Who was cooking for which president? That'd be Mrs Wee Kim Wee cooking for her husband, as told by their daughter, Wee Eng Hwa.
Sambal udang was the first recipe I tried from Cooking for the President – Reflections & Recipes of Mrs Wee Kim Wee.
How was the Wee family recipe for prawns smothered in chilli paste?
It was excellent!
The ingredients were simple, the instructions were clear and easy to follow, and the results were darn tasty. The simple dish was a winner, all in all, with the gloriously red prawns nicely balanced between spicy, sour, sweet and savory. It'd have been way too oily if I had followed the instructions to a T but that was a small fault, I think.
I could see Wee Eng Hwa's pride in her mother's Nyonya recipes from the care she took in writing the step-by-step instructions. But I wondered why she was proud of a president who was nothing more than a figurehead appointed by a single-party government.
In the book, Ms Wee talked about her father being asked to be the President of Singapore under the heading, 'THE PINNACLE BECKONS'. The pinnacle of what, exactly? She didn't say; perhaps because she couldn't? Could she name one significant thing that President Wee did for the country? Just one, any one! Here's what she said:
Among their many official duties, one significant duty President Wee and the First Lady performed was to make State [sic] visits to countries to promote good bilateral relations. They made four state visits: Malaysia, Indonesia and China in 1991, and Brunei in 1992."
What else did the President do? Well, he received Queen Elizabeth II in 1989 and President Bush Senior in 1992. These, together with his four
Wow . . . just . . . wow.
Would you be impressed by a résumé that lists four marketing trips and two client meetings as 'accomplishments' in an eight-year period? Good thing the president didn't have performance targets or annual appraisals, eh? Or maybe he did . . . ? Maybe he had a quota for the number of photos he had to pose for!
In reality, was the President of Singapore very different from, say, a vase or a social escort if he didn't have the pay, the perks, the pomp . . . . Ah yes, the pomp. Ms Wee spared no effort in telling readers about how Daddy was chauffeured in the 'Presidential Rolls-Royce with the gold crest and flag of the Presidential Standard'. And Daddy always started his day with a salute by the SAF provosts at the Istana.
It was obvious that Ms Wee, writing almost 20 years after Daddy's presidential term had ended, still puffed up her chest proudly as she recalled the pomp and pageantry. Never mind that Daddy had no power to speak of, and his 'job' didn't involve even a tinsy bit of intellect or intelligence. He had a kick-ass car and there were kiss-ass servants dressed up as soldiers to salute him, every f-ing morning for eight f-ing years. And Mummy had a lady-in-waiting, you know, just like the Queen of England.
Oh dear. *c-r-i-n-g-e* If you're not royalty, you don't actually have a lady-in-waiting. You have at best a personal assistant, secretary, butler, housekeeper or aide.
Daddy was at the pinnacle. Sadly, it was the pinnacle of vacuity.
Instead of Cooking for the President, I think Cooking for My Father would be a much better title for Ms Wee's book. Mind you Cooking for the Puppet would be more accurate, but I don't suppose the daughter would find it acceptable.
Mrs Wee Kim Wee's Very Famous Mee Siam
|SAMBAL UDANG (PRAWNS IN CHILLI PASTE)|
Source: Cooking for The President, Wee Eng Hwa
(Recipe for 8 persons)
25 g dried chillies, soak in water till soft, about 1 hour, and squeeze dry
40 g red chillies, discard seeds and rinse
160 g shallots, peel and rinse
20 g buah keras (candlenuts)
180 ml vegetable oil (I used only 80 ml, which was plenty)
2/3 tsp belachan, toast till fragrant, and grind finely
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
35 g tamarind paste, soak in 1 cup (240 ml) water, knead and discard seeds and pulp
30 prawns weighing 1 kg, trim legs and feelers, devein, rinse and drain
1 cup cucumber or winged bean slices
Cut dried chillies, red chillies, shallots and buah keras into small pieces. Pound or grind till smooth. Fry in vegetable oil over medium-low to low heat till medium brown. Add belachan and stir through. Add sugar, salt and tamarind water. Simmer till thick and oil separates. Add prawns and heat till just cooked, stirring and turning as necessary to cook evenly. Prawns of the size indicated above are cooked once they turn red. (For bigger prawns, give 'em a few more seconds; add a bit of water if the sauce thickens too much.)
Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve at room temperature with cucumber or winged beans on the side.