Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cook Singaporean? CAAAAAAAN!

Having studied in Singapore, and having visited it thrice in the last four years, I have been one of its biggest fans for years - not in the least because of the food. I have made Laksa a couple of times before, but I never got down to cooking a Singaporean meal. Of course, that is a little tricky, because Singaporean food is a mix of various regional and immigrant influences, and ingredients are not all that easy to find here. But I was determined, and invited my sister and brother-in-law, and a friend couple (both of whom recently became parents) to taste of my first shot at making a full Singaporean meal.

To start with, I prepared the requisite Laksa. I did not post the process here, because I used a premix packet for the Laksa curry paste and flavor, pouring this over blanched noodles and bean sprouts, and topping with shrimp, surimi, fried tofu, fishball, and sambal chili. Still, its looks (and taste) warrant a picture.

But here's where the actual cooking begins.

For the vegetable dish, I chose to make Sayur Lodeh, a Malay/Indonesian vegetable curry popular in the region. We start by quartering shallots and chopping garlic.

Then we crush candlenuts (I used brazil nuts) in a mortar.

We add them to the mix, along with turmeric, sauteed shrimp paste and roughly chopped dried red chile peppers.

We mash this together and fry it in a pot until the garlic and shallots soften.

Then we slice and add galangal (substituted with fresh ginger)

We add coconut milk and bring to a simmer.

Now we can add the vegetables: carrots cut into thick sticks, pieces of cabbage, and cut beans, with some sugar and salt.

Finally, we add fried tofu, and allow to cook until the vegetables start to soften.

Served hot, Sayur Lodeh can be eaten as a delicious hearty soup, or with rice.

For the meat dish, I went for a Malay/Singaporean Chinese classic called Bak Kut Teh. It literally translates to "meat bone tea" from the Hokkien language, but it does not contain tea (tell you why later). It's normally made with pork, but one can use any meat, and I went with mutton. I secured a combination of stewing mutton and backbone mutton, and selected a large mutton leg that I had a butcher chop up into hefty chunks.

We start by chopping garlic.

We fry those a bit at the bottom of a pot (I used a pressure cooker), and add water, followed by the real distinguishing components: the Bak Kut Teh herbs and spices.

When this is simmering, we can add the meat and some shiitake mushrooms.

Finally, we add some broadly cut napa cabbage, oyster sauce and bean sauce, after which we put the lid on and allow the dish to slow-cook.

A few hours is sufficient, but I went for 18, and in a pressure cooker to boot. Almost all the bones in the Bak Kut Teh were completely softened out, and meat was tender and flavored through and through with the Bak Kut Teh herbs, sauces and spices. It was the hit of the night (and the next couple of days >_^)

And here's where the tea comes in: despite my repeated skimming, it's quite a fatty dish, and it's traditional to down a few cups of green tea right after (in this case, some of my stash of original Longjing from Hangzhou).

To complement the Bak Kut Teh, I made a Chinese rice dish called Yau Fan, or Garlic Rice.

We start by frying ginger-garlic paste until slightly browned, and adding soaked rice to mix.

To this, chicken stock, sugar and salt is added, and the rice is cooked in a cooker.

The finished Yau Fan is served with brown-fried shallots stirred in. Honestly, this is tasty enough to eat on its own.

And to cap a great meal, Singaporean-style coffee, made with brewed and filtered special coffee imported from Singapore on a recent trip, and a little sweetened condensed milk.

Gas station Attendants' Tips Still Being Confiscated

This is a bit tricky. It's common practice in some establishments (especially where a customer can be served by a number of interchangeable staff in a single visit) to put all the tips into a pool and split it at the day's end. Of course, the effectiveness of this system is contingent on the final sum actually being split among the service staff, instead of being fed into some hazy "staff welfare and entertainment" fund.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Star Wars Cantina Shufflin'

Found this today, and was totally blown away. The synchronization is just unbelievable.

Not as grin-provoking, but still impressive for it's 3D graphics work:

Friday, December 7, 2012

UAE National Day Mob Gropings of Women

Rather disturbing news from this UAE National Day has come to light (apart from the suicide-by-metro in Dubai, that is).

It appears mob sexual assaults were taking place in Abu Dhabi on what is supposed to be a glorious day for the country. According to the head of police in the capital, there were "between five and 12 [mob sexual assault] incidents reported on the day". Now, National Day is generally notorious for the vandalism-heavy revelry - a feature to which we UAE residents have somewhat resigned ourselves. I know I refused to visit my parents in Abu Dhabi until late into the next morning, by which time all that remained of the debauchery of the night before were glittery curbs and foamy cars. If you're on Abu Dhabi's Corniche Road or any other such "parade-prone" strip in a vehicle, you can expect to get silly-stringed and confettified. At least, I thought that was the worst we had to fear on this day.

In the National's article on the most recent spate of such attacks, there are worrying signs that the attacks were organized - if not for specific targets, then for the aggressors' participation and methods, which resemble those in Egypt. In once case, a group of 5 women were swarmed and brutally groped by almost 70 men on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, escaping thanks to their having hung together and fought until they could get the attention and assistance of passers-by.

One puzzling part of the article was the head of police saying that the parties who reported such assaults, most of them "Arab and Asian", then withdrew their complaints "because of the festive spirit". Huh?

This sort of attack happened more than once last year, given that the women in the story said that they "heard some stories from last year". Incidentally, they decided that the appropriate precaution for this year would then be to "be very modest ... [wear] trousers, [cover] up" and not "draw any attention to [them]selves". I suppose internalization of victim-blaming mentality did not help much this year. Perhaps they will have better luck next year with the addition of headscarves. Or not.

A quick web search also revealed an archival article which indicates that this has been happening since as far back as two years ago, when on National Day (again), a group of another 5 women were surrounded by a mob and groped (one of them subjected to an attempted stripping) for almost two minutes, after some in the mob blinded them with silly string (of the story of which the very same head of police was, um, skeptical back then).

I think both expats and nationals will agree, now more than ever, that the atmosphere of lawlessness that is permitted to prevail on this day in the name of the aforementioned "festive spirit" has got to end. This is no longer a matter of just glittery curbs and foamy cars.