5-Minute Cantonese Porridge (Congee)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Forget cooking Cantonese porridge the traditional way. That takes way too long.

On the stove, simmering raw rice in lots of water or stock till it breaks down and forms a smooth, thick gruel takes 2-3 hours.

In a slow cooker, the process is an overnight job.

Chwee Kueh (水粿; Steamed Rice Cakes)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

There're several types of steamed cakes made with rice flour. If you want to learn how to make these traditional delicacies, chwee kueh would be a good start. It doesn't take long and the ingredients are cheap, so you don't waste much time or money if you fail.

The first step in making chwee kueh is mixing the batter. The main ingredient is rice flour but that alone would make a rather hard kueh. To soften it, you need to add some starch. Some people use tapioca flour; I prefer a mix of cornflour and wheat starch. Of course, the amount of water in the batter is crucial to the success of the steamed kueh. If the ratio of water to flour/starch is wrong, the steamed cake will be too hard or too soft.

Teochew Fish Porridge (潮州鱼粥)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


How do you tell if the fish you wanna buy is fresh? (a) It doesn't smell fishy. (b) The eyes are bright. (c) The gills are red. (d) It feels firm. (e) The skin is shiny. (f) All of the above. If you choose 'f', then sorry, you're wrong . . . mostly.

Bak Chang (肉粽; Meat Dumplings)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

My mother made two types of 粽子 every year, kee chang and bak chang. The former is quite straightforward; it's just glutinous rice and lye water wrapped in bamboo leaves. Bak chang, however, is extremely varied in ingredients, seasoning, cooking method, and shape depending on which part of China your family is from. For us – we're Teochews – there're two types indigenous to our culture. The more elaborate type, called 双烹, has a small ball of sweet red bean paste wrapped in leaf lard. My mother always did the simpler type without the sweet red bean paste. The filling is 100% savory with fatty pork belly, chestnuts, mushrooms, dried prawns and fried shallots.

Pulut Inti

Saturday, 14 April 2012

What do pulut inti, kueh kochee, pulut chawan, lopes, ondeh ondeh, kueh salat, pulut tataa, kueh doldol, kueh bengka pulut, and kueh wajek durian have in common, apart from all of them being Nyonya kueh-kueh?

The 10 kueh-kueh are all made with coconut, and glutinous rice or glutinous rice flour. Yet they're all different as can be in texture, taste and look.

Orh Kueh/Steamed Yam Cake (I)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Making good orh kueh starts with choosing yam that's light for its size. Lighter ones have less water, and less watery ones are nicer because they're more fluffy, powdery and fragrant.

Next, be generous when trimming the yam. The outer parts are usually waxy and tasteless, especially when the yam is a dud. I usually cut 2-3 cm off the top and bottom, and 1-2 cm off the sides.

To enhance its fragrance, the yam should be fried and then seasoned lightly with salt and five-spice powder. Don't let the yam brown or it'd be leathery.

Jamie Oliver Cooks Hainanese Chicken Rice!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

This is how the Naked Chef makes Singapore's iconic dish, Hainanese Chicken Rice:

The recipe is from Jamie Oliver's column in the Daily Mail, 2 March 2012. The headline reads, 'Cook with Jamie: East is best! These Far Eastern broths are (blah blah blah) good for you'.

How to Make GOOD Fried Rice

Friday, 2 March 2012

When I was nine years old, I went to primary school in the afternoon. I was the only person at home at lunchtime, so I cooked for myself and ate before heading off to school. Fried rice was what I rustled up most often, plus an egg flower soup to wash it down.

Hmm, now that I think about it, a nine-year-old doing a two-course lunch wasn't too shabby. *immodestly and belatedly pat self on the back*

As I got older, I made fried rice only as a last resort, when I didn't have ingredients for something else or when I had leftover rice to finish up. Why? Because, try as I might, my fried rice wasn't terribly impressive even though I'd been frying rice since I was nine. Eminently edible, yes, but nothing more.

Kuih Seri Muka/Kueh Salat (I)

Friday, 17 February 2012


The custard layer of my kueh salat (aka kuih seri muka) is a pale avocado green. That's because it's made with (a lot of) pandan leaves. Do you know how the bibiks of yesteryears get a brighter green, naturally? They used dark green leaves called daun pandan serani/suji, which look like pandan leaves but are smaller and darker.

Nyonya Fried Rice

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fried rice is one of those things. It may be a great chef's finale for a grand Chinese banquet, or it may be something rustled up by a hungry youngster snooping round the kitchen when Mum is out. Brilliantly executed, fried rice is sublime. If not, it's (usually) at least edible.

Baba fried rice is easier than the Chinese version. The latter requires fierce, intense heat for best results (imagine a massive fire breathing dragon underneath the wok). The Straits Chinese, however, use spices to create an alluring aroma. Finely pounded shallots, dried chillies, fresh chillies and candlenuts, along with belachan and dried prawns, are slowly persuaded over gentle heat to release their fragrance. Each and every grain tastes of the spicy, aromatic and umami paste, so the fried rice is delicious even when it's lacking in wok hei.

Fried Glutinous Rice

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I've been eating glutinous rice for about a year now, in place of the non-sticky variety. I steamed some one day 'cause I was out of regular rice, and I haven't looked back since. It's more fragrant than regular rice though the quality does vary from brand to brand. I've tried three so far, and my favourite is Golden Pineapple; the other two being New Moon and Golden Phoenix. I can't say if Golden Pineapple is the best brand in the market, but it's good enough to stop me from looking for something better.

Non-sticky rice can be steamed or boiled but the sticky one can only be steamed. If steamed without the rice sitting in water, it should be soaked for several hours, which was what I did when I was a sticky rice novice. Of course, I didn't always have several hours' foresight into when I wanted to tuck into a bowl of piping hot rice, and hunger made my brain tick.

Mee Siam

Friday, 24 June 2011

Prostitute, as in to put one's abilities to base or unworthy use. There was a man who refused to prostitute himself: Ong Teng Cheong, President of Singapore, 1993-1999.

As the Head of State, Ong Teng Cheong was entrusted with the task of protecting Singapore's past financial reserves. He had the power to veto any withdrawal – in theory.

In reality, President Ong didn't even know how much reserves there were until 1996. He got the information only because he asked, and kept asking for three whole years. Then in 1998, the state-owned Post Office Savings Bank and the national reserves it was holding was divested without even his knowledge, never mind consent. He had to remind the cabinet that the divestment without his permission was against the Constitution of Singapore. And there were no procedures for the protection of past reserves. So he went about setting up the procedures, and that took him his entire six-year presidential term.

The 'Mee Siam Mai Hum' Mystery

Sunday, 27 March 2011


During one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister said, 'Mee siam mai hum.' He was relating how he would order the noodle dish, mee siam, without cockles.

The PM was perhaps making an attempt to connect with commoners who eat humble stuff, like me. But the speech set tongues wagging, to put it mildly, because mee siam doesn't have cockles, ever.

The harsher critiques thought the PM's little boo-boo showed how disconnected he was with everyday life. But I think there could be another explanation for his culinary faux pas. What he actually wanted to say was mee siam without tamarind, or mee siam mai assam. How do I know that? Take a look at his grandmother's mee siam recipe, extracted from Mrs Lee's Cookbook (Mrs Lee being said grandmother):

Run your eye through the list of ingredients for the gravy. See? There's no assam in Grandma's recipe.


So, confronted with the commoners' version that always comes with assam, the PM would say mee siam mai assam. But that fateful day, no thanks to a slip of the tongue, he said mai hum instead.

That might be one mystery solved, but I'm still scratching my head. Every single mee siam I've ever eaten is slightly tangy with assam. When I have a craving for mee siam, it's the spicy sourness that I long for. Why on earth would anyone make mee siam without assam?

Noodles with Red Wine Dregs (红糟面线)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A few weeks ago, I made some chicken with red wine dregs (红糟鸡). As I was writing about how effective red yeast rice extract was in lowering cholesterol, I looked at the photos I had taken. And I started to get worried. The red yeast stuff looked so . . . red!

Maybe there's something wrong with photos?


I went to the fridge and looked at the real wine dregs. Nope, there was nothing wrong with the photos. The dregs were really that shade of fire engine red. I rubbed my tummy, feeling rather uneasy.

Yikes! It must be Sudan Red!

Sudan Red, a carcinogenic industrial chemical dye, is found in a lot of red colored food products.

Remember the salted eggs recall a few years back?

Suan Pan Zi (算盘子)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sometimes, calculators just can't compare with abaci. Calculators aren't edible, nor do they bring you wealth and good luck . . . .

Of course, you can't eat an abacus either but you can make abacus beads, aka suan pan zi (算盘子). These little discs which look like their namesake are a delicious Hakka noodle that's served stir-fried or in a soup.

SPZ come with a feature that no calculator could ever have. If you eat suan pan zi during Chinese New Year, your abacus will be click-clacking non-stop in the new year, counting the amount of money you will have! Yup, hand on heart, that's absolutely true.

Tang Yuan (湯圓)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

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Christmas has become the second biggest festival in Singapore, next to Chinese New Year. It's very commercialized but the loss of spirituality doesn't bother me. I just join in the festive fun and food orgy. Party spirit in place of religious spirit, sort of. It's end of the year, work slows down, kids are on school holidays, and everyone's in a partying mood. Any excuse to take a break and relax is good!

Teochew Porridge

Thursday, 23 July 2009

PhotobucketTo my friends, I'm known as 'the Teochew peasant' when it comes to food. The nickname's due to my fondness for Teochew muay (潮州糜) or rice porridge, a peasant staple traditionally eaten with simple, peasant dishes. If my friends let me choose what we eat, I'd say Teochew porridge nine times out of 10. (I am thus forbidden from making the suggestion at all – sob!)

Since I'm such a connoisseur of peasant food – is that an oxymoron? – I think it's only appropriate that I feature peasant recipes on my blog and the first place honor goes to none other than Teochew porridge. I grew up eating piping hot porridge for lunch and breakfast almost everyday. For me, it's the best comfort food bar none. A good bowl of hot porridge energizes the body, lifts the spirit, and warms the heart.