Laksa’s origins will surprise you

28 11 2017

I’ve always enjoyed a bowl of laksa. The dish, which has an amazing range of equally delectable localised variations, brings great comfort and joy to many in Malaysia, parts of Indonesia and Singapore. There is perhaps no other dish that can so strongly be identified with a locality. In its very basic form, laksa is a vermicelli like noodle in a broth.  While it can be said that it is in the countless variations of this broth, tempered by the influences of over a century, that has provided the various forms of the dish with its local flavour; its origins as a dish, how it morphed into what we see of it today, and even its rather strange sounding name, is a source of great puzzlement.

Singapore Laksa

One suggestion of how laksa got its name that has gained popularity is that it was derived from a similar sounding Sanskrit word for a hundred thousand. This, it is said, is an allusion perhaps to the multitude of ingredients that go into making the various forms of its broth the celebration of flavours that they are. I am however inclined to take the side of the suggestion that the wonderful encyclopedia of the world’s culinary delights, the Oxford Companion to Food, offers. That has the word laksa being Persian in origin. Lakhsha meaning “slippery” in old Persian, was apparently also used to describe noodles, which the book also credits the Persians with the invention of.

Sarawak Laksa

That latter suggestion will no doubt spark endless debate. There seems however to be evidence to support the assertion such as in the many noodle type dishes that are found spread across the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe – all with names that all sound very much like lakhsha. Examples of this are the Russian lapsha, the Uyghur laghman, the Jewish lokshen, the Afghan lakhchak, the Lithunian Lakštiniai, and the Ukrainian lokshina. The Italian sheet pasta dish, Lasagne, also sounds uncannily similar to old Persian for noodles.

Lokshen (photo: Danny Nicholson on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0).

As with the variants of the Near East, Lakhsha seems to have become a similiar sounding laksa in this part of the world. Early Malay-English dictionaries, such as one published by R. J. Wilkinson in 1901, have laksa both as the word for ten thousand, as well as for a “vermicelli” – ascribing the latter’s origins to the same Persian word.  The use of the word as such is seen in several of the news articles of the day. One report, in the Malayan Saturday Post of 29 December 1928, shows how “Chinese Laksa” was then made, through a series of four photographs. As a word to describe a type of noodles, laksa is in fact very much still in use in places such as the Riau Archipelago. There, “lakse” or “laksa”, is taken as a noodle of a similar appearance to the laksa we find here made from the staple of the islands, sago.

R. J. Wilkinson’s “A Malay-English Dictionary” describes the word “laksa” both as a word for ten-thousand as well as for a kind of vermicelli.

Uyghur laghman noodles (Nate Gray on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

There also are early descriptions of how that laksa may have been prepared in the press. One, found in a 1912 report on hawker fare in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, describes what seems to be quite a different dish from the one we are now familiar with:

A familiar dish with the Chinese coolie and Straits school-boy is “laksa”. The vendor of this compound, vermicelli, “rats’ ears” (mush-rooms), and other things in a kind of soup, shouts out every now and then “Laksa a wun!” and many who taste it declare that it is A1.

Lakse or laksa, describes these noodles made from sago in Pulau Singkep in the Lingga group of islands in the Riau Archipelago.

One of the many ways in which laksa is served on Pulau Singkep is with a fish broth and sambal.

poem, penned in 1931 by a prominent personality Mr. Seow Poh Leng – a Municipal Commissioner and a champion of hawkers’ rights – provides an idea of how the dish had by the 1930s, started to evolve. An attempt to draw attention to the difficulties street hawkers faced, the verse also describes how a dough of ground rice became “lumps of tiny snow-white coils” when boiled and which was then “served with tasty gravy and a pinch of fragrant spice”. Published in the Malayan Saturday Post of 16 May 1931, the piece was the writer’s response to the death of a laksa vendor. The vendor had taken his own life after several run ins with the Municipal authorities that deprived him of his livelihood.

Laska Siam, served at another popular Penang laksa stall, this one at Balik Pulau.

By the 1950s, laksa as a dish, seemed to have already taken on several distinct styles. A 1951 article in The Singapore Free Press, “Let’s talk about food”, mentions two types of “Siamese” laksa: one sweet and one hot and sour, along with a “Nonya” laksa. The two variants of “Siamese” laksa are again mentioned in a 1953 Singapore Free Press article on food in Penang. The sour type “Siamese” laksa identified is perhaps the predecessor to the Penang or asam (or assam) laksa dish of today as another 1951 report, this time in The Straits Times on Penang, seems to confirm. The article draws attention to one of Penang’s attractions, Ayer Itam (now spelled Air Itam), to which the young and old would walk six miles or brave a ride on a crowded bus to. Ayer Itam, is identified as “the village with the famous Kek Lok Si”, and (a seemingly already popular) “Siamese” laksa (Air Itam is a location many in Penang flock to today for asam laksa).

A bowl of Penang or Asam Laksa.

Another version of Asam Laksa from Madras Lane in Kuala Lumpur.

What we can perhaps surmise from all of this information is that despite its shared name, laksa in its many variations are really different dishes. Built on an otherwise tasteless base of rice or sago vermicelli or a noodle substitute, how its various forms of laksa have been flavoured to excite the palate, says much about the invention and the creativity of the region’s pioneering food vendors.

Variation on a theme, Laksa Goreng (Fried Laksa), Peranakan style.

Lakse Goreng topped with crushed ikan bilis from Pulau Singkep.


A Hawker’s Lament
by Seow Poh Leng
(Malayan Saturday Post, 16 May 1931, Page 18)
We came from far Cathay, the land of old renown,
A livelihood to seek in this far-famed town.
My parents they are old but still must toil each day
My father selling bean-curds, my mother selling “kway”.
We left our home and kin to this far distant shore;
And promised to return to see them all once more,
To share with them and theirs what little we have made
By dint of patient toil, by means of honest trade.
By four o’clock each morning when you are all abed
The ‘laksa’ I’m preparing that people may be fed
I grind some rice to powder and knead it to a dough
Then press it through a sieve to a boiling pot below.
This stringy mass of flour which hardens as it boils
Is made up into lumps of tiny snow-white coils;
Then served with tasty gravy and a pinch of fragrant spice
My ‘laksa’ finds more favour than the ordinary rice.
In woven bamboo basket made up in several tiers
Are placed my tooth-some wares and the necessary gears.
In a gourd-shaped earthen vessel the ‘laksa’ simmers low,
All day aboiling gently on charcoal burning slow.
From street to street I wander, my pace a steady trot,
And bear my loaded basket as well as the steaming pot.
The noon day trade I seek and may with luck—oh rare !
Avoid the stern police who ask a certain share.
These guardians of the law with lynx eyes watch for me,
And more than do their duty unless I pay a ” fee.”
They see that I comply with what the by-laws state;
That is, whatever happens, I must itinerate.
Sometimes from sheer fatigue I pause some breath to take,
To dry my streaming sweat, to ease the limbs that ache;
And then the “Mata-mata” finds me resting there,
And forthwith to the Court I must with him repair.
And once – alas the thought! – in prison cell I lay.
The fine imposed on me was more than I could pay.
What use is there for me this arduous life to lead?
My humble cries for mercy receive but scanty heed.
By ceaseless toil I tried an honest life to lead.
If I the “tips” forget, the traffic I impede.
And for such bogus crime there is no other way –
Before the Court I’m brought and straightway made to pay.
I’ve plied my trade from childhood, the profits have been small,
Yet I would quit right gladly for any work at all,
Seek work at any distance – if only work there be
Without the constant harass and the unofficial fee.
A rickshaw puller – aye the “totee’s” job I’ll do.
I’ll go to Malacca, I’ll go to Trengganu.
Alack! my quest is vain, my faintest hope is gone;
My limbs they are weary, my heart with sorrow torn.
Good-bye the M.H.O., my last farewell to thee!
Good-bye to all M.C.’s, good-bye the I.G.P.!
You wish me back to China, you want me off the street;
Posterity shall know I die your wish to meet!
Not satisfied with fines the Magistrates impose
The dreary prison cell must add to hawkers’ woes.
My goods and property you wish to confiscate?
But here you will not win—the law will come too late!
Good-bye my parents dear, good-bye my kith and kin!
Think not the step I take a very grievous sin.
Right well I am aware of honour due to you;
And thank you from my heart for lessons wise and true.
To comfort your old age my level best I’ve tried.
My efforts seem in vain, the cruel fates decide.
I cannot stoop to crime and slur the family name,
So drink this portion dark, preferring death to shame.

A Malay laksa vendor in Penang, c. 1930s (http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline | Mrs J A Bennett Collection/National Archives of Singapore).


 

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The Real McCoy

29 07 2016

Like it or hate it, there seems no end in sight to the salted egg craze. Salted eggs, a long time poor Chinese man’s source of protein, now  seem to flavour just about anything from seafood to pastries and burgers here in Singapore.

The Quarters is latest to join the fray with its own take on the slated egg burger popularised recently by a certain fast food chain. The modsin café, which is helmed by Chung Deming – the man behind the out-of-this-world Durian Crème Brulee, intends with the burger’s debut, to show us what the Real McCoy, as salted egg burgers go, should really be about.

The Real McCoy and Shiok Fries.

The Real McCoy and Shiok Fries.

While I am not a huge fan of the taste of salted eggs, I enjoy a good bite with its flavours mixed in and I have to admit that Deming’s Real McCoy is an extremely good bite.  Dripping but not soggy from the creamy rich almost cheese like appearance yellow coloured aioli – which by the way is bottled and sold off the shelf, the burger as a whole is flavourful with many subtle hints of the smaller parts that make the whole. What I also like about the Real McCoy is its wonderfully thick, cripsy and yet juicy oat batter coated American Southern style fried chicken patty that sits on a bed of lettuce and sliced tomatoes – just how I think chicken burgers should be.

Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream.

Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream.

Complementing the Real McCoy very well is Deming’s super shiok Shiok Fries – which can be eaten with the salted egg aioli or better, the chilli crab sauce. Whatever way you like it, remember to also leave some room for the desserts …. the Real McCoy can be paired with the café’s signature Durian Crème Brulee or DurianCanBoleh for a nice price until the end of August. And if durian doesn’t give you enough of a kick, there is something else that will certainly give you one – Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream that tastes just like buah keluak out of the shell when cooked in a Peranakan kitchen.

The café also has a small selection of craft ciders and beer - including this one wth a not so pleasant name. The plae beer or Pilsner is apparently named after a village with the rude sounding name in Austria. Hell means pale in German.

The café also has a small selection of craft ciders and beer – including this one wth a not so pleasant name. The plae beer or Pilsner is apparently named after a village with the rude sounding name in Austria. Hell means pale in German.

The Real McCoy ($16 nett – $14 nett for a limited promotional period only) will be available from 30 July 2016 at both The Quarters at Icon Village (at Enggor Street) and its sister outler, Kush at Timbre+ (at Alexandra Distripark).

 





The urban redevelopment resettlement centre that became Funan

1 07 2016

The lights went out on Funan DigitalLife Mall last night. The well-loved mall will be closed for three years for redevelopment and from the sound of the “experiential creative hub” it is being made into, the new Funan will bear little semblance to the Funan we all knew and loved.

The lights of Funan.

The lights of Funan.

While I shall miss Funan, a dignified alternative to Sim Lim Square for electronics and IT related merchandise shopping, I shall not mourn its passing in the same way I mourn the rather iconic Hock Lam Street that it buried. What can best be described as a very colourful example of Singapore in less ordered days, is on the evidence of the many photographs and postcards that exist of it, must have been one of the city’s most photographed streets.

Hock Lam Street, as seen from Colombo Court across North Bridge Road (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

The street, at its junction with North Bridge Road,  was where the Tai Tien kopitiam (coffee shop) was located. Popular with office workers from the vicinity and shoppers from the nearby shopping streets as a lunch destination, the kopitiam or rather the five-foot-way around it, would be where I would often find myself seated for the post shopping treat my parents would give me of Hock Lam Street’s famous beef ball soup.

A popular lunch stop for office workers from the area and for shoppers from the High Street area, the Tai Tien coffee shop at the corner of Hock Lam Street and North Bridge Road (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

It is from Hock Lam that Funan in fact takes its name; Funan being the pinyin-ised Mandarin pronunciation of the Hokkien Hock Lam (福南). The name, an attempt to remember the lost icon,  is perhaps a also reminder of a period in our history when we saw fit to distort place names that reflected the diversity of the Chinese diaspora to Singapore through the Mandarinisation of many of them.

The Hock Lam Street area (in the foreground) in 1976 from which businesses were moved temporarily to the Capitol Shopping Centre - the flat roofed building seen at the top of the picture (image source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

The Hock Lam Street area (in the foreground) before its demolition  in 1976. Businesses displaced were moved temporarily to the Capitol Shopping Centre – the flat roofed building seen at the top of the picture, before being moved to Funan Centre in 1985 (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

Funan Centre, as it was known in its early days, was completed in 1985 after much delay (it was initially scheduled to be completed in 1979 but a design change resulted in its delay). Built as a permanent “resettlement centre” by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), it’s purpose was to house the many businesses being displaced by the huge wave of redevelopment that was then sweeping through the city, including the many hawker stalls the street had been well known for. Examples of such centres include the former Blanco Court, since converted to Raffles Hospital, and the former Cuppage Centre (now 51 Cuppage Road). The latter was built to house market vendors and food stalls from the former Orchard Road Market and the area around Koek Road and Koek Lane.

Funan with its floors of IT and Electronic shops.

Funan with its floors of IT and Electronic shops.

When it opened in early 1985, Funan Centre featured a mishmash of shops and businesses, organised by the floor according to the categories of goods and services they offered. Many had roots in the area, and moved over from a nearby temporary resettlement centre, Capitol Shopping Centre and the neighbouring temporary food centre. Already then, Funan was touted as a place to shop for computers – its opening coinciding with the dawn of the personal computing age. One floor, the sixth, was devoted to the forty to fifty shops that made up its Computer Mart.

Capitol Centre just before its demolition.

The since demolished Capitol (Shopping) Centre.

The hawkers of Hock Lam Street found themselves elevated seven floors above it in the Funan Food Paradise – described then as Singapore’s first custom built air-conditioned hawker centre, what we today are perhaps fond of referring to as a food court (it actually opened a couple of months before Scotts Picnic Food Court, which was widely recognised as being Singapore’s first air-conditioned food court). Besides the popular Beef Noodle stall from Hock Lam Street, Funan Food Paradise became well known for Carona Chicken Wing, which built up a popular following when it was located at temporary food centre.

Packing the food court up. Some may remember the original food centre on the 7th floor from which the likes of Carona Chicken WIng operated.

Packing the food court up. Some may remember the original food centre on the 7th floor from which the likes of Carona Chicken WIng operated.

The floor below Computer Mart, the fifth, featured hairdressing salons while the fourth was where one shopped for home appliances and music. The third level was where shops dealing with fashion apparel and accessories were found, including a downsized Cortina Department Store, which had moved over from Colombo Court. The second level, as it was before it closed, was the place to buy camera equipment. Fast food outlets such as A&W and Big Rooster were then found on the ground floor. A post office also made a brief appearance, opening at the end of 1985 and closing two years later.

An eatery on the first level.

An eatery on the first level.

The ownership and management of URA owned commercial property passed on to Pidemco Holdings in 1989. Pidemco Holdings, later Pidemco Land, was a privatised property ownership and management arm of URA formed in 1989. Pidemco, which is an acronym for Property Investment, Development and Estate Management Company, merged with DBS Land in 2000 to form CapitaLand, the mall’s current owners. The mall was upgraded by Pidemco in the 1990s and took on a more IT / Computer related flavour. It was renamed Funan The IT Mall in the late 1990s and Funan DigitaLife Mall in the mid 2000s.

More information on the redevelopment can be found at the following links:


Parting Glances

JeromeLim-3791-2

JeromeLim-3500

JeromeLim-3523

JeromeLim-2996

JeromeLim-3832

JeromeLim-3835-2

JeromeLim-3837

JeromeLim-3849

JeromeLim-3869-3

JeromeLim-3882-2

JeromeLim-3904

JeromeLim-3908

JeromeLim-3916-2

JeromeLim-3919

JeromeLim-3921

JeromeLim-3923

JeromeLim-3926

JeromeLim-3930

JeromeLim-3937

JeromeLim-3941

JeromeLim-3945

JeromeLim-3955





Geylang in the early light of day

12 11 2013

The new day brings with it freshness and hope. It is perhaps with fresh optimism (or maybe not) that Geylang, a neighbourhood in Singapore better known for what goes on after dark, wakes up to each morning as it wakens from a short and restless slumber, coming alive in a way that, because of its reputation, one might least expect.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside  - a common sight in first hour of daylight.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside – a common sight in the early light of day.

I often enjoy a walk through its streets, numerous lorongs and five-foot-ways, in the early light of day. Without the chaotic scenes that is all too often associated with the worn and tired neighbourhood and the accompanying vehicular clutter, Geylang’s less appreciated architectural treats can best be shown some appreciation. Also adding colour in the early light, is a parallel world, a world much of Singapore has denied an existence to, laying claim to the streets fresh with litter left behind by the world we know Geylang to be.

Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The waking Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The parallel world is one belonging to a large group  of the neighbourhood’s transient residents, migrant workers who come from far and wide. Drawn to the area by the availability of low cost accommodation shunned by the locals, the coolies hole themselves up in overcrowded lodgings squeezed into the upper floors of the neighbourhood’s many shophouses.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

The migrant workers are ones who toil for meagre spoils in jobs necessary to keep Singapore going, menial jobs that are below most of us. These workers, the modern coolies of a modern Singapore, rouse as the extinguished lights that painted the previous night are still warm, spilling onto the streets and five-foot-ways in scenes that are reminiscent of coolies squatting in wait along the five-foot-ways of old.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Unlike the scenes of old, the new coolies wait not for the call, but for blue and silver trucks to ferry them to places of work at which they remain well into the dark of night. The blank stares accompanying the scene seem however the same, brought about not by the numbness that opium would once have provided, but by the lure of false hope for an unattainable material nirvana.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Material nirvana aside, the migrant workers who do find themselves in Geylang are perhaps the lucky ones in a country which chooses to conceal the bulk of the new coolies in faraway dormitories well hidden from sight. The migrant workers in Geylang do at least find themselves in an environment where the conveniences of the urban world are at their disposal – their presence has in fact drawn a slew of new business catering to their needs to the area. Interspersed among the KTV outlets, dingy looking massage parlours, pubs and well established food outlets are mobile phone and service vendors, new food outlets, budget clothing shops, mini-marts, and internet cafes to serve the demands of the wider migrant communities – many opening at the break of day to catch the very early birds.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

It is the food stalls that do particularly well in the early light. Many are stocked not so much for that breakfast bite, but with offerings more appropriate for lunch. Taken away by many migrant workers, the contents of the white styrofoam containers serve a hurried lunch which is taken during the morning’s break, allowing the lunch hour to be used to catch up on much needed sleep.

Migrant workers queuing up at a cooked food stall.

Migrant workers queuing up with the odd local breakfast patron at a cooked food stall.

This parallel world is one we in Singapore, more often than not, choose not to see. It is a world that we can in fact draw many parallels to, one that opens a window into both Singapore’s and Geylang’s past – painted by stories not so different, only that … the stories do end in very different ways …

Seeking enlightenment - many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

Seeking enlightenment – many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

A scene along the foot-foot-way.

An early morning scene along the foot-foot-way.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.


Other posts on Geylang:





A great reason to say cheese!

26 04 2013

There a nice little place in a corner of Toa Payoh Central where you probably won’t mind getting into a gooey yellow mess, and as the good people behind the place would have it, fall in love … The little place, Yellow Submarines at Block 177, one of the latest fast-food concepts in town, will surely get you into one – with its offerings of sandwiches and fries loaded with an oh-so-good mess of melted cheese – so good that it certainly won’t be a surprise if it does have, as the writing on the wall there would have it, you falling in love at first bite!

Certainly love at first bite!

Certainly love at first bite!

The menu is built around a Philly icon, the cheesesteak.

The menu is built around a Philly icon, the cheesesteak.

The cheese laden offerings Yellow Submarines has on its menu, is built around a long time Philly (Philadelphia) icon,  the Cheesesteak. It does however, go beyond the popular steak sandwich in its “no pork, no lard” menu and includes choices which extends to tuna as well as vegetarian sandwiches.

Yellow Submarines' menu has something to offer everyone.

Yellow Submarines’ menu has something to offer everyone.

Even with the choices on the menu, it wasn’t difficult to come to a quick decision on what I was going to have. It had to be the Yellow Submarine Classic. Filled with a generous portion of thinly sliced premium New Zealand beef flavoured with gravy and caramelized onions and coloured yellow with cheese, the Classic is indeed one – each bite into it was one which brought pure joy to the tastebuds! Yummy and I was definitely in love! There is a choice of having the sandwich on its own or adding the price of a serving of Torpedo Fries, for a very sinful serving of the melted cheese rich and somewhat spicy Torpedo fries and a drink.

The best and messiest way to have that Classic and Torpedo Fries - especially with the cheese at the bottom of the cup the fries comes in.

The best and messiest way to have that Classic and Torpedo Fries – especially with the cheese at the bottom of the cup the fries comes in.

With the portion being sufficiently large and that I had to save myself for the tempting desserts on the menu, I left it to the others in the group to tell me about the other items – all of which return positive verdicts.

The vegetarian mushroom laden M-1.

The vegetarian mushroom laden M-1 Submarine.

The Tuna Submarine.

The Tuna Submarine.

The Chicken Submarine.

The Chic Submarine.

The Single Hit.

The Single Hit.

The desserts on the menu – are highly recommended – the brownie (Choco Bomber) especially, although the cheesecake (NY Cheese Hunt) does deserve an honourable mention, as does the ice-cream filled brioche. Not a fan of brownies, the Choco Bomber did win me over with its most texture and rich enough chocolate flavour which wasn’t – as brownies tend to be, overpowering.

Must try desserts - the cheesecake, brownie and

Must try desserts – the cheesecake (NY Cheese Hunt), brownie (Choco Bomber) and brioche with ice-cream (Frozen Cannon).

Not normally a brownie fan, the Choco Bomber won me over - thought it was just right, not too sweet or overpowering.

Not normally a brownie fan, the Choco Bomber won me over – thought it was just right, not too sweet or overpowering.

Yellow Submarines can be found at Blk 177 #01-110 Toa Payoh Central Singapore 310177 (end of Blk 177 that faces Lorong 2) and is open from 10.30 am to 10.30 pm daily. For the official opening this weekend (26 to 28 April 2013 – dates inclusive), Yellow Submarines is offering a free upgrade to a meal for every purchase of a sandwich, sub or burger – so do hurry down! More information can be found at the Yellow Submarines website and Facebook Page. Yellow Submarines can also be found on Instagram and if you do post pics on Instagram, do remember to add the hashtag #yellowsubmarinescheesesteaks.

Official opening promotion - free upgrade to a meal only on the weekend of 26 to 28 April.

Official opening promotion – free upgrade to a meal only on the weekend of 26 to 28 April.





Spreading happiness at Serangoon Gardens

14 02 2013

Tucked away in a somewhat obscure area of Serangoon Gardens is a delightful little café that as its name, Sun Ray Café, suggests, brings sun rays over the area. Describing itself as a joyful and offbeat spot, the cafe is probably better known to pet owners – it being one of the few pet friendly eateries found in the area of Singapore.  I guess, not being a pet owner, I might be forgiven for not being aware of the cafe, and it was only through an invitation for a food tasting session that I got to know of its existence.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

That it is an offbeat place is probably also seen in some of the food creations made specially for the occasion of the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day. One of the first things we got  to do was toss the what has come to be a tradition for the Lunar New Year in Singapore and Malaysia, Yu Sheng or Raw Fish Salad. That is perhaps as traditional as it does get, not only is the “Raw Fish” Salad topped not by raw fish as its name might suggest, but by a generous helping of smoked salmon, but it also is  tossed with a fork. Topped off with croutons, and served with plum sauce, the salad’s ingredients and the salmon topping is shaped into a short cylinder in a mould – taking on a rather quirky and non-conventional appearance. The Sun Ray Café Yu Sheng Platter, named Rising Joy is rather a rather delightful twist to the traditional dish, comes in two sizes – a small portion ideal for 2 diners is priced at $10.80 and the large portion for 4 diners costs $16.80 and will be available until 24 February. Being a pet friendly, the café also serves a pet version of the dish with boiled salmon, a portion of which costs $6.80.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

The main part of the food tasting was to introduce the café’s Valentine’s Day menu (for which this post probably comes a little too late for). Available on 13 and 14 February, the menu comes with a choice of three entrées. The menu is also served with a Smoked Salmon Salad served with a wonderful walnut sauce dressing; a Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup inspired by how cappuccino is served these days which I thought was just right – light and not overladen with cream; a choice of Home Made Tiramisu or Chocolate Lava Cake; and a choice of drinks – a Signature Mocktail Mellini or a glass of House Wine. The entrées can be selected from a Australian Seared Steak (marinated in red wine and rosemary and served with Lyonnais potatoes); Crusted Salmon (sesame crusted salmon with sweet taro mash – I am told it is naturally sweet taro); or the Honey Glazed Spring Chicken (grilled and served with oven-roasted potatoes). I though the salmon turned out the best – full of flavour complemented by the sesame crust. The steak was also tender and juicy and rich in flavour. The chicken however did taste a little too sweet and wasn’t to my liking. The menus are priced at $45 for the steak, $35 for the salmon and  $30 for the chicken.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

Cuppa' Mushroom Soup.

Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup.

The Valentine's Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The Valentine’s Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The crusted salmon.

The crusted salmon served with sweet taro mash.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

Besides the food – the café’s owner is also big on coffee. A trained barista, he hopes to also turn the café into one that serves specialty coffees and is considering roasting his own beans. Tthe café was kind enough to have a little coffee appreciation session during which Columbia Geisha beans (which we were told cost $300 a kg!) were used and the practice of coffee cupping was  introduced – after which I will not look at a cup of kopi-o in the same way again.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

A cupping spoon.

A cupping spoon.

Located at 79 Brighton Crescent, more information on the pet friendly café can be found at its Facebook page. And do note that, as a special treat, the café is extending a $10 return voucher – all you would need to do to claim the voucher is to say “Happiness will keep us alive!” to the staff serving you.





Gold that certainly needs guarding

11 10 2012

It was right on the last day that we found it, coming away with bagfuls of what must surely have been a very precious commodity that we had two of our toughest ladies, Valyn and Yiwei, to stand guard over it.

Pure gold that required two of our toughest ladies to stand guard over! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The commodity has to be nothing short of pure gold – many come from near and wide, descending on a humble village away from the bustle of Macau’s bright lights and fluid streets just for it, or rather a taste of it. The golden item, is nothing less than the most sought after piece of pastry in the territory, a Lord Stow’s egg tart, smooth and creamy custard given a tinge of gold when baked in a pastry cup.

Gold in a pastry cup, Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The egg tarts or pastéis de nata (pastel de nata, singular), is what certainly draws the crowds to the sleepy village, Coloane Village, which is as far away as one can get in the tiny 29 square kilometres that is Macau. The village takes its name from the island, the southernmost of two main islands beyond the Macau Peninsula – an island that is sometimes referred to as Macau’s countryside. It was for long a neglected part of the former Portuguese colony, becoming a hotbed of pirate activity until the problem was eventually dealt with by the Portuguese in 1910.

Coloane Village is a sleepy village that seems far removed from the bright lights of the nearby Cotai Strip (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The village, as is the bakery, is a curious place. Seemingly out of touch with the glitz and glamour of the integrated resorts sprouting up not so far away on the Cotai Strip – a piece of reclaimed land which has connected the Coloane Island to its northern counterpart, Taipa Island, it (and what is found in it), must be a wonderful example perhaps of how east and west has blended during the rule of the territory’s former masters.

Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village – it is not just in the bakery, but in the entire village where east has blended well with the west (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the heart of Coloane Village is a little piece of Portugal, the Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques). The square takes its name from the Portuguese governor Eduardo Marques who oversaw the victory over the pirates. This is in fact commemorated in the square in the form of a monument which stands at one end of it. It is at the opposite end however, that the attention of the visitor will be drawn to – the yellow of the baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is one that will certainly not be missed.

A monument in the Largo da Eduardo Marques to commemorate the defeat of the pirates in 1910 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Eduardo Marques Square is also known for its food outlets which apparently are a must-try (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The yellow baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at the other end of the square.

The yellow chapel, built in 1928, is definitely one that should not be missed. Besides containing some of the most sacred Catholic relics found in Asia (at one time it also housed relics of St. Francis Xavier – the missionary who is attributed bringing the faith to Asia), it does also contain a rather interesting religious painting. On the painting there is an image of a woman bearing the likeness of the Chiness Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Kuan Yin, carrying a child, which is in very much a similar fashion as a very popular Catholic depiction of the Mother and Child. This surely is a wonderful example of how well east and west have blended here.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier was built in 1928 and once housed some relics of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who is attributed with bringing the Catholic faith to Asia.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is where many important Catholic relics are found (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

An example of east and west meeting inside the chapel – a painting with the likeness of Kum Iam carrying a child shown in a popular pose used by Catholics to depict Mother and Child.

The peace and calm that is the sanctuary of the chapel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The narrow lanes that took us through to the main square, the Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes, where gold was to be discovered, are equally captivating. Full of colour and interesting details, the streets are ones that I would, if I had another opportunity, like to spend perhaps a whole day exploring. There certainly is much more in the sleepy little village than the golden coloured pastries. Time I didn’t have, and with the egg tarts calling, it was to Lord Stow’s Bakery for our final stop at the village before we were to have lunch.

A colourful narrow lane in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A village shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The area around Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is certainly worth exploring (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is also where the bus stop is (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Another shop found in the narrow lanes of Coloane.

That Lord Stow’s is as curious as the village is, there is no doubt. The bakery, is the brainchild of an English pharmacist (yes you read right!), the late Andrew Stow (whose ex-wife serves a slightly sweeter version of the popular pastry at Margaret’s Café in downtown Macau). He started the little bakery in 1989, perfecting his recipe using his skills as a pharmacist, achieving phenomenal success very quickly – with the bakery itself becoming a tourist draw. Many tourists make it a point to head to the bakery to pack the tarts, which are sold for MOP/HKD8 per piece, MOP/HKD45 for a box of 6, or MOP/HKD90 for a box of 12, before heading home.

Gold production (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Curiosity aside, the bakery does make that egg tart that is certain to give one a ‘love at first bite’ experience and certainly with a taste that is no less than divine – well worth that pilgrimage to Coloane just to worship it. That together with the desire to explore the narrow lanes of the charming little part of Macau and the rest of the island (which does seem well worth exploring), will make it my first, and also last stop the next time I am in Macau.

An extremely happy customer (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Look how much this one bought! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More expressions of happiness (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Worship (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.


Links to finding gold:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Coloane Village (MGTO site)
More on Coloane Island (MGTO site)
Lord Stow’s Bakery


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.









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