I still get slightly maudlin when I think about all the awesome food I’m missing since we moved back to Oz from Singapore: the amazing curries on banana leaves in Little India, the chicken rice on Maxwell Road, the roti prata, the chilli crab with steamed buns at East Coast Seafood, the char kway teow …
The Singaporeans have an expression for great dishes – it’s “die die must try”. They take their food VERY seriously. My kind of town!
During those wonderful years we spent living in Bugis Junction we bought ourselves a guide to amazing places to eat near train stations (the easiest and best way to get around Singapore is on their fabulous train system) and every weekend we’d explore the island via our tastebuds, by hopping on the train and going on a food adventure.
Ah, those were the carefree days …
It’s Chinese New Year today – it was always a particularly yummy time of year. Feasting, feasting and a little more feasting.
The banquets were amazing. And every dish usually had a meaning.
There was usually a whole fish served with the head and tail, symbolizing the year’s beginning to end. Traditionally, you’re supposed to deliberately leave some of the fish uneaten to represent the ‘surpluses’ of the coming year.
Dumplings resemble ingots, or money, so eating dumplings is believed to usher in wealth. Bring. Them. On.
Chang shou mien, or longevity noodles, are eaten all year round, but bring extra meaning to new year celebrations.
Serving a whole chicken (symbolising a phoenix) represents a good marriage and the coming together of families.
But the all-time most popular dish served in Singapore at this time of year is Yu Sheng or ‘Prosperity Toss’ salad, which was created by Singapore’s Chinese community in the 1960s. The salad is made of raw fish, shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments. Diners at the table toss the shredded ingredients into the air with their chopsticks while uttering various ‘auspicious wishes’ out loud. The height of the toss represents the diners’ increase in fortunes in the coming year.
In honour of Chinese New Year, here are a few of my favourite Asian-style recipes to cook at home.
Gong Xi Fa Cai to all my Singaporean friends.
RECIPE: Ma po do fu
- Handful of dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
- 500g bean curd (I like silken, but it doesn’t hold it’s shape. If that bothers you, go for firm)
- peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon bottled ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- 400g minced chicken
- 1 red capsicum, finely diced
- 1 green capsicum, finely diced
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon of chilli bean sauce (available from Asian speciality stores or well-stocked supermarkets)
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of cornflour
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
METHOD: Heat oil in a wok or heavy-based frying pan. Saute garlic, ginger and spring onions for 1 minute. Add chicken mince and stir-fry, breaking it up until it’s no longer pink. Add capsicum and stir fry for a further minute. Mix stock, chilli bean sauce, tomato paste and soy sauce in a jug together. Pour into the wok, add shitake mushrooms and simmer 5 minutes. Mix cornflour with a little water and stir into the sauce until it boils and thickens. Gently stir in the bean curd and seasame oil. Heat through and serve with rice.
Recipe: Chinese poached chicken with spicy sauce
- 3-4 chicken breast fillets
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped, fresh red chilli
- Fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 green shallots, chopped
Method: Place the chicken breasts in a large saucepan. Pour over chicken stock and enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil. Remove from heat, cover and leave for 15 minutes. Remove chicken from stock and cover with foil on a plate to keep warm. Add rice to the leftover stock – top up with a little extra water if necessary – bring to the boil and cook until tender, then drain. While the rice is cooking, dice some cucumber and make the dipping sauce by mixing together the soy, lime, garlic and chilli. To assemble the dish, pack rice into a small Chinese bowl. Place a dinner plate over the bowl then invert to give yourself a lovely, neat mound. Thickly slice the chicken breast and arrange on each plate. Sprinkle with coriander and shallots. Add little dishes of sauce and diced cucumber on the side. Serve.
Recipe: chicken noodle soup
- 1 litre chicken stock + 1 litre water
- 1 stick celery, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
- 2 large chicken breast fillets
- 250g rice-stick noodles
- 1 bunch baby bok choy, roughly chopped
- Chilli, if desired
METHOD: Place stock, water, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger and chicken breasts in a stock pot. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and cover. Leave for 15 minutes. Remove chicken breasts, keep warm. Return stock to the boil. Add rice-stick noodles. Simmer three minutes. Add baby bok choy. Simmer until rice-stick noodles are cooked. Serve in bowls with sliced chicken breast fillet and sprinkled with chilli, if desired.
Recipe: Quail & noodle stir-fry
- 400g quail breasts
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons rice bran/peanut oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 4 green shallots, chopped
- 1 bunch bok choy, roughly chopped
- 400g fresh rice noodles
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- Juice of 1 fresh lime
- Chilli sambal sauce to serve
METHOD: Marinate quail breasts in 1 tablespoon oil, soy sauce and honey for two hours. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy based frying pan or wok. Stir-fry quail breasts until golden. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Add a little more oil to the pan. Stir-fry garlic, ginger and shallots until softened. Add bok choy, stir-fry 1 minute. Add noodles, chicken stock and lime juice. Bring to a boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Add quail breasts. Serve in bowls with a dollop of sambal for the adults, if desired.
Recipe: spinach in oyster sauce
- 2 bunches of english spinach
- vegetable oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup beef stock
METHOD: Steam english spinach until wilted. Refresh under cold water. Heat oil in a heavy-based pan and saute garlic and shallots until softened. Add oyster sauce and beef stock and bring to boil. Toss through spinach until warmed through. Serve.
RECIPE: Bean and mushroom stir-fry
- vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 500g beans, chopped
- 150g sliced mushrooms
- 3 spring onions, chopped
- handful coriander leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
- 4 eggs + 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (optional)
METHOD: Heat oil in a heavy-based pan. Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add the beans, mushrooms and spring onions and toss lightly for 2 minutes. Toss through coriander and sambal oelek and serve. The dish is also delicious served with 4 eggs scrambled with 1 teaspoon of sambal oelek.
What’s your favourite Asian dish?