layers. And so ‘lapis’ is also associated with a different type of cake, one that is baked and confusingly also referred to as kueh lapis. That one uses a variety of spices that make up the ‘rempah‘ or spice mix, such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg. You can find ‘kueh lapis rempah’ at baking stores in Singapore. It is a buttery eggy cake made up of tiny little layers, very tedious work I imagine as each layer has to be poured into the cake tin, spread out, then placed back into the oven to bake, then repeat with the next layer. Here’s an example of a recipe. And yep, that is 22 egg yolks in one cake. But this steamed kueh lapis tastes very different. The best way to eat it is to peel off the layers one by one!

My favourite of the three kueh is the ang ku kueh (top of photo). Its name is literally ‘red turtle’ as it is meant to look like a turtle shell. It is placed on a small piece of banana leaf as it is really sticky. It was traditionally meant for special occasions like the baby’s first month (instead of celebrating the birth of a baby, traditional Chinese celebrate the baby’s first month. This is known as ‘man yue‘ or full moon. These days, family and friends congregate for a party, present the baby with a red packet of money as a gift, and get to go home with sweet treats. Traditionally though, the gifts for the well-wishers were red-coloured treats like boiled eggs dyed red, red ginger, and the ang ku kueh).


A terrible photo from 2013 of ang ku kueh

Ang ku kueh has a sticky exterior which is usually made with sweet potatoes (steamed and mashed), rice flour, oil and sugar. And inside you can choose from a variety of fillings. These were yellow mung beans but there are also those filled with yam paste, peanuts, even savoury fillings, although I’ve never tried those before. Here’s another recipe with a variety of fillings. 

My favourite nonya kueh is actually kueh salat, which is a layer of glutinous rice that is steamed with sugar and coconut milk, on top of that sits a layer of green kaya custard. So good. But because of all that coconut it especially doesn’t keep well, so my parents have never brought it over. Guess I’ll have to wait until I next visit Singapore to eat this!

So if you’re ever in Singapore, give nonya kueh a try. There are quite a few bakeries that specialize in local treats like these. Bengawan Solo is probably the biggest chain, with branches found all over the island, another is Chinta Manis. But there are also smaller family-run bakeries that sell nonya kueh. I’ve just never tried them before!



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Beef Hor Fun

Beef hor fun is one of my favourite things to eat.

It is a stir-fried rice noodle dish with beef and vegetables and a thick gravy.

You can find it at zichar places in Singapore, where most of the dishes are of the stirfried stuff.

And sadly, something I can’t seem to find at restaurants here in the Bay Area. Instead I have to make do with what I can at home. It’s really quite different as at home it is hard to get the ‘wok hei’ or ‘breath of the wok’, that smoky flavour you get when food is cooked in a wok at scorchingly high heat.
So here is a very basic how-to, without any definite measurements. If you’d like something more specific, here’s a good one from 3 hungry tummies. 

As with much of Chinese cooking, it’s all about advance prep. You need to have everything chopped/sliced/ready to be tossed in the hot wok at the right moment.
Begin with rice noodles, preferably fresh and wide.

As you can see these aren’t fresh. Or wide. But one must make do.

If your rice noodles are fresh they can go in the (very hot) wok immediately with some soy sauce and sesame oil. You want to get some colour on those pale strands!

If it’s the dried kind like these are, they will need to be soaked in warm water for a while. Drain well then do as above. Dried noodles may need a bit longer on the hot stove.
Most beef hor funs that I’ve had usually use mustard greens. But I had some bok choy from the farmer’s market to use up. I prefer these anyway.


Marinate thinly sliced beef at least half an hour in advance. I used a chuck steak and sliced it thinly while it was still somewhat frozen. Oyster sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, a little sesame oil and corn flour. I also added some Worcestershire sauce but mostly because I like to add that to beef dishes.

You’ll also need to finely slice some ginger, about four to five slices. I also chopped up four cloves of garlic and a small shallot. Also get an egg ready. Not necessary but it makes things even tastier.

Sear the beef using high heat until it’s about 60-70% cooked. Put it on a plate. You will add them back to the pot again later, so don’t worry about it not being completely cooked.

Get your wok hot again, stirfry the ginger, shallots then the garlic. Then I added the bok choy, adding a bit of stock (I only had chicken stock but beef stock would be great) to help it cook faster. Add more chicken stock bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and add a cornstarch solution (cornstarch with a bit of water stirred together) to help thicken the gravy. Drizzle in the egg and stir. Then add the beef.



Then spoon your gravy over your noodles and eat while hot. If you like, serve with some sliced green chili in soy sauce.


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Kongbah bao and stirfried kangkong 

When I was growing up in Singapore, Sunday evenings meant heading over to my paternal grandparents (Gong gong and Mama) home in the Katong area, the east side of Singapore. Singapore, in case you didn’t know, is a tiny dot on the world map and getting from one end of the island to another takes no time at all. Well, unless you’re stuck in a traffic jam. And on a tiny island (277 sq miles) with some 5.5 million residents there’s bound to be traffic.

Sunday dinners were big affairs then, as my dad has four sisters and one brother, not to mention their spouses and children. We kids would eat first. My mum would scoop the rice from the rice cooker in the kitchen. Then we would bring the plates over to the big round dining table in the dining room, and get food from the dishes placed on the lazy Susan. We would head to the front porch and eat at the plastic table there, while the adults had dinner at the big table inside. There was always a vegetable dish, a meat dish, a fish dish and a soup. Cut fruits and Chinese tea would follow on the front porch afterwards. On a special day like a birthday there would be a dessert.

On our birthdays, we got to request for a favourite dish or two. I adored my grandmother’s fried prawns which had a flour batter. Crisp and light and easy to sneak from the kitchen when no one was looking! But I also pretty much always asked for her kongbahbao (also known as kongbak or 扣肉包). The tender juicy savoury pork belly wedged into soft steamed buns was our version of a burger. Sometimes it’s even better than a burger. Or if you don’t have buns to steam (I get them from the Asian supermarket here), the meat is fantastic served over rice with the gravy poured over.

The recipe is pretty simple and it can all be done in a crockpot for fuss-free cooking.

This was about 1 kg or 2.2 pounds of what the Chinese supermarket called ‘pork stew meat’ but pork belly is ideal. It should preferably have some fat on it, otherwise the meat will be dry.

Add to this 6 – 8 cloves of garlic (remove the skin and lightly smash with the side of your knife), 1 tsp five-spice powder, 2 tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sugar, dash of white pepper, one star anise. Some recipes include a few thick slices of ginger, others include a couple of tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine.

The crockpot was set on ‘low’ (but I think my crockpot’s temperature settings are actually quite high!) for three to four hours. Otherwise you can cook it on the stove, simmering it for about one to two hours until the meat breaks apart easily.

We served the kongbah with stirfried kangkong or water spinach (空心菜). It is named for its hollow stems. We picked these up at our local farmers market, which has a lot of stalls selling Asian vegetables. But they are also found at Asian supermarkets too. It’s apparently a close relative to the sweet potato, which is probably why sweet potato leaves (yes we like to stirfry those too!) look quite similar to water spinach leaves. Nutritious and cheap. And with their hollow stems they cook fast.

Kangkong has a very mild taste so in Singapore it is often cooked with spicy sambal belacan, like in this recipe here. But because the kids were going to eat this too, I stuck with just chopped garlic and shallot. It’s quite a bit of garlic I know but I think this vegetable needs it. I used about four cloves of garlic and one small shallot. Fry the shallot first then add the garlic. If the stems seem a bit woody chop the ends off, and fry the stems first. But this bunch had smallish stems and were cooked together. If you have chicken stock, toss some in with a few shakes of fish sauce and a good splash of soy sauce and a bit of white pepper. Otherwise, if you have oyster sauce, that works out great too.

If you want to make it spicy, finely chop some chilis and toss them in.


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Soy Sauce for Beginners


These are some of my favourite smells: toasting bagel, freshly cut figs, the bergamot in good Earl grey tea, a jar of whole soybeans slowly turning beneath a tropical sun.

You’d expect the latter to smell salty, meaty, flaccid – like what you’d smell if you unscrewed the red cap of the bottle on a table in your neighborhood Chinese restaurant and stuck your nose in as far as it would go. But real, fermenting soybeans smell nothing like sauce in a plastic bottle. Tangy and pungent, like rising bread or wet earth, these soybeans smell of history, of life, of tiny, patient movements, unseen by the naked eye.

For a foodie, Soy Sauce for Beginners starts out so tantalizingly good. I like a book that starts with smells. It hints of wonderful things to come. But perhaps I was expecting too much. Or perhaps I was expecting something else altogether. Soy Sauce for Beginners turned out not to be the foodie read I was hoping for.

“Real soy sauce is as complex as a fine wine – fruity, earthy, floral also can, lah.”

There are moments that make me wish that this book could have turned out the way I wanted it to. Such as when they do a soy sauce taste test, dipping crackers in it, and even pouring a dash of soy sauce into Sprite.

The mixture, Ahkong’s creation, was sweet and tangy and savoury – a comforting, full-bodied flavour like burnt sugar, or brown butter that contrasted sharply with the dancing bubbles on my tongue.

But really this isn’t a book about food or soy sauce, it is a family business drama, a search for belonging and identity. Ultimately it’s the story of a rich kid, Gretchen, whose marriage has failed (I use the word ‘kid’ although she’s 30) and she has returned from San Francisco back to Singapore, home to her alcoholic mother and her hardworking father and the major mishap that has the family’s soy sauce business teetering on the brink of failure.

This is a Singapore seen from the point of view of District 10 mansions, popular nightclubs, expensive restaurants and Mercedes Benzes. But sometimes Chen slips in an insightful quip like this one:

On the dance floor, the crowd sang and moved in unison, like the chorus line of a Broadway musical – a peculiar Zouk trademark that seemed to embody the mindset of an entire nation: even inebriated, at our most free, we all chose to mimic each other.

As we climbed the stairs to the VIP balcony, Frankie shouted over her shoulder, “How the hell does everyone know the same dance?”

“Repeat clientele,” James shouted back.

“Empowered conformity,” my mother would have said in her postcolonial-scholar voice.

(Ok maybe you have to be from Singapore to understand that one)

Soy Sauce for Beginners is a light and breezy read. Chen deftly ties up all her plot lines at the end although Gretchen makes predictable choices and her story doesn’t strike a chord with me. But Chen does casts an observing eye over the culture and lifestyles of Singapore which she clearly loves. And her book has made me intrigued about artisanal soy sauce – how different is it from the usual Kikkoman that is in my kitchen?

So part of me is hesitant to recommend this book. If you’re looking for a light and easy read set in Asia that won’t blow you away, well, maybe? It’s kind of like Sprite, that sweet bubbly forgettable soft drink. t don’t know about you but I want to come out of a book breathless, weeping, emotional, heartbroken even.


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Foodies Read 2015 Button

This is my second read for Foodies Read 2015

Squirky! And Stacey!

This post is long overdue – with all my apologies!

For my friends Melanie and Lianne have (quite a while ago!) written and published these lovely picture books. And more importantly, packed them up, went to the post office, and mailed them to me all the way from Singapore.

So first of all, a very big thank you to both Melanie and Lianne for adding a taste of Singapore to my little readers’ bookshelves. It is quite rare to find books from Singapore/written by Singaporeans etc in libraries here and it’s even more unlikely to find Singapore children’s’ books!

So while they might not understand its significance yet, I’m happy that they get to read books about Singapore, written and illustrated by Singaporeans even though we live half a world away! More significantly, I think they’ve got more Singapore books than I ever had when growing up in Singapore in the 1980s!




The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #1: Why Am I Blue? – Melanie Lee

(Here’s the book’s very own blog! It also has information on where to find the book)

This isn’t officially a review as Melanie asked me to be a beta reader (I know, I couldn’t believe it? Someone wanted me to read a book before it was published? And provide suggestions and comments? How could I say no?)

This is the first book in Melanie’s first children’s picture book series. She wrote this for her son, whom she and her husband adopted a few years ago. I had the privilege of meeting the cheerful boy when I was last in Singapore, and what a great kid he is – and also, what a wonderful mummy Melanie is!

Squirky is a little blue alien, adopted by a Chinese family in Singapore. And in this first book, he discovers that he’s a little bit different from his sister Emma, his parents and his friends. His parents tell him how they came to adopt him and he begins his search for his birth parents and home planet. This a six-book series so there’s a bit of a cliffhanger! Wee Reader wondered, what’s going on? So I had to tell him he had to wait for the next book (of course not telling him that I’ve actually read that manuscript already! Hee. The joys of being a beta reader!)


There aren’t many picture books on adoption, and I’m not sure if there are any others written by Singaporeans, so this is a rather unique book.

My first experience (I’m not sure that’s the right word but I can’t think of anything else at the moment) with adoption is my aunt, my mother’s younger sister, who was given away when she was young. It’s hard to explain but it wasn’t such a rare thing to do at that time in Singapore, in the 1950s. She was given away to a family friend but would still join us for important events like my grandparents’ birthday dinners. So she was like a relative I would see a few times a year. As a kid, I never thought much about it, but as I grew up, I began to wonder about that a bit more. But you know us Asians, we don’t really talk about things very much. It has been quite a few years since I’ve seen this auntie but I’ve been wondering how she feels about having been given away and yet still remain somewhat close to her birth family.

But I am meandering.

Melanie has written a fun book that would appeal to most kids, adopted or not. It’s a story about a loving family and their unique little boy. Sure he may be blue but he is loved by his mummy and daddy and sister Emma. I think many kids will understand what it is to feel different, to be different. And this book shows that it’s ok to be different, and that you can still be loved and appreciated for who you are.

Oh and that Emma, she’s a spunky one, that kid. I think I especially liked how she doesn’t have long hair and wears shorts. Because girls don’t always have to be in dresses!





This is Lianne’s second children’s book. I wrote about her first book, Maxilla, on the blog previously. While Maxilla was based on her son Reuben’s experiences, Stacey goes to the National Museum is fictional, and has a hint of make-believe about it.

Stacey, along with her mummy and baby brother, visit the Singapore National Museum. And Stacey gets lost! A little gibbon helps her find her way around the museum and back to her mummy and brother.


Wee Reader had fun spotting the gibbon as it made its way through the museum. We didn’t get to visit the National Museum when we visited Singapore last year but hopefully we will the next time we are in the country! I hear it is so very different from the National Museum I remember. But I’m glad to see that they kept the lovely building and all its features!

But he also likes to point out the durian painting. While he’s not had the actual fruit itself, Wee Reader does enjoy durian mooncakes!

I liked the use of actual paintings like this one, part of the William Farquhar Collection on display at the museum, and where the gibbon is from. They were painted by unknown artists, commissioned by William Farquhar between 1819 and 1823, during his tenure as Resident and Commandant of Singapore.



Stacey goes to the National Museum would make a great souvenir for kids visiting Singapore! It is part of a series of books about museums in Singapore.

For more information on Stacey Goes to the National Museum, check out its Facebook page
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