Quavers quiver along the violin strings
And fingers grasp the: whale-skin threads,
Trace the image of hallowed things.
Hark the bass dum dum
Followed by the swish swish feet;
And the talking jerky with the swinging beat.
Saxon cut and Mongol shape
Flows as the bandsters ape.
The Swiss wheels move to a tired midnight
The fans whirl warily in the lights,
And grin whisks us all to randy talk
While the baldish lapel the lips in some walk;
The cultured strapless shows the sights.
Let’s go to the next world
The crowds wait their share of the steaming fun
At the kuey teow stalls of the kerosene glare
And in the shadowed, rubbish lined malls,
The whisperings have just begun.
By the drains, sandalled squats
Lick their durian seeds;
Near the lanes the night-soil workers
Wipe their stinking beads;
And urchins at the car park do their good deeds.
The herbal cool-tea colours the bowls;
Mango skins attract the flies.
Oh watch the chee-kee woman cense the skies,
Crying, “This is our progressive Paradise.”
What of the world between,
Neither heaven nor hell?
King pawn move, a no-trump call
Or, a first run movie thrill
Or maybe at supper a port-wine pull?
Likeliest of all
They have set up the alarm: bell
And put the vases out on the sill
And tucked the children in for tomorrow’s school.
We are the audience
Of the three camps!
We are the campsters, too.
We rush around
To see the others,
But the mirror is a prism blue.
Thus we live in triple spheres:
In laughter, in stillness, and in tears.
Author – Wang Gungwu
Book – Pulse
Publisher – Beda Lim (Singapore)
Year published – 1950
Excerpt from Coffee Shop, Clementi
Fish porridge and beefball noodles scald
Tongues out for quick thrills; where chicken rice
Bubbles, as pure kueh tutu steams,
It’s not only fast food on the cheap
I come for. Plundering appetites, voices
Riding high, eyes which eat, while waiting.
By Leong Liew Geok
Love is Not Enough
Times Books International (1991)
Driving to your block,
I slide in my father’s cassette
of old Hindi songs and I am
humming in twilight
to the legendary
playback singer’s baritone
releasing those sounds in that
language that makes me feel like I am
home. In the back of my throat,
I can taste my grandmother’s
translucent thin chappatis
that as children we would
to the light,
the dough so evenly rolled out
by her hands that not
one lump would show.
I never appreciated them till her hands
shook so much,
she could no longer grip
the rolling pin.
I hear the children from the slum
that emerged behind my grandparents
small two-storey apartment block.
They are swearing
in that deliciously punctuated rhythm
only the born-and-bred tongue
can dance to.
I am home for a while.
I can smell dust and kerosene
in the air and hear
high-pitched devotions to the gods
blending without objection
into the stone thud bass
of the latest film song.
Jamming my brakes at a traffic light,
I realise home is supposed to be these
dustless streets and the smells
are alien culinary concoctions,
like pig’s knuckles and chicken anatomy,
that my migrant tastebuds
cannot migrate towards.
I have taught my tongue
to like the garlic sting
of Hainanese chili paste
and form some Hokkien curse words.
It even enjoys the harsh bite of it,
but it is not
a taste, a language
that makes my heart sing
like these notes on my
Jaoon kaha batayen dil,
Duniya badi hain sangdil
Chandini Aiyen Ghar Jalane
Sujhe Na Koyi Manzil.
Tell me where I should go
in a world filled with indifference.
The moonlight filters into my house,
But I do not belong,
nor can I think of a destination.
By Pooja Nansi
(First published in Stiletto Scars: Word Forward, 2007.)
Kaya toast is a popular snack or breakfast that goes well with a cup of local ‘kopi’ (coffee) or ‘teh’ (tea). It consists of charcoal-grilled or toasted slices of bread enveloping slivers of cold butter and a generous spread of kaya, a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs. More often than not, it is accompanied by two soft-boiled eggs with runny yolks accompanies with dark soya and white pepper.
This snack is credited to the Hainanese, such as the founders of Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Kheng Hoe Heng Coffeeshop.
Rojak means an “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay, and the dish sure lives up to its name. Its ingredients reflect the cultural diversity of Singapore, bringing together disparate items with strong flavours into a harmoniously tasty blend.
No one really knows the origins of rojak as Asia has many different types. These include the Indonesia gado-gado with rice cakes and vegetables drenched in a peanut sauce to the Indian rojak whose peanut sauce is fiery orange in colour and used as a dip for its ingredients like fried dough, potatoes and steamed squid. Rojak is typically sold by Chinese hawkers. Until the 1980s, rojak sellers could still be found, often illegally, moving through neighbourhoods on bicycles. Today, they have found a home in most food centres in the city.
The typical style you’ll find in Singapore is sweet, comes with dough fritters, a salad mix and lathered with pungent black prawn paste.
Char Kway Teow, which literally means ‘stir-fried rice noodles’ in dialect, is traditionally made out of flattened rice noodles fried with an assortment of ingredients and dark sauce. The dish, of Teochew origins, is a familiar one in hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts in Singapore.2
The Singapore Tourism Board defines it as a “heady mixture of flat rice, noodles, eggs, prawns, and cockles” and a “near perfect balancing act of sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy”. Some of the more typical ingredients that make this delicious plate of ‘heart attack’ are: Fish Cake, Bean Sprouts, Hum (Fresh Cockles), Eggs, Dark Soy Sauce, Sweet Sauce, Lap Cheong (Chinese Sausages) and Spring Onions. Stir-fried on high heat together in a huge wok, Char Kway Teow often comes packed with wok hei (charred flavours from the wok).
The Singaporean version of Hokkien mee was created after World War II by Chinese sailors from the Fujian (Hokkien) province in southern China.
In its most common form, the dish consists of egg noodles and rice noodles stir-fried with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid, and served and garnished with vegetables, small pieces of lard (now substituted with chicken lard due to health concerns), sambal chilli and lime. Some dishes eliminated pork and replaced it with chicken so that it can be served to the Muslim community in Singapore.
Dim Sum has always been a traditional comfort food in Singapore, owing to many early migrants bringing this wonderful cuisine to our little island from Hong Kong. Through the decades, Singapore has also evolved the Dim Sum culture to include different styles like Shanghainese and Sze Chuan dishes, as well as our own local touch.
The chicken feet is marinated then fried, and is one of the common dim sum served in many stalls. This is possibly one of the dish (“chicken anatomy”) mentioned in Poonan’s poem.
Chapati (Indian cuisine) is a type of bread made of unleavened wheat flour. Shaped round and flat like a pancake, it is best eaten with curries. The common item to go with the chapati is the keema (minced mutton and peas in curry).