Showing posts from February, 2011

Wanton Mee

This simple but beautiful idea - of having freshly made egg noodles lightly cooked and then dry stirred with

a soy sauce to be ultimately garnished withvegetables and thin slices of Cantonese-styled char siew pork - is what I have grown up with. Wanton dumplings (with dabs of pork or prawn mince inside) are best served separately in small soup bowls. (above).

Introduced to me in childhood as a breakfast snack, or whenever to mitigate hunger pangs at an ever open street stall, the standards of this wanton mee are determined by the smoothness of the noodles,

the quality of the black soy sauce used, the deftness as how the meat wantons have been made and the bite rating of the char siew - see the picture below.

There are different variations of wanton mee, but the best version I like is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - and which I rediscovered on a recent trip to Johor Baru. In a shop with a front of barbecued roasts hanging outside Jalan Wong Ah Fook in JB Square, the kopitiam (coffee shop) …

Three Hours in Johor Baru, Malaysia

The city of Johor Baru (or "new Johor") has always looked - and been - a significant transit city, straddling the two different worlds of cosmopolitan, resource-poor but business efficient Singapore and the resource-rich but race-conscious nation of Malaysia. The city's denizens see a stronger currency just a stone's throw away - added with higher costs of living, better career opportunities and a much cleaner state of things in Singapore. Many of its residents work or have an education on the island nation, but return every night to their beds on the Malaysian side. Above image, a vehicular jam builds up on a Saturday morning near the Johor border checkpoint.

Half-shaven coconuts lie for sale at a stall in JB Square (above). Fresh coconut juice is a vital ingredient to the Malay, Indian and Straits Chinese cultures and also to mitigate the humid heat of a city that lies close to the Equator. The varied uses of coconut, in all its forms, from husk to cream, cannot be …

Last Train Out of Singapore - Tanjung Pagar

The governments of the two nearby nations of Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to terminate, by mid-2011, the
historical rail service from Tanjung Pagar in downtown Singapore to Johor Baru, capital city of Johor State on the Malaysian Peninsular. This railway line has been etched in the memories of many, for those who came from British Malaya to find their fortunes in the island of Singapore; of those who went through the harrowing and challenging days of Japanese-occupied World War 2; for countless backpackers in the seventies and eighties of the last century; and to many foreigner tourists for which this stretch of the journey heralded the start of the Oriental Express to Bangkok. Amongst all these individuals are the forebears of many who hailed from or migrated to and settled in Australia and New Zealand in the past thirty years. Many war veterans of these two Antipodean countries knew this railway well as young blokes - on the dark side, it was their commencement of the trip to …

Last Train out of Singapore - The Ride

From Tanjung Pagar station, we chugged along along the rail tracks to Woodlands, going north across the island of Singapore, surrounded by strips of bush, mostly tropical plants, including banana trees, herbal species and leafy shrubs. Beyond the bush, we could spot modern day housing estates, primarily high rises, but accompanied by meticulously laid out gardens, lawns and running tracks.
(Image above credit to Ms Lim Bee Keok)

Every passenger (above) is required to get out of their coach at Woodlands, located at the central northern tip of Singapore Island. This is to enable stamping of passports before returning to the allocated train seats and the crossing of the short Causeway bridge between Singapore and Malaysia (across the narrow Straits of Johor).

End of our short dash - we arrive in Johor Baru rail station (above and below).
Many thanks to especially Bee and Kit for suggesting and organising this unique experience.

Singapore - Liang Seah Street

I am always thrilled and inspired by the facades of the upper levels of the terrace houses along specific streets in several cities - and a good example is along Liang Seah Street near Bugis in the city state of Singapore. There is no allowance for urban decay here - no matter how charming this can be to outsiders.

Liang Seah Street is primarily a food gathering hub for the locals, and specialises in East Asian steamboat, Singapore's iconic rice served with roast meats or the Hainan chicken and Taiwan styled desserts.

And what delightful desserts they can be. Karen and Chet first took me to discover the variety and subtlety of the offerings, and I have been back whenever I can. Above, the durian snow cone - simply irresistible. Fresh durian heaped atop ice shavings and more. Liang Seah Steet outlets are mostly open till midnight. A few weeks ago, Ming and I enjoyed the snow cone - also available with other fruits - before he went on to the UK and I was enroute to Penang Island.

Georgetown's Straits Quay

The layout, the accessories and the mood created evoke tropical living at its best. With wooden panels and designs, use of diverse fabric and murals that suggest a rich and exotic past, the place beckons one to come home with promises of cocktails under twilight and snug togetherness listening to the soft swish of the sea tide.

Bedrooms open away to the outdoors, be they the rhythms of cicadas in the gardens or a run under swaying palms. There are balcony partitions to rest tired legs upon and verandas to while away the time reading on sleepy afternoons. Cushions are comfortable and the carpets and rugs kept purposely light. Humidity is kept at bay by the high ceilings.

The baths provide for his and hers. There are suggestions of old London, but not quite.
Glass doors allow freedom and shared intimacy.

Marble tops, hidden shelving and straight lines try to minimise possible clutter in the kitchen.
Lighting can be subdued or highlighted, but never to take away the limelight of shared expe…

Dishes with Good Vibes

Steamed fish, be it be snapper, barramundi or garoupa, indicates lightness, liveliness and vitality.
Freshness is joined with subtle flavours from the garnishing, and together they emphasise the Cantonese penchant for delicacy, aroma and meaning.

Prawns, often in various choices of marinade, are significantly served at happy occasions and to mark festive moods. They are preferred served in bright colours of orange or red, or combined with garnishings of fresh herbs. The word for prawns in Chinese resembles the peal of laughter, hence the use of such crustaceans on dinner tables for Chinese banquets, and in Australia, throwing a shrimp or prawn at the barbie is integral to suburban life.

The ang ku, or literally red tortoise, is made especially for occasions to mark births, weddings and engagements. It is based on Fujian practices in southern China transplanted to the Straits Chinese community around South-east Asia - and the tradition continues in migrant families around the Western nati…

Which Sydney?

There are so many "Sydneys", not just a monolithic one. Just as many residents have long felt, there are multiple townships that collectively are labelled with one regional name reference, but with characteristics that can be as different and far apart as chalk and cheese,  individualistic and communal, outdoor and inward looking.

Taking these thoughts to another dimension, there can be at least two different Australian economies, if not more. Often such various communities and economies interact in trade, pass by each other on the street or sit beside each other on buses and trains, but their internal drivers, passions and preoccupations can vary and differ. Yet at the same time, they are all influenced by commonalities at grassroots or suggested by national nuances.  Politics, religion, landscape topography and the nature of work may divide them, but choice of food, lingo, sport and relationships may bring them back again.  Just like having Cadbury hot chocolate after a s…

Penang Island - Scenes from Black Water Village

Air Itam (Indonesian or Malay literally for 'Black Water") is nestled below the central spine hills of Penang island, at the north-west corner of the Malaysian Peninsular and lying between Phuket and Pangkor Isles.
A densely populated suburb not far from Penang's capital city of Georgetown, Air Itam is also the site of the Kek Lok Si, one of the largest Buddhist temple and monastery complexes in Asia. Just below this complex is one of the most lively market conurbations in Malaysia - and when you visit in the early hours after dawn, you are treated to a lively spectacle swirling with people, produce and practicality.

Penangites love their easily accessible snacks, with traditional Straits Chinese cakes (or kueh) above, made fresh each day and very affordable in costs, leading the popular choice. Left to right, steamed and airy light huat kueh in pink and the ang ku (or literally, the red tortoise) in the centre tray. Each bright red coloured ang ku sits on a small piece of …