Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the lion city I: priorities

Mr. Merlion.
The Lion City is, for those of you who are unaware, a moniker for Singapore. Why? you might ask? Are there many lions roaming the city? Is it shaped like a lion? Do people walk around with lion-mane-esque hair? To these excellent and inquisitve questions, the answer is no. At least, I've yet to see a lion walking down the street (I know you were really concerned for my wellbeing--be at peace).

To the best of my knowledge (I admit haven't done any Wikipedia-ing or Googling), the title "Lion City" comes from Singapore's national animal. Kind of like how the bald eagle and America are besties?  Singapore's bestie is a mythical animal called a Merlion. It has the head of a lion and the body of a fish/merperson hence, Merlion. I can't say I know how this creature came into being, but that would be a wonderful little weekend/work procrastination project for you, no?

So, after my arduous and lengthy experience of actually getting to Singapore (read about it here), I was finally back in this wonderfully tropic, beautifully green city once again. My family was waiting for me at the arrivals hall and after I took a detour to the bathroom to shed a couple layers, change my shoes and officially mark my arrival (hey, when a girl's got to go, she's got to go), we headed to the taxi stand.

We hopped into a taxi and cruised our way back to my aunt's apartment. My aunt lives alone now that my grandmother has passed away, but that's the place we always stay when we go to Singapore. It's a wonderfully familiar little two bedroom where I have memories of inspecting the marble tile patterns when I slept on the floor instead of my mattress because the tile was cooler than my mattress. Using the blue ceramic squatty potty before it was updated to a sit-down toilet. Watching my grandma use a wooden washboard for laundry and playing in the laundry water we swept around to clean the floors because everything was tiled. My mom or grandma giving me a shower with a bucket of water and a ladle.

All this to say, I've seen changes happen in the area, but it was still home (Sorry, the reminiscing went a little further back than I intended!). So, to maximize the impact of the surprise, I went up to the apartment by myself. Now, a lot of homes in Singapore have a normal door, and then a metal or aluminum frame door that can be kept closed while the solid door is left open to encourage air circulation. When I got to the door, my aunt was perfectly seated to see me. She was sitting at the square mahjong table (it's a family gathering tradition, and relatives usually play for hours, rotating players every now and then) facing the door.

My little cousin. Basically the definition
of cute. Sorry for the lack of pictures.
Again, celebrating, not clicking :)
She was shocked, saying things like "What are you doing here? How come you're here? What is this?" After much laughing and hugging, we moved in my luggage and called my cousin to come pick us up. A couple of my cousins and their families were having hotpot dinner at my cousin's house.

I sat on a bench by the curb and when my cousin and her husband pulled up, I could see the confusion. My cousin gets out of the car and asks "is that Michelle?" Why yes, yes it is. I had a great time surprising my family. My cousins said things like, "The best new year present," and other surprised yet pleased exclamations. I'm glad they were happy to see me and we were able to pull off the surprise despite my delays.

Then, the food fest began. I love food. I love Singaporean food. I love the fusion of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and other southeast Asian flavors. I love the food that comes at a low cost from the hawker centers but leaves a high and satisfying impression. I love the abundance of fresh fruit. Guava. Mango. Mangosteen. Rambutan. And yes, Durian (don't hate, just leave me to enjoy).

Brace yourself for a deluge of drool-worthy images. Warning. Images may cause inordinate drooling and stomach growling. I recommend moving your keyboard and other electronic devices out of harms way. Oh, and don't lick your screen. It won't work. And that's not healthy.

Also, if I don't include the name of the food below the picture, that probably means I don't know its proper name. I just know it's mm mm good. I'll do my best to translate Chinese names. But I don't run a restaurant nor am I perfect, so you'll just have go with my flow on this one.

Breakfast. Noodles and Fishballs in a bag. Red Chili added at will.
I know it doesn't look like much, but I HAD to include it because it's one of my favorites. Lao Shu Mian (Literally, mouse-tail noodles) and fish balls. I haven't seen these noodles any where else and they have the perfect consistency!
And she gave me cake. She, being my mother. Cake being... A layered pound type cake. But not as dry. Or heavy.

The following images are some of my favorite dim sum dishes.
Zong-zi. Sorry I don't know what it's called in English. It was yummy in my tummy.

Feng-zhua. aka... Chicken feet. Yes I did. Yes I love. If you're still reading, I know we're true friends.
Luo-bo-gao. Basically... Radish paste cake? It doesn't sound quite so attractive translated, but trust me. Drool. Look Mom didn't even wait for the camera before she dug in. Actually, it was a team effort to polish off the first square :D
Chang-fen. Broad Rice noodles? They had Chinese bbq pork inside. Seriously. Watch where that drool lands.

Momentary interlude from food.

Here are my mother and I enjoying ourselves during food coma. This is my explanation for the faces.

We were doing Rock, Paper, Scissors sequences. Don't fall off your chair.

Back to ze food! 

Fresh Guava! With Suan-mei-fen (sour plum powder) Really gives it extra umph.

My mom and I have a similar palate, so it's not unusual to find us munching on one delicacy or another. Even if it's outside a subway station. (Note. Eating aforementioned guava) We also had durian pancakes but I failed to get a picture. Basically, a thin cake with durian in the middle. Be still my flowing drool (yes, just humor me)!

Yu-sheng. This is a dish that's only available in Singapore at Chinese New Years. It has shredded vegetables, crackers, raw salmon, pomelo, honey, lime juice and probably one or two other ingredients I don't know about. 
The food and ingredients are symbolic for prosperity and long life and other well wishing sentiments for Chinese New Year. Once the ingredients are all piled on, the group gets together and tosses it, saying well wishes for the new year! Delicious and fun! My broski even got in on it. The tossing. Not the eating. We all know he avoids green edible things. Unless it's mint ice cream.

Porridge. Perhaps plain to the eye, but this is definitely a comfort food in my book.
To throw in a beverage: Homemade Barley Water. Homemade as in made by the hawkers. Mildly Sweet. Very Yum.
Char Siew. Drool worthy. Barbeque pork
LAKSA. A coconutty curry with fish cake, bean sprouts, tofu and noodles. Usually with prawns or shrimp but since I'm wary of shellfish, I forgo that ingredient. Seriously, one of my favorite foods. Excuse my while I go wipe my own drool.
This is a sweet bread. A little heavier, but sooo good. I don't actually know what it's called. My mom just knows
I love it and so she gets it for me. So short story.  I've loved eating this since I was a wee little tyke. However, this bread is actually used as an offering/gift to ancestors or traditional Chinese deities. I'm not sure how my family figured out that I liked this bread seeing as it was used for religious purposes, but I guess since I was impishly cute (?) they overlooked what might have been a sacriligous offense to their beliefs? Sorry. No offense intended. It's just sooo good! If it makes any difference, I didn't eat ones that had already been offered. I think.
Mee Siam. Not as spicy as it looks. Rice noodles, sprouts, fried dough, egg. I'll wait while your mouth waters.
Soup+Nutritional Goodness. This came from a stall where you could pick your ingredients and they would cook it in a broth for you. That orange-green-white thing is a pepper with fish paste in it.
Dou-suan. Slightly sweet. Let's just say I tried to make it once and it looked nothing like this. Sad. So I went for the real thing while I could.
He-fen. Friends with my taste buds and tummy.
Peanut Mo-chi. Sweet, chewy satisfaction with a little crunch. Don't be jealous.
Last Family Meal at my Eldest Uncle's home. There were mushrooms, tofu with meat, noodles, meat and that tan/yellow pattie on the top right side of my plate is fish with spices wrapped in a palm leaf to cook. So. Good. And it definitely had a kick to it. 

Beverage 2! Malacca Tea. Technically, Malacca is in Malaysia, but I got this at the airport on my way to India. It was like milk tea, but that dark stuff at the bottom had this Longyan type flavor to it. I'm not sure if that's even right. I can taste it in my head and I'm sure I've tasted that flavor before, but alas I have no name for it. Whatever it was, it was good. Oh, and you have to mix it all together. FYI.
Well, that concludes the food portion of this saga. I was pretty sure that was what you were really interested in, anyway, so I didn't want to make you wait any longer! The Singapore saga is not over, however, because I haven't talked about anything other than food and come on, did you really think I was that much of a glutton? That was a rhetorical question.

I know I began this post a little wordy, but I definitely finished with an abundance of illustration. Hopefully you weren't bored! Sorry if some of the pictures seem a little blurry. The lighting wasn't ideal and everything smelled so good I didn't always take the time to adjust. It took great self control to even wait to eat it! There were a couple longsuffering looks from my family members as I made them wait while I took pictures of their food too. All for the sake of this post.

Until next time... which of these looked good to you? Are we still friends even though I eat chicken feet? Any favorite foods you'd like to share about? I'd love to hear!


  1. Your pictures made me even more hungry! Are there any Singaporean restaurants in Charlotte?

    1. I don't know! I haven't found one yet, but I'm keeping an eye out! Let me know if you find one!

  2. The only asian cuisine that I have found beside the standard Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Korean in Charlotte has been Malaysian.

  3. Si Ting is Leon's daughter, Leon is your cousin, so that makes you Si Ting's aunt.
    You need to add a 'rock' picture so that readers understand what you meant of 'Rock, Paper, Scissor' :D

  4. Wow, and this is only, Part I... should I guess what the next episode will highlight? Mom said she really liked this blog... I think it made her homesick a bit, but.. it won't be long.... yes :)