Tag Archives: singapore

Hands, flowers, inspiration

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton

There is nothing more healing for a weary soul than a true dose of inspiration. I don’t mean a feel-good buzz, groundless “be happy” optimism or pretty things. I mean something that connects you to fun, rest and purpose. Something that recharges your flat batteries. Something that reminds you that it is really a gift to be alive.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling weary. I had arrived in Singapore just the day before, and I was happy that my aunt had signed herself, my cousin and I up for a treat, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a floral arrangement workshop. I like working with my hands in certain things – like cooking (and very occasionally, attempting to ‘garden’) – but I wasn’t sure about flowers. I thought it might be too complex / feminine / romantic for me …

We had a delicious breakfast at Kith before going to Marina Square for the workshop. Walking in to XTRA and seeing their new showroom reminded me of how wonderful it is to have our human senses.

To see, touch, listen to, smell, feel stuff – even furniture – provides an experience that digital platforms will never replace.

I was also reminded that though we get many great deals shopping online, we need to support our retailers where possible if we want to keep having wonderful shops to walk into!

The air was gloriously scented with the perfume of fresh flowers. And when I laid eyes on the workshop space and the tall, graceful blooms and leaves, I felt a little leap of excitement.

Ching (from Triceratops) made us feel at home immediately, with her warm, honest introduction to flowers and the art of floral arrangement. She was generous with her knowledge, and patient and gracious in answering our questions.

As promised in the brochure on this workshop: ‘ideal for beginners’, it was delivered at a great pace for this complete novice. In saying that, I am sure even seasoned florists would gain some insight and inspiration from it.

We learned where to buy materials at a good price, how to prepare and preserve flowers, and how to present them in a beautiful way. Details weren’t glossed over – we learned how to tie ‘the perfect bow’, even with a ribbon that was shiny on one side and not the other.

Ching gave us a few great ideas for delivering maximum impact with minimum effort – e.g. displaying a single sprig of mint fern in a vase. How’s that for easy?

Ching’s ‘demo’ arrangement came together rapidly, seamlessly and beautifully … that’s 16+ years of experience and passion for you ;-)

Before long, it was time for us to get our hands dirty (and perfumed).

It was fascinating to see how everyone else worked on their arrangement. Even people who selected a very similar combination of flowers and leaves put things together in such unique ways.

Though part of the work had been done for us (vase + sponge + bottom layers + water – check!) I realised it had looked WAY easier than it was (for me anyway!)

Fortunately, Ching and her team were on hand to give us lots of help and advice :-)

And we got there in the end.

The biggest takeaways for me personally were the fantastic tips – and the wider principles to apply in life and art: practice, patience, and remaining connected in what you do :-)

Thank you Ching, Triceratops, XTRA and my aunt for this wonderful and uplifting experience.

Kith Bistro, Park Mall

Design is thinking made visual.
~ Saul Bass

Evening falls like a blue silk dress, smoothly and elegantly. A sweet breeze from ceiling fans above courses softly through my hair like welcome whispers. Traffic sounds and birdsong merge and mingle into a track for “Sounds of the City”. The tables around me look inviting with the soft, warm glow of candles. I soak in the pleasure of being outdoors on a summer evening, breathing in fresh air. Ahhh…

It occurs to me, briefly, that I am in a busy city with over five million people packed into a piece of land equal to the size of Lake Taupo – but the thought dissolves as I relax into my chair and a smiling waiter hurries over with menus for us.

I am at the outdoor area of the recently opened Kith Bistro. The place is far from sprawling and this is no idyllic resort, but its feel and layout create an effective illusion of spaciousness and play: I feel like I’m in an airy outdoor living space with room enough to breathe and relax. The furniture* here is simple but tasteful, and I spot a colourful corner for kids to play in. It’s a place to visit with friends, or alone with a notebook and good ideas. When I look up, I see a bouquet of leaves and branches – like a pretty silhouette against the evening sky (see above).

It is far too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we get food perfect for the occasion of ‘in-between meals’ (the menu appears to cater well for all times of day!). Between us, we share a few tasty morsels, coffee and a very refreshing fresh juice. Everything arrives beautifully presented, and polishing off our plates is a pleasure. When we pop inside to pay after our meal, I visually feast on the yummy-looking array of cabinet food and the charming chalkboard menu… I already look forward to trying out their brunch menu sometime!

* Some of the great furniture here can be found at Xtra, conveniently located next door to the cafe. Well worth a browse is all I can say, even if furniture isn’t usually your thing. Xtra is a celebration of art and excellence, a perfect place to get inspiration (and great pieces for your home, if your budget allows for it)!

Kith Bistro (Park Mall) – 9 Penang Road, #01-01E Park Mall, Singapore – Phone: +65 6338 861

Haphazard poetry, and Pizzeria Mozza

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.
~ Jack Brooks

Waiting for taxis; trains; lights to go green
as sweat forms patterns on your back
and oozes out of you
like rain
escaping from secret clouds

Taking in the sight of people permanently attached to
everyone (so it appears) via phone, laptop, iPad
Always
There is no separation from technology

From noise

And yet – for such a connected city
I have to ask – what is connection here?
There are people who do not connect, REALLY join in mind and heart,
with another human…
For days. Years. Ever?

A link on your wall is not a conversation

Merging into seas of humans in shopping malls is not filling your love tank

As you meander through people jams
as you take in the charm and madness of this place
as you eat – something amazing
as you walk – in permanent summer
as you glance – eyes stunned – by the tall buildings and shiny cars
as you dance – in wonder
as you spend – this country is not a place for the stingy

It is hot, so hot.

There is time, just a little, to think (briefly) –
to sleep (maybe).

The sky is blue and bright – but life is not a holiday
Time waits for no one

Waxing poetic at 1.00am, just ‘cos I can. I can’t believe I’ve already been here in Singapore for a whole week… it’s gone by so quickly!

I’ve had some great meals which I have blog posts written in my head about – but no time as yet to sit down and write them. Today was a day of amazing food (not a difficult thing to achieve in Singapore, I know full well)… and I want to write about it all, but that would make for a terribly long post so I’ll stick to lunch for now: a trip to Pizzeria Mozza with my aunt and cousin. :-)

Initial thoughts upon entering: I want to smile. The place is cosy and elegant. Wine bottles line the walls, cherry tomatoes and other colourful fruits beam at you from the bar and the ovens make you feel right at home. Smiling staff are at once discreet and ready to assist you immediately.

First to arrive at our table: fried squash blossoms with ricotta – the taste and fragrance of spring encased in light batter which, upon meeting my knife and fork, revealed a warm oozing centre of ricotta… a great start which certainly made us eager to sample the other dishes we ordered.

Calamari al forno with fagioli & oregano – not a combination I would’ve dreamed up on my own, but one I will bear in mind now if I were to try cooking calamari at home. Beautiful flavours…

(From my placemat: indeed a sad thing to read)

Listed as “funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme” in the pizza section of the menu, this was simply the best pizza I’ve had in a LONG while. Everything from the way the mushrooms and cheese mingled on my tongue and the delightful traces of garlic which surprised me as I inched closer to the tasty crust… was yum yum yum – perfect!

I love it that they employ a “piatto del giorno” system for their main dishes. Today’s (Friday) was the pork ribs, cooked with fennel, honey and cider vinegar. Very filling, with lots of strong flavours which I imagine I would have enjoyed more in New Zealand right now (winter blues call for richer meals) – but still, a nice dish. I’d definitely be inclined to stick to pizza and starters on a future visit to this place though.

Pizzeria Mozza – 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore – Phone: +65 6688 8522

Back to the sunny island

One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Life has been pretty busy lately and I’ve scarcely been in the kitchen. Whenever I have, I have either been relying heavily on the oven (looks a sight, but this roast beef was quite delicious, if I do say so myself)…

… or whipping up quick things like this poached salmon omelette and these mushrooms with cream and truffle oil (it took less than half an hour in all to prep and cook for us three). Mopped up the mushroom juices with crusty sourdough… mmm.

And now it is nearly 1.00am and I am in a singlet and shorts, relishing summer and marvelling at the way a plane ride transports you across time and distance to a totally different world in mere hours. How good pilots and planes are! Yes, here I am in Singapore again, low on sleep but not too low mood-wise. For dinner tonight I met Brandon, friend-of-a-friend passing through Singapore, and we feasted on thosai, prata, chicken biryani, peppered chicken (all for SGD$12.50) and ice-cold beer somewhere in Little India, Singapore. We walked down several alleys and streets before we settled on an eating place, so I am afraid I have no idea where exactly this was.

And this is all I’ll write for now, my laptop is gasping through the last bars of its battery life and I’m too lazy to unearth the plug from the depths of my suitcase. Good night (or morning!)

Hot food in hot places

All journeys have secret destinations of which the travel[l]er is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sweat in Singapore feels like a second skin, and powerful air conditioners are put to work in most buildings and vehicles to provide welcome relief to drenched humans.

There is something to be said for eating hot food in hot conditions, though – it’s magic. Somehow everything is tastier and more fragrant, and the experience of eating (spicy foods in particular) is heightened as you feel your clothes sticking to your back, sweat hugging your neck and embracing your legs… there’s something true to life about that, you know? It makes me fall in love with the function of eating and with the absolute miracle of being able to taste, smell, hear, touch and see. I enjoy eating ice cream in winter for similar reasons – it makes me feel awake and alive. You may be raising your eyebrows at your screen as you read this, but seriously, try it if you haven’t!

One experience I really love in Singapore is the hawker centre/kopi tiam* (coffee shop – “kopi” meaning coffee and “tiam” meaning shop, in a Chinese dialect) experience. The hawker centre/kopi tiam is no place to wear suits or heels or translucent tops (lest excessive sweat get in the way of keeping yourself modest and your expensive clothes clean) – but it’s a brilliant place to tease your senses and eat delicious food for not very much $$ at all. A meal will likely cost less than SGD$10 in most hawker centres/kopi tiams.

Here is a breakfast tradition that’s been revived in recent years – kaya toast and a cup of hot kopi. Kaya is the jam of my childhood – a sweet concoction infused with the wonderful flavours of pandan and coconut… and I could do a whole post about various ways of having your kopi – the unwritten kopi tiam coffee menu is way more extensive than Starbucks’s! My aunt and I enjoyed this breakfast the other day at a kopi tiam in East Coast:

Though Singapore be a tiny place, there remain many areas which I have never explored – Geylang being one of them! So Paul took me for a lovely bak kut teh lunch at Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh near Lorong 11 in Geylang. Bak kut teh is this heady, aromatic soup infused with the flavours of pork, garlic and peppercorn… for me, it spells warmth and comfort. Peppery soup, pork with dark soya sauce, rice… mmmm! This version came with sheets of dried beancurd skin.

This mee rebus and char siew hor fun came from a hawker centre in Yew Tee – much as I detest food in plastic packaging for environmental and health reasons, seeing that familiar plastic-encased food bundle still causes a sense of nostalgia to ripple through me…

Tau sar pau (red bean paste buns) – still something lovely about biting into warm and fluffy pau dough and finding sweet red bean paste in the middle! It’s a sort of delicate, understated sweetness I miss when in New Zealand (where sweetness derived from the likes of fruit, cake and chocolate is more common).

Here (Rochor Original Beancurd – 2 Short Street, Singapore), Paul, Mich and I had bowls of impossibly silky and refreshing tau huay (otherwise known as dou hua, tau fu fa or tofu pudding – silky tofu served with a clear sweet syrup, though there are other variations available). A perfect light finish, especially after a rather heavy dinner! I really wouldn’t recommend the soy milk here, though…

And finally – this is a place with glorious mee pokJalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok (The Art of Mee Pok Pte Ltd) (308 Bedok Road, Bedok Shopping Centre). Mee pok is a tasty Singaporean staple composed of springy noodles, toppings like fish balls or minced pork and a flavoursome sauce with elements like chilli and vinegar. Not a dish you’d pick for high nutritional value, but one I always have at least once whenever I visit this part of the world!

Delicious Hakka yong tau foo (a medley of tofu, vegetables, etc) and greens with fried shallots from an adjacent stall were wonderful side dishes we enjoyed with the excellent mee pok :-)

The question I’ve most frequently had to answer on this trip is “what do you want to eat?” (yeah, such a hard life, huh?)… the question which has then prompted conversations and visits to places all around Singapore in search of the perfect [insert dish name here]. Ahh… I could get used to this holiday ;-)

And on that note, it amuses me that though many hawker centres and kopi tiams may sell similar fare, I have rarely encountered a Singaporean who does not hold strong opinions about which one sells the BEST [insert local dish here], or a Singaporean who will not endure torturous traffic jams/public transport at peak hours just to get to their favourite food places…

Such a culture of food worship!

Warming up

The great city is that which has the greatest man or woman: if it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the whole world.
~ Walt Whitman

Have you ever had a travelling friend tell you about their trip and say “everything was so foreign”? I know I’ve said that about holidays I’ve gone on. Recently though, my friend S pointed out that really – it is the traveller who is the foreigner in a land of everything local. A good change of perspective for me!

Right now, I’m in bustling Asia. Singapore – sunny island of sparkling cars, fashionable folk, instant-everything and a unique old-style charm (though I feel this charm is gradually being eradicated now, with the fast pace at which this country is developing).

Even though I know that Singapore is one of the most rapidly-developing places in the world, I was still surprised to see the huge changes which have taken place since my last visit, e.g. Marina Bay Sands – shiny and sleek and big. Luxurious and top-end and arty.

So I know it may seem strange to say this. But even as I took in the awesome sight of these climbing buildings, polished floors, sparkling chandeliers and expensive shops, even as I fell in love with the world in all its building and creating glory – I had a sudden longing for wide open spaces and simplicity as I stood here, rolling my coins down this inverted dome (picture below). Know what I mean? Some people are true Big City Folk. I am not one of them. I love visiting big cities more than I love living in them.

And of course, one simply can’t talk about Singapore without simultaneously mentioning food. Food is Singapore’s heartbeat; beating hard and fuelling her people all night, all day. And though I rather detest this turn of phrase, the best way to describe what I see is: massive displays of food porn. Food here is bold, rampant and laid bare, designed to seduce and allure… I’m giving my eyes and stomach a much-needed rest today, following a few days of eating up (more posts to follow on those)!


Photo above © my friend John

But I will tell you a little about my first post-plane meal! Right after I arrived in Singapore on Saturday night, my beautiful friends drove us to Long Beach Seafood Restaurant where five of us devoured the following:

  • a 1.8kg chilli crab with man tou (golden, lightly-sweet buns) to mop up the flood of sauce (see above)- only one way to successfully eat crab: messily! With fingers!
  • tender chicken encased in a crisp shell and just enough lovely sweet and sour sauce, with a shower of quail eggs scattered on the side
  • sambal kang kong – one of my favourite ways to eat vegetables in Singapore. I’ve alarmed a Kiwi friend or two with the aroma of sambal/dried shrimps… but since these spices and smells were present in my childhood I like the pungent, fishy, spicy medley – unfortunately my words here don’t do the flavour justice
  • a claypot stew with tofu, fish, mushrooms and snow peas. Was nice to see more than one mushroom species used in this dish, and
  • post-dinner, we celebrated R’s birthday with an Awfully Chocolate cake (the name is as it was) after dinner, and I had some trouble wrenching my bottom from the chair afterwards… :-)

I suppose now would be a good time to say HELLO again, is anyone still here? When I wrote my last post, I was ready to close the door on a few things in my life – and as I write this post now I am aware that I am not continuing this blog as it was. There will be changes – though I will leave you to interpret those :-) I have closed a few big doors and seen other doors open for me, I am thrilled to pick up my pen again and would love to have you journey on with me!

Miles from Ya Kun Toast

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
~ Charles Dickens

Living in New Zealand, my breakfast on extravagant days = poached eggs with sides; french toast with bacon & banana; a cream cheese bagel… to name a few. Some days I have toast, a muffin, or nothing. We are fortunate in Wellington to have many splendid cafes, so I usually have coffee out a few times weekly with friends.

Yesterday, I thought I would try to make kaya toast for breakfast. Found Dad’s recipe for microwave kaya (a shortcut method for the jam of my childhood) and was dismayed that the New World I went to after work did not have pandan essence. No kaya, noooo!

I awoke abruptly this morning to my phone ringing, head confused from a busy dream and body tired from a busy week. ALL I could think about was kaya, soft-boiled eggs, Grandma.

Good heavens. I shall have to try to locate pandan essence elsewhere sometime later today.

Meanwhile though, I could at least (try to) make soft-boiled eggs. You’d think they were easy to make. Well, eggs are difficult to cook perfectly as it is, and soft-boiled eggs are the hardest of all to perfect in my opinion. The egg needs to be exactly midway between raw/inedible and hardboiled – soft runny yolk, runny (but not like mucus) white, etc. It’s one reason Singaporeans go to places like Ya Kun to have them made for them.

(This is my oops version – try Googling “kaya toast” for more accurate depictions):

Breakfast in Singapore, by the way, is a colourful affair. There are so many choices you could probably spend at least a month trying out all the different things you could have, like the aforementioned kaya toast, which is usually served with soft-boiled eggs and coffee or tea.

There are a few variations of commercial kaya now available on the market, ranging from avocado-green to pale brown in colour (Grandma’s homemade kaya is a crazy bright green, takes hours to make and tastes beautiful). It’s an egg jam, rich and unlike anything else you call jam, except you can spread it on bread too. Its main ingredients are coconut milk, pandan leaves and eggs. A Nonya/Malay (Straits Chinese) specialty, some sources say it was inspired by the Portuguese who had established major trading outposts in the Straits of Malacca during the peak of the spice trade.

Eggs. Supposedly, 3 (minutes) is the magic number when it comes to how long you should cook them to achieve perfect soft-boiled eggs. A problem when you live in a place with 4 seasons, I think – different room temperatures affect the temperature of the water on your stove, and though my Grandma heats the water to a rolling boil then turns it off while she cooks the eggs for 3 minutes in the hot water before cracking and slipping them quickly into a bowl… I leave the stove on very low heat in cold, late-Autumn New Zealand. There may be other factors besides this too, but it’s the main one I thought of today. It is not uncommon for Singaporeans to splash a little soy sauce and shake some white pepper on to the eggs.

As a side note, something I LOVE about having grown up in Asia is the way it truly opened my palate and senses to the sharp, piquant flavours of sweet, spicy, salty, sour – and the ability to appreciate combinations of what might seem like an appalling clash of opposites in NZ. :-)

Alright, last thing – coffee. Here, I love the sweet and robust espresso topped with creamy New Zealand milk steamed/frothed by exceptional baristas. In Singapore, you either drink Starbucks/Coffee Bean frappuccinos, or traditional kopi in coffee shops/food courts (the latter being the type you must have with kaya toast and eggs). Twists on kopi include having it black, with condensed milk, with evaporated milk or with sugar.

This morning, I had no kaya, no perfect eggs, no kopi-o. But I had butter, bread, yummy eggs, black coffee, a good imagination… and some day soon, hopefully, I will have some very delicious kaya (maybe from my kitchen?) to share.