A lot of my time during my university days at NUS was spent on campus, performing experiments in the labs, conducting research in the libraries and doing tutorials with friends at the numerous benches along the corridors. A lot of my meals were also settled in the faculty canteens, most notably the one near LT26 in the Science Fac or the oddly constructed Arts canteen in FASS, as I transit on a daily basis between these two faculties for lectures and tutorials. During meal times, the canteens were perpetually packed to the brim, with the lunch crowd often spilling over to the nearby study benches in takeaway styrofoam boxes. The queues at popular stalls were long beyond belief and by the time it was my turn to place an order, I would have to be rushing for the next tutorial already. As such, my study pals and I often picked the stall with the shortest queue to eat from and at the Science canteen, it had to be the one which sold “Western Food”. The food ain’t that bad really, just not particularly popular as most of my classmates, particularly the “China scholars” would prefer their ritualistic rice with stir-fry dishes from the mixed vegetable rice stall instead, often seen eating with an “interesting” combination of stainless steel spoon and a pair of chopsticks. The selection available at the “Western Food” stall was probably quite alien to them. We avoided the usual pork chops and chicken cutlet which were cooked in situ only upon ordering which meant longer waiting times, and opted from their version of “mixed vegetable rice” which we could “pick for a quick platter” instead. That said, even the dishes available were “unfamiliar”, to say the least. From the selection, one particular dish was “peculiarly” memorable. The elderly lady stall owner told us it is called “Chicken à la King“, which I had not a faintest clue what it was initially. But I remembered it being quite tasty, especially drizzled over rice, or macaroni . It reminded me much of those canned soups, creamy and chunky, which I bought and ate with instant noodles during my stay at KEVII Hall, wholesome and fulfilling suppers for the growing young man I was during those nights mugging in my chilly hostel room perched on the ridge. I replicated the dish several times during my hostel stay, first using Campbells, then from scratch after searching for a recipe online. Those were the “dialup” days when internet was still slow and laggy. Thankfully, finding a recipe for this American comfort food was quite easy. Over the years, I’d revisited the old recipe several times, though lesser often nowadays. But I do cook it now and then, when I just need an easy one-dish meal, or simply to revisit those memories of my school days.
Sacrilegious me had some croissants from Tiong Bahru Bakery lying in the fridge for more than a week now and had totally forgotten about them! They were suppose to be used in sandwiches for a simple lunch the next day after I’d bought them but I ran out of cheese and ham in the fridge and ended up cooking some other stuff instead thus neglecting the croissants quite conveniently. A few days ago, I did recall buying them but just couldn’t find them around. Thought Dad ate them across the weekend or something. As I was clearing out the fridge this morning, I chanced upon a suspicious looking paper bag and blimey, my two croissants once lost are now found!
It would be such a waste chucking them into the bin. They are Tiong Bahru Bakery croissants after all. Probably the best we have in Singapore at this moment. Stale, albeit delicious I’m sure. A quick search over the internet and came a simple recipe by the Kitchen Goddess. Nigella Lawson’s “Caramel Croissant Pudding” these two fellas seemed destined to become!
We love to have desserts whenever we are in Hong Kong. The Cantonese folks are very much dessert lovers like us, and they are extremely well-known for their assortment of 糖水 “tong shueis” which are both delicious and therapeutic at the same time. The desserts are available all year around, with a menu that changes with the seasons. Summer welcomes the ice blends and chilled items, most notably being 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago which is immensely popular especially with the young to combat the heat. For those who are looking for more traditional desserts, there is 南北杏木瓜炖雪耳 Double-boiled White Jelly Fungus with Papaya which is not only sweet, but boast to have a hoard of beneficial properties like soothing the throat and clearing phlegm. As the weather turns cold, the hot desserts become immensely popular, be it the “paste-based” desserts like 芝麻糊 sesame paste, 花生糊 peanut paste, 核桃糊 walnut paste, 杏仁糊 almond paste or even a simple bowl of 番薯姜汤 ginger soup and sweet potatoes with 汤圆 glutinous rice dumplings to warm the tummy.
As such, dessert parlours and tong shuei stalls are found literally everywhere in Hong Kong. Strange it may sound however, one of the places to enjoy these sweet numbers is not at dessert joints like 許留山 Hui Lau San and 大良八記 Dai Leung Pak Kee, but at 牛奶公司 “dairy companies”. And to further bewilder the already perplexed, these “dairy companies” do not produce milk but are actually tea shops or cafes affectionately known to the locals as 茶餐厅 “cha tzan teng“. Now are you confused already?
“Nostalgia” is a word which I find myself using and abusing quite frequently of late. More often than I’d hoped to, I find myself taking long walks down the memory lane (such a cliché I know!) time and time again, revisiting the sights and smells of yesteryears quite literally, through the numerous bakes and makes which I’d undertaken over the last year or so. Memory is such a powerful tool, using one’s not-too-distant past to fuel one’s present and possibly the future, more often than others, in a reflective and contemplative mode, a tell-tale sign of age and hopefully wisdom. After all, collective memories of a concerted groups is the basic foundation of “heritage”.
Alas many of these flavours and smells have become a thing of the past. Changing palates and tastebuds, more generous offering of options and choice, an almost deliberately played out sense of propriety towards being more health conscious, are just some of the proponents and culprits which led to the “extinction” of many of the “childhood” flavours.
For a lot of us, pandan chiffon is one cake which has a special place in our hearts. It is probably THE cake which we eat the most often when we were young, staples from the old- school neighbourhood confectioneries, which were usually characterised by rotating ceiling fans, and small mozaic tile floors. It existed long before the chicken floss coated mayonaise buns, and would probably continue to exist long after the latter fade off one day. Its popularity seem to run alongside other familiar favorites like egg tarts, napkin butter sponge cake and hae bee hiam soft buns.