Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Food memories Singapore style

Without a doubt one of the loveliest - and for me most unexpected- thing about blogging has been the interactions and relationships built with my readers.

A couple of weeks ago I posted my picture on Instagram of Congee (Chinese Rice Porridge- my recipe is here).  

One of my readers- Germaine- saw it there & talked about how her family often pop Ikan Bilis on top of Congee.  Ikan Bilis is one of my all time fave goodies! My 12yo LOVES it sooooo much! I am not sure why I have never cooked it myself so when Germaine told me about her family recipe I was super excited to ask her to share it with all of you too! I feel absolutely thrilled she has shared one of her family recipes with us. aren't we lucky!!!! I can't wait to make this!

Germaine Tan is a mumma of two super doop cutie patootie girls. They live in Melbourne & she is the owner of the very cute online store ChibiRun
Today I am thrilled to share with you a post written by her.  Germaine shares a heartfelt piece about her food memories as a child growing up in Singapore and how it has influenced her cooking with & for her family now.

Here is Germaine's gorgeous story. I hope you love it as much as I do. ~ 

"I believe that food always brings people together. In more ways than anyone can imagine. 
Ruth and I haven’t met in person (but we will someday!)
But that hasn’t stopped the both of us from feeling that we know each other, just simply over happy, excited little chats about her food. And mind. And FAMILY.
When Ruth shares about her little family, it is just magical. 
I was and still feel so humbled that she’s asked me about mine.
So now, it’s my turn to share.
About my family. About our foods.

Food in my family is a BIG thing.
I was born and bred in Asia. Singapore to be exact.
Melbourne has become my home for the last 10 years and I don’t think I’m leaving anytime soon.. I have so so much love for Melbourne.

Every morning in Singapore, Mum went to the local markets because that’s just what you did.
The local markets in Singapore were so so wet and slippery. Unlike the markets here.
As a child, I had to be extremely careful not to slip, especially near the fishmonger’s stall!
It was amazing.
You came to know ALL the market sellers and they always gave Mum the good cuts or the freshest fishes.
She bought the family’s food for that particular day to cook and because marketing was done every morning, every dinner was so fresh.
Sitting in our kitchen was this huge mortar and pestle.
And I remember it so vividly. Because it was one of the few cool things in the kitchen I was allowed to touch.
That and beansprout plucking. The two jobs I was quite proud of.
I could help pound all the spices, nuts, garlics into pastes with my little hands.
And I loved that rhythm the pestle made.
Dad was fortunate to be home for dinners but after dinner, he went off back to work and didn’t come home until at least 9pm at night.
So dinner was special to me because I got to sit next to him.
I was such a slowwwww eater!
We had a huge round table with a lazy susan in the middle.
Mum always cooked rice with dishes, which is a typical Asian Style meal. She always whipped out at least 4 dishes for a family of 5. Every. Single. Day.
Which till this day, I still don’t know how she managed to do so.
A fish. A soup. A meat. A veggie.

But after much thought, I think getting dinner out on the table was very important to Mum.
She stayed at home to look after us and we always had so much food to eat.

I think having family traditions are very important.
They don’t have to be crazy traditions that involve big parties once a year.

I think little traditions are the best.

One of Mum’s little traditions was to bake with me.
Mum loved to bake and she taught me everything she knew.
She allowed me to help her do all sorts of cakes and cookies, I can’t really remember what kind we did. But I always remembered that the kitchen table was full of flour, all dusty and powdery. 
Our cordless phone was wrapped in a clear plastic cellophane bag with a rubberband tied around it when we baked.
I don’t think it helped keep it clean much!!!!
But Mum thought it did.
She loved chatting with her friends on the phone and doing something else at the same time.  
Our little tradition was making chinese new year cookies together to put into bottles to give to everyone. 
I still know of some of Mum’s friends who get together to do that every year.

Dad also had his way of showing his love despite his busy schedule and he made his own little traditions with me.

One of his little traditions was actually brought back to mind when Ruth posted a picture of her delicious Chinese porridge.
She is COMPLETELY right when she said porridge was a comfort food.
Because we’re Teochew, Dad loved his porridge.
And he used to bring me out alone to his favourite Teochew Porridge stall in Singapore where they’d sell just bowls of plain porridge for 70 cents each and you could choose from over 40 different dishes all laid out at the front of the stall to go with your porridge!! They had braised eggplant, lobster with plum sauce, omelettes, sambal kangkong and so so so much more.

Dad enjoyed it so much, he always had at least 5 bowls of porridge!
Saturday morning breakfasts in Singapore weren’t eggs at a cafe.
Dad brought us to the hawker centre to eat roti chanai, chinese carrot cake and have refreshing sugar cane or soya bean drinks and there were hundreds of families there doing the exact same thing. 

Now that I’m wearing my big Mum shoes, I’ve REALLY grown to enjoy cooking.
Cooking and watching those people called family eat my food.
Making our own little food traditions.
After having one of those crazy weeks where everything happens in a rush, we usually sit down
on Sundays and have a bit of Chinese porridge.
Nice, simple, comfort food.

And to add a little bit more excitement in our life, we like to sprinkle lots of ikan bilis on top of the porridge."

Ikan means ‘fish’ and bilis means ‘small’ in Malay. 
The most common dish you can find ikan bilis in is Nasi Lemak, malay coconut rice which is simply delicious too.
It is like an Asian style tapas too!
The beauty of ikan bilis is that it is crunchy, salty, sweet, nutty and spicy all in an instant.
SO addictive.
My children love it - they think it is a very yummy snack!

We like to fry it up in huge batches in our household and give a few bottles here and there to family and friends.
It is a very forgiving recipe and it doesn’t mind if you’re a nut lover or if you’re not too fond of nuts. 
You will find the dried anchovies and the spanish red peanuts in dried goods section of the Asian grocer. 
The dried anchovies are often used as soup stock as well for lots of Asian clear soups! Just boil them in a pot of water and throw all your yummy veggies, tofu in and you have a nice, nourishing soup. 
You can also find the sambal at the asian grocer.

      300gm dried anchovies
      200gm spanish red peanuts (optional, or you can add more or less according to what you fancy)
      4 Tbsp evoo (extra virgin olive oil)
      1 onion, diced
      6 Tbsp sugar
      1 Tbsp tumeric
      4 Tbsp sambal (optional)


Wash the dried anchovies in a bowl under the tap a few times until the water runs clear.
Air dry them on a tray or switch on your oven to 150 deg C and dry them in there for 15 minutes. I like to dry mine in the oven as it seems to give it a nice additional crunch.
Have a feel of a few little fishes and they are ready to be cooked once they feel dry and crisp.

Heat up your evoo in a wok or a frying pan.
Fry your peanuts for 15 minutes until you get a nice, smoky, nutty fragrance wafting out strongly.
Pick out a peanut or two to taste and see if they’re crunchy and cooked.
Once cooked, remove from heat and set it aside in a bowl.

Increase to high heat and once oil is smoking, add your dried anchovies into the pan.
Fry the dried anchovies on med-high heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring and tossing regularly to make sure all the anchovies are getting their fair share of the heat.  
Watch and the anchovies will start turning a really delicious, golden brown and start curling and crisping up. Exciting!
Taste one or two or ten...
Once brown and crispy, remove from heat and set aside in another bowl.

Now, add in your onion and fry until fragrant.
Toss in your bowls of anchovies and nuts.
Add your sugar, tumeric and start mixing them all up evenly.
Last but not least, add in the sambal, mix it around and you’re done. 
If you’re cooking for the kids and I usually do a batch for my children, I don’t add any sambal or if I feel like giving them a hidden surprise, I just add a smidget of sambal and taste. And either way works out great too. It is still very delicious! 
Now for those of us who love chilli, I usually add the sambal in tablespoons and taste in between to see how spicy it becomes and stop when I feel that it tastes like something I would really enjoy.
I have to warn you though, Sambal is addictive!!!!
I have to stop myself from adding more and more!!! :)

Once cooled, put into old pasta jars to keep.

Ikan bilis can be used as a lovely addition to porridge, nasi lemak or even fried rice.
Writing this blog post has made me re-live many fond memories of my childhood.

Thank you so much for that, Ruth!!

Last but not least, one of my favourite composers EVER... Joe Hisaishi, seems perfect to accompany my memories of being a child which seems far away on certain days...

I love listening to him at any time of the day. :)

Sending ALL my love to each and every one of you this week 

xx Germaine


  1. Nice one. My favourite nostalgic Singapore treat is Ondek Ondek - double bonus, it's vegan too! And fun to make with kids x

  2. Totally wonderful, both of you gals are great. Beautiful sharing. Thanks for the recipe, where is the best place to get both the dried anchovies and Spanish red peanuts in Melbourne?

    1. Germaine has suggested in her notes about the recipe that both those ingredients are readily available at any Asian grocer in the dried good section. Good luck!

    2. Thanks GG, I think I was taken by the pics of those little girls nibbling, ooh gorgeous and speed read the recipe, will hunt down those ingredients

  3. Loved your best. Food is one of life's simple pleasures and brings so many people together. Giulia.x

  4. I have been to Singapore many times and it was of my all time fav places in the world. The reason is the food. I love not only the way it tastes but the way it is created and served with such passion and warmth ( and I'm not talking about the weather)

    Family Food traditions are the best kind and I am working hard to create them my little family.

    Can't wait to try this recipe.

  5. Such a beautiful post, I love hearing stories about family and traditions. Germaine - I love that you're giving your gorgeous little girls the same amazing family experiences that you had as a child. They are lucky girls to have you as their mumma.

  6. Joe + amazing recipe + adorable picture + great foodie shots???! Might be the most perfect post ever!!!!

  7. How wonderful for us that both you beautiful girls are so generous in sharing your stories - and recipes! The details that Germaine gives just bring the whole busy happy family picture to life - I love mama with her plastic-wrapped phone at the ready for a chat. great work my etra creative GGG for expanding to include your friend. Lucky us! So glad to know you!!!!XXXXXXX


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